Dirt Floor basement, flooding & health problems.

gardenquestDecember 26, 2006

Hello I am new to this section, from the garden or kitchen remodel sections......but i am here to ask some questions about dirt floor basements.

We own a old city house, 1860 or so. The basement has one section that is dirt floor w/ stone walls. We have lived here for 8 years w/o any problems, until last spring the main drain had gotten plugged up and it backed up through all 3 rooms with sewage and yucky water..Since the basement if not finished, we do not use it except to change furnace filter or something. My question to you folks today is......the 2 times this water back up, i have experianced allergy symptoms which i do not normally get...and i am convinced it is from the wet mud and yucky air going through the house from that water soaking that dirt floor to the bottm. Is there any thing to do to clean the air or cover that dirt up to stop the poor air quality from floating through to the rest of the house? I know it is the problem with my health prob because when i leave the house for a length of time i am fine, and then start sneezing etc once i am back home.

Should i buy a dehumifier? Should we do something to that floor? bleach everything again? We would like to get some input, we cannot afford to have that dug out and laid concrete at this point in time. so anything that will help is greatly needed.

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Did your main sewage drain back up and spread sewer water over the floor, or did just a water sump fail?

If you had sewage (yours or from the mains), you have a bigger problem, than if it was just water.

Assuming it was just water (and even then in an urban area it could be storm water drainage which is not benign), then you should do what you can to maintain constant sump drainage, including provding back-up power for emergencies if the flow warrants that.

To clean up from a storm water surge, or sewerage back-up, I would be looking to your local authorities for guidance, and perhaps clean-up assistance. Or your homeowner's insurance if you have flood coverage.

If you have to do it alone, I would search for info on cleaning on the web. But I am sure you must first disinfect the soil and floor and any immersed wall sections, then run dehus to remove the air moisture and gradually dry out the floor and walls.

For maintenance once the storm's/flood's effects are sorted out a dehu (again with power back-up if it's a serious need) running constantly will help. As will covering the dirt floor with a vapor retardant film (not simple poly sheets), and perhaps pouring some concrete over that.

Under floor (and within crawl space) ventilation is a subject with contentious viewpoints. You should read about it, a lot, before signing up with any remediation firm. There is info here, including a long list of resources I posted for someone else. If you do a search on my name "housekeeping" you will find it.

The simple solution of just putting a vapor retarder below your floor joists may help, but won't get at the root of the problem which is cleaning up after the last flooding, and then drying out and putting a retarder on the floor to block the vapor at the lowest level.

I live in a very old building with dirt floors in most of the cellar so I have some experience with these issues, though thankfully never with urban flood contamination as I live in a very rural area.

Of course, I can't tell if your health problems are a result of moisture in your basement. They might be, or not. But it's not good to live in a house with a continuously damp basement, nor is it good for the house, either. It's worth some effort, and expense, to get it dealt with. However, be cautious about publicly labeling your house a "sick building", it could make it impossible to sell later on.



    Bookmark   December 26, 2006 at 3:18PM
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we own an 1890's home as well and it has a full basement under it, but we too have many problems with moisture down there. i hadnt even realized it untill you brought it up, but this may be where my allergies are coming from. i NEVER had them before untill we moved into this house. this summer i plan to overhaul the entire basement including:

replacing aged hatch way that we know is a main culprit in water.

sealing the entire foundation with some type of cement sealer (including the floor, as we get some seepage it seems)

insulating floor joists and installing a vapor barrier (should have been done YEARS ago IMO)

adding some type of air filtration system onto our forced air furnace

hopefully after i do all that we wont have sooo much moisture anymore. some people have suggested running a dehumidifier, but we would have to run it 24/7 and its just not economical.

hope that helps.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2007 at 12:52PM
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You can run dehumidifier on a timer.we do.we had dirt floor when we moved in.we concreted it so we could use it .We put a sump pit& pump in and put dehumidifier in on a timer.we drain it in the sump pit so we dont have to tend it.We have not had any problems since.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2007 at 3:59PM
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I was told to seal wall from outside. We cemented where it was dirt floor. BUt was told not to seal floor if you do have water coming in will raise floor and crack it. We also run our dehumidifier to drain in sump-pump.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2007 at 9:43PM
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I am about to buy an old building with a dirt floor. The owners were honest enough to tell me the floor floods when it rains a lot, as it has in the last 4 years, twice, 12" high!
Is this a huge red flag, or is there a cost efficient way to cover the dirt. There is only one way in and that is from an inside staircase. They have a humidifier in there now, nothing else. It is a small space to cover, maybe 15x20.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2007 at 5:50PM
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There is no way to keep the water from rising in there unless you were to start all over with a completely new foundation and jack the whole house up. I wouldn't buy it myself - it's one thing to 'get a bit damp' sometimes, another to have 1' high flooding! Who knows what the present foundation is like at this point (inspector or no inspector!).

    Bookmark   November 26, 2007 at 5:10AM
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