Dangerous Basement Issues
Basement inspection tips.
As you inspect your basement, you may discover three common culprits that compromise your comfort and safety.
Water damage and high humidity cause mold to grow within walls. If you find mold, remove it and locate the source of excess water. Often you can remove mold simply by applying a 50 percent solution of laundry bleach and water to the affected area. As you work, be sure to provide plenty of ventilation and wear protective gear: gloves (made of natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, or PVC; ordinary household rubber gloves won't stand up to bleach), goggles without ventilation holes, and a good-fitting N-95 respirator available at many hardware stores and home centers.
A 50 percent solution of laundry bleach and water is actually more effective for mold removal than using full-strength bleach, which is hazardous to breathe and could result in regrowth of bleach-resistant mold strains. If mold growth is extensive, you may have to replace carpet, insulation, and other affected materials. Mold is present in some form in nearly all homes, so don't overreact if you discover some in your basement.
Have the mold analyzed by a professional to determine its type and health consequences. Check the telephone directory under "Environmental & Ecological Services" or "Air Quality Measuring Service." Your state's public health department also can provide information.
You may find asbestos in your basement in insulation that surrounds furnaces and ductwork, wood-burning stoves, steam pipes, or boilers. Asbestos also can be found in resilient flooring materials or in the adhesive used to bond flooring to the concrete slab. Homes built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos in the insulation. Homes constructed after 1980 probably don't contain asbestos products.
Asbestos in good condition usually releases no dangerous particles and is best left alone. If the material has tears, abrasions, or water damage, you may be exposed to its fibers, which, when inhaled, can cause lung cancer or other health problems.
If you have damaged material that you suspect contains asbestos, hire a professional to test it. Don't test it yourself; you can inadvertently release more fibers. If the material contains asbestos, it must be professionally sealed, covered, or removed. Removal is not always the best option because of the risk of releasing more fibers.
Contact the federal Environmental Protection Agency office in your area to find a licensed asbestos testing and removal agent.
Odorless, colorless radon is a natural gas often present in basements. Because it's been linked to lung cancer, radon at high levels is a health threat.
Test your home with a do-it-yourself kit purchased at a home center, or hire a professional. If high levels exist, seek advice from a radon-abatement technician. (See "Radon Testing" in your phone directory.) Solutions involve sealing cracks and joints, and using fans and ducts to circulate fresh air.