What is a Michigan Basement & How Do You Protect it from Water?

By:    |   Published April 25, 2018
Room in a Michigan basement with stone walls.

Whether you live in Michigan, Ohio, or another area, you may have heard the term “Michigan basement.” In this article we’ll explore what that term means and offer tips on how to protect your Michigan basement from water damage!

Definition of a “Michigan Basement”

Michigan basement is a term generally used in reference to the space underneath old farm houses. (Older homes in town were often constructed this way as well.) These basements are generally damp – often leaky – spaces with low ceilings, rock walls and dirt floors.

The State of Michigan actually defines Michigan basement in its glossary as, “A former crawl space which has been dug out, generally to a depth of 5 to 7 feet to allow a basement. The excavation begins approximately 2 feet in from the inside of the existing foundation walls in order to preserve the soundness of the existing foundation walls and footings.”

History and Use

A common design of the times, most Michigan basements were referred to as root cellars and housed food stored for the winter. They were also used as storm shelters. Similar spaces under homes on the East coast are sometimes referred to as Long Island basements.

After the 1920s, some homeowners dug the original crawl spaces deeper to accommodate additional storage as the economy improved and they acquired more possessions. Many upgraded to cinderblock walls and poured concrete floors. Over time and with the addition of modern technology, Michigan basements also became a home for furnaces, hot water heaters, air conditioners, and washers and dryers.

Most Common Basement Problems


Moisture is naturally present in the earth. A dirt floor, common in many Michigan basements, is a red flag of high humidity. Humidity is a key factor in mold and mildew problems.

Even if you don’t experience flooding in your Michigan basement, the simple fact that all basements are below ground means the temperature is naturally lower than in the rest of the home. Warm air holds more moisture than cool air. Therefore, condensation occurs in cooler basement spaces.

Basements are consistently the same temperature as the ground, typically between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, year-round. When warmer air from upstairs comes into contact with cooler basement air, the result is condensation. Like the droplets that collect on a glass of ice tea on a warm summer day, moisture collects on basement walls and floors.

Unpleasant Smells

That damp, musty smell means mold or mildew is lurking in your basement.  A damp environment is the breeding ground for mold and mildew. Mold loves moisture!

Darkness is another key factor in the growth of these fungi. As a general rule, basements are darker places than the rest of your home. You may be tempted to cover up the smell, but that will not eliminate the cause or fix the problem. If you smelled smoke, you wouldn’t ignore the potential danger and just spray air freshener to cover up the odor!

Mold and Mildew

Dark, moist basements are the breeding ground for mold and mildew. These fungi are living, growing organisms and can cause allergic reactions ranging from mild to severe. Mildew is a surface fungus and fairly easily removed, however, mold is a serious concern. Mold, especially toxic black mold or Stachybotrys chartarum, can cause a plethora of health problems.

Like ants or cockroaches, if you see one spot of mold, there is likely to be more lurking out of sight. Don’t ignore mold or mildew; address these issues right away to avoid further damage!

Wall Bowing

When the surrounding soil becomes saturated by rainfall, the structural integrity of the walls can be negatively impacted. Those “April Showers” may be good for May flowers but they can severely affect a Michigan basement. The earthen walls become saturated and soft and can bow under the weight of the house, putting the entire home in jeopardy of collapse. Roof or surface runoff, improperly directed, can cause ground saturation resulting in wall bowing and damage the foundation as well.

Sinking Floors

If your Michigan basement has a concrete floor, water can cause the soil to erode under the floor causing it to sink. Sinking floors can pull away from the walls and threaten the very foundation of your home. This situation requires professional attention.

Failing Sump Pump

A properly installed sump pump can effectively rid your basement of excess water, keeping your basement safe and dry. However, one storm is all it takes to cause damage to your home if your sump pump is failing. Regular inspection of your sump pump can prevent serious damage!

Basement Cracks

The four seasons may be beautiful here in the Ohio and Michigan area, but these drastic weather changes cause the expanding and contracting of the ground surrounding your basement. Like those lovely potholes that form in our roads from the freezing and thawing, your basement may develop cracks in the walls or concrete floor over time which then allows water to find its way in and begin to cause damage.

Leaks & Flooding

Exposed dirt floors and stone or earthen walls allow water to seep in. This makes your Michigan basement much more susceptible to leaking and flooding.  The tendency toward leaking and flooding in Michigan basements almost guarantees the constant presence of moisture.

Unique Risks for Flooding & Water Damage in a Michigan Basement

Unfinished or Exposed Dirt Floor and Walls

Since Michigan basements commonly have exposed dirt and makeshift side walls, moisture issues abound. Issues with side walls are common. The lack of side walls makes it easier for water to enter the basement. Even makeshift side walls, sometimes created when the original crawlspace was dug out to create additional storage, don’t provide enough support to prevent groundwater from making its way inside.

Basement Waterproofing Options

Interior Waterproofing

Hydrostatic pressure can cause water seepage and lead to a myriad of problems including mold and cracks in walls or floors. Interior waterproofing relieves pressure and diverts water to your sump pump and out of your home.

Exterior Waterproofing

A more comprehensive approach, the exterior waterproofing method involves removing earth away from basement walls, cleaning and recoating the walls as well as treating any foundation cracks that are found.

Multi-Step System

This patented approach has the ability to resolve the entire water problem, not just one or two parts. The Multi-Step System solves the current problem and prevents future issues as well.

Foundation Replacement

Usually reserved for only the most severe foundation cases, Foundation Replacement is a costly option. If you suspect your Michigan basement is putting your home or health at risk, act now; don’t wait until it’s too late!

Schedule Your FREE 20-Point Inspection

The best way to keep your basement dry is with professional waterproofing. EverDry Toledo can help with a FREE 20-point basement inspection! We’ll help you find out if your home is at risk for water damage and which solutions will best serve you.

Contact us online to schedule an appointment or give us a call at (419) 469-5833 and schedule your inspection today!

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