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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/125

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115
THE UNHEALTHFULNESS OF BASEMENTS.

are constantly produced by such conditions. Humanitarians and philanthropists have painted the pitiable horrors of poor wretches living in cellars and dungeons. Are not many of the modern basements practically just as objectionable and injurious as the former?

Modern basements are, first, usually damp. In a clay soil, water is frequently found standing beneath the floor. There is commonly little air-space, the floor being usually laid almost upon the ground. The ground beneath the floor is almost always moist, as far as I have observed in this locality, and this is due to the following facts: 1. It being lower than the street it receives some surface drainage; 2. It often dips far enough down to encounter subsoil saturation, or subterranean streams; 3. Because it is usually improperly drained, if drained at all; and, 4. It is often subject to the leakage of broken or defective drains, cess-pools, etc.

The modern basement is, secondly, in danger of such air contamination as would naturally occur from unimpeded communication, through porous soil, with defective drains, sewer-leaks, and the general subsoil filthiness of a city.

To guard against the undesirable conditions mentioned several things are necessary, and should doubtless be considered in building all basement-houses. First, area-ways, or air-spaces, should be constructed around the outside walls to guard against lateral dampness, and carry off the surface-drainage, which has a tendency to sink down by the outside walls to the foundations. Second, air-spaces should be allowed under basement-floors, and these should be ventilated. Third, damp-proof courses should be laid in all foundation-walls, to prevent the upward spread of moisture throughout the house. An ordinary brick will hold nearly a pint of water. A house not thus protected will always remain damp and unhealthy. Fourth, the entire surface of the ground under a basement-floor should be covered with a layer of concrete, at least six inches thick, and this in turn covered and hermetically sealed, from wall to wall, with a coating of coal-tar or Portland cement. This keeps out vermin as well as damp, and effectually shuts out dangers from leaking sewers or drains. Fifth, the foundations of a house, in a moist soil especially, should be drained. Sixth, the main soil or drainage pipes, which are frequently laid beneath city houses, should not be constructed of tile, brick, etc. With numerous joints, leaks and settlings are apt to occur. Heavy cast-iron pipes are best, as demonstrated by most recent experience.

The above precautions, if not defective, guard a basement against dampness, and also against foul air, coal-gas, effluvia from privy-wells and cess-pools, sewer-gas, and the various exhalations of a not infrequently filth-sodden soil, and it should not be forgotten that an unhealthy basement usually means an unhealthy house. Polluted air is sucked all over the house by the rise of heated air from the basement.

If we must have basements to live in, such safeguards should be