Ensure a Drier and Healthier Home

Indoor Air Quality Ottawa / Indoor Air Quality / Ensure a Drier and Healthier Home

Whew… we survived. The perils of Old Man Winter are behind us. Or are they…” Early deep record snowfalls, little or no ground frost and warm spring sunshine are recipes for flooded basements, leaking foundations and moist concrete floors. Is your home prepared for a moist spring and damp summer? Have you removed all the leftover cardboard boxes and winter accumulated junk from your basement?

Every season, spring arrives, melts the snow, and fills our ditches and streams with high water for a week or two. Snow piled against the house disappears and we begin to store our snow blowers and shovels. Our thoughts begin to drift off to scenes of summer sunshine and outdoor activities. Typically, the city storm water management system (storm sewers, gutters, catch basins and ditches) carry away the winter run-off with few floods or household calamities. This season, heavy snow loads and shallow frost will place our homes in more peril.
Larger water run-off volume and higher ground water tables will mean more wet basements and busy sump pumps. Larger snow banks against our foundations add to ground source moisture content which builds vapor pressure against our foundation walls. The earth around our foundations that drains slowly, tends to draw moisture into our homes (Mother Nature tends to flow from high to low, moist to dry and warm to cold).

Shallow winter frost typically affects the amount of moisture the earth can absorb before the snow melts and drains water away from our foundations. More moisture in the ground around our homes increases the water table under our footings and floor drains. City homes are connected to the city storm water management system by a perforated drainage pipe (weeping tile or Big “O”) that rests on the outside of the foundation wall, level with the underside of the footing under 8″ of 3/4 clear gravel. Ground sources of moisture, rainfall from the roof and surface drainage water is meant to drain down the foundation wall, work through the clear gravel, enter the perforated 4″ drainage or weeping tile, then migrate by gravity around your house to the city storm connection and enter the storm water management system. Wow lots of stuff have to happen to keep water out of your basement.

Rural households are not any better off. A typical rural home without connections to the city S.W.M.S. (storm water management system) drains the Big “O” to a hole cut into the basement floor (sump pit). This sump pit services all the home’s required needs for lower level drainage. Floor drains, condensation pumps, water softeners, air conditioning drains and the entire weeping tile are discharged into this pit to be electronically pumped to a buried pipe exhausting to the ditch at the end of the lane way. Let’s not begin to talk about heavy March/April snow melts, when the power goes out to these folks.

We can protect the durability and environment of our home if we control our household moisture. Active water leaks or high relative humidity in our environment can create conditions that foster poor air quality. Health Canada recommends that homes have a relative humidity between 35% and 45%. Dust mite populations’ increase in moist environments, especially in older carpeting on concrete basement floors. Microbiological organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, thrive in moist damp environments. Moisture and cellulose (wood, cardboard boxes, paper goods) are the perfect combination for fungal activity. It doesn’t take long for these areas to become musty, smelly and unhealthy.

We can avoid these unhealthy situations if we isolate the moisture sources and remove opportunities for bacterial and fungal contamination.

The Following Steps Will Make A Difference.

  • Don’t pile snow against the side of your home;
  • Ensure that window wells are uncovered and free of leaves and organic materials which can block drainage;
  • Enable spring runoff to leave your property by chipping snow and ice away to improve drainage;
  • Service and maintain your sump pit. Inspect pump float levels and operation. Remove all debris and other drainage hoses from the pump float mechanism;
  • Install a second sump pump to an independent exhaust hose powered by a different breaker (or fuse). Set pump float adjustment 1″ higher than your primary pump as back-up;
  • Install free flowing eaves troughs and downspouts with extensions that remove water away from the home. (There is no point in dumping all your roof water by the corner of your home, with no grade drainage. Roof water simply seeps down to your weeping tile and into your sump pit or city drain, adding moisture to your environment);
  • Keep cardboard, paper, clothes, carpets, hockey equipment, wood, stuffed animals and pillows off concrete floors and away from damp foundation walls;
  • Store your items in plastic containers off the damp floor;
  • Ventilate your environment during drier, cooler months;
  • Purchase a digital hygrometer to accurately monitor you environmental conditions;
  • Dehumidify damp basements during warmer “muggy” months. Maintain relative humidity levels between 35% to 45%. Purchase a large enough dehumidifier energy star rated appliance (50-60 pint);
  • Seal/caulk or repair any leaks in the floors and foundation wall assemblies to avoid moisture penetration.
  • And finally, use your nose. If you can smell something “earthy” or musty from the storage room or under the carpet, you must deal with it. Mold will not move out on its own. Remove the source (moisture and food), wash the area, then keeps things dry.

Indoor air quality conditions can be improved with proactive household maintenance. Anticipate moist conditions, inspect all pumps and drains, ensure ventilation and dehumidification, and store items off the floor. Your healthy environment literally begins at home. Put a spring into your step and into your healthy dry home.

(As published in Healthwise Ottawa, Spring 2008)