Providing usable living space at a price many homeowners can afford creates a new revenue stream for plumbing contractors.

The insulating blankets are flexible, easy to seal and provide several important benefits: a vapor barrier that outlasts and outperforms traditional insulation; radiant heat reflection that also prevents condensation; and an aluminum backing that keeps pests out.

Expanding a plumbing business in a slow economy may seem impossible to some contractors. Yet many other experienced professionals have found that even in uncertain times, there is one sure way to attract new customers and subsequent profitable business - fulfill a need.

With the housing market in a slump, more and more homeowners are investing in their existing homes. One of the best, long-term investments for a house is a waterproofed basement for added usable space and possible finishing. But if a homeowner balks at an expensive basement upgrade, he may opt for something simpler that still creates more living space. It would be wiser and healthier to first minimize humidity, prevent deadly gases like radon from entering the home, eradicate mold and, finally, stop damaging water leaks before they happen.

Fortunately, these basics can be done on a budget while also making the downstairs living space attractive and safe for children as well as adults. A contractor who treats a customer right the first time can likely expect a call later when money is available to fully refurbish the basement. Why? The contractor helped the homeowner to avert disaster, saysRoy Spencer, owner of Perma-seal Basement Systems in Downers Grove, Ill., who uses Emecole products to repair and to finish basements.

“People have basement wall cracks that aren’t leaking now,” Spencer explains. “But as soon as they put some drywall over them, there will be a problem. Cracks are a time bomb. They’re going to leak. But you don’t know when. It’s a lot easier - and less expensive - fixing thembeforerather thanaftera leak.”

Serving the Chicago area and northwest Indiana for nearly 30 years has proved to Spencer that homeowners and some contractors are oblivious to the benefits of proper basement prep. That’s unfortunate, he says, because the work is a win-win situation. For contractors, the services are nearly recession-proof, because no sane person would willingly risk the gas and water leaks that can cause serious damage to the health of a home and its occupants. Homeowners benefit because they can convert a bare-bones basement to safely sealed living space, usually for less than $5,000. That’s very different from the $60,000 or more that may be needed to fully remodel a basement.

“If you don’t pay attention to the waterproofing, the cosmetic work is ruined and everybody is unhappy,” he notes.

Wet basements and crawl spaces are breeding grounds for mold spores and a conduit for deadly toxic gases. Both invisible enemies naturally rise through the floors of unprotected domestic structures. If not stopped, eventually they will destroy living spaces.

The Bare Essentials

For a safe, healthy and dry basement, Spencer says proper preparation begins with a backup sump-pump system, because the No. 1 reason for flooding is failure of the primary pump. Although all new homes have sump pumps, guess how many are likely to fail? “All of them, during storms and power outages. If the pump fails, you can get many inches of water in your basement very quickly and ruin everything.”

Contractors need to know that pumps often fail because some builders install a lesser-quality primary pump to keep costs down. These pumps have lower pumping capacities and/or may not meet the heavy-duty specifications required for a sump system, a detail often overlooked by homebuyers. If a home still has the original primary sump pump, it is probably wise to replace it with a heavy-duty AC primary pump. And then, to be safe, add the battery-operated backup system.

The next step is sealing cracks in block or poured concrete walls and floors. Although poured concrete is less porous than brick and block walls, Spencer says it comes with two guarantees: it will harden and it will crack. “It’s 8 inches of solid concrete, but it will crack. Water will find these areas and leak into the basement.”

Patching cracks is not a solution; it’s a temporary fix that will come back to haunt homeowners and contractors. Instead, Spencer seals the cracks and pipe penetration with an epoxy paste. He then injects a special liquid epoxy or urethane into the cracks and voids to create a permanent repair.

This is a profitable business opportunity for contractors who recognize that America is going "green" people will pay a bit more for a home that is built for clean living.

A Healthy Home

Keeping water out is not the only reason for prepping a basement. The basement is the source of 50 percent of the air that circulates in the living area. Preventing deadly gases like radon from rising through concrete is necessary as the quality of the air in the basement and the living area are subject to contamination from the earth below (whether the basement is an unsealed porous concrete floor or dirt in crawl spaces). Use a deep penetrating concrete sealer to prevent vapor molecules (humidity) and radon gas from passing through the porous concrete and into the home.

Another health hazard found in basements is mold. Data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proves that mold will grow only where humidity and moisture are present - i.e., basements that have not been safely prepped. Placing a carpet on a concrete floor that has not been sealed is an invitation to mold growth.

“The typical floor is sitting on cold, damp earth. Concrete is not a good substrate to put carpet down on. It is much better to use a waterproof insulation blanket as carpet backing. Mold needs food and it loves carpet. I call it mold candy,” says Spencer. An environmentally friendly, nontoxic, all-organic mold remediation spray along with the waterproof insulation blanket is also available.

Avoiding mold in walls is equally important and can be achieved by using the proper insulation. Spencer again favors the use of waterproof insulating blankets because they are the ultimate vapor barriers that outlasts and outperforms traditional insulation. It reflects radiant heat, prevents condensation and stops pests - thanks to an aluminum backing - and does not need to be replaced in the event of leaking or flooding.

Installation is easy because it will adhere directly on the concrete walls with no need for studs. Also, its exterior surface looks like white vinyl, which brightens a basement and provides a finished look. Contractors can win points on three fronts by learning to install this product: 1) they create a healthy, dry environment; 2) they give homeowners a friendly, inhabitable space without spending a fortune; and 3) the waterproof insulating blankets can help cut energy costs.

Sealing The Deal

“You don’t want to finish a basement without doing these things,” saysLou Cole, president of Emecole. “It’s uncanny that some people will spend a lot of money finishing a basement and yet are not aware of health dangers that result from poor preparation: floods, serious mold and air-quality issues. Do the right thing for your clients and they’ll thank you for it.”

His firm provides other sealing products, such as a system for sealing and insulating crawl spaces, which can be used for storage.  

For more information, contact Emecole Inc., by writing to 50 E. Montrose Dr., P.O. Box 7486, Romeoville, IL 60446; phone 800/844-2713 or fax 815/372-3893; e-mail or visit the Web site at