Although much of the basement had already been finished, there was dampness generally and the beginnings of mold. The sump pump was no longer doing its job during big storms, and water was creeping under the door of an unfinished crawl space into the rest of the basement, even under the washer and dryer.
The Shermans wanted to protect the value of their first house and maintain it structurally should they ever decide to sell. As it happened, Jon Sherman and the folks at Basement Waterproofing Specialists of Collegeville had met at a trade show, so the couple had someone to call immediately.
The budget for the work was $3,000, typical for a basement job of this size, said Damian Riccitelli, chief information officer for Basement Waterproofing Specialists.
The job had issues, said Jon Sherman. First, there is no access to their basement except through the house.
Second, Sherman said, "we had serious water stains on the drywall - and mold, which we were worried would hurt the baby."
There was no structural damage to the house because of the mold, but a water heater in the basement had to be moved and then reinstalled after the waterproofing was done.
"That was one thing we didn't anticipate," Sherman recalled. "But ultimately, we wanted everything tied up in the house so when the baby came, we weren't worried about it."
The overall scope of the project was to waterproof the entire back part of the basement at the rear of the house, roughly 12 by 13 feet square, plus another six feet of crawl space. The Shermans needed to encapsulate the crawl space, essentially converting it from a dungeon to a usable space.
Basement waterproofing involves retrofitting and rehabilitating the foundation, remediating mold, and addressing exterior drainage and outside basement entrances.
"It's almost entirely a weather-driven business," Riccitelli said.
In the Shermans' South Philadelphia home, their contractors cut back Sheetrock and installed a pressure-release system, a perforated PVC piping system of about 25 feet.
Then they encased the crawl space - essentially a little basement, Riccitelli said, that was installed under the house for access to run heating ducts, pipes, wires, joists and beams.
Crawl spaces can leak, crack and grow mold, and become virtual science projects. The problem, he said, is that most homeowners never go into a crawl space, and that problems get worse without periodic inspection.
"Many crawl spaces have dirt floors, they smell, get wet and transfer the mold through ductwork vents in your home. Moisture can cause havoc with floor boards and joists," Riccitelli said.
A wet basement can deprive homeowners of valuable living or storage space, and can weaken a foundation and eventually lead to crumbling walls.
It can also cause mold problems that can significantly reduce the price of a house at resale, Jon Sherman said. And if an engineering inspection uncovers mold or water in a basement, that can end a prospective sale.
The couple say they're very happy with the outcome of their basement project.
"We've had several major rainstorms since, and the basement is dry," Jon Sherman said. "We haven't had a drop of water."