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Musty Smells in Your Basement

Unpleasant smells coming out of your basement can make the whole space unusable. Area contractors can help restore your home.

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Protecting your home from the elements is never an easy task. Sometimes, however, the damage you end up contending with is less severe—at least, in appearance—than you might imagine. 

Homes become musty as they age. Most of the time, this is because their structural supports can no longer keep all the surrounding moisture out of them. New homes, however, or homes that are inspected on a regular basis, shouldn’t fall victim to unpleasant basement smells for a significant amount of time. If you notice that your basement smells off, you may have damage on your hands. 

It can feel silly to follow your nose to basement damage, but it’s never a bad idea. The sooner you’re able to address potential basement damage—even if it’s as simple as general mustiness—the sooner you’ll be able to prevent the kind of damage that can impact the overall value of your home. 

The Forces Behind a Damaged Basement 

There’s more than one force that can cause your basement to smell unpleasant. These can include: 

Hydrostatic Pressure 

Hydrostatic pressure is one of the most influential forces to impact your home. This pressure builds up outside of your basement as water gathers in your area, usually after a rainstorm or snowmelt. 

Hydrostatic pressure causes the molecules of the concrete and other materials supporting your home to change size. As these molecules grow colder, they’ll shrink. As they warm back up again, they’ll grow. Changes of this kind aren’t a problem when they happen infrequently. If they start to happen too often, however, they can put your home under a significant amount of stress. The more stress your structural supports are under, the more likely they are to crack. 

Unfortunately, hydrostatic pressure is a force that tends to feed itself. As your structural supports break, they’ll allow more moisture into your home. If you don’t invest in repairs quickly, you’ll find yourself dealing with damage that extends far beyond an unpleasant smell in your basement. 


Unwanted house guests come in many forms. Animals and insects are two types of guests that can have an immediate negative impact on the overall stability of your basement. Not only can these critters destabilize parts of your basement, but their presence can cause your basement to take on an increasingly unpleasant smell for a variety of reasons. 

For starters, insects and animals alike have bodily functions that they have to take care of. The longer these critters stay in your home, the more likely it is that you’re going to have to deal with their waste. There’s more to the picture than that, though. The same animals and insects that make their way into your home can also allow moisture to settle in your basement’s supports. That moisture will cause your home to smell musty. At the same time, it will also worsen the unpleasant smells of animal waste, making your basement even less pleasant to be in. 

Poor Home Construction 

The construction team that originally built your home may have made a few mistakes when originally building your basement. For starters, they may have allowed your home to fall victim to the worst of the clay bowl effect. This effect sees the soil around your basement grow loose to the point where it allows more moisture to come into contact with your concrete. 

That’s not all that may be wrong with your basement, however. The team that built your home may have used green wood for your supports. Alternatively, they may not have treated your concrete appropriately, causing it to become brittle instead of firm. No matter the case, this kind of negligence can allow unusual levels of moisture to make their way into your home. If you don’t act quickly, that moisture can cause your basement to take on an unusual smell, usually right before your structural supports start to show premature signs of weakness. 

A Smelly Basement: Addressing Immediate Concerns 

A musty smell in your basement may not seem like something you need to take care of immediately. The reality, however, is just the opposite. If you’re smelling unusual and unpleasant smells in your basement, it’s time to reach out to area professionals. The sooner you act, the sooner you can prevent more extensive water damage from impacting the overall stability of your home. 

To get rid of a musty smell in your basement, you need to address the source of your problem. Sometimes this means reaching out to an area exterminator and removing an unwanted pest from your home. More often than not, however, it means patching up a leak somewhere in your basement. The professionals in your area can help you identify that leak as well as the means you’ll need to invest in to repair it. 

How can you know when you’re dealing with a leak versus unwanted home invaders? While you should ideally reach out to area professionals to schedule a home inspection, there are additional signs of home moisture damage that you can watch for. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Sticking doors and windows 
  • Standing water or seepage 
  • Cracks along your walls or near your joints 
  • Higher electrical bills 
  • Higher water bills 
  • Unusually high levels of humidity throughout your home 

Unfortunately, many of these symptoms can just as easily indicate foundation or crawl space damage in your home as they can basement damage. This is why it’s best to rely on the judgment of an area professional. Professionals can determine where unwanted moisture is coming from in your home. By addressing the source of your mustiness problem, these professionals can not only make your home more pleasant to stay in but also stabilize it from the foundation up. 

