The goal of almost any home owner that has an unfinished Virginia basement is to eventually finish it off. An unfinished basement is after all almost a whole extra floor underground, which can be turned into anything you or your family might need.
Basement finishing projects are far from cheap. There is no real comparison to any other single room in the house; there are challenges that only occur in a basement remodeling project. The basement is usually filled with utilities such as the plumbing, heating, and electrical junctions. Moisture and water buildups are commonplace.
Attempting to Finish a Wet or Flood Prone Basement
The way that many basements were constructed creates a very conducive condition for water seepage. The basement is likely either poured concrete or cinderblocks, both of which are fairly porous materials. When the rain saturates the ground with water, it is forced with hydrostatic pressure against the outside of the basement walls. This pressure is great enough to force the water into the structure and through the wall; this infiltration is called capillary action. On the inside, plumbing leaks and accidents, shattered water tanks, and other mishaps can cause flooding indoors. A basement needs reliable drainage, a good sump pump system, and proper dehumidification in order to be dry enough to be finished.
Constructing with Wood Studs, Fiberglass Insulation and Drywall
These materials are excellent to use above ground, but in the basement they can spell disaster. The natural humidity that a basement tends to create a condition conducive to the growth of mold when combined with organic materials such as wood, paper, and in fiberglass as the urea based adhesive that holds the batch together.
Not only is the mold hazardous, but the fiberglass insulation loses all of its R-value when damp. Drywall is even worse; when it comes into contact with water it begins to slowly decompose and release toxic fumes. All materials used to construct basement walls should be inorganic and 100% waterproof if they are expected to survive a flood or water accident.
Improper Use of Vapor Barriers
Shady contractors will try to convince you that you can use any kind of finish you want as long as you staple poly sheets all over the walls and to the floor of the basement. There is a worse suggestion, placing the vapor barrier over the studs and fiberglass, and putting the drywall on top. The US Department of Energy’s Building America Best Practices recommends that any moisture from basement walls and floors should be allowed to evaporate and dry to the interior. An Improper vapor barrier will only serve to do one thing: trap condensation between the concrete and the barrier, creating another ideal situation for mold to grow, which you definitely don’t want in your Virginia basement.