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How LIers can deal with 4 common basement headaches

John Matthews, with the crew of Healthy Basement

John Matthews, with the crew of Healthy Basement Systems, installs a drainage system in the basement of a home in Old Westbury. Credit: Danielle Silverman

When a broken pressure-relief valve on the heating system in Jennifer Carlino’s East Northport house poured 2 to 3 inches of water in her basement one night in April, she and her husband, Matt, sprang into action.

First, they tried to manage the water themselves. "We tried with our little Shop-Vac but that kept getting filled up," Carlino said.

Then they started sweeping the water from the basement into the yard. "It was just exhausting," she said.

Then they hired a contractor recommended by a friend. The company arrived by 2 a.m. and extracted the water and pulled up the carpeting.

Large fans ran for seven days to dry the space while salvageable items, like her daughter's American Girl dolls and a dresser, went into a storage pod on their lawn.

In July, a storm dropped so many leaves that her gutters, although recently cleared, overflowed onto the exterior basement stairs, sending water in to their still-unfinished basement once again, said Carlino, 50, an assistant dean at Stony Brook University.

Luckily, they hadn’t yet installed new carpet or drywall, added furniture or painted after the previous flood.

Carlino said she has "no idea" what the final repair bill will come to. The project was delayed when the insurance company required they get more than one quote from contractors before removing asbestos floors under the carpet.

"We have to wait for everything to dry so we don’t get mold when we put the drywall up," Carlino said. "It’s inconvenient. But you just have to remember: it’s just stuff."

Long Island basements, which often sit atop large aquifers and are surrounded by bodies of water, are highly prone to water damage, said Glen Apfelbaum, president of Home Healthy Homes based in Northport.

"When you get heavy rains and that groundwater begins to build up, the basements are literally sitting in a swimming pool of water," he said. "Every home on Long Island will leak," Apfelbaum said. "It’s a matter of when, not if."

Here are four common issues with basements and what steps residents can take to prevent and deal with them.

Foundation flaws, blocked gutters

Clogged gutters that overflow and downspouts that deposit water at the foundation of a home are a prime cause of basement flooding, but those problems can be prevented, said Larry Janesky, owner of Larry Janesky’s Healthy Basement Systems, a nationwide company based in Medford.

"What causes a water problem is backfill saturation — the soil on the outside of your foundation walls just gets saturated and it builds up hydrostatic pressure," he said. Rainwater accumulates and "finds its way in between cracks and seams in the wall."

What to do: Install durable gutter guards to prevent gutters from getting clogged with leaves and other debris. Add extensions to gutter downspouts to route water away from the foundation.

Flooding and drainage issues

"Concrete is certainly not waterproof," Janesky said. "Concrete cracks; it has joints in it and holes in it. There’s going to be some problems somewhere along the way."

It's not just cracks, said Mike Muller, owner of Repel Restoration in Deer Park. Water will find a point of entry through walls, water mains and septic lines, too.

Often, basement window wells will overflow with water, sending it gushing into the basement.

What to do: Install a French drain and sump pump. The drain, a gravel-filled trench, funnels water to the sump pump, which sends the water back outside or into a drain line. The project can cost several thousand dollars.

Muller said he injects a hydroactive grout to stop leakage into the cracks of poured foundations.

For window well issues, the remedy is to dig down to the footing of the house and fill it with gravel for drainage.

Signs of mold

Even a small amount of water can cause mold, which can be harmful to inhale. And mold remediation can be expensive. Mold can grow on many things, including drywall, wallpaper, paint, ceiling tiles, wood products, carpet and fabric.

Exposure to mold can cause a stuffy nose, wheezing, and red or itchy eyes, or skin. People with allergies to mold or with asthma can have worse reactions.

What to do: Run a dehumidifier designed for basements to prevent mold. Some surface mold can be removed using either white vinegar, baking soda, detergent, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol or fungicidal solutions. But mold that has gotten in crevices and has penetrated surfaces will take hiring a mold remediation expert to remove it. And scrubbing away mold won't solve the problem without taking additional waterproofing steps to prevent future mold.

Attracting pests

Like water, pests can make their way into basements through tiny cracks and openings and are attracted to common characteristics of basements: moisture and darkness. While some insects are simply unattractive and unwanted in your home, roaches and rodents can carry bacteria and disease.

What to do: Following all the steps above to correct the underlying cause of moisture will have the added effect of making the space less habitable for bugs. Sealing cracks will make it harder for them to get in, and clearing out boxes, bags and clutter will reduce the places that pests find to be a welcoming habitat. Eliminate food sources. Don’t store food in the basement, or if you do, place it in tightly sealed containers and clean up spilled food immediately.

Like other basement problems, trying at-home solutions, including spraying insect-killing poison or putting down traps, are a good first step but may still require hiring a professional exterminator.

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