Whether it is the spring shower, thawing of the snow, or unexpected plumbing problems, if your basement is not well protected or insulated, it is at risk of getting flooded. Water can seep in through the tiny cracks or weak spots in the foundation and damage your property. It is not just a safety hazard but also a matter of health concern for you and your family.
To address the situation, you need to
- Assess the depth of the stagnating water
- Switch of the power supply and water supply, if necessary
- Wear protective gear before stepping into the water and try to locate the source of the leak
- If you can stop the leak, then do so. Or, else call a professional
- Salvage your belongings
- Take precautionary steps to prevent future floods
To understand how to deal with such a scenario, here is an in-depth look into a flooded basement. In this article, we have mentioned the possible causes for basement flooding, how you can tackle it and what sort of techniques you can apply to prevent this issue from reoccurring.
Before we jump into the step-by-step breakdown of what to do when the basement is in clutches of flood, it’s better if we take a moment to understand the dos and don’ts. It will give you the opportunity to be prepared before you dive into action. So, without further ado, let’s hop right in.
What causes basement flooding?
Now, there can be a number of possible reasons why your basement can flood out of the blue. Since your basement is at the lowest level of the house. It is built either completely below the ground level or, in some cases, partially above, which is why it is highly prone to seepage.
There are three ways by which water can encroach into your house
- through the foundation floors
- through the walls of the basement
- through drains, if the sewer backs up
Apart from knowing the ways by which water can encroach your house, it is also important to know the underlying causes as well.
- Normally, we expect flooding during the rainy season, but it is also possible for your basement to overflow during the dry season as well. There are three probable reasons why this may happen.
- Sanitary lateral breakdown- after using your sanitary lateral for over a period of time, it can eventually deteriorate and fail or, it can get blocked. This can cause the sewage to back up into your basement.
- No foundation drainage– if your house is built on a low-lying area, then the water content in the soil around your house is high. Therefore, the weeping tiles in the foundation get degraded or plugged with sediments. Eventually, the water will not get drained completely, and this will cause flooding into your abode.
- Aged plumbing– sometimes, a crack or break in the internal water supply or a puncture in the hot-water tank can lead to flooding. This can happen if your plumbing system is quite old or if there has been recent construction in the area around the pipe. Sometimes even freezing temperatures can cause the pipes to split.
It is more common to expect basement flooding during the wetter seasons. Whether it is the melting snow or the thawing of the ground or, heavy rainfall, it can easily cause your drainage system to backup.
- Surface inflow– during rainy seasons, water starts pooling into the depressions along the sides of the foundation of the house. Eventually, after accumulating around the premises to a certain limit, water will eventually enter your house. This can also happen if there is a natural water body nearby.
- Foundation failure – when a house ages, the foundation becomes weaker. As a result, there will be cracks or holes in between the walls and the floor. These defects can prove to be troublesome, especially during the thawing and rainy seasons.
- Sump pump malfunction– the purpose behind installing a sump pump in your house is to remove the excess water that gets collected in the basement. And just like any other equipment, the sump pump has to be maintained on a regular basis. If for any reason, the pump breaks down in the middle of a storm or is unable to keep up with the amount of water coming in, then it can cause your basement to flood.
Dos and don’ts when cleaning a flooded basement-
- Monitor the water level. If the water level continues to rise then, wait for it to stop rising, then start cleaning.
- Before entering the basement, check the ceilings for any signs of sagging. If there are any then, do not attempt to enter.
- Stay away from any electrical devices. Don’t touch or use any that are near water, for you may risk getting electrocuted.
- If the interior of your house is flooded, don’t try to dry it up by heating it.
- Make sure to keep children and pets away from the flooded area. Do not permit them to play near the water-clogged zone.
- To improve air circulation, keep dehumidifiers at a distance of 6-8 inches away from the wall.
- In the case of valuable assets such as documents, if they get wet, put them in the freezer quickly. The low temperature will stop the mildew from growing.
How to Clean a Flooded Basement
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to tackle basement flooding. It’s not easy, but with proper planning and approach, you can free your basement from the thralls of stagnant water in no time.
