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I just purchased a 100 year old home with an unfinished basement that I'd like to clean up and use as a more livable space. The house has a history of water around the foundation and seepage in the basement, which can be seen by the effloresce on the walls and some damage to the mortar. I'm in the process of having gutters installed, and the area around the house properly graded, to help mitigate this in the future.

I'm completely new to this sort of thing, and the home inspector told me I could simply remove the efflorescence using a wire brush and then paint the walls with a waterproof, sealing paint. As I've done more research it seems the correct approach would be to remove the existing paint (there are maybe 1-2 layers from what I can tell), patch the cracks and holes in the mortar, and then apply the waterproof sealer to the bare blocks. Removing the paint myself seems tedious and time-consuming so I'm considering hiring a sandblasting company to remove the paint, then doing the patching and painting myself. For what it's worth I'm also planning on hiring someone to do a concrete overlay to smooth out the basement floor. I'm okay with having exposed brick walls, and I'm not planning on covering them up with drywall or anything like that.

The area around the furnace has some of the worst damage, and this is after I already removed much of the efflorescence using a wire brush attachment for my power drill. Someone previously painted a few of the walls, but I don't believe it's a waterproof/sealing paint so I'm probably going to have to strip and paint the entire basement. It's a relatively small basement and there are a few other spots with efflorescence but this sums up what it looks like for the most part.

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Am I on the right track here? Any advice for how best to approach this project? Thank you in advance.

Edit: A few folks pointed out the patching around the perimeter of the basement floor - there is no sump pump, and as far as I'm aware there is no existing drainage system.

Edit 2: I should probably clarify what I mean by livable space - we aren't planning on putting down carpet, furniture, or making this a TV room or anything like that. I would like to make half the basement into a small home gym/workout space (with concrete/rubber flooring), and the other half put up shelves for storage and have a deep freeze or second fridge. On the other half of the basement (not shown in photos) we were hoping to add a second full bathroom, but that was a more long term plan.

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    It is usually best to seal the walls from the outside. Inside sealing is usually not as good. The higher cement along the walls seems to be a way to try sealing from the inside.
    – crip659
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 15:06
  • Depending on the soil type around your house, you may still want to add a sump inside or french drains outside.
    – KMJ
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 15:13
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    Don't rush into using it as livable pace until you can verify that all water problems are solved, or you "make it livable space" in a manner that fully tolerates flooding (e.g. ceramic tile, no carpets, avoid upholstery unless you can be sure of pulling that furniture out, etc...) Paint removal in 100 year old house means - lead test first, then proceed based on the results of that. Nasty stuff.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 15:17
  • Looks like it wants cracks filled/"repointed" too.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 18:17
  • I think it would be best for you to just clean everything up as quickly/easily as possible (wire brush or flap wheel?) and give it a light coat of paint. Then wait a year or two and see if the efflorescence comes back. If it doesn't, you can go back and fix properly and move on with your life. If it does, then you have to figure out how to prevent it.
    – Huesmann
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 13:03

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Been there... Been in almost this exact same sort of basement 5-10 times.

I am very good at converting basements into livable space, adding bathroom, few big rooms and tons of $$$ to the property for cheap. Because if done right basements are the easiest way to add living space and if you know what you are doing, it is very cheap.

However your basement is a money pit. You have large cracks, you have leaching everywhere and you have a footing that was obviously dug out at least once (drainage/sump pump I am guessing). I implore you to leave this basement alone. Throw down some all rubber click lock flooring, paint the walls and run electric right to the walls. That's it. Old time pub vibe.

Please do not finish that basement, do not waterproof it from the outside, do not spend money to put a drainage system on the outside, and please do not add concrete on the floor to level it (which will make the footing issue 10x worse).

I am sorry if this breaks your dreams in this home. This basement may never be suitable for a totally finished environment - for the amount of money that you will have to spend to possibly get it up to par. If you have to have this space add an extension to your house or buy another house. There is no way in the world I would spend 30-40k trying to waterproof and improve this space when all of that can fail within a year or two. I have witnessed many homeowners do this with basements and it is a sad process.

I am not telling you to not use the space. I am saying use it for what it is. Rubber flooring, can have a small TV room or office. If you have a couch though high chance it could get moldy within 6 months.

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  • Seconded. Water intrusion in basements is frequently the result of local geology and water table conditions, which can NOT be fixed by any of the ordinary "mitigations" mentioned.
    – kreemoweet
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 17:17
  • @kreemoweet - there are signs of water coming from a 30-40' span. The block engineering, the water coming in almost to ground level, the flooring in rough shape.... it is too much . What people don't realize is that when they waterproof one side of their house that has been leaking, is the water will just find another way in. Hence just leave it alone. You could waterproof that wall then the water starts swelling under the footings cause irreparable damage to the foundation. Right now its just a nuisance so deal/adjust to it and move on.
    – DMoore
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 17:21
  • Wow. This is a hard pill to swallow but I appreciate your advice. This is our first home and we were counting on being able to do something with the basement. When you say paint the walls should we strip the existing paint first, or just paint over? And would you suggest waterproofing paint or just regular interior paint? Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 18:30
  • It doesn't matter. Previous owner used "waterproofing paint" which has already been turned over. Do whatever you want - its just for looks. You still have space there, you just know what you can use it for. You can store harder types of materials that don't have fabric. You can put things in sealed bins on shelves and things like that. I would put an office down there. It is usable space, just have to use it for the right things.
    – DMoore
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 19:01
  • Another note is the basement has never been finished. So if you are in the US and most of Europe you don't have to disclose water issues unless they effect the foundation. For a finished area - building permits - you need full disclosure. Although this doesn't happen often - this scenario does happen: finish basement, city signs off, major water issue, have to have mitigation, city comes in with more rules for basement and mitigation, city won't sign off until demands are met. You either then have an unfinished basement again or pay thousands to meet city demands.
    – DMoore
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 19:06
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I would say it has present water issues, until you can be sure you've put them into the past.

The crude patching at the edges of the floor may go with an internal perimeter drain retrofit. Is there a sump?

The best approach (also the most expensive approach, usually) is to excavate all around the house to the footing level, apply waterproofing and drainboard to the outside of the walls, and provide a perimeter drain at the footing level either to daylight (meaning sloped downhill to a drain) or to an external sump (which puts you at peril in a water + power outage situation.) And, of course, correct the grading when done.

Coatings and/or membranes applied to the exterior are more resistant to water pressure, since they are being driven onto the wall surface, rather than water in the wall trying to push an internal coating off an internal surface. However, internal coatings can, sometimes, work, and certainly cost a lot less.

However, correcting the grading and gutters alone will solve many problems - whether that's adequate in your case is best determined by having enough patience to see if the problems are truly solved (by seeing if the basement stays dry through a year) rather than getting through a rainstorm or two, deciding it's fixed, and putting down finishes that will be damaged by water.

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