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Safe Cellars: Keeping Your Basement Healthy

When’s the last time you thought about health risks in your basement?

Most homeowners cast an eye on their upstairs levels as soon as there’s a young one in the house, but the lowest levels of the house can go for a long time without due diligence. Don’t let your basement go neglected.

Stepping downstairs shouldn’t be a health risk, but to be certain that your basement is safe, it’s helpful to give an hour’s attention to a few key details every few months. Let’s take a look at the symptoms to watch for, and some strategies to help you steer clear of a sick cellar.

Health Issues: What to Look for in the Basement

A list of what makes a healthy basement breaks down into three basic categories: moisture creep, creature discomforts, and the more serious threat of malicious vapors. Here’s the shortlist:


In an unfinished basement, look for stains or discoloration on the walls, floors, and any window surfaces. If you’ve a finished cellar-space, keep an eye out for carpets and furniture fabrics where the color’s gone off. Your nose can be of assistance, too. Any earthy odor is an indication that water is in your basement. With water, or enough condensation, comes mold. If you find some, you can typically fix it with a bit of hot water and dish soap, but once you know it’s there, you’ll need to implement a fix for the way the moisture is getting in. All of this applies to small amounts of the stuff. If your mold problem is wide-scale, then it’s time to call in a professional.


You needn’t sound the alarm too loudly, if you find them, but your basement might be home to centipedes, millipedes, and sowbugs. They’re not a real risk, health-wise, but they are not pleasant company. Like mold, dampness brings them, so a basement full of these little centipedes or millipedes is a sign that moisture is getting in. Firewood is a happy home for sow- and pillbugs, so a stack of it downstairs might be the attraction. Getting organic matter out of your cellar should limit their presence, and a de-humidifier cuts down on both mold proclivity and pests.


Aside from mold, radon is the basement element to watch out for: it’s dangerous. A colorless, odorless gas that naturally occurs in ground-locked uranium, if such a deposit exists in the earth under your home, then the radon it gives off can build up. Buy a radon detector and install it, then send it to the lab that the packaging specifies. If it turns out you’ve a problem, remedial action like covering soil floors and sealing cracks, as well as bringing in better ventilation can resolve the circumstances that lead to build-up.

None of this is to suggest that your basement is some netherworld danger-zone, but do keep up with the above points, and keep your basement off the lists of things to worry about.

By James O’Brien

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