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Troubled Houses - A Home Owner's Resource sm - Wet Basements 

We see many interesting adverse conditions during our inspections, partly because of the unlimited number of ways people can mess up a house, but also because we do a thorough inspection to reveal these adverse conditions. We hope these stories and illustrations help home owners avoid these costly conditions by learning about causes, preventions, and remedies. A home purchase can create opportunities for the new owner to improve the home, possibly increasing its value, durability, and usefulness.  We have relocated to Winter Park, CO and now serve home owners in Grand County Colorado.

NOTICE TO BUYERS & SELLERS: This site does NOT encourage or discourage the purchase of any individual house, or style, age, location, or condition of house.  Conditions shown and/or described in the following articles may have been remedied at the house where these conditions were found.  These conditions typically can be remedied by qualified contractors. The presence of these conditions in any house is comparable to any other real estate consideration such as price, size, or location.  Consult a qualified home inspector before purchasing any house, and consult a qualified real estate agent for more information on how to handle a real estate transaction where adverse conditions are reported in a home inspection.   This site does not describe any house by address or knowingly show a readily identifiable exterior image.  Further, no home actively listed for sale will be described on these pages at the time the article is posted.

THANK YOU for visiting   Learn more about our services, which now include IR Thermography, radon testing, and carbon monoxide tests. All photos copyright Roger Hankey. All rights reserved. Licenses to use these copyrighted images can be arranged by contacting  

"Troubled Houses - A Home Owner's Resource" is a SERVICE MARK of Hankey & Brown Inspection Service Inc.  List of topics and all articles in this resource. 
Also see our pages on Moisture Mysteries, Moisture Damage, and Moisture Investigations.

Wet Basement Consultations

Moisture intrusion is a common problem found in homes with basements, crawl spaces, or subject to ice dams in snow country.  Our inspectors know the causes and remedies for most wet basements.  We are independent consultants and do NOT try to sell you expensive repairs that you may not need!

We look at the interior and exterior condition of your home and advise you on the most likely causes and the most cost effective remedies.  Often those remedies involve repair and maintenance to equipment and components already installed on the house.

Photo of wet basement foundation corner, block wall.  (C) 2010  Roger Hankey, ASHI Certified Home Inspector in Winter Park, CO USA

We advise you on how to improve the equipment you already have, and what type of additional corrections or installations you may need to create a much drier basement.

We are realists.  If we believe your basement is not suitable for finishing, we will politely explain why.  Usually, even a damp basement can be made livable with proper floor coverings, a radon removal system (to help dehumidify), and other suitable materials. For more information about mold and mold cleanup see the US EPA website.   To contact a mold cleanup specialist (mold mitigation), see our Service Experts page.

Fees for our services are $350 minimum for the first 2 hours, and include a written report.  Most consultations are completed in 2 hours.   To read more about wet basement success stories, see our Moisture Mysteries  (scroll down to #4) and Experience pages.

Water Mismanagement

   House with serious drainage problems. Photo by Roger Hankey ASHI Home Inspector in Winter Park, CO

This house has drainage and landscaping problems.  There are no rain gutters at the right and right front eave.  

  House with stepped foundation wall. Photo by Roger Hankey, ASHI Inspector in Winter Park, CO

The foundation wall on this side of the house steps down for a rear wall walkout. Some of the siding is below the snow and earth.

                                           Side wall landscaping

The snow and earth cover some the siding.  Drainage is along the wall rather than away from the wall.

                             Troubled Houses: Water damaged wall,  Photo by Roger Hankey, ASHI Certified Inspector in Winter Park, CO

The sheathing of the frame wall adjoining the window is water damaged from being below the ground level.

                                     Wet basement foundation wall.  Troubled Houses, Photo by Roger Hankey

The front wall of the basement is damp and covered with mineral salts (efflorescence) from the frequent evaporation of ground water into the basement.  We recommended proper landscaping and installation of a full system of gutters and downspouts to reduce the potential for water intrusion.  Click here for information on wet basement inspections.

Recipe for a Wet Basement

House with poor site drainage Troubled Houses Minnesota Home Inspection by Roger Hankey

The side yard drainage at this house is along rather than away from the house.  The downspouts are not directed to areas that drain away.

