A Survival Guide for Dealing with the Aftermath of a Flooded Basement
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Let’s face it, no one, and we mean NO ONE, wants to wake up or come home to a flooded basement or a flooded house! It is the stuff homeowners have nightmares about.
Unfortunately, thousands of people across the nation are faced with this exact calamity every year. Dealing with an unexpected and sudden flood in your basement can be overwhelming and stressful, with homeowners not knowing which steps to take first or where they should even begin to start the process of remediation. Meanwhile, every minute that elapses brings the potential for increased damage to anything you have stored in the basement, from furniture to family heirlooms. Not to mention the potentially irreversible damage to walls, flooring, framing and other structural components of your home.
In this guide, we’ll take you step by step through the process and actions you need to take in order to keep you and your family safe, minimize damage, and prevent further problems in your home. Let’s dive right in….
Protect Yourself From Additional Risk And Hazards Before Entering Your Home Or Basement
A flooded basement may pose several risks and hazards to the safety of you and your family. Some of which may not be apparently visible or easily identifiable. Before entering the flooded area, you must consider the dangers and take precautions to protect yourself.
For example, standing water in your basement can pose a serious risk of electric shock, causing injury or even death. If any electrical appliances, wiring, or outlets are submerged underwater, do not enter the basement.
Shut off the power and gas supply
Even if there are no appliances, wiring or outlets submerged underwater, the very first thing you should do is to shut off all power in and around the area, including the gas supply as well as the electric. If you’re in any doubt how to safely shut off the power, call a qualified electrician or gas contractor to assist. You can never be too cautious with electric and gas, and you may only get one opportunity to do this right. Trust us, it’s not worth taking the risk.
Contact your electrical company or contractor
It’s also prudent to contact your electricity supplier to inform them of any potential damages and hazards, and to seek the help of a qualified electrician in order to appropriately assess the situation for safety, as well as to take inventory of any damage that may have occurred both above and below the surface. Although it may not look like it, the damage could be hidden behind outlets or drywall where you cannot easily identify any issues.
Check with local authorities
Contacting your local flood authorities and/or fire department to register the flood and seek assistance and advice is always a good step to take. Depending on the nature of the flood, yours may not be the only home impacted. For example, the cause may be weather-related or due to rising groundwater, a broken water main on the public street, etc. Having additional documentation from the city or local authorities may also prove useful when the time comes to file a claim with your insurance provider.
Ensure the basement is structurally sound
Before entering the basement, examine the exterior to make sure the structural integrity of the building hasn’t been compromised. Basement flooding is often a symptom of a larger structural problem with your property. Walk the perimeter around outside of your home and check for any obvious signs of deterioration or damage such as cracks, displaced bricks or cinder blocks and bowing.
If there’s been a particularly heavy rainfall or storm, weaknesses in the structure of the property can be made worse by strong winds and falling debris such as trees and branches. If you notice you can smell gas, or if you see any fallen power lines, contact the local authorities and relevant professionals immediately.
We always suggest having a professional contractor evaluate the property when possible. Those specializing in water restoration and repair and/or building contractors have specialized tools, training and the experience necessary to ensure the structure is safe.
What To Inspect And Test When Entering Your Basement After A Flood
Conduct an overall/preliminary inspection of your basement
Once the area is deemed safe to enter, the next thing you’ll want to do is see if you can identify how the water is getting in. Scan the walls, floors, and windows for any visual signs of water entry. If the cause is due to heavy rainfall, you may have to wait for the weather to subside before tackling the problem.
Another common cause of basement flooding is broken plumbing and burst pipes. Connections between washing machines, bathrooms, and water heaters can sometimes fail. In other cases, winter weather can cause freezing and expansion of water in pipes causing breaks. If you suspect either scenario, turn off the water source to the basement immediately.
A failed sump pump is also a possibility, as well as problems with the city sewer lines.