Musty Smells


If you’re cost-conscious, you may be reluctant to allow professionals into your home. After all, professional home repairs can get costly. Why would you want to spend that kind of money when you’re just dealing with an unpleasant smell in your home? Unfortunately, DIY work often comes with more downsides than upsides. Homeowners who try to repair basement damage on their own often end up spending more on their own repairs. They also risk more mistakes than professionals, putting the overall stability of their homes at risk. 

Mistakes During the DIY Repair Process 

If you’ve never worked to repair your basement before, you might go into DIY repair a little clueless. This isn’t a shameful thing—it’s impossible to know how to do everything perfectly. Without the training to repair your basement, however, your repairs may be more harmful than helpful. 

For example, if you try to patch up a crack in your basement wall, you may walk away from your work thinking that you’ve handled the problem in question. In reality, you may have superficially covered the crack while leaving the worst of the damage alone. In these cases, the damage in your basement can worsen while you rest easy, unaware of the growing risk to your home. When you do eventually have to call a professional in, you’ll not only have to deal with that worsening damage but also the cost of both repairs and the removal of your DIY work. 

The Cost of Repairing Your Own Basement 

DIY basement repair is often far more expensive than many homeowners anticipate. As you’re getting started, you’re going to need to invest in not only the materials you need for your repairs but all your tools, as well. If any of these tools are highly specialized, then there’s a chance you’ll be spending your repair budget on single-use tools that will eventually gather dust in your basement. 

If you do happen to make a mistake during your repairs, your repair budget is going to skyrocket. Professional contractors have connections within their industry that make it easier for them to bring in the materials they need to repair your basement. Without access to those deals, your material costs may rapidly exceed your ideal budget. 

If you’re dealing with an unpleasant smell in your basement, you may be reluctant to invest in immediate repairs. After all, the smell will go away after a little while, won’t it? Not always. In fact, letting that smell fester in your basement may have more consequences than you initially intended. 

Damage in the Long Term 

The water damage that appears in your basement tends to grow worse the longer you let it sit. Moisture, after all, gets absorbed into any and all porous materials that it comes into contact with. If you let it sit in your basement, then it can worm its way not only into your structural supports but into any fabrics or sensitive materials you’ve left unprotected. 

When you let moisture sit in your home, then, you’re looking at damage that can affect you on a personal and structural level. Unpleasant smells work in much the same way. While the smells themselves can’t compromise the structural integrity of your home, they can linger even after your home’s been repaired, especially if you’ve let them sit for an extended period of time. If you ever want to sell your home or transform your basement into an entertaining space, you’ll have a difficult time clearing that mustiness out of your property. 

Clearing Away Damage ASAP 

The damage you’re looking at, then, if you let unpleasant smells and moisture damage sit, are more than just superficial. Moisture has a long-term impact on the structural integrity of your basement’s supports, and long-lasting odors can remain in your home even after you’ve invested in repairs. 

With that in mind, you’ll want to reach out to area professionals as soon as you suspect that something’s gone wrong in your basement. The sooner contractors in Raleigh and Winston-Salem, NC, are able to get out to your home, the less you’ll have to worry about long-term mustiness and structural damage.

An unpleasant smell in your basement makes your home less comfortable to live in. That doesn’t mean that your home’s unlivable, though. How can a musty smell in your basement impact the stability of the rest of your home? 

Musty Smells and Greater Water Damage 

Musty smells aren’t pleasant to deal with, it’s true. They can prematurely age your home and make your entertaining areas less pleasant to spend time in. Mustiness tends to indicate more than just your home’s age. It also serves as an indicator of greater damage throughout your home. 

The longer you allow mustiness to reside in your basement, the more likely it is that your basement is going to take on structural damage. That mustiness, as mentioned, is moisture. That moisture can get absorbed into your home’s structural supports, where it can weaken them or otherwise contribute to the hydrostatic pressure in your basement. The longer this kind of damage sits, the worse it gets. If you choose to forgo essential repairs, then you may find yourself several months down the line dealing with a cracking chimney or even a sinking foundation. 

Unpleasant Smells and the Value of Your Home 

It isn’t impossible to sell a home with basement damage. It’s not even impossible to sell a home with a musty smell. It is, however, much more difficult to do this kind of work. For starters, you’re going to have to list any damage your home’s taken on in your home’s listing. There’s no hiding basement damage, no matter how inconsequential you may think it is. 

