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Heading for High Ground: How to Cope with a Basement Flood

Red Life Belt In Front Of Empty Boat Dock Harbor

You walk down the stairs to your basement and the realization isn’t a pleasant one. Flooding in basements can be caused by a variety of sources including ground water and runoff seasonally or after an unusual volume of natural precipitation. Improperly sealed foundations can allow ground water to enter through the concrete floor or through cinder blocks. Some basement floods are caused by cold weather and burst pipes or even backed up eaves troughs and gutters.

No one plans to have a flooded basement, which is why when they happen they cause so much damage and inconvenience to the home owner. A basement flood is not something people anticipate having to deal with, and few people are equipped to manage the situation or have the appropriate expertise or equipment in place. So if it has happened to you and you were not ready, you aren’t alone but we can help you be prepared in the event that it happens again.

In addition to the tremendous inconvenience and expense of a flood, there are a number of other considerations regarding health and safety, as well as documenting loss and other necessities for your insurance damage claim. We’ll take you through step-by-step to help you respond to your basement flood situation like a professional.

Assessing the Risk of Injury

From Electricity

Boy has a electric shock

Before you enter your basement or step into the water, do a careful evaluation of the water level versus the electrical outlets. Without thinking, some homeowners have inadvertently stepped into water that is electrically charged. Even if the water level is well below the electrical outlets in your basement, if you had appliances on the floor or even a power bar with multiple outlets for your television or other equipment, the water could be carrying a deadly electrical charge.

Remember that even when the power is out in your house, the water in your home and basement can still carry an electrical current from your neighbors or from a source near you. Do not go into your basement (it’s not safe). Call an experienced electrician to disconnect your home from the power grid by removing the meter from its socket. Only then can you be certain that you have reduced the risk of electrocution and after an assessment by a licensed electrician is advised.

From Sewage and Bacteria

Mold And Bacteria

It is actually not easy to tell from the onset what the source of the flooding is, and it can be a one or multiple sources, but quickly identifying if some, or all of the water in your basement is sewage is important to protecting your health. However if the cause is a rupture to the sewage or a back-up of sewage, the appropriate precautions must be taken to prevent infection from e-coli and other harmful bacteria.

Consult with your municipal utility who can test the water onsite to evaluate sewage content. Remember that e-coli is a bacteria that can spread quickly and soft surfaces such as clothing, furnishings, carpeting and even drywall can absorb and house the bacteria. While non-porous items can be cleaned it is common practice to discard property that has been soiled by sewage and flooding, rather than encounter health risks.

Even after water has been removed from a flooded basement, mold spores can remain. It takes less than 48 hours after a flood for spores to develop in standing water, creating a longer term health problem for harmful mold behind paneling, under flooring or inside insulated walls. Harmful mold from a flooded basement can also infiltrate ducts, spreading mold spores throughout the home.

From the Structure

Wooden walls and brick foundations can be compromised by flooding. Typically the water present on the floor represents a small portion of the water that has seeped into the foundation and building blocks of the basement walls. As you remove water from the basement, this water level drops however it can also lead to partial wall collapse.

When entering a flooded basement ensure that you are wearing protective gear such as rubber boots, gloves and depending on the presence of mildew, an air filtration mask to avoid allergic reaction or breathing issues. Conduct a survey of the wood (if any) structures in your basement to determine if they are load bearing and at risk or showing signs of stress and possible collapse.

Water and Property Damage and Valuation

Old Picture Frame Against Basement Wall

When you have established that it is safe to begin restoring your basement and cope with the water issue, it is also time to review your insurance coverage. Before you move anything ensure that you are accurately documenting all damage that pertains to the flood.

Begin by taking pictures of your damaged belongings and make a manifest of all your property that was impacted by the flood and approximate value; you can greatly decrease the processing time in most cases for your claim. Be prepared to send everything to your insurance adjuster for legal documentation.

It is advised that you contact one or more contractors to evaluate the structural damage to your home as a result of the flooding incident. Damage to flooring, walls, foundation, electrical and plumbing as well as your furnishings and belongings should be submitted as part of your insurance claim.

Restoring Your Basement

Completely flooded basement

When it comes time to start removing the water from your basement, there are a number of options depending on the volume of water.

Step 1: Pump and Remove Water

An effective pump can be rented from your local home improvement or tool rental site to help you remove the water. Most pumps come equipped with a discharge hose to carry water to your sump pump hole or drain, or out the window and away from the house depending on the severity and type of flood.

Once the large volume of water has been removed you can clean up the rest to help your basement dry with the assistance of a Wet Vac or similar equipment that allows you to vacuumed up puddles and left over water.

Step 2: Drying or Curing Your Basement

Before rebuilding it is important to allow ample time for your basement to ‘air out’ and dry thoroughly. This will help to prevent the growth of bacteria or mold within the space.

Step 3: Inspection and Removal

Discard any soft surface furnishings and belongings that may have become contaminated during the flood. While they may be dried out and deodorized, mold spores and bacteria can remain in foam and fabrics.

Step 4: Mold Treatment

Hire a professional to treat your basement as well as your duct work to prevent any of the contamination from the flood from reaching the upstairs area of your home.

Step 5: Evaluate and Repair

Concrete Crack In Foundation

Find the source of the foundation leak. Sometimes flooding happens through a window well which can be easily fixed with proper sealing. However in the event of a leak through the concrete floor or from the foundation, a residential engineer will need to be consulted to evaluate the best way to install appropriate drainage. This is typically done by digging a channel in the concrete and installing weeping tile to help create natural runoff from underground sources.

In the event of a foundation leak within the walls or cinder blocks, additional drainage and waterproof sealing of the wall will be required. This can include an excavation of your exterior foundation wall to install new drainage and tile, as well as to seal the exterior wall with a water resistant silicon barrier.

If the ground beside your basement is sloped inward toward the wall, ground water may be traveling into the foundation by gravity alone. Fixing the gradient of your surrounding landscape may save you from further flooding. Remember that landscape should slope down and away from any wall to divert water elsewhere.

The installation of a quality sump pump will reduce and in most cases eliminate future flooding of your basement. Whenever the ground water level raises to a point that it is higher than the foundation of your home, a quality sump pump will automatically begin to divert and discharge the water away to prevent flooding. In older homes this discharge may be into a sink or into the sewer which is now prohibited by most municipalities. Consult with a waterproofing experts to discuss your best option with regards to safety, restoration and reclamation of your flooded basement and preventative measures to prevent future loss and expense.