Don't Hate Your Basement

Considering the extensive flooding in the Midwest this last spring, it would be easy to curse the day your basement was born.

It’s a dank pit below your feet, in some cases constantly flooding, growing mold and smelling foul.  Condensation forms on pipes and walls, sump pumps get overwhelmed or fail and your precious belongings stored below get ruined….arrgh!

You may swear that you’ll never own a basement again.   BUT… consider the alternatives.  The grass is not necessarily greener without a basement.

Alternative #1 - Crawlspace:  

 A crawlspace has all the same characteristics of a basement with 3-5 feet less ceiling height and possibly dirt floors.  Many a cold winter’s day have I spent on my belly crawling around dealing with moisture problems within these places, typically only suitable for raccoons and hobbits.  Utilities are irksome to access (like a broken pipe, electrical or HVAC system) and good luck replacing your furnace filter!  I don’t even want to get started about the all-around nastiness of sewage in a dirt-floor crawlspace.  

 Alternative #2 – Concrete Slab: 

 This should work, right?  No pit under your feet…what could go wrong? Many slab homes utilize concrete to install ductwork, water supply lines, drain lines and other utilities, but, much like utilities in any other home, these will fail or require maintenance.  Instead of walking into a basement or scooting into a crawlspace, you are bringing in a jack hammer, the whole time hoping you know exactly where the problem is and that the problem area isn’t under a wall or a cabinet. Not to mention, if a pipe above the slab were to break it just continues to spread horizontally into the living space, tainting kitchens and bathrooms.  Flood waters are often not covered under property insurance and falls under Category 3/black water due to all the fun pollutants it picks up along the way requiring all of the drywall and textiles to be removed that have been touched by the filth.  Hopefully the homeowner has thousands of dollars squirrelled away for such an occasion.

 Alternative #3 – Learn to LOVE (or at least take care of) your basement: 

Although I am not a fan of disaster proofing your home and taking every step of the building process to think “ok, what if I flood?,” there are materials such as fiber mat drywall, vinyl composite trim, nature stone floors that will help minimize damage.  A battery backup with check valve on your sump pump system is a great idea too. Simply put, build to code and mitigate damage quickly using certified professionals.

 Mike’s Advice

Obviously my advice is to keep your basement.  Responsible ownership is the key. Think about what you keep and where you keep it. Plastic totes, pallets, or wood blocks minimize damage and make for easy cleanup. Finished areas need to consistently have a relative humidity below 60% with strong foundation walls and floors.  A drop ceiling is always a good idea vs. drywall; drop ceilings make for slick access to utilities and it is simple and inexpensive to replace damaged tiles.  If you are going to frame up and install drywall and insulation, build away from walls to allow the foundation to breathe. Keep in mind, though, with all due respect to the Transamerica pyramid, there are no disaster proof buildings, especially when it comes to water damage.

Don’t give up! Basements are still the best, as frustrating as they may be.  If managed carefully, (a big ‘if’) crawlspaces can be effective spaces for storage and access to the utilities. However, the addition of a basement is typically a better investment during new construction.


Mike Bowman is a Production Manager for PuroClean Professional Services in Brunswick, OH and is a Master Fire & Smoke Restorer, Water Restorer and Textile Cleaner having served North East Ohio for 12 years. He has been asked to speak about restoration for the Red Cross and has been an instructor for the TMC Group in both the United States and Canada. He can be reached at:

Comments (1)

Ilyce Glink
Think Glink Media - Chicago, IL
Best-selling author, award-winning TV/radio host.

Good advice for basement maintenance, and thanks for the perspective! Sometimes, the grass only seems greener. I think keeping valuables a few inches off the floor with metal shelving is key during flooding. 

Jul 18, 2011 09:06 AM