How to Spot Water Damage in Your Basement or Foundation

Identify signs and sources of water damage in basements and foundations and find out who to contact for repairs.

How to Spot Water Damage in Your Basement or Foundation

A home is only as strong as its foundation. If your house has experienced flooding or water damage to the basement or foundation, it’s important to repair these areas as quickly as possible to avoid larger structural and property damage issues – which can end up costing much more if they are ignored or delayed. The first thing you’ll need to do if you think you have water damage is have a thorough assessment conducted by a professional to determine the next steps in the repair and cleanup process.  


Signs of Water Damage

Evidence of water damage isn’t always obvious and sometimes it’s not even visible. If you suspect that your basement has water damage or needs flood repair, you should always call a licensed professional to do an inspection to first confirm that you have a problem, and then help you decide what to do to correct it. Some telltale signs that you have a water damage issue include:

  • Changes in color/texture of surfaces – Both walls and floors can show signs of water damage. In a finished basement, wallpaper or paint may peel or appear discolored (usually a yellow or brown color which indicates water stains). Walls may also warp or become bowed as a result of prolonged seepage. In an unfinished basement, a white, salty substance called efflorescence appears on foundation walls and indicates how high water has risen in the basement. If a basement has flooring, it may be swollen or removed from the subfloor. The under-padding in flooring (usually carpet) may also feel spongy, which is an indicator of water damage.
  • Cracking – This will usually occur in the foundation and/or floor and can happen both inside and outside the home. The most common reasons cracking occurs from water damage is due to excessive moisture (from weather and climate) and inadequate drainage (oftentimes from expanding and/or soggy soil). Pay attention to cracks in window seals and door panes too, as this could point to water damage and also lead to bigger problems – like emergency flood repair – if not properly sealed to prevent any further moisture or water from leaking into the basement.
  • Odor – While basements and crawl spaces usually have a certain smell, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a water problem. Pay attention to a strong damp, musty odor that doesn’t go away (even after a storm or wet weather). In most cases, it is mold or mildew that you smell, which means you’ve got moisture or water damage on your hands.
  • Mold – If you can’t spot mold, you can sometimes smell it, so that’s why it’s important to pay attention to distinctive odors in the basement. Mold will appear on furniture, wood and other organic materials, walls and other surfaces either as dark green or black in color or sometimes a white powdery substance.


Sources of Water Damage

There are a number of reasons your basement or foundation can suffer from water damage. Some are natural and therefore hard to avoid, but you can still help protect against them. Others are infrastructure issues that a general contractor can fix.


Flooding can be a result of both natural and manmade sources. Natural or environmental sources include wet weather, heavy rain and in extreme cases, natural disasters. Manmade or manufactured sources include system failures in your home, such as plumbing issues (leaky pipes, overflowing sinks/toilets) or malfunctioning appliances (washers, dishwashers, water heaters).


Like flooding, moisture can also occur from both natural and manmade sources. A mixture of humid air and liquid water—either from rain or groundwater—are the main natural sources of moisture. Humidifiers, improperly vented dryers, bathrooms and kitchens are all interior moisture sources that are manmade.


Many elements outside of your home can adversely affect your foundation, and may eventually lead to water damage in your basement. While many of these may be out of your control, there are preventative measures you can take to lessen their impact of water damage to your home. Exterior factors include:

  • The climate, weather and amount of rainfall in your area;
  • Your yard’s soil type and consistency;
  • Amount of ground erosion around your home;
  • The location and position of your home in relation to how the land naturally slopes; and
  • How much lawn maintenance and landscape upkeep you do to your yard.


Who to Hire

The amount of flooding and the specific areas of your home’s foundation or basement that have experienced water damage will help you determine who to call for help. You may just need a water restoration company to clean up and preserve your home’s contents while mitigating the damage. However, if the damage is extensive, you’ll likely also need an experienced general contractor to help rebuild the foundation or structure.

A water mitigation contractor will do an extensive examination of the basement and foundation and measure the moisture content of the affected areas. They will also use powerful pumps and vacuums to remove the excess water and industrial strength fans and dehumidifiers to properly vent and dry the area where flooding has occurred. Once the basement is considered dry, a contractor can begin the build back work on the damaged area, if repairs are needed. Whatever the problem is, make sure to hire a professional who will carefully evaluate the damages and then suggest the appropriate plan of action for repairs.


The information and advice contained in this article is intended as a general guide for informational purposes only. It does not take into account your personal situation. While we at Resolve have significant experience and history operating in the home restoration industry and working closely with construction contractors, we are not licensed as a general or specialty contractor. We encourage you to consider the information we’ve provided but urge you not to rely upon it in place of appropriate professional advice from a licensed, experienced construction contractor.  


How can we help?

Our home repair project specialists are standing by to help you get started.