Emma Tomsich6-Minute Read
UPDATED: May 25, 2023
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Anyone who’s ever accidentally dropped their cellphone in a pool or toilet knows the pain of getting water on something that’s not meant to get wet. For homeowners, the pain of these situations is felt tenfold when it’s not just their cellphone but their entire basement that’s submerged in water.
If you’ve never experienced a flooded basement, you might be unsure of the best way to deal with it. Here are tips for how to effectively clean up and prevent basement flooding.
How you handle a flooded basement depends on how much water you’re dealing with and the source of the flood. Here’s what you need to know.
Before anything else, all homeowners need to know basic basement flood safety: never enter a flooded basement without first taking certain precautions.
Any time your basement floods, your first step should be to turn off the electricity in your home. Even a small amount of water can damage parts of your home’s electrical system and put you in danger of electrocution or fire.
You can turn the electricity off at your circuit breaker box if it’s not located in the basement. Otherwise, you should call an electrician, who can remove your home’s electrical meter from the socket.
Even after the electricity is disconnected, you should still avoid entering the basement until you know the source of the water. The water may harbor bacteria that could be harmful to your health.
Next, you’ll want to determine if the water is dirty, infected or contaminated.
Leaks from internal sources like sinks, refrigerators and washing machines are typically safe to work around. However, you may still want to consider protective items to keep this water from coming into direct contact with your skin to avoid irritants.
On the other hand, sewage backups or floods caused by natural disasters can often lead to concerns about bacteria or viruses. If the water is contaminated, extra disinfection and precautions will be needed to ensure the basement is safe and no longer at risk.
Because flooding can be a costly event for homeowners, you may be inclined to deal with the problem yourself to try and save money. While this can be OK if the flooding is very minor, basement flooding is often best left to the professionals.
If the water contains sewage or is likely contaminated in some other way, you shouldn’t try to clean it up on your own. Additionally, if there’s a large amount of water, whether it’s clean or contaminated, removal may be difficult without professional-grade equipment. If this is the case, consider hiring a plumber or other professional for water removal.
Whether you use a pro or DIY, you’ll need to get the water out of your house, ASAP. The longer the water remains, the more damage it can do. The following are steps to clean up a flooded basement.
Before beginning your flooded basement cleanup plan, it’s important to remember: safety first.
Be sure you’re wearing the proper gear to deal with a basement flood, in case you come in contact with contaminated water. Rubber boots, rubber gloves and goggles are a must.
Sometimes, figuring out where the water is coming from is easy, such as if you have a burst pipe or your area has received a series of downpours recently. However, if you aren’t sure why your basement has turned itself into a makeshift swimming pool, here are some things to look for.
See if there are any spots outside your home where groundwater could be getting in. Watch out for overflowing gutters or water pooling up against the house near downspouts.
If you have a large amount of water, the flooding could be due to a drainage system failure or sewage blockage.
If you aren’t sure of the source of the water, it’s best to call in an expert, such as a plumber or a water restoration specialist, for help.
If standing water is continuing to rise and seems to be coming from your home’s pipes, you’ll want to act quickly and use your home’s main water shutoff valve to cut off the flooding at the source.
If your basement flooded due to a sump pump backup or drainage system failure, you’ll need to know how to get water out of your basement without either of these tools.
You may be able to tackle small amounts of water with a combination of towels, mopping, fans and a dehumidifier.
For small puddles or pools, you can use a wet vac to vacuum up the water. If you don’t own one, many home improvement stores will rent them out to you. If you have a lot of water, you can also rent more heavy-duty equipment to help with water removal, such as a water pump and professional-grade dehumidifiers and fans.
If you hire a professional, they’ll bring in their own equipment and do all of this for you. While it may appear to be cheaper to do this yourself, you should seriously consider your ability to quickly and effectively remove the water and dry out your belongings. Flooding isn’t just a problem when it happens; it can cause problems months or even years down the road, especially if it isn’t properly dealt with right away. A professional water removal and restoration company will know exactly how to deal with your situation and avoid long-term damage to your home.
