Roughly 1 out of 2 American households have a basement. If you are lucky enough to have one, chances are you use it for extra storage of your belongings.

More than 40% of basement owners said they use their basement for storing excess household goods, according to a survey by Regional Foundation Repair. Others uses include serving as a laundry room (26%), utility or maintenance room (25%), home gym (20%) or extra living room (17%).

If you are using your basement as your own personal storage unit, however, you might want to think twice–especially if you are storing valuable items that could be harmed by excess moisture, mold or mildew.

That’s because humidity and water issues are common problems. Regional Foundation Repair found that 30 percent of basement owners had issues with humid air, and another 23 percent had big problems with leaking and flood. Even a small issue could eventually wreak havoc on your precious belongings over a long enough period of time.

That leaves homeowners with a choice: spend the money to fix up their basement or find another storage option for their items

Waterproofing Your Basement

The most effective way to seal off your basement from unwanted moisture is by installing a waterproofing system. This can cost anywhere from $2,000 up to $10,000, but for most homeowners the cost will be around $7,000.

Waterproofing your basement involves a combination of different moisture diverting measures including gutters, French drains, vapor barriers, sump pumps, floor drains and special waterproof paint. These serve to keep water out completely, or to divert it out in the event that it makes its way into your basement. 

For minor moisture issues, a more affordable DIY approach can work to make your basement safer for your belongings. Installing a dehumidifier that removes excess moisture from the air is a quick solution. These can be set up to drain automatically through your basement floor drain so you don’t have to empty the water tank every few hours. 

Another preventative measure worth taking is to grade the soil around your home foundation. Ensure that the soil around your house is sloped such that any precipitation that falls flows away from your foundation. Additionally, routinely using caulk to seal any minor cracks that you notice will help reduce moisture issues in your basement.

Finally, to make sure that your basement is suitable for storing items you’ll want to get a hygrometer to measure the amount of humidity in the air. If the humidity in your basement is regularly higher than 60 percent, you definitely want to reconsider using it for storage.

How to Organize Your Basement Storage Area

If you are using your basement for storage, properly organizing the space can also go a long way towards protecting your items from moisture, pests and dust. The following advice will help you to preserve your precious goods for months and years to come, and also help you keep your sanity when you need to find something.

Install shelving

Not only do shelves help you keep your storage space neat and tidy, but perhaps most importantly they help keep your items off of the floor. In the event of a flood or a sump pump failure, this may serve to prevent your items from being destroyed by the deluge. 

Use industrial-type freestanding metal shelving units, or build your own using lumber if you have the resources. Place your most irreplaceable items on the highest shelf in case your basement does start filling up with water.

Use plastic storage totes

Keep your items free of dust and pests when you use plastic storage containers to hold your items. When neatly stacked or arranged on shelves, containers also keep your space nice and tidy. Be certain they are tightly sealed, and put a few desiccant packets in each one to provide additional protection from moisture.

What Should I Not Store in My Basement?

Basements are great for storing certain items, but not so great with others. The cold, damp environment of basements means mold, mildew, insects and rodents will always be a concern. Even if your basement is completely finished with regulated air, an unexpected flood could spell disaster. As such, storing these particular items in most basements is not recommended:

  • Antiques, family heirlooms
  • Clothing
  • Letters, important documents
  • Physical media, photographs
  • Food
  • Flammable or hazardous items

If you don’t have space anywhere in your house, consider renting a climate-controlled self-storage unit to keep your excess items until you can devise another solution. This will keep your precious papers, photos and mementos safe from environmental hazards until you are ready to do something else with them. 

Basement Storage Bottom Line

Basements are great to have as they provide extra space inside the home–that is if they are properly sealed from outside moisture. A damp basement can slowly destroy your items, particularly fibers, paper and wood. Proper organization and weatherization techniques do a great job providing protection, but be aware of the flood risk in your area before stashing your most precious items down below.

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Alexander Harris