Not only will word of a damaged basement make your home more difficult to sell, but it will also reduce the overall value of your home. While you can sell a home with persistent musty smells, you’re going to have to convince future buyers to take on the challenge of repairs. To do so, you risk losing up to 30 percent of your home’s market value to what are effectively reparations. If your primary concerns lay with the cost of repairs, it’s important to compare and contrast what you might spend on said repairs versus what you might lose when you eventually go to sell your property. 

Clearing Away Unpleasant Basement Smells 

Professionals will recommend different types of basement repair systems for different problems. Some of the most common to see implemented around a water-damaged basement include: 

  • Wall anchor systems – If you find yourself dealing with cracks in your basement walls, you have a few different options for their support. You can invest in wall anchors installed in stable soil away from your walls, which are designed to move your walls back into their original positions over time. Alternatively, you can request that area professionals install a beam-based anchor system. These types of systems are similar to wall anchors in stabilizing and potentially straightening the walls out, as well as also holding up the brick or concrete that might otherwise bow in toward your entertaining space. 
  • Crack sealing – If you’re contending with cracks near your joints or around your window and door frames, you need to seal those cracks off. Area professionals can help you determine how deeply the cracks run and what you’ll need to restore your home. 
  • Floor joist replacement and support – Moisture that gets absorbed into the upper floors of your home can cause those floors to sag. If you’re contending with this kind of damage, area professionals may recommend floor joist replacements or stabilizers. These special stabilizers will permanently reinforce the above floors and can even raise them back towards their original positions. 
  • Pier systems beneath your home – If the mustiness in your basement has been around for a long time, the damage you’re contending with may be more significant than you expect. In some cases, the whole of your basement and foundation may have started to sink. In these cases, area professionals can install piers beneath your foundation to hold up the weight of your basement. In doing so, they can limit the impact that hydrostatic pressure and similar forces can have on the stability of your property. 

Waterproofing Your Basement 

After professionals have repaired your leaking basement—or exterminators have removed unwanted house guests—you’ll want to work to keep additional moisture from entering your home. This means investing in basement waterproofing measures. You have a plethora of waterproofing options available to you. Some of the most common include: 

  • BasementGutter™ Interior Drainage System – If water is leaking inside your home, you need a way to cut it off at the pass before it has a chance to damage your basement or lead to unpleasant odors. The BasementGutter™ Drainage System does just that. This specially designed drainage system sits in your basement’s sub floor. It collects any water that may leak in your walls and wall-floor joint, and then directs this water to a sump pump system. It also helps eliminate much of the hydrostatic pressure that might otherwise cause your home’s stability to suffer. 
  • Sump pumpsSump pumps are the next part of a properly functioning basement waterproofing system. Any water collected by the interior drainage system is drained into the sump pump system, which safely and effectively pumps this water out of and away from your home.  
  • Dehumidification – You cannot protect your basement with a dehumidifier alone. That does not mean, however, that a dehumidifier won’t help you control the amount of moisture your basement has to deal with. If you’ve noticed the humidity throughout your home ticking upward, you can contact area professionals and request that they install a non-commercial dehumidifier in your basement. A good dehumidifier will not only reduce the moisture in your home, but should also improve the overall air quality and eliminate unpleasant odors as well. Set the dehumidifier to 55% humidity and watch your basement thrive. 

If you’re not sure what kind of home waterproofing measures might suit your basement best, don’t let your potential options overwhelm you. Instead, connect with the professional contractors in your area. These parties have worked with home waterproofing measures for years and can tell you which of those available to you may suit your basement best. 

In short, your basement waterproofing process will only be as complicated as you want to make it. 

Let Area Professionals Clear Out Your Basement 

If your basement has developed an unusual and unpleasant smell over the past few weeks, don’t write it off. That smell will stick around for quite a while if you don’t take action. Why not reach out to local professionals serving Raleigh and Winston-Salem, NC, to schedule a home inspection

The expert team at Tar Heel Basement Systems can help you get a handle on any damage that’s appeared in your basement, including the kind that’s making the whole of your home smell less than pleasant. After a thorough inspection, you can come away from your consultation with a free quote detailing your damages and what repairs may suit you best.

Let our basement waterproofing experts help you

Schedule free inspection
Schedule free inspection
Let our basement waterproofing experts help you

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TarHeel Basement Systems Service Map

Our Service Areas

Greensboro Location

611 Summit Ave, Suite 5
Greensboro, NC 27405

Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill Location

3333 Air Park Road
Fuquay-Varina, NC 27526

Winston-Salem/High Point Location

2910 Griffith Rd
Winston-Salem, NC 27103