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Cellar Excavation Job Question – Vapors, Smells, Air Quality Question

Fi7df8CZ9x | Posted in Green Building Techniques on

Hi Y’all –

I’m a new questioner here, so please forgive me (and bear with me)

We live in the northeast (New York area) and we are thinking about copying our neighbors and excavating our fully below-grade cellar in our 100 year old brownstone to finish the basement. (2 party walls on either side) The building is very old and has a rubble foundation which will we will likely need to underpin.

The issue I have with my neighbor’s job is that every time we go down into their now-finished cellar, it still smells moist, humid and dank. The air seems stale… Different somehow than the air upstairs.

What is causing this & how can this be prevented?


1.) Is there a special coating we should put onto the (fully below grade) rubble foundation wall to prevent vapor infiltration?
2.) Is there special insulation we should use between the wall studs? (Spray Foam? Special Batts?)
3.) Is there any kind of membrane or barrier you recommend we hangup behind the wall-board or even fasten somehow to the rubble foundation wall?
4.) Is there a special type of wall board we should use? (Anti-microbial or anti-mold?)
5.) any recommended action for groundwater swells under the concrete floor?
6.) Is there anything you can think of that I didn’t even know to ask about?

Any and ALL comments/input appreciated!


Michael Anthony

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Because of your questions, I'm guessing that you are neither an architect, nor an engineer, nor a builder. Am I guessing correctly?

    I suggest that you get an experienced professional on board -- someone who should be able to answer all of the questions. I'd hate to think that someone with so many questions is tackling such a job as a do-it-yourself venture.

  2. Foamer | | #2


    I agree completely with Martin that this is no DIY project but you obviously want to be an informed homeowner. If you haven't already, you should check out where you will find several excellent articles on the topic.

    Here are a couple of links to get you started:

    Good luck.

  3. Fi7df8CZ9x | | #3

    Hi folks - yes, of course I intend to hire a (very) experienced professional to help execute this work. But I also want to be a (very) informed customer. You can never have too much input or too many opinions when it comes to something like this. Everyone has their angle...

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