The best way to identify the cause of flooding, if it isn’t already obvious, is to call a certified plumber who can carry out a full assessment and diagnosis of the problem.
Pro Tip 1: If your basement has a floor drain, make sure it hasn’t become clogged or blocked during the flood. If it has, clear the blockage immediately to allow excess water to drain away.
Pro Tip 2: Remove any valuables to higher ground and wait for the water level to stop rising before safely beginning the cleanup process.
Make sure not to touch any electrical items, plugs or wiring until your basement has been left to dry for an extended period of time. Items like televisions, radios, computers, lamps, and stereos should be left in place and assessed by a qualified electrician before they are safely removed or plugged back in. Water can cause internal corrosion and damage that may result in appliances or other electronics malfunctioning or shorting out when plugged back in (even after being thoroughly dried).
Should I have my basement tested for mold?
Once all standing water has been removed and the drying process is underway, it’s important to consider the potential for mold to take hold on surfaces, in walls and more. Certain types of mold can cause serious health issues, from breathing problems to death.
Once mold begins to grow and spread, it can be extremely difficult to eradicate the problem. Due to the serious health risks associated with mold, it is highly advisable to hire a mold remediation specialist to handle any issues that arise. At a bare minimum, be sure to wear adequate personal protective gear, including masks rated to protect from mold spores.
If you are concerned but not yet ready to hire a professional, you can purchase mold testing kits online. These kits allow you to take the swabs yourself and post them off to a lab for analysis. Results are usually provided within 7 days, after which you’ll be able to identify if there is a problem, and which type of mold you’re dealing with.
There are certain things you can do to tackle a mold problem head-on.
- Make sure to leave any windows and doors open as much as possible. You can also use fans, heaters, and dehumidifiers to speed up the drying time and improve the air circulation around the basement.
- Wash down all the walls thoroughly with warm water and bleach. Let it dry completely, and then repeat the process.
- Using soap and water, thoroughly clean any soft furnishings and porous surfaces that came into contact with floodwater.
- Use an anti-mold product to spray or wipe down hard surfaces, then let dry thoroughly.
- Consider calling in a restoration specialist to tackle the mold problem before it gets out of hand.
Contact Your Insurance Company For Flooded Basement Coverage
On average, repair and remediation following a flooded basement ranges from between $3000 to $10,000. However, the exact cost can vary a lot. Remediation for a few inches of water may only cost homeowners less than $2000, whereas more significant flood damage can cost upwards of $25,000 to repair. Given the significant costs associated with recovering from a flooded basement, you will want to check with your insurance company to see if you have coverage that extends to and covers flood damage.
There are generally two types of insurance policies that homeowners have; regular homeowners insurance and flood insurance. It is important to note that although “flood insurance” can often be added to a regular homeowners’ policy, it is not commonly included by default.
What is covered by homeowners insurance?
Standard homeowners insurance generally does not cover flood damage that is caused by rising water from rivers, lakes, oceans, and streams. However, if the flood was caused by heavy rainfall or by broken pipes (for example), you may still be entitled to a payout.
Check your policy in detail to see what scenarios are covered as each policy is unique to you, your home and the company that issued the coverage.
What is covered by flood insurance?
Flood insurance offers much more protection for homeowners that experience water damage caused by flooding. A flood insurance policy is often purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
What is the National Flood Insurance Program?
The NFIP is is a governmental program under FEMA that partners with thousands of independent insurance agents and over 60 insurance companies across the nation to provide critical coverage and affordable flood insurance to individuals all across America. The program’s overreaching goal is to reduce the negative impact flooding has on both public and private structures by making cheap flood insurance available to businesses, renters and homeowners.
There are two types of NFIP policies that are applicable for homeowners. One which covers the property/building itself (up to the value of $250,000), and the one which covers personal property (up to the value of $100,000).
