Tips for a Basement Makeover

February 9th, 2012 by The Responsibility Project

Why prevention is key when planning for basement renovations.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Many homeowners study their unfinished basement and imagine its potential. They picture a family room with a flat-screen TV and state-of-the-art sound system, a hobby room or home office outfitted with electronics and supplies, or a quiet bedroom retreat where they can escape from the noise and activity in the rest of the house.

This thinking is grounded in a strong financial incentive. Remodeling magazine reports that among all midrange projects, a renovated basement ranks third in return on investment. But the finished product can disguise potential problems. Surface water penetration of foundation walls, water backups through floor drains, burst pipes, overflowing toilets and just plain high humidity all can cause damage behind finished walls and under floors. Here are some tips you should keep in mind while planning your basement’s renovation.

Safeguard Furnishings

High humidity is all it takes to ruin fabrics and corrode sensitive electronics. Home offices and family rooms located in the basement are especially vulnerable.

Fortunately, a portable or whole-house dehumidifier or ventilation system can dry out the air. Just be sure high humidity isn’t caused by water leaks in floors or walls or from fixtures or appliances.

Check Appliances

Imagine: You’re not home or you’re upstairs when a washing machine hose bursts in the basement. Unless you hear the water running and shut it off immediately, you face major flooding.

The best prevention is to replace rubber washer hoses with stainless steel-clad hoses, which have less chance of bursting. Or install an automatic shutoff valve to help prevent water damage when the machine is unattended for extended periods.

If you have a refrigerator in the basement, be careful not to kink the icemaker line when it’s installed or moved. Over time, water pressure can force a hole in the crease, causing a leak.

Keep Walls Dry

Water that collects around a home’s foundation can soak the soil and penetrate cracks. This may damage insulation and porous material used to finish a basement’s interior walls, such as paper-backed drywall or paneling.

For prevention, divert water away from the foundation. Chronic problems may need to be solved by a professional.

Other causes of wet walls and floors are subsurface groundwater, storm water and sanitary sewer backups. Make sure your sump pump is adequately sized to remove water from around the foundation. And ask a professional about using a backflow preventer, a device installed with the home’s drain system that allows water to flow only one way.

Maintain Fixtures

Water heaters have life expectancies of 10 or 11 years, so replace yours if it’s older. The risk of a leak or blowout rises with age.

Also, make sure your toilet and sink supply lines have shutoff valves to stop overflow.

Protect Floors

In the winter, frozen pipes that crack and leak are a major cause of damage. Even a one-eighth-inch split in a pressurized water line can spill up to 250 gallons per day.

Insulate pipes or wrap them in heat tape in areas where freezing is most likely. In homes with a sump pump system, the system should expel water from around the foundation before it can get on the floor. Make sure your system has a battery backup in case of power failure.

When choosing flooring, be sure the manufacturer recommends it for below-grade installation. Select carpet that’s made with a rubberized backing and can be easily removed.

Winter Tips

“Water damage that occurs in the winter is most often attributed to ice dams or frozen pipes,” says Paul Schrembeck, Liberty Mutual’s property field manager and manager of the Water Mitigation Unit.

For damage prevention:
• Keep ice dams from forming by making sure attic insulation meets or exceeds state code requirements. Also, prevent air leakage from inside the house into the attic.
• When the weather turns very cold, let water drip slowly from all faucets served by exposed pipes.
• If you leave for an extended period, do not set your home’s thermostat below 55 degrees.

Keeping all these tips in mind is a great start, but it’s also important to protect your investment once moving forward with renovations. Visit Liberty Mutual’s Homeowners Insurance page to learn more.