· Step 1 – Inspecting the basement
Walking into a flooded basement can be highly dangerous since you are exposing yourself to a number of unknown factors. So, before you enter, there a few things that you need to check-
Check the height of the water
Always assess the level of water. If it is nothing more than a puddle or is less than two inches high then, the chances of electrical shocks are much lower. However, if the water level is high, it is better not to enter the room immediately. In this case, contact a plumber to drain the water out of the basement.
Beware of electrical appliances.
Many of the homeowners store a bunch of gadgets in their basements. If you are one of them, then make sure to switch off the main power supply. If the service panel is located in any other part of the house, for example, is located outside your house near the meter, then you can easily turn off the electricity. However, if it is located in your basement, then bring in your local electrician to shut it down for you.
· Step 2 – Taking necessary precautions
Figuring out where the cracks are in the basement should be your next course of action. However, before you walk into the contaminated zone, make sure that you are wearing protective gear such as thick gloves, waterproof boots, and a surgical mask along with goggles. If you have chest or hip waders then, equip yourself with them, for they may come in handy.
Wear protective overall and then get into the basement. Open every window or vents in the room. Doing this will get rid of the putrid smell. You can also use a dehumidifier, if you have one, to remove the moisture in the air.
· Step 3 – Locating the source of the leak
Now, there are many possible ways by which water can enter your home. For example, it can seep in through the walls, floors, or windows, through the floor drain or, through your plumbing. Here’s what you can do when you pinpoint the location of the problem.
Walls, floor, or windows
This usually tends to happen when there is a heavy downpour or a storm. In this case, there are two possible options.
- One, either wait for the weather conditions to improve, and the water will slowly start receding or at least stop rising.
- Second, if the flood level is low enough, then cut off the power supply to the basement and start removing valuable items to higher ground as fast as possible.
Flooding through the floor drain mainly happens if there is an obstruction in the water flow of the municipal sewer lines. Or if your sump pump is malfunctioning. In either case, you will need the opinion of an expert and allow him to handle the situation.
This is the easiest to spot. If it is a broken fixture and you see water gushing out of it then, immediately cut off the water supply to that area. Next, turn off the pipes that are connected to the water heater or any other electrical appliances. After shutting down the power supply, call your local plumber to fix the broken pipe.
·Step 4 – Salvaging household items
Once you have figured out how to deal with the source of the leak, next comes the part when you go hunting through your basement and salvage the remainder of your precious belongings.
After switching off the power supply, head into the basement and unplug all the electrical devices. If you notice that the water is still continuing to pour in, then you need to act fast. Quickly make a mental note of items that are more valuable and start removing items based on their level of priority.
Begin with the ones that are hard to replace and then later move on to the ones that are less important. For example-
- Official documents – these include passports, financial records, and deeds.
- Personal items – Such as family heirlooms, keepsakes, and albums
- Electronic gadgets – your laptops, computers, tv sets, or any other electronic device
- Furniture –your couch, bookshelves, and carpets
· Step 5 – Doing damage control
When it comes to carpets and walls, depending on the extent of the damage, they can either be restored or may have to be replaced entirely.
- Carpets are capable of absorbing a large amount of water. This can ruin the fibers of the carpet and turn it into a breeding ground for mold. That is why, in most cases, it is better to replace the carpets with padding.
- Baseboards and sheetrock take in a small amount of water. They swell up or buckle when they get wet, which can affect the insulation of the basement. You can get it restored easily with the help of professionals.
- Drywall, on the other hand, completely soaks in water so, you will have to rip the entire thing out and replace it. If you have plaster walls, all you need to do is aerate the back of the wall and dry out the studs.
· Step 6 – Pumping the floodwater out
Moisture creates the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. So, the quicker you get rid of the water from your basement, the less damage it causes to the foundation of your house. The process of draining the water out will differ depending on its volume.
- If the depth of the standing water is quite shallow, you can use a mop or a sponge along with a bucket to clean the floor.
- If the water level is that of a few inches and if the size of your basement is small, a wet/ dry vacuum can take care of the situation. Just like any other regular vacuum, it sucks in the water and holds it in a tank. Generally, it can hold up to 5 to 6 gallons. When the tank fills up, empty it and then continue removing the water.
