“With these old houses, you just need to keep the basement windows open,” said John. It seemed logical enough. He pointed proudly to the French drain and the large sump pump in my storage unit, admitting that water would find its way through the porous walls.
We shrugged, resigned to the dampness that would never allow us to store much down there. I got oversized plastic bins and shelves from Home Depot for the things I couldn’t fit in my condo, and stacked them on the wooden pallets the builders had left for us.It was the first summer, in 2011, that we realized we had a problem.
The sheets of plywood the builders had used to build our three storage units were covered in dark greenish fuzz. “These things are like cotton candy for mold!” I proclaimed. We got the plywood out of there, sprayed everything we could with vinegar, and eventually tried a dehumidifier. The humidity didn’t drop noticeably, but our electric bill shot up about $100 a month.
After research and condo meetings, we went back to opening the windows, with the theory that air circulation was important. Somehow we made it through 2012 without many issues, thought the basement remained damp and musty. Life went on: the neighbors on the first floor had twins, Tom and I got married and agreed to stay in our city condo.
Then came the email as we prepared to head home from the 4th of July holiday: “Condo Meeting: Urgent Mold,” wrote Brian from the third floor — a month before his own wedding. Uh oh. Tom and I returned from Vermont to see what the hot, humid weather had wrought on our basement.
Eventually, we’ll have Mass Save back to do perimeter air sealing. And then there will be some sweat equity of our own. Our housemates have agreed we should prepare the basement floor and install a thin layer of concrete ourselves, as well as continue to patch up the foundation cracks where we can. (Kudos to Brian, who has already made this his hobby.)
We’ll also need to cover the French drain and the sump pump — those should never be open, clucked the basement experts. This story is far from over — the $1,300 dehumidifier just arrived yesterday, and our housemate Mark is going to install it. Once things dry out and all remaining belongings are hauled out, the remediation begins.
We’ve got thousands more dollars and a lot more work to do to clean up the basement, protecting our investment and our health. I have to say I am thankful to have such great neighbors, as we all figure this out together. I only hope someone out there will remember our experience, avoiding their own tough lesson in building science.