flooded basement: what to do
Basements are inherently vulnerable to flooding since they are located below ground level where many pipes and systems are positioned and ground shifts happen. Even if your basement has never flooded before, it is still possible that yours will be affected at some point.
If you have a wet basement, this can lead to a domino effect of serious problems.
“My basement flooded! What should I do?” Do not immediately just get into the water in the basement and attempt to remove it.
Although this makes sense as an initial reaction to the problem, it could be life-threatening. The basement flooding could have risen over electrical outlets sending an electrical charge throughout the water. In this case, professional help will be needed.
Below is a full guide on basement flooding, its sources, how to handle cleanup, and how to prevent a wet basement problem from occurring again. If you need immediate help and are wondering who to call for a flooded basement, we can help you prepare for the call to find someone who can help with the cleanup.
Cleaning a Flooded Basement: What to Do
If you have a flooded basement, the time to act is now.
Follow these steps to repair the problem:
Make sure it is safe to go down into the basement
Anytime there is water in the basement, you need to first consider the fact that it may have risen above an electrical outlet and there may be an electrical current running through the water.
You need to find the main breaker and cut off power to the area.
If you do not do this you risk electrocution if you touch the water. If you cannot reach the breaker without touching the water, then you need to call in a team of basement flooding repair professionals to help.
The water filling your basement could be contaminated by sewage, which is another health hazard that requires experienced professionals as well as protective gear.
Another safety concern that can arise is if the flooding is so significant that it damages the integrity of the building materials.
If it is safe, find the source of the water
If your basement flooding is on the less severe end and it is safe to go down to investigate the issue, you will need to determine the source of the water infiltration. See the below possible causes as places to start.
Make some calls for basement flood cleanup
First, call a plumbing or water damage restoration specialist to schedule the next possible appointment. There are many companies to choose from that offer basement flood cleanup services. You should call a professional for immediate help.
Then call your insurance company to determine what is covered under your current plan and what you are liable for.
If the source of the flood is due to backup of city sewer lines, then you should call and report the issue to your municipality.
dry the basement
When wet basements just have puddles of water spread around the room, you can use a wet vacuum to begin the cleanup and water removal process.
Since basements are not well ventilated areas by nature, it is also a good idea to bring in dehumidifiers and fans during the drying period.
Remove any porous materials like fabrics to air out in a better ventilated area. If materials are wet for too long, then mold can begin to grow on them. This process can happen in as little as two days.
When mold grows on porous materials, they will likely have to be thrown away. Wet drywall will also likely need to be replaced since mold can be growing behind it, which can cause health problems for people nearby.
If you have actual flooding with water raised above the ground, then you will need to call in professionals to help you with the cleanup and pump out the water.
Flooded basement cleanup companies are usually available for 24 hour emergency services and open 7 days a week.
Determine what can be saved and what is trash
Throw away your materials that have been water damaged or contaminated with unclean water or mold.
Inspect all of the wood and drywall in the basement to make sure it is still in good condition. If it is not, then you may need to pay someone to replace them.
If materials have a mildewy smell but are still salvageable, then take these items to get professionally cleaned.
Water in Basement: Potential Causes
When basement flooding affects your home, using your leak detection sklls and finding the source of the water is the first key step.
Sometimes the cause will be obvious because flooding occurs after a large storm, but sometimes the flooding will pop up out of nowhere and lead you to a pipe problem or foundation crack you previously did not know existed.
This guide will help you navigate the many scenarios in which you may experience a wet basement.
The main potential causes for water in the basement include:
Heavy rainfall or rapid snow melt
Issues with the sewer system
Improper sealing of basement walls and floor
Sump pump problems
Weeping tile blockage
Location of your home/grade of the slope surrounding it
heavy rainfall or rapid snow melt
If you have ever walked downstairs to see water coming into the basement after rain, you are not alone. Wet basements are an extremely common problem.
Sometimes heavy rainfall or a great deal of snow melting very quickly can oversaturate the ground around your home and leak into your basement.
When water is constantly being dumped from the roof and downspouts into the ground near your home, it will eventually run out of room and start to pool.
The force of this water can be so powerful that it breaks through waterproofing systems installed around your basement or cracks in the foundation and causes basement flooding.
Older homes typically have more significant issues than newer homes, but it is likely that everyone will have an encounter with water in the basement at some level, whether that be full flooding or small seepage, at some point in their time as a homeowner.
It is just the nature of a basement’s positioning in the ground. Waterproofing efforts are never going to be 100% effective for the entire lifetime of your home.
issues with the sewer system
There are sanitary and storm sewer pipes running in and around your home that are vulnerable to issues. The smallest cracks or loose joints in these pipes could mean a wet basement for you.
Unfortunately, pipes can break down over time due to:
Ground shifts that cause cracks
The newer standard of sewage lines are made of plastic, which are more durable than the older systems of cast iron and clay.
Another way that pipes lead to basement flooding is when there is a clog or backup in the sanitary sewer system. Sewer backup in the basement can be extremely problematic and lead to water flowing from the pipes back into your home.
This can be very dangerous to people living in your home because of the hazardous bacteria in these pipes.
To avoid clogs in your home drains or toilets, it is important to only put things in them that they are fit to handle. Some items that you should never put down any drain include:
Diapers and wipes
Any paper products that are not toilet paper
Feminine hygiene products
Cooking oils and grease
Municipal storm sewer systems can also experience backup when excess leaves and other debris clog up the pipes and start pumping water into the surrounding ground that may not be fit to handle it.
