Let me tell you a story about our basement... First, we love our basement. It's nice, spacious, unique, and a fun place to hang out. However, we've had the occasional problem with water. Usually this showed up below our chimney, which happens to be the wall between our family room and the furnace room. During a really big storm, we might see some water show up in the furnace room, and maybe a little wetness in the carpet on the other side of the wall. Not much usually, and it would dry up and we never thought much of it until one day we came downstairs to find these:
Yes, those are mushrooms. Big, brown mushrooms growing in our carpet. I even found mold growing up the wooden leg of an ottoman out in the middle of the room. We knew there was some water damage there but never realized the extent of the problem. Our mission was clear, the mushrooms must die ASAP, but not until they could be properly examined by water damage professionals. We were preparing to go on vacation for a week and didn't relish the thought of these things growing down here for another week until we got back. We ended up calling a couple cleanup companies to see if we could get it cleaned up right away. There were some delays as we figured out that nothing was covered under insurance. One company looked over the whole basement with an infrared camera and could see water in the walls as high as 6 feet around the affected area, but otherwise the rest of the basement was dry. Metro Restoration, the company we ended up going with, helped us feel better about leaving for a week and sprayed everything with a disinfectant when they came out to inspect the basement. This killed the mushrooms right away, and by the time we came back from vacation they were shriveled up and black. Thank goodness for that, and thank goodness for subscribing to Angie's List, which made finding good contractors a great experience.
Shortly after we came home we had the water damaged material ripped out of the wall, and had all the carpet in the room removed as well. What we found was a likely culprit... the "ash pit door" which is where you would clean out ashes dropped down from a wood-burning fireplace. Our fireplace has since been converted to gas, so this door was concealed behind sheetrock. All the water was centered around this door. While we've essentially lost the family room for awhile, at least the nasty stuff has been properly cleaned up and we can move on with finding solutions. As an aside, we could tell that previous owners had fun down here. We found hopscotch courses and children's names painted on the floor, and chalk drawings on the block wall.
At this point we didn't know if water was coming down the chimney, and finding it's way down due to a roofing or flashing problem. We had people look at it, and we even went outside during a rainstorm to look at the chimney area. The most telling thing we saw was water dripping off the underside of the gutters (but not overflowing as far as I could tell) in front of our chimney, and hitting the ground right next to the chimney foundation. We also noticed that some of the landscaping near the house doesn't slope away from the house very well. Our gutters have always been in need of repair... rust, holes, cracks, etc. We've managed to keep them going with caulking in the worst spots, but there's only so much you can do. My dad came up with a good way to test out our theory... run the hose on the ground in front of the chimney. If we see the same results, we know it's not likely a chimney/roofing problem. I turned on the hose and ran it slowly for about an hour, and we saw the same thing we've seen before. I set up my camera for some time-lapse photography to capture the leak:
At this point we've decided to go ahead and fix up the gutters and the water damaged soffits & fascia like we've talked about doing since we moved in. We're also going to fix up the landscaping so water is directed away from the house better. I haven't decided if I want to dig in front of the chimney to look at the foundation, but if we direct water away from it, a foundation crack wouldn't be so much of an issue anyway. The chimney itself has some deteriorating brick above the roofline, but that repair/expense may have to wait, and at least we know it's not the source of our water problem.