Basement Walls: Do it Once, Do it Right, Make it Green.

April 27th, 2012
It is a common occurrence all over the US: beautifully (and expensively) finished basements turned uninhabitable by dampness, strong musty odors, and mold infestation.Sensitive people have developed unexplainable allergies and upper respiratory symptoms and millions of dollars a year spent in mold remediation, and replacement of moldy drywall, insulation and studs.Expensive flood cleanups remove tons of moldy materials and mold remediation procedures, which have doubled in price in recent years, decontaminate the whole house just to prevent the mold from growing back.
Even after years of such failures, homeowners and many contractors still insist in treating below-grade basement walls the same way they treat the above grade ones, and use the same materials to finish them, namely: wood frame, fiberglass insulation and  drywall. All of which are very poor choices for a basement due to the fact that they are all extremely susceptible to water damage. None of them can withstand a basement flood and are likely to grow mold under humid conditions.

These materials will eventually deteriorate and, being hardly recyclable or bio-degradable, will eventually end up in a landfill somewhere, its chemicals polluting the ground or being washed by the rain into the nearby streams. That is bad for your pocket and even worse for the environment.

Basements are Not Like the Rooms Upstairs

Because of the way basements are built, below grade walls are chronically moist or highly susceptible to developing some level of moisture problem.

Moisture in the basement walls comes mainly as a result of the fact that the basement is basically a box shaped structure, usually made of porous concrete, concrete blocks or unevenly layered stones, buried in wet dirt.

A hole, bigger than the actual basement, had to be dug so that foundation walls could be built or poured, and then loose soil was back filled around the walls. This backfilled soil will never be as hard-packed as the unexcavated virgin soil around it.  It’s looser, more porous, and much more absorbent of water.

A number of factors, including heavy rains, melting snow, clogged gutters, downspouts discharging too close to the wall, improper grading or landscaping, and even a leaky garden hose can over saturate the soil around a foundation. The result is a significant amount of hydrostatic pressure against the basement walls that causes water to seep into the basement. Heavy leakages usually happen through wall cracks and at the junction between the walls and the slab.

However, keep in mind that concrete is a porous material. Therefore, even if there is no visible leakage, the water is consistently infiltrating the walls through capillary action.

In addition to that, basements are always prone to flooding and water accidents such as plumbing leaks, holes in water heaters, bursting washing machine hoses, a power outage, or mechanical failure that puts a sump out of commission. Also, a running faucet or a toilet overflow upstairs can easily bring water into the basement.

It’s not even a matter of if the basement will ever have water problems, but of when.

Fiberglass and Drywall are Poor Choices for Basement Walls

Drywall, in any of its applications, is already considered a plague in the demolition and building industry. It is rarely recycles and, according to BNet Business network, gypsum drywall makes up as much as 25% of the weight of debris from building and constructing activities. Once dumped in a landfill, drywall will decompose when wet, adding sulfate to the water and releasing unhealthy chemicals into the water table. As it dissolves, it releases a rotten-egg-smelling gas in the atmosphere which will usually spread throughout the area. Of course, the same will happen in any place where drywall comes in contact with water, including your basement.

About 17% of drywall material is wasted during construction and about 30 million tons of wallboard manufactured in North America per year. This is such a major environmental problem that some landfills banned the dumping of drywall altogether.

In the basement, drywall will soak up water and eventually, because it is made with organic compounds, grow mold. Even mold-resistant drywall carries no specific warranty against mold or moisture, provides only a 3-month warranty against mold, and has no warranty for basement flooding.  Why?  Because it still has a paper face.

Fiberglass, the other popular choice for insulating basements, was reported by the Environmental Protection Agency to generate significant air pollution, spent solvents, and hazardous wastes when processed. Adhesives that are often used in fiberglass wall products are known to contribute to smog and other air pollution.  Additionally, the resins used when fiberglass is created are classified as a volatile organic compound, with the process that creates them producing significant amounts of hazardous materials
In addition, fiberglass is known to soak up moisture. When in contact with humid basement walls, it will get wet and lose its R-Value. The adhesives used to hold it together are made with urea, an organic compound. Combined with humidity it will eventually support mold growth as well. If under water, such as in case of a basement flood, fiberglass will absorb so much water it will often fall apart.

Green Basement Finishing is Long -Lasting Basement Finishing.

