A wet, leaking, or flooding basement can be a homeowner’s worst nightmare. And since water in a basement is often caused by foundation problems, fixing a wet basement is often a lengthy, expensive process that must be completed by professionals.

The easiest way to avoid the headaches and expenses involved with leaking basements is to spot the problems before purchasing a home with basement problems. In many cases, a home inspector will spot signs of a basement that has had or currently has water problems, but by the time an inspection is conducted, the buyer is already well into the purchase process. This means a formal offer has been submitted and accepted, earnest money has been deposited and more.

It also means the buyer has lost valuable time shopping for a home and that he or she may have missed an opportunity to buy a home without a problem basement or foundation.

Buyers who learn the basics of how to spot potential basement and foundation problems during their first tour of a home can simply move on to the next home, avoiding the issues altogether.

basementWith that in mind, look for the following as you shop for a home:

A damaged or water-stained ceiling can indicate problems with a roof or plumbing

Look at the ceiling – whether it’s a drywall, plaster or drop ceiling – of that finished basement. If it has light yellow stains or even dark spots that look to have been cleaned mold, you could be seeing signs of water that has leaked into the basement from upstairs.

This water could have been from one incident, a leaking drain or water line for example, that has since been repaired. But it could also have come from a leaking roof, with water flowing or just dripping downward through walls. Or it could be an indication of past or current plumbing issues.

Stained baseboards or walls can be a sign of a leaking foundation

If you are looking at a home with a finished basement, take a moment to carefully examine all baseboards or the bottoms of walls. Faint stains on the lower portion of the walls or baseboards may have been caused by water collecting in the basement.

 Also look for freshly painted walls or baseboards. This work may have been done simply to refresh the finished basement’s walls and trim. Or it may have been necessary to cover water damage. Most sellers are honest, and they are legally required to disclose water in the basement, but some may not.

Stains on concrete floors can indicate past flooding

Unfinished basements usually have bare, concrete floors. If those floors have faint stains – often in the shape of small or large puddles – they may have had a one-time or chronic problem with water leaking onto the floor.

If a basement floor is covered by carpet – even indoor/outdoor carpet – examine it carefully for stains.

Look for rust

Metal exposed to water will often rust. If you’re looking at a home with a furnace, air handler, water heater, dehumidifier, our steel structure supports in its basement, examine their lower portions carefully, Rust on them may indicate exposure – likely repeated – to water.

Know how to spot foundation repairs

Concrete cracks, and given the soil composition and weather in the Midwest, homes in the St. Louis area often have cracks in their foundations. This can be caused by water pressure (hydrostatic pressure) on foundations, which often builds after frequent or heavy rains. Cracks may also be caused merely by extremes in temperature. In the St. Louis area, summer days with high temperatures in the triple digits and winter days with sub-zero temperatures are not unusual.

These extremes cause concrete (or mortar in the case of cinder block or stone cellars) to expand and contract. Concrete and mortar are not flexible materials and will subsequently crack under the strain.

Cracks may be superficial, or they may extend completely through a basement wall. Look for cracks, and just as important, look for signs a crack has been repaired.

Repairs can involve injecting a foam sealant into the crack, blocking the flow of water. While inexpensive, this method can be temporary as these sealants typically lose flexibility and eventually allow water to penetrate, leaving the dried sealant in the crack. This complicates future repairs.

Epoxy injection is often a permanent solution. Injecting epoxy – an extremely strong and durable adhesive – into a crack can be a permanent repair. Epoxy injection repairs are identifiable by the dried paste on a basement wall that follows the repair. In many cases, small plastic tubes (ports through which epoxy is injected) may remain attached to the concrete.

Mold usually equals water

A final common indicator of water in a basement is mold. Most species of mold need water or at least a small amount of moisture to grow.

Mold may not always be easy to spot, but even small amounts can produce a musty odor most people can smell. Also, look for black, dark brown, greenish and other colored patches in dark areas of the basement. Mold can indicate water problems and will require removal (mold remediation) to make the home safe for occupants. As is the case with foundation repairs, mold remediation can be expensive.

Ask questions

If you spot any of the above indicators of a leaking or wet basement, review the property’s disclosure and ask – or have your realtor ask – the seller’s agent about the issues you have spotted or if an environmental inspection has been performed.

If you don’t get a satisfactory explanation, it may be best to move on to the next home on your list.

Talk to an experienced loan officer if you are considering the purchase of a home

The loan officers at SmartMortgage have experience in supporting countless buyers seeking conventional and innovative financing for homes. Regardless of your situation, our loan officers will support you from application to closing and are ready to help you. Contact us today and get the professional advice and service you need.

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The above information is for educational purposes only. All information, loan programs and interest rates are subject to change without notice. All loans subject to underwriter approval. Terms and conditions apply. Always consult an accountant or tax advisor for full eligibility requirements on tax deduction.