We bought our house in 2008. It was a lovely city frame house, smallish, perched on 2/3 of a city lot, with the ground and second floors giving us just 1,500 square feet. But it has a huge deck instead of a back yard, a finished basement, a nice front porch for sitting and watching the neighborhood go by and a loft overlooking our cathedral-ceilinged bedroom instead of an attic. It has lots of oak trim on the ground floor and hardwood floors throughout – a vintage home, Sandi’s bottom line – built in 1896.
Not until we began to settle in did we find the squishy drywall at the base of the basement bedroom. So, off came all the drywall on the perimeter, so we could see where the old, getting-porous-brick foundation was seeping through. There were plenty of places.
We never saw a lot of water, just dampness down near the basement floor and, on the brick walls, lots of efflorescence (“a crystalline deposit of salts often seen on the surface of concrete, brick, stucco or natural stone …surfaces. It occurs when water leaves behind salt deposits and is present on or in the masonry surface.” – Google).
We didn’t think we needed to dig trenches and put in drainage tiles and a sump pump. So we started do things to prevent rainfall from going down the side of the house where it would come in contact with the bricks: cleaning the existing gutters; adding new ones; putting flashing around the outside, behind the bottom of the siding; extending downspouts. Every time we did a project, we’d wait for a good rainy spell and then check the basement for dampness where the bricks meet the floor. Finally, after two years of living with a very cold basement with exposed brick walls, we were dry. So we hired carpenters to put back the drywall and the shelf that goes around the perimeter about halfway up – where the basement rises above ground.
But this year we’ve had so much rainfall in Chicago, eight inches above normal through July 28. And 2017, 2018 and 2019 are all in the top ten of rainfall for year to that date. It was the wettest May of all time here (148 years of recorded weather), beating 2018, the previously wettest May. And we know that Lake Michigan is near record heights – within one inch of its all-time June high. And our house is close enough to the lake so that we are probably experiencing very high levels of ground water.
Okay, you know where I’m going here. The climate is changing and we were getting a lot of rain. And as a result, our basement was getting damp again. And maybe it will continue to be wet because this is the new pattern – more rain, then, perhaps, worse droughts. Or just more rain. Or maybe it will be relatively dry and we’ll get eight more years of a dry basement. We don’t know.
What we do know is that we recently found a large outbreak of mold near the floor on the basement drywall. So the drywall came off again and we’ll have to see how much moisture is coming through that old, porous, brick foundation. And we’ll have to plan for dealing with this much rain, or more. Mold abatement is expensive and intrusive, but the sealing process could be even more so of both.
So climate change has come home, and this won’t be the end of its intrusion in our lives, or yours.