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Dirt Floor Basement

We live in a 100+ house in Central Illinois. We have lived in this house for 15 years and have made many improvements over this span of time. However, we have an area in the basement, which we call the "wine cellar", that we have used as a storage area and have ignored.:( With that, the previous owner had laid vapor barrier, particle board, pieces of vinyl flooring and a piece of carpet. Over the course of 15 years, this area has seen water that has trickled in somehow. We knew we needed to do something about this and just tackled this the other day. We have mold issues.... We removed everything except the vapor barrier, found the mold and cleaned that up somewhat well (wore N95 Mask). Sprayed bleach water all over and using a dehumidifier to dry it out. What can we do to fix this problem? We want to use this room for storage and put down a "floor", no concrete right now, and keep this as dry as possible. This room has the old brick foundation, which is need of mortar in various areas. Is using Drylock on the brick possible after repairing some of the brick?

Re: Dirt Floor Basement


If only it were as easy as dabbing a little cement on a wall!

Keeping rainwater out of a basement (especially a 100 year old basement) can be one of the most difficult & frustrating jobs that a homeowner can tackle---but each house/foundation/cellar is unique in its own ability to hold back or let in water, so don't get discouraged, something can usually be done----if you first learn to do some INVESTIGATIVE WORK, and take several hours to first try & determine how & where the water is getting in the basement.

This Old House master carpenter Tom Silva has made an excellent video (below) that addresses this problem---he advises that the homeowner, before he does anything, must realize that the basement is usually a hole in the ground BELOW GRADE, and as such is easy prey to allow rain water (which always flows downward) to flow from the soil that surrounds the house, down into the basement, which is at a lower grade---remember water always flows downhill----into the basement if it can.

Tom Silva also mentions in the video that the homeowner has to check out (investigative work) how rain water is coming off the roof---are the roof gutters & downspouts in workable condition, and do they direct the rain water AWAY from the foundation by at least 5 feet??, or is there some buried 4" plastic conduit pipes that the downspouts flow into, and then into a dry well, to direct the water away from the foundation???

If you don't want to wait for a rainstorm, get out the garden hose & start spraying the roof & siding next to where the moisture is noticed in the basement to see if water is collecting at that location & then make the proper repairs at the outside of the house to the gutter/downspout system; check all horizontal roof gutters where they connect to the downspouts to make sure their filters are not clogged with leaves, etc. & are thus overflowing onto the foundation near the house (this is a very common cause of basement water leakage); make sure no downspouts are missing, & that the water is being directed AWAY from the foundation, especially near where you are now experiencing water in the basement.

If you can find the point where the water is entering the foundation, you can probably stop it before it enters the house & your problem is solved; so before you go out & spend your money on Drylock, hydraulic cement, or any other product, first try to stop the moisture/water coming in from the outside of the house, using the investigative techniques just mentioned.

There are numerous articles you can read & research on the topic of basement leakage/waterproofing---Google "basement waterproofing" for further readings.


Re: Dirt Floor Basement

1) Solid gutter systems with generous downspout extensions everywhere they are needed.

2) Grade the surrounding yard and soil so it slopes away from the house.

3) Sump pump with water discharged 10 feet from foundation or to an area where you are positive it will consistently drain away from the house foundation, whichever comes first.

4) Once steps 1 through 3 are taken if there is still water getting in you can look at excavating the foundation, repairing the wall below grade and patching any missing mortar, and then applying weather-proofing membranes. A mason or water proofing company will gladly do it for you at considerable cost. But alot of them will also mistakenly suggest it as a first option because it is one of the most profitable ones for them and they don't make any money at all by telling you what you really need to do is call a gutter guy. With newer poured concrete foundations I would say if you have the cash for it, why not. With a 100 year old home with what I assume is a brick or stone foundation, many would consider a full excavation to be a last resort if the water issues can't be fixed by any other means. Disturbing soil that has settled around such a structure over the course of a century can often have unintended consequences.

If you say the mortar inside is bad in spots, it definitely makes me wonder what it must look like overall. But remember, if you decide to do mortar repair, you need to do the outside as well as the inside. Sealing water out from the inside only doesn't work. What happens is it makes its way part of the way through the wall to your patch material then gets stuck there. Then it continues searching for a way out, eroding other areas and in winter freezing and expanding and doing more damage to the wall. Trying to stop water from the inside only can often cause more damage than letting it in. All that water stays inside the wall instead of seeping out and draining into the soil. So mortar repair outside down to a few feet below grade and mortar repair inside will DEFINITELY help even if you don't completely excavate the foundation.

Do not worry about dry lock. I don't think the product is total crap like alot of people do, but it is more of a finishing product for aesthetics and to help seal out light humidity. If the water problem is serious it will flake right off pretty quickly. The marketing tries to convince you that it can fix serious water problems but this is not true. It is just something foundation companies like to tack onto the invoice as an integral part of their 'system'.

Know that you may never get this 100% perfect but the right steps can make it so insignificant as to be a non-issue. Foundations back when your home was built were not designed to be water proof. They were designed to channel water through the structure and let it drain into the soil beneath without causing significant damage. Basements were not living spaces back then like they are now. So it can be a real challenge to modern day home owners who want more utility from their basement because they have to modify something that was engineered to do the exact opposite of what they now need it to do.

Re: Dirt Floor Basement

Going a bit 'deeper' with this, if the walls are leaking (and mortar not being completely waterproof this is probable) then even a concrete floor won't fully solve this. For me, the clue here is mold which will not form in a well ventilated area. Better ventilation is the solution I'd be looking for along with waterproofing and exterior water management.

Waterproofing belongs on the exterior surface of a house. Stopping it from the inside is an option only in the least wet locations. If you can manage to hold the water back from the inside, the brick and mortar will now be in a pool of water deteriorating far more rapidly than they should because they can no longer dry out. Your problem sounds minimal so interior waterproofing is worth a try and should not cause problems.

It's my guess that a lot of the moisture you're encountering is coming from the dirt floor. A simple test is to pull up the existing vapor barrier to see how wet it is and where. If the seams/edges are wet but the center is dry, that means water is leaving the barrier evaporating into the occupied area where it is not sealed. If the center is just as wet, then you may have ground-water issues in which case only something like a concrete floor will give you a chance at stopping it. Minimally a well-sealed vapor barrier is a good start.

Since for now this is just storage, a cheap and easy 'floor' is used pallets which will add airspace between the 'floor' and the stored items to keep them drier. If you want something with better coverage, tack some plywood on top of them but leave an inch or two at all sides to promote airflow; don't cover the whole floor. This will last a few to several years. Creating such a space as this also creates a good place for pests to live so you will want to stay on top of that till you get that concrete floor in.


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