Ventilation Issues

Musty, damp air may be something that you can tolerate in a basement you visit only occasionally. But once the basement becomes a true living space, some form of ventilation is crucial in controlling air quality. Eldrenkamp likes to use a reversing fan made by Vent-Axia. In the winter, it draws in fresh, dry air from outdoors (the volume of air is low enough so the basement doesn't feel like an unheated shed). In summer, moist air can be pumped out of the house. Hyman's company often uses a wall-mounted air exchanger made by Humidex, which vents cooler, damp air to the outside. If the house already has a forced-air heating system that includes air-conditioning, the basement can be added as another zone. Air-conditioning naturally lowers moisture levels in the air.

Yet another option is to add dehumidifiers, but there are several drawbacks to them. They are more expensive to run than a ventilation fan, and unless a dehumidifier is plumbed directly to a drain line it will have to be emptied periodically. And, as Heim points out, dehumidifiers tend to be noisy.

Fresh air is just as important to boilers, furnaces and gas-fired water heaters as it is to people. These devices often are enclosed in a small mechanical closet. But in doing so, builders will have to add a source of fresh combustion air. Enter once again the code-enforcement officer: It's a good idea for you to check local code requirements for providing combustion air for those devices.

There's a lot to think about when converting a basement into a bright, inviting living area. But once the work is done, you'll never want to leave.

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