· Step 7 – Drying process
After pumping out the water from your basement, you need to dry out the remainder of the moisture in the room. So, you apply the following methods:
- Open all the windows. This will not only remove the foul odor from the room but also bring in fresh air from the outside.
- If you don’t have any windows, then you can set up multiple fans in the room and set them at high speed. This will quickly dry off the floors. Make sure to position them in a direction facing away from the room, for example, towards the stairs.
- If you have space heaters, you can use them as well, but they tend to add humidity to the room. So, you can pair it with a dehumidifier, and it will clear out the water content in the air.
· Step 8 – cleaning and disinfecting the basement
Flood water brings in a large number of contaminants into your house. It can bring forth a lot of safety concerns for you and your family. So, to create a safe and germ-free environment-
- Clear off any debris, leaves, mud, or twigs.
- Check the drain screen for any plugs or blockages. Wash the screen and then snake drain by using a plunger.
- Scrub everything that the water has touched, including the salvaged items with hot water and a strong detergent or bleach. Here is how you can make one yourself- take a gallon of water and mix about eight tablespoons of liquid chlorinated bleach.
- For interior cavities, use a mixture of water, dish detergent (non-ammonia), and chlorine bleach. If there are any wall cavities, dry them and then seal them off.
What does homeowners insurance cover?
There are innumerable reasons behind a flooded basement. The homeowner’s insurance does not cover all the situations; rather, it deals with only a handful of situations. So, to save yourself from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is better to get a specific type of coverages like flood insurance that can come in handy when the situation calls for it.
Here are the scenarios where the homeowner’s insurance will cover.
- Broken appliances
If the water damage to your basement is caused by a defective appliance like a refrigerator, washing machine, or AC unit, then the insurance can take care of the damages. However, if the malfunctioning of the unit is due to lack of care and irregular maintenance then, it may not cover.
Note that the insurance is only applicable for damages caused by a faulty device and not for the device itself. So, you will have to pay for the new appliance out of your own pocket.
- Leaking water heater
Again, the damages caused by a leaking water heater fall under insurance coverage. However, the reason behind the malfunctioning of the gadget is what plays a major part in whether your insurance claim gets accepted or not.
- Pipe rupture
During winter, the water pipes usually tend to burst under freezing temperatures. The insurance policy can cover these damages, including burst pipes of the AC unit and any other gadget pipes that may freeze. However, this is based on the condition that you are staying in the house when this happens.
- Overflowing sinks and pool
Although it doesn’t happen very often, sometimes your tub, sink, or pool may overflow and flood your basement. This usually comes under the ‘sudden and accidental’ clause. So, you needn’t have to worry about the damages; the insurance can definitely cover you for this.
When does homeowners insurance not cover?
Now that you know of the situations where your insurance can back you up. Here are a few scenarios where the insurance does not cover.
- Natural calamities
The flood caused by a storm, heavy rain, or any sort of natural disaster is not insured by homeowners insurance. For this, you will need flood insurance to handle the cost of the damaged items. However, in some of the cases, it may not cover the structural damages to the floors and ceiling.
Recuperating from the amount of destruction caused by an external sewer to your house can be quite expensive. Sometimes it can end up costing you more than you can bargain. And, it gets even worse when you find out that your insurance does not cover the damages. In this case, there are some insurance companies that do provide a small amount of endorsement to tackle some of the repair expenses.
Seepage tends to happen more often when the soil around your house is saturated with water or if your area is prone to heavy precipitation. Sooner or later, the water will eventually enter your house. Under these circumstances, the insurance company may refuse to cover you since it is not considered a ‘coverable calamity.’ And, if you have flood insurance, then that too is only applicable for coverage if the seepage is the result of a flood in the surrounding area.
Who to call when your basement floods?
If you are accustomed to experiencing basement floods then, you know that not all situations can be handled alone by a homeowner, especially when the weather conditions are unpredictable. It is always a good idea to call in an expert to assist you in dealing with the predicament. Also, different scenarios call for a different type of expertise.
