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How to Repair Water Damage on a Basement Wall0

Dry basements are a rarity in the low-lying coastal town where I live.  Instead, they’re vastly outnumbered by sump pumps and weeping tile. But for five glorious years after moving in, we thought we were one of the lucky ones. Then, The Office happened, and it wasn’t nearly as funny as the one with Steve Carell.

One summer evening, I saw a spot of paint bubble on the wall, just below an outlet. Odd. But it had been humid, and it’s a basement. So I blew it off, with a mental note to price dehumidifiers.

Then I poked it. And my Phillips #2 went in up to the handle. An hour later, after tearing out chunks of drywall, this is what I had:

Lovely. The previous owner, who I call Handypants, considered himself quite the toolsman. Handypants had put the walls right against the concrete, when they should have had at least a few inches of clearance.

My wife was seven months pregnant at the time – a construction project was the last thing I needed, but a home office I did need. So here’s what I did.

1. Find out how bad the rot is. I found a crack halfway up the foundation and a hole in the vapor barrier; I could see the water coming in. I followed it, pulling off drywall by the dinner-plate size chunks until I don’t find any more rot. The photo above was my ground zero – the plate was totally destroyed, the stud with the outlet had rotted in half. All in all, about 20 feet of plate with studs over two rooms needed replacing. I cut and removed the drywall to two feet up, removed the wet insulation, and cut the compromised vapor barrier with a utility knife.

2. Fix the leak. I hired a foundation crack-repair company and in two weeks and two shots of high-pressure injection concrete resin stuff, the wall was dry.

3. Bring in the saw. Luckily, we were dealing with a cosmetic wall that didn’t bear any weight besides the drywall.

Using a reciprocating saw, I cut each stud a few inches above the rot, leaving six inches at least, to bolt it to the replacement. The existing studs were held by the top wall plate and the drywall, so I put a 2×4 underneath a few to take the bit of weight there was.

I removed the entire wall plate, which was badly rotten. It had been nailed to the concrete floor, leaving rusted concrete nail heads sticking up out of the foundation. Wearing safety glasses, I hammered the nails back and forth with a maul until they broke, leaving the concrete smooth for a replacement plate. I taped new vapor barrier where I’d cut the old, and resealed the concrete wall.

3. Drill the plate. I rented a hammer drill from Home Depot, and I got three-inch concrete screws. With the new 2×4 plate over the vapor barrier, I hammer-drilled it in place, through the top, and into the concrete.

4. Replace the studs. With the plate in place, the studs were ready to go. After turning off the power, I moved the outlet in the photo above, tacking it up higher on the dry stud. With about six inches overlap, I drilled holes and lag-bolted the new studs and the old together. I then nailed them to the new plate with standard two-inch nails. I replaced the outlet, and then repeated for the other studs on the wall.

 5. Drywall and finish. From there, it was a typical wall repair job. I cut drywall to fit the spaces, taped, filled, and sanded.

Start to finish, this would have taken a couple of days, without the wait for the concrete guys. The wall was ready for paint literally the night my wife went into labor. Which was good, because I really needed to get going on the nursery.

text and photos by Steve MacDonald

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