Can I remove exposed mounds of dirt in my basement?

Answered by Brett Kulina ~ October 10, 2012 ~ No Comments

My husband and I bought a house that was built in the 1940s. The basement is unfinished with mounds of dirt behind low concrete walls. Am I able to remove the dirt, or can I at least level it?

Meghan - Chattanooga, Tenn.

Brett Kulina

Thanks for your question, Meghan. Although it may be common for some older homes to have dirt floors in their basements or crawlspaces, in general the exposed dirt needs to be covered with a waterproof vapor barrier or some type of simple plastic sheeting. If there is exposed dirt in your home's basement, then eventually the moisture from the ground will cause mold, mildew, and other problems that should be avoided.

It sounds as though your home may have had just a crawlspace underneath it originally, and perhaps at a later date more dirt was excavated out (or piled to the side) so that the low concrete walls could be installed. Although this may have added some needed storage space beneath the home, the new "basement" was little more that an old-fashioned root cellar.

I think that you are on the right track with your plan to remove the piles of dirt, or at least level them out. Once that is completed, then you can install some 6- or 8-mm plastic sheeting over the exposed dirt. Make sure to overlap the seams by several inches and then seal them with a heavy duty tape, such as duct tape or gorilla tape. If possible the plastic vapor barrier should extend up the the perimeter foundation walls for several inches and be sealed with tape as well. In some case it can be difficult to permanently attach plastic sheeting to a cement foundation wall, in which case you could install some solid insulation board over both the wall and the plastic. If you choose to do this, then make sure the solid insulation is rated for below grade use and attach it to the foundation wall with some polyurethane construction glue. The newly installed insulation board will help keep the plastic vapor barrier in place and should help prevent unwanted moisture from finding its way into your basement.

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