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Every homeowner with a basement imagines that horror. If basement flooding should happen to you, don’t retreat into a fetal position on your couch and hope for a miracle, no matter how much you want to. You can deal with the soggy disaster. Here’s how.
Don’t wait until you’ve reached the fifth stage of grief before addressing a flood. Fast action can minimize a rising, rank situation — and the money it’ll cost to repair.
1. The first thing to do is really a “don’t,” says Glenn Gallas, vice president of operations at Mr. Rooter Plumbing. Don’t ever, everstep into standing basement water. “You could be shocked or electrocuted,” he says. Who wants to venture into that murky mess, anyway? Turn the power off or call an electrician to be safe.
2. Then stop the flow of water.How you do that depends on what the source is:
|Water Source||What to Do|
|Broken or malfunctioning pipes||Turn off your water’s shut-off valve. If you don’t know where that is, scope it out now — before the worst happens. Some valves are buried in the ground and require special tools to turn off.|
|Sewage backup||Stop flushing toilets and running faucets. Your local sewage authority may offer pumping services or let you submit a reimbursement claim. If you have a septic system, though, it’s on you. Call the septic company to have your tank pumped ASAP.|
|Groundwater||Sorry, that’s bad news. You can’t turn off Mother Nature. The good news: Groundwater flooding might not stink as badly as sewage. Get references for a waterproofing pro or a structural engineer because you could have a foundation problem.|
Groundwater was the culprit for Nancy Friedman and her husband when their St. Louis home flooded back in 2014. They knew they had a tiny wet spot in their basement, but “I didn’t think too much of it,” Nancy Friedman says. “Going downstairs is not an everyday occurrence for us,” she says, especially since they both travel a lot.
That tiny wet spot soon became a full-on flood in their basement, causing thousands of dollars in carpet damage – not to mention the cost to repair the structural issue that allowed water to seep in in the first place.
3. Find a plumber with a high-capacity pump. This is not a job for a DIYer. It needs to get done fast. You need a professional-grade pump. “The longer that water sits, and the longer your drywall spends under water, the more long-term damage,” Gallas says. The more damage, the more it costs to clean up.
4. Make your smartphone earn its keep. Take photos and video, then back them up in the cloud, so you’ll have them for insurance purposes.
Once the water is pumped out, the rest can be a DIY job. Just make sure to protect yourself with:
Then suck up the remaining muck with a wet-dry vac. You’ll also need an army’s worth of paper towels and plastic bags to dispose of the mess.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to say goodbye to all rugs, carpets, and upholstery, which will soak up floodwater contaminants and bacteria, regardless of the flood source. (Seriously sentimental items might be restorable by a professional, but don’t get your hopes too high.) That’s what happened to Friedman. “The first thing we had to do was pull up the carpet.”
Other restoration steps:
In fact, both Gallas and Friedman recommend hiring a restoration service, as long as the company you hire is trustworthy and affordable. A small flood might cost as little as $500 to pump out and dry, but a large flood can cost up to $10,000.
“There’s a lot of companies out there that put a guy in a truck and think a high-powered fan is good enough to dry a basement,” Gallas says. Improper technique, like not allowing the home to dry for long enough or failing to properly treat drywall, puts your home at risk for mold or mildew in addition to the flooding damage.
So just be sure to do your homework on who you hire.
Friedman’s first call when her basement flooded was to her insurance company. “They told me, ‘You don’t have flood insurance,’” Friedman says. “I thought everybody had flood insurance!”
Standard home insurance often doesn’t cover all types of floods, especially groundwater.
“If I could do a speech on floods, it would be: Do you know this very moment, for sure, if you have flood insurance?” Friedman says. “Call your insurance agent right now and ask.”
But the best scenario is no flood at all.