7 ways to stop your basement from flooding—and what to do if it does
Technotronic has it right: Pump it up
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Floods can be one of the most damaging events any homeowner can experience. Water in your home can destroy personal belongings, damage or weaken the structure of your house, and leave behind lingering health concerns related to standing water, mold, and mildew.
According to insurance industry research, 98% of basements will experience water damage at some point in their lifetimes, and the average insurance claim for water damage is about $10,000.
There are a few main reasons that basements flood. The first is weather.
In heavy rain or melting snow, water can pool around your house and flow inside through doors, bulkheads, windows, or cracks in the foundation.
Second, groundwater can leak through your foundation, rising up from the basement floor or seeping through the walls.
Finally, floods can be caused by backups in your plumbing system or breaks and leaks in your water lines.
The best way to deal with a flood is to stop it from ever happening. The best way to keep your house dry is by ensuring your drainage is clean and clear, your plumbing is well-maintained, and your basement is water-tight and able to eliminate water on its own.
Before your basement floods, there are simple steps to take to mitigate potential damage and prevent it from ever happening.
1. Keep your sump pump (plus its battery backup) and other drains in working order
A sump pump is the best line of defense against water that has gotten into your basement, no matter where it came from. These pumps sit in the lowest part of the basement and pump any water out.
The sump pump should have a backup power source so that it will continue working even in a power outage. You should inspect this regularly.
Also, keep the drains clean and clear and the pump itself well-maintained so that it won’t fail when you need it most.
2. Send water away from your house
If water flows away from your house, the risk of flooding drops drastically. The easiest way to do this is to properly grade your yard. Create a gentle slope away from the foundation, and ensure that there is nowhere against the house for water to pool.
Gutters and downspouts are another key component of diverting water away from your home. Keep them clean and clear so that water can flow, and extend the downspouts far away from the house.
Finally, check the basement window wells around your home. These should be raised at least a few inches above ground level and should be dug down well below the window itself.
3. Inspect your foundation for cracks
Cracks in the foundation are the easiest way for water to enter your basement. Hairline cracks are a normal result of a house settling, but anything bigger than that can be a potential entry point for water.
Small cracks are easy to fill yourself using concrete and masonry caulk, but larger cracks may require the assistance of a professional.
4. Stay on top of sewer, septic, and plumbing maintenance
Water doesn’t always enter basements from outside—neglecting your plumbing is one of the easiest ways to get water in the basement.
Have your sewer lines inspected and cleaned every 18-24 months to prevent backups. Septic tanks should be pumped out every couple of years.
Always insulate and/or winterize your pipes as needed so that they don’t freeze when cold weather rolls in.
5. Keep an eye on water-use appliances and their connections
A particularly vulnerable area of your plumbing system comes into play with water-use appliances like washing machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators. These lines can fail and leak, particularly if they’re not properly installed.
Lore McKenna, Corporate Communications Director, BSH Home Appliances Corporation, says that consumers should “follow the installation instructions provided with the appliance at purchase. Proper installation and maintenance of hoses is also important. They should never be installed with tight bends or at angles that put stress on the hose.”
You can also invest in appliances with automatic leak detectors and shutoffs. Many appliances, including the Benchmark and 800 series from Bosch, feature sensors that can detect water leaks in your appliance, stop the flow of water to the appliance, and even pump water out of the appliance before it spills over.
Not all appliances come equipped with these monitors, but aftermarket sensors, smart water leak detectors, and shutoffs like Moen’s Flo are available as well, both for appliances and your main water lines.
6. Check with your insurance company
Not all homeowners insurance is created equal, and not all insurance covers all kinds of floods and water damage—finding out you don’t have coverage isn’t ideal when you are staring at three inches of water in your basement.
Check with your insurance company to ensure that floods and water damage are covered, and if you need to buy additional flood coverage for certain situations.
7. Store your belongings up off the floor
If your basement does flood, anything that’s left on the floor is going to sit in water, ruining, until you can get the water pumped out. So, keeping your belongings, particularly anything fragile or electronic, off the floor is key.
Store items on shelves, desks, or risers to keep them safe.
If you have a basement office, never put your computer or laptop on the floor—keep it on top of the desk, or at least on a shelf. Same goes for video games and controllers in a basement rec room. If you have appliances in your basement, have those installed on risers.
Guess what: Your basement flooded anyways
If you’re a homeowner, the odds of escaping a flood are not in your favor. As I mentioned, 98% of homes will experience water damage at some point.
For instance, I’ve owned my own home for 10 years and have dealt with sewer backups twice. I made it through relatively unscathed both times, if a bit lighter in the wallet, and so will you.
So, when your basement does inevitably flood, there are a few things you can do.
Most importantly, don’t step into the water. Standing water can contain harmful bacteria, particularly if the flood was a result of or in conjunction with a sewer backup. Additionally, if there is any wiring exposed to the water, you could electrocute yourself.
You’ll want to turn off your home’s power and water, if you can do so safely.
If you have to stand in the water to get to your circuit breakers or your water shutoff, again, don’t. Instead, call an electrician or your power company and have them turn off the power until you can get a better handle on the flood.
If the leak is coming from an appliance, then you may be able to just shut the water off to that appliance if you can’t access the main water shutoff.
Next, call your insurance company, which will have a list of approved water mitigation teams in your area who specialize in flood cleanup. These companies come out, assess the damage, and provide recommendations for next steps.
They’ll have pumps to get the water out, driers to remove any residual moisture, and sanitizers to kill any growing bacteria or mold. They can also put you in touch with other contractors to address the specific causes of your flood.
If the flood was caused by a plumbing leak or backup, then you will need to bring in a plumber to make repairs on the immediate problem. It’s a good idea to also have them look at your entire system and see if there are other places that may be in danger.
If the flood was caused by water entering your home from the outside, you may need to bring in a basement waterproofing specialist who can help determine what vulnerabilities your home has and how to mitigate them, whether it’s installing or replacing a sump pump, sealing cracks, or fully waterproofing your foundation.
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