If the water contains raw sewage, you should have a professional come in to do the cleaning to ensure that the area is properly sanitized. Improper cleanup of a sewage backup can create a health hazard in your home.
To save your personal items from water damage, try your best to move everything out of the basement.
Small, movable items should be removed from the basement, cleaned and put somewhere to dry. Whether or not you’re able to preserve the majority of your personal belongings will depend on the severity of the flood and the length of time these items were exposed. Any severely damaged items should be carefully disposed of.
Carpet flooring should be ripped up after basement flooding to allow the underside to dry thoroughly. This will protect flooring from growing mold or other harmful bacteria. Even if you don’t think the carpet has been damaged or contaminated, the carpeting will likely need to be pulled up and thrown away.
For clean water flooding, once you’ve removed the excess water, you’ll want to properly dry out or dehumidify the area, fixing what can be salvaged and getting rid of what can’t.
To avoid mold growth, work to get rid of the moisture in your basement as quickly as possible. If you don’t hire a professional, you may want to rent a heavy-duty dehumidifier and run it until the area has dried, which could take several days or weeks. You want to get humidity levels below 50%.
Once the majority of the flooded basement cleanup is complete, you’ll want to wash the floors and walls. Depending on the severity of the flood, wet drywall or paneling will probably need to be replaced, as will any wet insulation.
To protect your basement from any bacteria and remove mold, you’ll want to scrub your floors and walls with a diluted bleach solution. After this step is complete, let it dry and take steps to prevent future basement flooding.
Dealing with water damage can be frustrating for homeowners, but it’s not impossible. Though basement floods aren’t always preventable, there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood of this happening again. Some ways to avoid future flooding in your basement include waterproofing your basement and diverting water away from your home.
One simple and essential thing you can do is ensure that water isn’t pooling up against your home. When it rains, debris-filled gutters, poorly placed downspouts or land that slopes toward your home can cause water to pool against your home’s exterior, where it can easily leak into your home through small cracks in the foundation. Regularly cleaning your gutters or adding downspout extensions if your downspouts aren’t efficiently flushing water away from your home can help. For water that drains down toward your home, you may want to talk to a pro about having your yard leveled or look into installing a French drain.
If you have a sump pump, be sure you’re properly and regularly maintaining it and checking for issues.
Take care of plumbing problems right away, before small leaks become big problems. If your area gets a lot of cold weather and your pipes are at risk of freezing, take steps to prevent burst pipes, including turning up your thermostat during cold snaps, opening cabinet doors to allow warm air to flow around pipes and letting the faucet drip when weather drops below freezing.
Because the basement is the area that is most prone to flooding in most homes, it may be a good idea to store personal or irreplaceable items in a higher-up area of your home to prevent water damage. And if your container of choice for storage items has always been cardboard boxes, you might consider switching to something more water-resistant, like plastic bins with lids.
Depending on the severity, a basement flood can be expensive to remedy.
According to Fixr.com, the national average for water damage restoration is around $3,000, with a range of $1,200 to $5,000. On the low end, you could spend around $350 for a simple clean water removal and drying. On the high end, you could spend $50,000 or more for more extensive cleanup including sewage water removal, replacing drywall and carpeting and dealing with mold.
Don’t expect your homeowners insurance to cover the costs, as policies typically don’t include flood damage in their coverage.
While the threat of a potential basement flood (and the costs that come with it) can strike fear in the hearts of homeowners, it’s important to remember that there are things you can do to lower your risk of flooding in your home. Staying on top of your regular home maintenance, dealing with problems as soon as they come up and purchasing flood insurance if you’re in a flood-prone area can help give you peace of mind.
If you’re interested in hiring a professional, get a basement drainage quote from HomeAdvisor.com.
Although it’s not ideal, you can now follow a plan to successfully clean up a basement flood. Even better, you can also take steps to prevent your basement from flooding in the first place. If you’re interested in further preparing for flooding or other damage, you can also learn how to prepare a home for a natural disaster.
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