NFIP property/building insurance
This will cover the cost of rebuilding your home, or the actual value of your home prior when the flooding occurred, whichever is less. It covers things like the structure and its foundations, the plumbing and electrical systems, air conditioners, furnaces, heaters and boilers, built-in kitchen appliances, carpets, paneling, bookcases, cabinets, and fixed window blinds.
NFIP personal property policies
This will cover things like clothing, furniture, electronic equipment, curtains, freestanding window AC units, portable kitchen appliances, non-fixed carpeting and rugs, washers and dryers, and up to $2,500 in personal valuables such jewelry, art, and collectibles.
When you bought your home, you may have been required to purchase NFIP insurance before completion. Many mortgage lenders stipulate this as a requirement if your house is in a high-risk zone or in an area that has seen flooding in the past.
Tips for filing a claim
- Make sure to gather detailed quotes and estimates to find out how much the repairs will cost. Then compare this figure to your deductible. Most insurance companies will raise their premiums after you file a claim, so it may not be worth filing unless the repair costs are more than three times higher than the cost of your deductible.
- Even before your insurance company arrives, make sure to take a thorough inventory of all damages. Take photos and date each one, and be sure to write a full description of each item, the damage, its original value and purchase date, and gather any receipts for proof of purchase where possible. Make sure not to throw anything away until the insurance adjuster has seen it and registered it to the claim.
Should I contact an attorney?
If your insurer is refusing to cover the costs of damages, or if you are unsatisfied with the amount of reimbursement offered under your policy, you may wish to consult outside help and explore potential legal avenues.
Hiring an attorney is often a good option, but before you spend money on legal aid, make sure to check the NFIP’s flood claim appeals and guidance on their website. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, may also be able to help by providing a consumer advocate. Find out more about FEMA’s assistance packages later in this article.
If you do choose to go down the attorney route, make sure to hire someone who specializes exclusively in insurance law or who has extensive experience in this field. If you feel that the insurance policy wording is misleading, there’s good news; according to the Consumer Federation of America, courts tend to rule in favor of policyholders in cases involving policy ambiguities. You can also file an official complaint with your state’s department of insurance or the insurance regulatory body.
Cleanup The Flood Mess In Your Basement
Once you have determined that the basement is safe to enter, it’s time to begin the cleanup process. One of the first things you’ll want to do is salvage any belongings and move them out of the basement to higher ground where they can begin drying out.
Prioritize any items that are either irreplaceable or more expensive. Pay particular attention to any important documents like passports, financial records, titles, and deeds, as well as any family heirlooms or sentimental items like photographs and keepsakes. Take these items to a safe space upstairs for drying.
It is generally a good idea to wipe off and pat dry most items and materials before laying them out where they can air dry. Fans are an often-employed tool to aid in speeding up this process. Weather permitting, natural breeze and sunlight can also provide assistance.
Decide if you should hire a basement flood remediation contractor
At this stage, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed with the situation. The clean-up task ahead is likely daunting, and you may be emotionally reeling from the loss of damaged belongings or from the thought of expensive repairs.
But in many cases, it can be a huge weight off your shoulders to bring in a professional flood remediation/restoration team to handle the heavy lifting for you. These professionals are experienced in dealing with the aftermath of flooding and will take care of all elements of clean-up from water and debris removal, to drying, mold prevention, repairs and removing the musty smell. They have the experience, tools and protective equipment to get the job done right, quickly and reliably.
Wear personal protective equipment to avoid contamination
If you do decide to tackle any aspect of the clean-up on you own, or if you intend to spend time in the area sorting through belongings, it is vitally important that you wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (such as proper respirators to prevent inhalation of mold spores).
Wear waterproof boots, gloves, disposable shoe/boot covers, and if the floodwater is particularly high, wear hip or chest waders before entering may be necessary.
Watch out for potential hazards
Entering a flooded basement can be a dangerous endeavor. In addition to making sure all electrics are turned off, as well as the gas supply, you’ll need to take care not to slip on the wet surfaces, and to watch out for any submerged items or structures that could cause you to trip.
