Can you waterproof and floor a basement without using scary chemicals?
Originally published July 3, 2013 in the Green Home Guide, a service of the U.S. Green Building Council
Q: Can you waterproof a basement and install a floor without using as
many scary chemicals as everybody else? Try to stay true green?
Not sure if the walls or floor get damp or wet. Want to install a
laminate or other floor in a basement. Maybe walls, sheetrock or
woodpanel. Not sure looking for most natural way to go.
—Asked by HelenJay, Manorville, NY
A: The quick answer is yes, there are some excellent non-toxic sealers that prohibit moisture penetration in concrete walls and floors.
Where the moisture comes from
If your basement is wet, it’s usually coming from moisture underneath the slab or from water running through cracks in the walls. It may also be due to condensation if your basement is cold and the air is warm, as it is this time of year. Using a sealer can help block moisture penetration to a degree, but it can’t stop Mother Nature completely. Hydrostatic pressure builds up when the water table rises underneath your concrete slab. It’s near impossible to stop this 100%. This results from excessive rain, drainage pipes that are old and plugged up, or gutters that are not well connected that allow rain water to run back towards the foundation.
Try to stop the water at its source
It’s a good idea to consult with an excavation contractor who can examine your basement to determine where the water is coming from in the first place and try to stop it at its source or divert it. This can be pricey, but sometimes it’s just a matter of changing the slope of the ground away from the house. If the drain lines around your home are plugged up, this can require serious work, but ultimately, well worth it.
Topical and penetrating sealers
Using a sealer can be helpful if you choose the right type for your application. Most sealers for concrete are topical, which means they sit on the surface and block moisture from the top down. This makes cleanup easy, but they eventually wear off through normal wear and tear and continual cleaning. Topical sealers won’t stop water coming up from below or from the side walls.
Penetrating sealers, on the other hand, work better at this because they go deep inside and seal from within. However, many contain nasty solvents which can off-gas for months or years. Water-based penetrating sealers work well, but some still contain toxic ingredients, so you have to do your homework.
Our favorite is GBS Penetrating Sealer which penetrates 2-5 inches into the concrete and chemically bonds to the substrate, becoming one with it. It’s completely non-toxic and has no odor; and it stops water that comes in from the floor or the walls. It can block hydrostatic pressure by 50% which is better than most. Like all penetrating sealers, it can only be applied when the concrete is fully dried and, if new, it must be fully cured. The concrete must also be clean and cannot have any topical sealer on it or GBS Penetrating Sealer won’t penetrate through it. And the pH must be neutral 7-9. This is not a problem for concrete a year old or more, but it can be for fresh concrete that has a very high pH level.
Vapor barriers are usually required
Sealing concrete is an insurance policy for your flooring but it does not take the place of solving the larger problem of water penetration. Most floating floor manufacturers require vapor barriers such as 6ml plastic for warranty purposes, but penetrating sealers add one more level of protection. It’s a smart and inexpensive way to help protect your investment. You may also wish to use a sealant for any small or large cracks. Try our M-1 by Chemlink; it’s non-toxic, has virtually no odor and seals well in damp places.