This can put more pressure on pipes and foundation, creating cracks as pathways for the water to get through and into your basement.
Make sure to check all of the pipes and drains running through your basement as well. Leaky basement pipes can add to the moisture problem and even lead to other issues like mold growth in your basement.
If your basement drains are clogged this can also lead to flooding. Make sure these are clear and properly draining water from the room.
sump pump problems
It is illegal for the sump pump to offload water into the sanitary sewer system. If your home has a sump pump, flooding issues can arise from here as well.
A sump pump is designed to help pump excess water away from the home.
When the groundwater level reaches a certain point and starts to drain into the sump pit, then the sump pump is supposed to automatically turn on and begin removing the water from the home and into the surrounding lawn or storm sewer system.
Unfortunately, just like all household systems sump pumps are not always reliable. Sump pump failure can occur due to a power outage or improper maintenance, which can then cause overflow in the sump pit and lead to basement flooding.
It is good to equip your sump pump with a backup power supply. Installing a 120 volt battery is recommended.
location of your home
If the grade of the land surrounding your home is slanted toward the house, then you are significantly more likely to endure basement flooding than if the slope was down and away from your home.
This is because that slope causes rainwater to flow directly toward your home rather than away.
One way to check and see if the grade of your surrounding lawn is an issue is to walk around your house while it is raining and see if water is pooling in places next to your house. If so, then you have got a problem. This is one of those issues that does not have a quick fix.
Adjustments can be made to your lawn and the surrounding area, but these will come at a high price.
The city in which you live can also have an effect on your basement flooding issues. If you live in a large city with a lot of people living close together, storm sewers can become more easily overloaded.
Living near a lake or river can also increase your chances of seeing water in the basement.
Foundations are typically made of either:
Cracks can form in the foundation of your home from:
Normal wear over time
After enduring many storms
When groundwater levels rise above the basement, gravity will pull the water down helping it to find cracks in the foundation to seep through and lead to a wet basement.
It is smart to stay on top of this issue by frequently walking around your basement and checking the floor and walls for cracks.
Be sure to seal any cracks that you find so water doesn’t seep through the floor. The sooner you spot them, the more likely you are to prevent a large basement flooding issue.
Brand new houses are actually more vulnerable to foundation cracks than an older home. This is because new houses take time to settle, which will inevitably lead to vertical cracks in the foundation. The settling of a house can take a couple of years.
For this reason, it is good to leave the basement of a new house unfinished so you can better spot the cracks when they form before finishing it.
improper sealing of basement
Basements should be sealed to protect them from water intrusion. There should be tar sealant lining on both sides of the foundation walls. Improper sealing can lead to water coming up through the basement floor and walls.
Just like with cracks, if your basement is not sealed properly water from heavy rains will have an opening straight into your basement.
If you think your basement walls and floor have been improperly sealed, you do have the option to have the area resealed.
weeping tile blockage
Weeping tile, or gravity foundation systems, works to keep the water levels around the foundation below any part of the basement. It does this by pulling water away from your home and into the sewer system.
But weeping tile can break down over time or experience blockage from dirt and debris.
When this happens, the ground water is no longer being drained properly and can rise above the basement and leak in through the sump or foundation cracks, causing basement flooding.
It is important to stay on top of leak detection in your basement. Basement leaking can lead to flooding in the following ways:
Cracked or broken pipes can cause a significant amount of flooding very quickly. Pipes with loose joints that need tightening or replacing can start as slow leaks into the basement and grow into something much bigger if not fixed.
Leaking basement wall: Water leaking into the basement through the walls is a sign of potential cracks in your foundation.
Window wells: If your basement leaks when it rains then a possible culprit is window wells. There’s a chance you’ll need to replace your basement windows.
Water heater: They are know to cause some floods and leaking can come from the top or bottom. Make sure you address the leak immediately as it could lead to bigger problems.
DIY VS. PRO HELP
Basement leak repair is probably best handled by professionals, because things like filling cracks and replacing pipes require special tools and equipment. But if it is a simple fix like tightening pipe joints, then you can probably solve the problem with tools at home.
Preventing Future Basement Flooding
Whether or not you have ever experienced a wet basement before, you should start thinking about prevention right now.
Here are some steps to avoid getting water in your basement:
Do not put anything down the drain or flush anything down the toilet that does not belong there. See a list of things that should not go in a drain or toilet above in the Sewage System Problems section.
During heavy rainfall, avoid using too much water, such as for showers or laundry because it can potentially overload the sewer system while it is already working hard.
Frequently inspect your foundation for cracks and fill them. Foundation can break down and shift over time leading to cracks. If you catch the cracks when they are smaller you will likely be able to seal them yourself, but once they get too large you will need to get professional help.
Leak detection: Proactively check your gutters, sump pump, weeping tiles, pipes and any other drainage systems to make sure there is no blockage or leaks causing any problems and they are draining properly.
Cover basement window wells with window well covers to help protect them from breaking down and becoming a source of basement flooding.
Install downspout extensions to your gutters to move water away from the house.
Extenders that can fold up or swivel are recommended.
Install underground drain pipes to reroute the water further away from your home.
Have a flood control system installed between your house and the city sewer system. This will prevent water from the city’s sewer system from ever flowing back into your house. This can be very pricey, but it is a great solution.
Manipulating the land around your home to reroute water, such as through installing catch basins or adjusting the grade of the land.
This is another expensive option.
Cleaning up a flooded basement needs to be done quickly yet carefully. If done successfully, you can salvage much of your belongings and protect yourself and your family.