Cleanup the damage – a quick DIY checklist
- It’s time to remove the water. Depending on the water level, various tools and equipment can help you get the job done. So put down the bucket and stop bailing water. Check out these tools instead: sump pumps, pool pumps, a wet/dry vacuum, and simple mops and buckets for that final clean up. Once the majority of the water has been pumped out of your basement, the remaining dampness can be soaked up with sponges and cloths. Water removal can be a challenge, so don’t be afraid to ask for help or enlist friends and neighbors to speed up the process.
- As a rule of thumb, when removing objects and furniture from the basement, they should be dried out for roughly 48 hours, preferably in a sunny spot if the weather allows. If they remain damp after 48 hours, they will likely begin to grow mold and mildew, and they may need to be disposed of. There may be mold treatment sprays you can try from your local home goods store to aid in preventing growth.
- Tear up any carpeting that has been exposed to floodwaters and remove it from the basement as soon as possible. Although waterlogged carpets will often fall victim to mold and mildew, it’s sometimes possible to save them if they’re removed quickly enough and dried out properly. If you are particularly fond of your carpets, consider enlisting the help of a carpet restoration specialist.
- Fans and ventilation are key. The more the better. You’ll want to open up any windows and doors to the exterior of your home and allow as much ventilation and circulation of air as possible. Strategically place fans throughout the area to facilitate this and leave them running all day and night.
Repair The Flood Damage In Your Basement
Once you’ve removed all the water from your basement, it’s time to clean up any deposits left behind. Water typically brings with it debris and “muck”. This sediment of mud, sand and other gunk usually leaves one heck of a mess behind.
Now is the time to suit up in that protective gear we talked about and to roll up your sleeves because it’s about to get messy. There isn’t really a “best” way to remove this sediment. Mops, buckets, wet and dry vacuums, flat head shovels and even dustpans can be used to scrape the muck up off the floor.
Once the debris has been removed, inspect the area for water damage. If any areas of drywall have been exposed, it’s essential to remove these sections in order to prevent mold from forming and spreading. FEMA officially recommends removing drywall at a height of 4 feet when flooding was less than 2 ½ feet high. However, if the flooding was less than 1-foot deep, you may be able to get away with only removing 18-24” of drywall above the waterline.
Flood water is dirty. It can be teeming with bacteria, allergens, mold spores and other nasty elements. As such, it’s always prudent to wash down the walls and flooring with a bleach and water mixture before letting them dry thoroughly.
Your basement will likely take several days to dry out. One perk to hiring professionals is that they have specialized full house turbine fans that can often dry out an area in 24 hours.
Make sure to leave all windows and doors open so that the air in the room doesn’t stagnate. Use fans to help circulate the air, and consider utilizing a dehumidifier (or several) to help the drying process. You’ll have to continually empty the dehumidifier reservoirs, but these can mean the difference between a mold infestation down the line, or a fully restored, bone dry basement.
Change Vents and Filters
Replace all air vents and filters that may have been exposed to water or any type of moisture. This is essential to reduce the chances of spreading of dangerous mold spores and other contaminants around the rest of your home. Pay close attention to any grates or vents on or near floor level which may have been clogged up by debris. Wash all of these with bleach and water and allow them to dry fully before putting them back into place.
Once all the floors and walls are thoroughly dried out, coat them with anti-mold and mildew spray to inhibit any fungal growth.
Decide if you should hire a home improvement contractor
If home improvement isn’t your strong suit, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of a home improvement contractor or water remediation specialist. These professionals can help to quickly and efficiently restore your basement back to its former glory.
They can also identify any problems or water damaged areas you may have missed while offering cost-effective solutions that can help you reach your goal safely and quickly.
Consider flood-proofing options
Once you’ve dealt with the damage caused by the flooding you’ll never want to go through that again. Trust us. This is a good time to take a preventative and defensive approach to ways in which you may be able to reduce the risk of flooding in the future (or at least limit any damage if does happen again).
