GBA Logo horizontal Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Picture icon Hamburger Icon Close Icon Sorted

Community and Q&A

100+ year old brick basement… how to weather/waterproof?

AScaletta | Posted in General Questions on

I live in a 1890s brick row home in Chicago (5A climate zone). When we bought the house 5 years ago, the previous owner had finished the basement. Over the course of the past few years, it became evident that there was moisture building up behind the drywall, as parts began to ripple and even crumble near the baseboards. This spring, I removed the bottom 2 feet of dry wall around the perimeter, which exposed the brick foundation, and standard 2×4 studs that had been treated with some sort of mold resistant compound on the bottom 12″ (and, as guessed, some mostly drywall!).
the bricks need repointing in many areas, and do show signs of effloresence. We don’t see any active water, and although we use the basement (storage, playroom, occasional office), we are not too concerned with it being a highly finished space. Our goal is to make it energy efficient, and uncomplicated.

I have read a lot online and we did have a basement waterproofing company come out to give us a recommendation. They suggested French drains, sump pump and drain boards, but I don’t feel comfortable with that extensive of a project. Some other reading indicates that digging out below our existing brick foundation wall could cause bigger problems down the road, anyway. So our current thought is to leave the brick exposed, after repointing. Would that be unwise? Approximately 3 feet of the basement is below grade, the remaining wall is above grade. We do have a difficult time keeping the space warm in the winter, though we have forced air. Optimally, we would like to insulate the space, but hate the thought of creating more moisture problems behind whatever we put up.
Any/all advice would be appreciated! Seems like everyone has a different idea…

GBA Prime

Join the leading community of building science experts

Become a GBA Prime member and get instant access to the latest developments in green building, research, and reports from the field.


  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    It's your house, so you can do what you want.

    If there are signs of water entry, then the advice you received about installing an interior French drain and sump is good advice. You can take the advice or ignore it; your choice.

    If you leave the bricks exposed, you will have an uninsulated wall. That means that your energy bills will be higher than they would be for a modern home, since up-to-date building codes require basement walls to be insulated. The cold walls may also make you uncomfortable, and the exposed bricks are likely to be damp, raising the relative humidity in the basement and giving your basement a musty smell.

    If you ever save enough money to deal with the moisture problems and to add insulation, these articles will explain the necessary steps:

    How to Insulate a Basement Wall

    Fixing a Wet Basement

Log in or create an account to post an answer.


Recent Questions and Replies

  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |