Stained, ugly basement walls and floors can be anywhere from a cosmetic nuisance in a generally unused part of the home to a sign of a significant problem that can affect every room in the house. Below are the four most common ugly problems seen on basement walls.
Generally, this white, powdery substance is known as efflorescence. Efflorescence is a loose mineral salt that is commonly found on basement walls in humid environments. It's ugly, but in and of itself, it's not a sign of damage to your home.
However, efflorescence is a definite sign of humidity. Efflorescence is created as moisture passes through the porous concrete in of your basement walls and into your home. As the moisture passes from your walls into your basement air, it leaves any minerals in the water behind on the basement walls in the form of this white, powdery substance.
Efflorescence can be cleaned off, but if humidity is constantly passing into the basement in this way, this will become a constant battle. The best way to permanently fix the problem is to finish the space or to install a rigid plastic wall covering over the concrete. However, humidity in a basement can lead to mold, dust mites, and health problems and should be addressed with a basement dehumidifier. Click to read more about basement humidity.
If your basement walls have been covered in paint or hydraulic cement, it's a matter of time before this material will begin to chip and peel off your basement walls (when this happens to hydraulic cement, it's known as spalling). This is very common- coatings do not last on basement walls for a very long time.
The reason for this is simple: as moisture moves continually through the porous concrete of basement walls, it builds up behind the coatings, pressing them outwards until they eventually blister, peel, and flake off, while the moisture breaks the materials down and potentially encourages mold growth. Ultimately, these coatings do far more harm than good in the space.
The best way to deal with a problem like this is to remove what you can from the walls and cover them, either with a rigid plastic covering or by finishing the space. New paint will only repeat the process and cause more problems in the near future.
Dark patches and stains on a drywall are often a sign of a mold infestation, and it serves as a good warning sign that action needs to be taken. Drywall mold tends to grow on the surface you cannot see before coming outside, so there's a good chance that this mold is much more present than what you can see. It may be time to check behind your drywall to see if the mold problem is worse there, as the spores created behind drywall will also enter your air. Click to read more about home mold.
If you have reddish or orange stains on your basement walls, floors, or drywall, there's a good chance that the source of the stain is something called iron ochre. Iron ochre can be found all over the United States and Canada and is common wherever there are high levels of iron in the soil. While iron ochre is not detrimental to human health, it can lead to many problems in your drainage systems by building up in pipes and drains, causing it to clog and fail.
The ACAIQ has shown that iron ochre forms when soil is exposed to both water and oxygen. The iron will oxidize to form a combination of iron hydroxide and mud, which is what you're likely to find clogging your drain. According to ACAIQ, two kinds of ochre deposits exist: iron ochre of bacterial origin and iron ochre that has formed by chemical reaction.
Iron ochre deposits are found in aerated soils (such as sand) as well as soils located in permanently saturated low-lying areas. Once it makes contact with air, the ochre deposits itself on surfaces. Soils such as fine sands, silt sands, organic soils and soils containing minerals, are most likely to contain iron ochre. It's also been known to form in potential flood zones such as the ones found at the bottom of a hill. Variations in water levels will also increase the chances of ochre forming.
Drains have been designed specifically to better deal with homes that have seen iron ochre problems, particularly in the area of basement waterproofing. When iron ochre clogs a system, it will no longer be able to protect your basement, leading to a flood. If you have seen these stains or know that there is a history of iron ochre in the area, be sure to tell your contractor right away so that these alternative drains can be used instead.
Iron ochre stains are very stubborn, and they're almost impossible to clean. They will stain anything they touch, including carpeting, drywall, plastic, and other materials, and the most effective way to deal with these stains, unfortunately, is replacement. It's a good idea to avoid having iron ochre flooding into your basement whenever possible.
In warmer parts of the United States and areas with similar climates, the best way to cover the basement walls with a firm, white plastic covering. These coverings can be mounted directly into the basement walls with plastic brackets. Take care never to use glues or other adhesives to attach a plastic coating to a basement wall, as water vapor, which passes through basement walls continuously, will build up efflorescence behind the basement walls and gradually work offany adhesives you apply. In colder areas of the United States and in Canada, a flexible plastic vapor barrier may be a better option (in Canada, it's the only code-compliant option for basement wall coverings of this nature).
These coverings have the benefit of drastically improving the appearance of a basement by covering the ugly appearance of the basement walls while, in the case of a vapor barrier, sealing away a major source of basement humidity. If you have a perimeter drain in your home, these coverings can also be used to direct moisture and leaking water from the walls downwards, leading it into the drainage system below.
Even if you do install a vapor barrier on the basement walls, be sure that you do not install drywall in a damp basement, as this can lead to numerous expensive and potentially unhealthy results. Click to learn more about drywall problems in a basement enviornment.