Around 14,000 people in the United States experience a water damage emergency every day. Most commonly, these affect basements by virtue of the fact that gravity does its thing and takes water to the lowest point of the house. Installing a drain in that lowest point is, therefore, a vital step to take in minimizing your chances of being seriously inconvenienced by a leak or flood.
This guide will walk you through all of the key aspects of a basement floor drain so you know what to look for when either installing one in a new build home or adding one to your existing home.
BASEMENT FLOOR DRAIN COST
The average cost of installing a basement floor drain is $3,000. However, this number can fluctuate significantly depending on the state of your specific basement drainage system. If you simply need a new drain and some de-clogging, it will cost you between $150 – $300. If you need a team of professionals to break ground and build the entire underground drainage system, then the price will rise significantly.
WHY DO YOU NEED
Basement floor drains are simple pieces of technology that can do important things in your home. Nothing more than a hole in your basement that is connected to a wastewater pipe, the implications of having a basement floor drain – or not having one – can be huge.
Below is a list of reasons why you may need one:
It's a legal requirement
In many cases, having a basement floor drain of some form is actually in the building code. If so, you don’t have a choice and will be required to install one.
It limits flood damage
As discussed below, if you live in an area prone to flooding, then a basement floor drain is your first line of defense against water entering your home. Although it may not be able to deal with extremely large volumes of water, the drain will help to remove it quickly when the waters do recede and prevent a situation where there is standing water in your home.
You have utilities
In addition, your basement may also be susceptible to leaking given the prevalence of utilities down there – from the condensation of the HVAC unit to water heaters to refrigerators to washing machines. Almost all of the heavy utilities in your basement are prone to leaking.
Unlike flood damage caused by weather or a river bursting its banks, flooding from leakage can be prevented with a basement floor drain since the water will automatically run down the drain. You’ll never face the scenario of coming down to your basement and standing in a foot of water.
Standing water is a hotbed of disease and biohazards. Removing it from your home as fast as possible will keep everything more sanitary. One of the biggest problems after a flood is the need to sanitize your home because of the unsavory content of ‘blackwater.’ Ensuring that flood water leaves your home as quickly as possible is therefore vital. Similarly, a lack of standing water will reduce the chances of mold taking hold in your home.
HOW DOES A BASEMENT FLOOR DRAIN WORK?
The basic idea behind a basement floor drain is extremely simple – you install a drain in the lowest part of your basement, which then siphons the water out of your home to prevent flooding. The drain is covered with a grate of some form so that the basement remains a usable space in your home.
In order for the drain to be fully effective at preventing standing water, you will need to ensure that the basement floor has a slight camber towards the drain – in other words, that the rest of the basement floor slopes down towards the drain. This can result in additional installation costs since you are effectively having to build a new floor for your basement.
This is on top of the fact that you are required to drill a hole in your basement floor and install piping to lead water away from under your home. All in, this represents an extremely invasive project. As a result, it is often better to install a basement floor drain when building a new basement, rather than install one in an existing building.
Once you have installed the drain, it’s important to pipe the water in the correct direction. Most likely the pipe will connect with the sewer system, either directly or to a wastewater pipe that then feeds into the sewer system. If you have a septic tank in your home, you will need to filter the water away from that in order to prevent overloading and flooding the tank. Older or more rural homes tend to have drainage ditches or leach fields where the water is piped.
Some modern basements also have pumps built into their drainage system, which allows for water to be moved out more efficiently. This can help in areas where flooding is particularly common and where you often need to move large volumes of water in short periods of time.
FLOOR DRAIN CONNECTIONS WORK?
Once the water leaves your basement, there are three options of what it can connect to. This depends on what you are expecting to drain from your basement. Again, these are mandated by your local government code, so must be up to legal requirements. Furthermore, connecting the drain to the wrong output can cause serious problems to the health of your home and the surrounding land, so if in doubt, hire a contractor who can consult or help on the project.
The three potential connections for the basement drain are:
THE SEWAGE SYSTEM
This will be the most common connection since it involves taking the pipe and connecting it to the sewage pipe at the edge of your property. This is suitable if you are draining a washing machine, water softener, or a laundry sink from your basement. Each of these commonly uses chemicals such as detergents that must be disposed of down a sewage system, meaning you have little choice in which type of connection to install.
You may need to install a backwater valve to ensure that you don’t get backflow from the city sewage system when there is heavy flooding.
A SUMP PIT
If you are not planning on draining any of the utilities mentioned above, you can use a sump pit. It is, however, illegal to drain with detergents, salt, or other chemicals (depending on your local city ordinance), so be sure to check this in advance. If you are just draining the water from your basement, then a sump pit will be the simplest solution.
A SEWAGE PIT WITH EJECTOR SYSTEM
The sewage pit with an ejector system is a practical solution to the basement floor being lower than your main sewer line. Effectively you’ll need to pump the drained material uphill towards the sewer line.
It will require additional materials and therefore be a slightly more complex installation, although once it is installed, it effectively functions as a sewage system (i.e. you can drain detergents and other chemicals down there).
OF A BASEMENT FLOOR DRAIN
If you are installing a basement flood drain, either as part of a new build or as an addition to an existing home, there are some central concerns you need to address in order to ensure it works as well as possible:
Anything that provides access to the sewer is susceptible to bad odors. Similarly, if you use the floor drain as part of the process of cleaning a basement, then it’s likely that materials will eventually begin to decompose in the well of the drain, which can lead to bad smells.
As such, you need to ensure that the trap below the drain is wet and that there is a plug for the cleanout installed. On top of this, you can take a bucket of water and pour it down the drain to ensure that everything is flushed out.
As mentioned above, if you are connected to the city sewer pipe, there is a danger of backflow during times of flooding. Similarly, if you have a clog in your main drain, you may get a backup through the basement floor drain.
In all instances, this is an unpleasant situation. Installing a backflow valve will prevent this from happening – a float in the valve rises and seals the drain when it is being flooded. The average cost of installing a backflow preventer is $300. Sump pump pits don’t have this problem, so there’s no additional installation needed.
Even if the drain is designed exclusively for water runoff, you’re likely to find that larger items get rinsed down there as well. Installing a grate at the top of your drain that has only fine holes will help to keep larger items from being washed down, and therefore eventually clogging up your pipe. You may also need to flush the drains every six months, either with an industrial cleaner or using a plumbing snake to ensure that there are no blockages.
98% of basements in the United States will experience some form of flooding during their lifetime. As such, a basement floor drain is a solid way to mitigate – if not prevent – the flooding. Adding one to a new build is a straightforward process, and may even be a legal requirement.
Once you’ve got it installed, you can sleep soundly knowing that if everything goes wrong: your water heater leaks or there’s heavy rain, you are as ready as you can be to deal with the excess water.