There are several things you can do to prevent future flooding:
- Check for any cracks in the foundations inside and outside your home. Small cracks and splits can be sealed with specialized foundation caulk, sealant or repair kits, but larger cracks (say, from your home settling) will need professional attention.
- Inspect the slopes and gradient around your home. The ground should slope away from your home so that rainwater doesn’t pool around the foundation. If this isn’t the case, it will need regrading. Again, this can be a fairly simple DIY project if not much alteration to the slope is necessary, or a much larger project requiring a dump truck of fill dirt, sand or rock.
- Check any drainage tiles around the perimeter of your property and repair or replace any broken tiles. If you don’t have drainage tiles on your property, consider getting some installed.
- Use window well covers. These should be installed over any basement windows below ground level to keep out rainwater and debris.
- Make sure your gutters are cleared regularly from any dirt or debris to keep them from getting blocked. Also, ensure that the spouts direct water at least three feet away from the foundations.
- Install a sump pump. This is one of the best flood prevention measures you can take. A sump pump will collect any excess water pooling underground and pumps it away when the basin is full. The sump pump can be switched on during particularly rainy seasons of the year, or when groundwater levels rise. Make sure your sump pump is regularly inspected and maintained.
- Consider investing in a backup generator for your sump pump. A severe storm could cause a power outage and render your pump useless when you need it most.
- Annual Inspections. Having your foundation, plumbing, landscape, sump pump and other elements that can prevent or limit flooding inspected annually can catch small issues before they turn into major problems.
- Reorganize Your Basement. In some cases, such as acts of nature, flooding may be unpreventable. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be ready, Consider only keeping those items necessary in the basement and positioning valuable items up higher on shelving.
Look Into Government Assistance Programs
If your flooding was caused by what is deemed a ‘federal disaster’, the government relief agency FEMA can assist after a flood and help you to prevent future problems.
They can provide help if there’s a gap in your insurance coverage that leads to personal losses, or if you’re in the unfortunate position to have no insurance at all.
There are several different types of assistance that FEMA can provide, depending on your personal circumstances.
- Temporary living assistance – If the basement is also classed as an abode or dwelling, FEMA may be able to provide temporary accommodation while repairs are carried out. They may also provide funds to help with the repairs.
- Low-Interest Disaster Loans – In certain circumstances, homeowners can be eligible for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration and the Farmers Home Administration. The type of loans, interest rate, and repayment terms will vary depending on your income and financial situation.
- FEMA Grants – If you are not eligible for the above options, you can still apply for a FEMA grant either as an individual or a family. This can help to cover the cost of immediate necessities such as medical assistance, home repairs, transport, replacing essential items, and the cost of flood-proofing your home for the future.
- Income Tax Deductions – In the case of a federal disaster, you can file an amended tax return and claim a partial refund to take care of the losses not covered by an insurer.
- Flood-proofing Assistance – FEMA can also provide assistance in flood-proofing your home for the future. The unfortunate reality is that homes in high-risk areas can see their basement flooded regularly, so FEMA endeavors to mitigate future risks by providing funds for things like pumps, drains, gutter maintenance, and the sealing of property.
Plan For The Future
A flooded basement is a nightmare situation for any homeowner. We hope that by following the steps in this guide, you and your home can recover quickly and you’ll be armed with the tools you need to protect your property from flood damage in the future.
Further Reading: Looking For More Information About Flooding and Home Cleaning? Check These Articles Out!
About the Author: Kris Lippi is the owner of ISoldMyHouse.com, the broker of Get LISTED Realty and an official member of the Forbes Real Estate Council. He actively writes about real estate related topics such as buying and selling homes, how-to guides for around the house and home product recommendations. He has been featured in Inman, Readers Digest, Fox News, American Express, Fit Small Business, Policy Genius, Lending Tree, GoDaddy, Manta as well as other major websites. Read more about us here.