Have a flooded basement? Here’s what you need to know
There’s few things that will send homeowners into a panic quite like waking up to find an inch of water soaking everything in the basement or a new water stain forming on the ceiling.
Here are some questions and answers about storm-related flooding, and tips on how to protect against water damage at your property.
WHY IS MY BASEMENT FLOODING?
Some homeowners who previously thought they had dry basements have been surprised to find leaks after particularly stormy days these past couple of weeks.
Brenda Myers posted on Facebook that her house, which hasn’t “had water in the basement since the ’90s,” is flooded.
How does that work?
First, it’s important to differentiate between basement flooding and basement seepage.
Though we often call watery basements “flooded,” in many cases homeowners are dealing with seepage.
For insurance purposes, your basement is only truly flooded if it’s caused by rising water from a storm or other heavy rains. Homeowners affected by this likely live in a floodplain area.
If you wake up to 4 inches of water in the basement it’s also possible that a sewage line has backed up.
Seepage, however, is a fact of life for anybody with a basement.
Even the most waterproof basements may eventually succumb to seepage.
“There are two kinds of houses: those that leak, and those that will eventually leak,” homeowner Patrick Greene wrote on Facebook.
Seepage occurs after a period of heavy rain — and water can seep in if the yard doesn’t have proper drainage or simply if the ground around the house gets too rain-swollen.
Many homes are built on a water table, and those built on high water tables will inevitably deal with more basement flooding.
The water table refers to the level at which underground soil and gravel are completely saturated with water.
That level can rise after heavy rains and fall after an extended period of drought.
When the underground water table is at or above the level of your basement floor, you will likely see flooding as that water forces its way in through little cracks in the foundation, using what’s called hydrostatic pressure.
If you’re dealing with a high water table, there’s not much you can do about that basement water until the underground water table falls again after a dry period. Sometimes, even if you suction it all up with a wet/dry vacuum, submersible pump, sump pump or other device, it may come back as long as the ground is saturated.
“Sometimes it’s not an issue for 50 years, and all of a sudden the water table hits X, and you’ve got all kinds of problems,” said Aaron Goucher, general manager at Olshan Foundation Repair.
WHAT DO I DO IF MY BASEMENT IS FLOODED?
The first thing to do is assess the damage. This is much easier to do with an unfinished basement.
How deep and how widespread is the water?
Is it nearing any electrical outlets?
If water is standing near an electrical outlet, you might want to call a professional to ensure you don’t shock yourself wading into the water.
Ideally, you’ll want to get the water out as soon as possible to prevent mold from growing in the basement.
Take anything that might have gotten wet to a well-ventilated, dry area if at all possible — then start getting rid of the water. If drywall paneling or carpeting got soaked, it’s often just as expensive to try to dry them out as it is to replace.
For big jobs, you’ll likely want to rent a submersible pump (which can be rented from stores like The Home Depot for $42/day).
Try to locate the lowest point in the basement floor (easier said than done) and suction the water from there.
For smaller jobs like seepage puddles, a wet/dry shop vacuum should do the trick, though you’ll have to empty the vacuum frequently in a drain of some sort.
CAN I PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING AGAIN?
You can, but it depends on how much money you’re willing to spend.
If you can’t fix your basement outright, the cheapest way to prevent damage is to invest in pallets and put all of your valuables on those pallets so they won’t get wet when the basement floods.
This, of course, only works if you’re dealing with an unfinished basement.
If you’re looking to sell your house anytime in the near future (or are just looking for some basement peace of mind), you may want to invest in sealing that basement.
Goucher said “waterproofing is really a term that doesn’t exist.”
“There’s water management from the exterior and interior, and the rest of it is just Band-Aids trying to prevent water from coming in,” he said.
One of the first things to look at is installing a sump pump if you don’t have one already.
Buying and installing a new sump pump can cost anywhere from $500-$1,500 or so (less if you are replacing an existing sump pump).
Beyond that, you’ll want to do everything to keep water as far away from the foundation as possible — that’s “the key to keeping guys like me away,” said Goucher.
Make sure your gutters aren’t overflowing or draining less than 5 feet away from the house, which can lead to potential water pooling adjacent to the home (which may eventually seep into your basement). To fix this, you can invest in a downspout extension — an inexpensive yet inelegant solution ($5-$10).
If you still have issues with basement flooding, you’ll want to make sure the slope of your yard is adequately leading away from the house. The same goes for driveways, patios and any other sort of pavement that may have settled or cracked over time, letting water pool near the house.
There are various companies in Wichita that provide grading around a house’s foundation, ensuring a positive grade away from the home.
In extreme cases, you can also install a French drain around the house — dug into a trench to redirect water away.
You can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 for those grading/landscaping services, depending on the size of the job.
WHAT DO I DO IF MY ROOF IS LEAKING?
If water is actively dripping from the ceiling, contain it with a bucket or something similar and call a roofing specialist.
If you’ve just noticed a dark spot on the ceiling and it’s not dripping (yet), you can try to diagnose and repair the problem yourself.
Locating the source of the leak is often the most challenging part.
If you can climb up into your attic, take a flashlight up there and look for where the roof might be leaking — you can tell by the water stains or if you see any mold growing.
If you’re having trouble diagnosing where the leak is, you can ask a friend to climb up on the roof for you with a garden hose and run it around where you suspect the leak is coming from.
Once you find the leaky spot, you can either patch it up yourself or have a roofing professional come out and do so.
Or you can have a roofer do all of this work — because working on a wet (and often slippery) roof is a little more perilous than tackling a wet basement.