Coming home to a flooded basement is every homeowner’s nightmare, and the amount of damage that can be done by water is staggering.
Given the potential cost, both in dollars, property value, and personal possessions, that can happen when a basement floods, it’s important to have a plan in advance to deal with the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible.
So, now what?
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most important things to remember when faced with a flooded basement. Whether it’s the effect of a natural disaster, common weather patterns, or a broken pipe, taking quick action is important.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Turn Off the Electricity and Water
The first thing to do if you find that your basement is flooding, or has flooded, is to turn off any power (electrical or gas) running to the area.
Do this FIRST, then turn off any water. If you’re not sure where the water is coming from, turn off the flow at the main just to be sure.
If you have to enter the flooded area to get to your breaker box or gas main…DON’T.
You should never enter an area with standing water that may have active power. Nothing in your basement is worth the risk of electrocution or explosion.
If you can’t reach the power safely or don’t know how to locate it, stay away from the area and contact a professional electrician to come and do it for you.
Note: If you have homeowners insurance or specific flood insurance, contact your insurer immediately to report the issue. This is the start of a paper trail that could prove to be vitally important down the road. While on the phone, confirm your coverage details, deductibles, and required claim procedures. Ask to have this information emailed to you immediately, print it out, and store it someplace safe.
Regardless of the water source, standing water in your basement can contain pathogens from outside contaminates, from broken sewage lines or gray-water sources, or from contact with surfaces it touches in the basement itself.
To protect yourself, wear water-proof boots that are higher than the water level, and heavy gloves. Chest waders or hip waders can be helpful if the water level rises above your knees.
If water levels reach higher than your hips, or are still rising, you should leave the area immediately and wait for professional help, as you could face the risk of getting trapped or even drowning.
Find the Leak
If you’ve turned off your main water supply and water is still coming in, try to determine the source (it may be a pipe or storage unit outside of your home system) and turn it off if you can.
If your basement floor includes a drain, check to make sure that it’s not covered or clogged, so water can drain back out if possible.
For flooding from rain or rising exterior water, wait until the storm or flood passes* and determine the access point (window, foundation, backed-up drain, etc.) and resolve it.
*If the water is from a natural source like a storm or flood, it’s safest to wait until the active situation is over before accessing or trying to deal with the damage. Nobody wants to walk away from a situation like this but, again, your life is more valuable than the contents of your basement.
Once the waters have receded, it’s time to prevent and control ongoing damage.
Move any effected items out of the basement and into a well-ventilated area to dry (a couple of box fans can work wonders here).
Don’t bother trying to dry items in the basement, there’s too much moisture and mildew will set in before things dry. A sunny spot outside, if available, is the best option.
Individual and stored items should be removed from wet cardboard boxes to dry separately, and the cardboard, which can breed bacteria, should be disposed of.
Any carpeting, wet drywall, or soaked insulation is likely to be ruined beyond repair and should be torn out. It can hold damaging moisture against the basement floor and walls, encouraging molds and bacteria.
Allow the empty basement several days to dry out with any windows open (again, fans are helpful for air circulation). Renting an industrial dehumidifier can make a big difference. (Save your receipts!)
Once you’ve removed as much moisture as possible, wash all surfaces to remove any dirt or debris left behind and, once dry again, wipe walls and floors down with an anti-bacterial spray to help keep molds and mildew from getting a foothold.
If all of this seems overwhelming, consider contacting a plumbing specialist, flooding restoration company, or basement waterproofing service (especially if you’re in an area prone to flooding).
If the damage is covered by your homeowners or flood insurance, your vendor should have a list of companies that they have pre-approved and can recommend.
Basement flooding is never a fun thing to deal with, but knowing the steps to take in advance, and implementing them as quickly as possible, can reduce the hassle and long-term ramifications of a flooded basement.