As homeowners begin to understand the benefits of green building and remodeling – not only in terms of environmental impact but also on their budgets – they begin to move towards this trend. Truth is, going green is more than just a way to help the planet, it’s also a great way to save money and improve your quality of life.
Add to that the recent government push for energy efficiency translated in tax credits and grants for energy efficient improvements and the mortgage industry offering incentives such as “green” mortgages and you will conclude that green remodeling is more than a fad. It is the future.
The Wisconsin Environmental Initiative reports that homeowners are using green products for 40% of all remodeling work,  and the Green Tech Forum reports that the number of green homes will increase by tenfold in the next five years!
That creates a huge market for anything “green”, and where there is a market, there are those who will try to harvest profits from it by misrepresenting their products and services. In the environmentally friendly bandwagon that is called “green washing”. Since the concept is relatively new, homeowners are bound to be confused by “green” offers, claims and advertising.
There are however a few basic requirements for a product or technology to be considered green. A green product or technology should feature any combination of the following:

  • Maximizes Nature’s Resources
  • Is Recyclable or Created with Recycled Materials
  • Is Made with Long-Lasting Materials
  • Improves Energy Efficiency
  • Preserves the Environment by Eliminating or Cutting Down Emissions or Release of Pollutants.]

So how does that translate in terms or basement finishing?

When considering the typical cave-like environment of a basement, and it’s potential to develop moisture-related problems, one basic conclusion surfaces. In order for any material to last within the basement, it needs to be 100% waterproof. It should not retain, absorb or trap moisture. So anything that is spongelike, such as fiberglass or absorbent materials like wood and drywall, are bad choices.

Also, basement finishes need to be completely inorganic because organic matter combined with moisture supports mold growth. “Green” finishes such as bamboo, cork and recycled wood, however compliant with some the above specifications, will not work in the basement. They will grow mold, rot, need replacement, and the debris will end up dumped in some landfill to decompose. The energy consumed in making, transporting, installing, removing and replacing these products will have been wasted.

The same goes for insulation choices for the basements. Insulating the basement walls alone can do wonders to save money in your home.  A report from the US Department of Energy has revealed that insulating your basement walls can save you between $250 and $400 annually.

The recommended insulation for basements, is rigid board foam insulation, as it neither retains nor absorbs moisture but that still leaves homeowners with tough choices to make concerning wall finishes and framing, as dry wall and wood studs won’t do.

Green Basement Finishing = Waterproof, Long-Lasting, Energy Efficient.

Once again, technology comes to the rescue with innovative basement wall solutions that offer thermal and moisture protection and the quality finished look that homeowners look for in their basement finishing projects.

Products like Total Basement Finishing’s (TBF) EverLast Basement Wall Panels are, to date, the greenest wall solution available for your basement.  These 100% waterproof and mold-resistant wall panels are made to remain undamaged even if your basement flooded.  Tests show that compared with dry wall and competing fiberglass-based products the TBF wall panels are the only product that  does not absorb moisture if immersed in water.

The 2 1/2″ of R-13 insulation installed with their wall products are created with HCFC blowing agents, making them 94% less ozone-depleting than the standard CFC blowing agents.  HCFCs have little comparative ozone depletion potential and short atmospheric lifetimes, and are much less damaging to the environment than the standard alternative.
This insulation in TBF Basement Wall Panels can be reused in many applications.  When combined with the 1/2″ hard-panel wall board made with 95% certified recycled materials, these two products make for a superbly green alternative to hard-to-recycle drywall and fiberglass.
Made to last a lifetime, those panels can be installed without studs and, because they have a waterproof cement core, they give homeowners usable walls. Book shelves and flat screen TVs can be safely hung on them without special hardware. Eventual holes in the wall can be easily patched and repaired.

They are prefinished, in neutral colors, and are fully washable, eliminating the need for paint, as latex paint, being made with organic compounds, is also to be avoided in the basement.

Under normal conditions, TBF EverLast Wall Panels
 will last for as long as your house does. If your basement floods, they will not end up moldy and rotten in some landfill, like drywall, fiberglass and many competing basement products

Before you finish your basement, do your homework. You’ll save yourself a lot of money, headaches and, as an added bonus, helping the planet.

Note: Everlast Basement Wall Panels are only available through the Total Basement Finishing Dealership Network. Click here to locate one in your area.


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