A basement can be an especially scary place when it comes to maintaining the space and the systems that it houses. Although basements come in a host of shapes, sizes and finishes; there are certain characteristics that they have in common. They are located either partially or fully below ground, which makes them especially vulnerable to intrusion by water, mold and damage by rot and structural pests such as termites. Most basements also provide easy access by unwelcome rodents and vermin. Keeping each of these potentially harmful elements at bay can be a daunting task.
As Halloween approaches, so too does cold weather and the need to turn one’s attention to basement leaks, squeaks and other things that go bump in the night. Taking care of some of the following tasks can make for a safer and more comfortable home and help ward off “frightening” utility bills.
• Have your furnace inspected and serviced by a professional heating contractor. Beyond ensuring that it is operating safely, you’ll want to guarantee that you’re getting the best bang for your energy buck—especially with the cost of heating fuel. The pro will adjust burners, check the thermostat, change filters, confirm pressures and perform other necessary cleaning and maintenance.
• Leaking heat ducts can be a major source of energy loss. Look for separating ducts at joints and connections to equipment. Though duct tape is excellent for thousands of uses, sealing leaking ducts is not one of them. Pros use a heavy metallic tape or a paint-on elastomeric sealer.
• Insulation that surrounds heat ducts is an important part of their efficiency. If the ducts are old, the insulation may contain asbestos, which is a health hazard. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that asbestos-laden building materials are best left alone when in good condition and not in a “friable” or crumbling state. If you believe there is reason for concern, contact the nearest branch of the American Lung Association for information on testing, repair and abatement. If your ducts are not insulated, insulate them. If they are insulated and the material is not firmly affixed, use a spray adhesive to properly anchor the material.
• Check for leaks at all plumbing pipes and repair or replace. Pay special attention to the pipes that are attached to the hot and cold ports on the water heater. They are prime candidates for corrosion that can lead to hidden leaks that will rot a water heater.
• Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that results from improper combustion by fuel-burning appliances. In high concentration it is potentially lethal, thus earning it the title of “the silent killer.” You can prevent carbon monoxide in the basement be making sure that all fuel-burning appliances— furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, water heaters, boilers, gas dryers and the like—are operating at peak efficiency and are properly vented. If you don’t have a carbon monoxide alarm in your basement, install one! If you do, test it frequently and make sure that it is in good working order. In addition, all fuel burning appliances should be properly vented to the exterior, utilizing approved venting materials. Pay special attention to make sure that vent pipes are properly attached to appliances.
• Caulk cracks in concrete walls with a high-quality flexible caulk. Cracks and gaps that allow water to enter should be filled with hydraulic cement.
• Minimize water entry by installing rain gutters and downspouts that discharge well away from the foundation. Soil surrounding the home should slope away from the foundation to ensure proper drainage.
• Any water that does make its way into the basement should be collected by a sump system and pumped safely to the exterior. Check to be sure that the sump and pump are clean and in good working order. Excessive water buildup may require the installation of a more comprehensive water collection and ejection system.
• If your washer and dryer are located in the basement, replace rubber water supply hoses at the washer with braided stainless steel hoses to prevent burst hoses and flooding. Save energy and prevent a potential fire by disconnecting the dryer duct and removing lint buildup.
This Halloween we suggest that you dress up as a home inspector and give your basement a good once-over to be certain that it is well protected and that all systems are in good working order using our checklist. “Treat” your basement with anything less and you could end up with lots of expensive “tricks” to deal with sooner than later.