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Basement Stairs
Controlling Moisture in the Basement
Where is the Water Coming From?
Reducing Condensation
Controlling Ground Water
Exterior Remedies
Interior Remedies
Water that comes through cracks


Basement Stairs

Squeaks in stairs are usually caused by a loose tread rubbing against a riser or the stringers when someone steps on the stair. Treads become loose when joints open due to shrinkage, or when supporting blocks or nails work loose. Once you pinpoint the location of the noise, you can usually remedy it. You probably already know which steps are the noisemakers in your staircase.

  • If the noise comes from where you step, concentrate your repair efforts there.
  • If the noise comes from one side when you step in the center, or if it comes from the rear of the tread when you step at the front, first secure the place where you step, then move to the apparent source of the noise.
  • If the stairs are accessible from underneath, work on them from below so your repairs won't show. You can use wedges, brackets, or wood blocks to secure the treads to the risers.
  • If you don't have access from below, you'll have to work from above.
  • First, try lubricating the stairs with powdered graphite or talcum powder.
  • Forcefully blow the powdered graphite or talcum powder into the joints, especially where the backs of the treads met the risers.
  • To prevent the wood from splitting, drill pilot holes before inserting nails or screws.
  • Counterbore the holes if you plan to fill them with dowel plugs rather than wood putty.
  • If you drive in wedges, you'll have to remove any shoe molding first.
  • After driving in the wedges with a hammer, cut them flush with the riser, using a utility knife, and replace the shoe molding to conceal them.


Most wood banisters consist of one or two handrails, balusters, and one or two more supporting newel posts. Repeating use can weaken the banister, resulting in loose handrails, balusters or posts. Methods for tightening loose parts involve inserting wedges or securing loose joints with screws.

  • If you're using screws, drill pilot holes for them to prevent the wood from splitting.
  • Use an electric drill with a combination bit so you can sink the screw heads.
  • To conceal them, fill the screw holes with wood putty - preferably colored to match the wood - and sand the putty smooth.

Controlling Moisture in the Basement

The most common basement problem a homeowner faces is water. The problem can range in seriousness from damp walls and floors to water gushing out of a crack. The source may be simply humid air condensing on cool surfaces or ground water finding its way through your basement's walls or floor. Before you can correct the problem, you'll need to determine the source of the water.

Where is the Water Coming From?

If you can see water flowing out of a crack in a wall or floor, you know that the source is ground water. In the absence of such obvious evidence, you'll have to make a test to determine whether condensation or ground water causes the dampness in your basement.

  • Cut two twelve-inch squares of plastic sheeting or aluminum foil.
  • Tape one to the inside of an outside wall and one to the basement floor (make sure the surfaces are thoroughly dry).
  • After two or three days, remove the plastic or foil and examine the surface that was next to the wall or floor.
  • If it's dry, the culprit is condensation.
  • If it's wet, it's a sign that ground water is seeping through the wall or floor.

Reducing Condensation

When the basement air is humid, the moisture in the air may condense on cool surfaces, such as cold water pipes, concrete or masonry walls, or a concrete floor. Though you can apply a coating to reduce condensation, it's best to lower the air's humidity, using these suggestions:

  • Improve ventilation by opening basement windows or installing an exhaust fan in the basement.
  • Raise the temperature in the basement.
  • Vent moist air from a clothes dryer to the outside.
  • Install a dehumidifier in the basement area.
  • Insulate cold water pies and basement walls.

Controlling Ground Water

When water collects next to a foundation wall, or when the water table (the water level under your property) is higher than your basement floor, hydrostatic pressure can force water through cracks, joints and porous areas in concrete walls and floors and through cracked or crumbling mortar joints in masonry walls. Causes can include:

  • Poor construction practices.
  • Clogged or non-existent footing drains.
  • Poorly applied or nonexistent waterproofing on the foundation
  • Cracks through the wall.
  • Improper grading.

Correcting any of these problems is a major job that requires digging out the foundation to the bottom of the footings. Though this may very well be the most permanent repair, first try the remedies that follow. If they don't work, then you'll have to contact a foundation engineer or contractor for a more lasting solution.

CAUTION: If you see horizontal cracks in a wall that's bowing inward, long, vertical cracks wider than 1/4 inch, or a crack that's getting wider (measure periodically), you have a structural problem. Contact a soils or foundation engineer at once.

Exterior Remedies

Roof and surface water collecting next to the foundation may be causing the dampness in your basement. Make a careful inspection outside, using the following checklist, and correct any problems you find.

  • Gutters and downspouts should be clear and should direct water away from the foundation.
  • For tips on cleaning gutters and improving drainage at downspouts, click here.
  • Make sure you have proper grading around the house. The ground should drop one inch per foot for the first ten feet away from the foundation walls to ensure good surface drainage.
  • Planting beds next to the foundation should keep water from collecting or pooling.
  • Window wells around basement windows should be free of debris, have good drainage, and be properly sealed at the wall.

Interior Remedies

These simple interior repairs may alleviate or cure your water problems:

  • Apply a coating to the wall. Most coatings are painted on, though some are plastered on with a trowel. Except for epoxy coatings, all are cement-base products with various additives. Epoxy does the best job. Look for coatings at home improvement or masonry supply centers.
  • Patch cracks in walls and floors with Portland or hydraulic cement patching compound. Hydraulic cement expands and dries quickly, even in wet conditions. Cracks wider than 1/8 inch should be undercut-chiseled out so the bottom of the crack is wider than the. This will prevent water pressure from popping out of the patch.
  • Chisel out a groove along the wall if water is entering through a floor/wall joint. Fill the groove with hydraulic or epoxy cement and cove (form in a concave shape).
  • Chisel out cracked mortar joints in masonry walls and fill them with hydraulic or epoxy cement.

Water that comes through cracks in a concrete floor or through the joint between the floor and wall is caused by hydrostatic pressure.

In addition to those described above, remedies include:

  • Installing drains under the floor.
  • Adding a sump pump.
  • Laying a new floor over a waterproof membrane placed on the old floor.

These are all jobs for professionals.

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