- Say, for example, if there is a pipe burst, then you switch the valve connected to the main water supply and then call a plumber. He can not only detect the source of the problem but also make any necessary repairs.
- If you are facing electrical problems, then you should contact your electrical company and an electrician. After which you should evacuate your house as soon as possible.
- In matters that are related to sewage drainage issues, for example, if the sewer gets backed up, then refrain from using water or any plumbing and call a plumber. You also contact emergency sewer services.
- In the case of a failed furnace, which often gets damaged during a flood, you need to take the assistance of an HVAC professional at the earliest.
- And, if you happen to notice mildew building up around the walls then, you should contact the restoration services to take care of the specific problems.
A Few Common Questions
Dealing with a flooded basement is difficult, to say the least. Often, a lot of people do not know how to start or what to do when something goes south. That’s why we have answered a few common questions for your benefit.
How to Prevent Future Flooding in The Basement?
We have all heard that ‘prevention is better than cure. While some of us ignore this adage from time to time, you should not (by a long shot) avoid taking precautions when it comes to basement flooding.
Constant water damage to your basement can weaken the foundation of your house. So, here are a few tips that will reduce the chances of your basement flooding over you.
- Conduct regular inspections of the sewer lines and look for any blockages or intrusions.
- Look for any weak spots or cracks in the walls of the basement.
- Keep an eye on the previous source/ sources of the flood.
- Install a sump pump and perform regular maintenance of the pump and sump pit.
- Make sure that the openings are properly sealed—for example, your window wells, vents and etc.
- Clean the entire piping system on an annual basis.
- Extend any downspouts away from the foundation of your house by five feet.
How Long Will It Take to Clean A Flooded Basement?
The amount of time needed for the entire cleaning process depends on three factors – the volume of standing water, how big your basement is and, the source of the leak. So, if your basement has flooded because of a heavy downpour then, you need to wait for the storm to clear out and then start cleaning. It can take a span of three to five days for the basement to dry out.
How to Avoid Electric Shock When Cleaning A Flooded Basement?
The risk of getting electrocuted is one of the dangers of dealing with a flooded basement. If you have any electrical gadgets that are in the vicinity of the flood water or you notice any exposed wiring hanging out, then steer clear of the danger zone. Shut off the main power supply or call for an electrician. Also, if you are getting into the standing water, don’t forget to wear protective gear.
How to Deal with Gas Odors While Cleaning A Flooded Basement?
To deal with the foul odor in the basement, you can use dehumidifiers and air movers. You can also use high-tech air scrubbers. It can get rid of the foul smell as well as the contaminants from the air.
A Smart Way to Fight Basement Flooding
If basement flooding is such a nuisance, how do you fight it? Well, there are a few ways you can go about it, but the two mentioned at the bottom are our favorites.
Sump Pump in The Basement
If your area is prone to heavy rainfall, then you may consider buying a submersible sump pump. You Can also choose a sump pump with battery backup. It takes up less room since the motor is placed inside the sump pit underwater. And, the pit is usually located at the lowest end of the house so it can collect the excess groundwater and drain it far away from the house. Once you have a sump pump, it drastically cuts down the risk of flooding.
Sewage Backup in Basement
Sewage-based leaks are caused by clogs in the sewer lines or if the septic tank backs up. To start the cleaning process, shut off all the faucets in the house and then contact a septic specialist. In the case of clogs due to city sewer lines, you need to address the issue to the local sewage department.
Having your basement fill up with water is probably one of the worst nightmares for every homeowner. Many a time, even a small amount of floodwater can cause damage to a large extent. That is why it is important to conduct an inspection of the house’s foundation and, at the same time, maintain the plumbing on a regular basis.
Nevertheless, if you ever fall into a situation where you discover that your basement has flooded, this article will always be at your beck and call. In this article, we have given you an in-depth look into why a basement floods, how to take care of it, and how to prevent such a disaster by taking precautions. We have mentioned all the possible ways of how you can approach the problem, the precautions that you need to take, and if you can handle the situation in a step-by-step manner.
We hope this article was helpful to you. Thank you!