  Wet carpet and tack strip Troubled Houses Minnesota Home Inspection by Roger Hankey

Wet carpet and tack strip in the basement along the wall shown in the first photo.   Click here for information on wet basement consultations.

 Orange slime attack, what Is Iron Bacteria & Iron Ochre?

  (C) 2015  Photo of sump pump with iron ochre. Roger Hankey, ASHI Certified Home Inspector in Winter Park, CO USA

Iron bacteria is a micro-organism that lives by oxidizing minerals dissolved in water -- especially ferrous iron creating a thick reddish brown slime. (Shown in a perforated sump pit in the photo above.) This slime stains whatever it contacts. It sometimes has a swampy, musty odor. The iron bacteria sticks to the interior of foundation drains, forming layers of iron ochre. Eventually, these layers can clog the drain. In one case where we consulted with the home owner, the iron ochre caused the drain and sump pump to fail which led to basement flooding. The sludge is not easily removed.

  (C) 2015  Photo of  sump pump and drain tile with iron ochre. Roger Hankey, ASHI Certified Home Inspector in Winter Park, CO USA

While not common in the Twin Cities, we have found iron ochre in foundation drains and sump pumps in Minnetonka, Plymouth, and Eden Prairie (shown above). The presence of iron ochre is another reason why foundation drains must not discharge into the sanitary sewer or plumbing fixtures connected to the sanitary sewer. (See the illegal sump discharge into a utility sink shown below.) 

  (C) 2015  Photo of sump pump discharge into utility sink with iron ochre stains. Roger Hankey, ASHI Certified Home Inspector in Winter Park, CO USA

Proper foundation drain maintenance is essential to prevent clogging of the drain, sump and pump.  Examine the sump pit and drain tile at least semi-annually using a flashlight and mirror to check for iron ochre deposits. If iron ochre is present,

  • Have the drain washed with high pressure jets of water by a foundation drain tile firm or sewer cleaning firm
  • Have the sump pit or basket cleaned in the same manner.
  • Have a qualified plumber clean and service the sump pump
  • If the sump has discharged to plumbing fixtures, have the sanitary sewer video scanned to determine if it has iron ochre deposits.


The use of pressure water jetting has been successful in cleaning some drains clogged with ochre. Most of the commercial cleaning has been on drains installed in gravel. Some older installations may be unsatisfactory for jet rinsing because of small slot sizes in the foundation drains. Chemical treatment of the drain with chlorine has been successful in some areas.

(C) 2015  Photo of foundation drain tile clogged with iron ochre. Roger Hankey, ASHI Certified Home Inspector in Winter Park, CO USA
Pressure jet cleaning may be unsuccessful if the ochre has aged and become crystalline. Alternate foundation drain tile systems with openable caps are available but could involve costly system replacement including new gravel beds below the foundation drain tile. The ground near the foundation is very vulnerable to water flow as heat from the foundation often keeps the soil warm enough to prevent frost.  Melting snow from downspouts is a leading cause of wet basement in the Spring.  

   Downspout extension too short. Drawing from "illustrated Home" by Carson Dunlop
Also, check your sump pump.  Look at the water level in the sump.  If the water level is near or above the bottom of the open ends of the drain tiles, then the pump is not working or not adjusted properly.  Activate the pump by adding water to the sump.  If the pump does not activate, contact a plumber for correction ASAP.   Also during or shortly after the next heavy or steady rainfall, check to see that water is entering the sump.  Water should flow from the open ends of the tile into the sump.  
(C) 2012 Iron ochre sludge in foundation drain tile and sump. Certified ASHI Inspectors in Winter Park, CO
Check the ends of the tile (often plastic tubing) for silt or slime. (Orange material is iron ochre.)  If debris of this type is entering the sump, your pump or the tile can become clogged.  Contact a drain cleaning firm for assistance ASAP.  


Fall Maintenance (deferred) Check in Spring also

  Clogged rain gutter. Photo by Roger Hankey ASHI Certified Inspector in Winter Park, CO.

Now is the time to check and clean your rain gutters.  This gutter is steel, not aluminum, and can rust out from acids formed by decomposing organic debris.  Clogged gutters can lead to wet basements particularly during Spring snow melts and rains.  Click here to learn more about us.

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