Get some answers on how to reduce basement dampness, a little known dishwasher hazard, and “hard” water.
Q. Our basement has a “damp” feel and smell most of the time. We want to eliminate the cause of this dampness. Any ideas?
First, you have to determine if the cause of your basement dampness is seepage or condensation. Dampness from seepage may be due to actual water penetration through the walls or floor. It can also be due to moisture retained in the foundation material. Condensation is due to high levels of water vapor in the air that condenses on the colder foundation or other surfaces in the basement. To assist in trying to determine the possible cause of your problem, we recommend cutting two one-square foot sections of heavy plastic (a heavy duty garbage bag will do).
Tape all sides of a square to a dry section of the basement floor and to any basement wall below grade level. Leave them in place for three days. At that time, pick up the plastic squares. If the floor square is wet, some seepage is probably occurring. If the underside of the wall square is wet, the problem may only be condensation. Seepage can sometimes be corrected by sealing the walls and floors. If that doesn’t do it, more involved work may be needed including perimeter grading and diverting water away from the house. Condensation is a function of too much humidity. Improving ventilation and, if necessary, installing a dehumidifier would be in order.
Q. One of my neighbors told me about a friend's dishwasher exploding in their vacation home. Have you ever heard of such a thing happening?
There have been reports of strange household explosions. This phenomenon has reportedly occurred over the years in houses that have been left vacant for several weeks or more. It is caused by a build-up of hydrogen gas in the hot water system that is subsequently ignited by an open flame, a spark or the heater. Since hydrogen gas isn’t soluble in water, it remains in the water system as a gas under pressure. In most cases, the gas will dispersed harmlessly as water flows from the faucets with normal use.
But without regular use of the hot-water system, as is the case when a house is vacant for some time, gas can become trapped in the plumbing lines. Then, when a water valve is opened (e.g., at a faucet or dishwasher), the pressurized gas can be forced out of the valve and ignited by an open flame, causing an explosion and possibly a fire. This is a relatively rare occurrence; but to be safe, the best advice for dealing with vacant homes is to remove any possible build-up of hydrogen from the system before turning on any burners or other elements that could ignite the gas. The best way to do this is to first open the dishwasher door and turn on all the hot-water faucets and let them run for 4-5 minutes. Of course, do not smoke while performing this procedure.
Q. What exactly is hard water? I’m told the reason my dishwasher and washing machine scale up is the fact that the water is hard in my area. A filter has been recommended but I’m not sure if it is worth it.
The term “hard water” refers to household water that contains high amounts of dissolved minerals (usually calcium and magnesium). Anything above 1 GPG (grams per gallon) is considered hard water, but there are varying degrees. Water hardness is classified as follows:
• Soft Water – less than 1 GPG
• Slightly Hard – 1 to 3.5 GPG
• Moderately Hard – 3.5 to 7 GPG
• Hard – 7 to 10.5 GPG
• Very Hard – 10.5 and higher GPG
The harder the water, the quicker scale buildup and corrosion of metal components occurs. To help neutralize the water hardness, a water softener is typically used. These can be purchased or leased. They do not filter the water, but “treat” the water by changing the water’s chemical make-up.
To determine the hardness of your water, contact your local water department if you have municipal service. They must test the water on a regular basis so they will have records of the typical hardness level, as well as information on many other water quality issues. For well systems, or even municipal supplies if documentation of water quality is not available, you can contact a local water lab to arrange for an analysis. Some municipalities will perform a free analysis. Suppliers of water treatment systems will also perform water quality tests, but it is good to have a separate test to confirm water makeup.
Remember, these tips are only general guidelines. Since each situation is different, contact a professional if you have questions about a specific issue. More home safety and maintenance information is available online at www.housemaster.com.