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Help! My basement has flooded!

Help!  My basement has flooded!

While some are suffering in the US from droughts, others are walking ankle-deep through water in their basement.  Unfortunately water in the basement is different from other areas of the home because 1) it doesn’t easily drain away because you can’t just “cut a hole in the floor”, 2) being below ground level means you may be already fighting ground water problems that are just looking for ways to intrude, 3) ventilation is typically sub-par, meaning that drying it out takes a lot of power equipment, not just opening windows!  It can be very daunting for a homeowner with limited renovation funds, but don’t turn a blind eye on a flooded basement, because the mold that ensues can quickly affect the rest of your home.

Call for help–immediately!

If your area was hit by a storm, chances are that a lot of other people have the same problem you do–they need restoration professionals too!  However, you can’t afford to wait 3 days after the water hits the floor, because mold can start to take root in your walls and furnishings only 48 hours after they get wet.  Here are some ideas for resources:

  • Family (of course!)

  • Neighbors (they probably need help too)

  • If your state officials have declared a state of emergency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may be able to help.

  • The American Red Cross has disaster assistance services.

  • Local churches often set up assistance centers for homeowners.

  • Workers for hire often gather at local home improvement stores, but be wary of giving anyone without a contractor’s license a job in your home for safety and insurance reasons.

What needs to be done?  If you don’t hire a professional restoration service, you can use the following as a guide.

  1. First of all, don’t walk through any standing water if there’s a chance that electrical appliances sitting in it may be energized.  This presents a big problem if the circuit breakers for the basement are IN the basement, but do your best to disconnect power before walking through the water.

  2. If your basement sustained a sewage backup as part of the flood event, be very cautious about contacting/working in the dirty water, as open wounds can become infected by microbes from the sewage.  In any case you’ll want waterproof boots, goggles and gloves at the minimum!

  3. Open windows to the outside if it is low humidity outside–this will help with the drying process.

  4. Standing water has to go.  Small amounts of water can be picked up by a wet-dry vac (make sure you have the right type of filter installed for wet suction), but if you have a lot more water, you’re going to want to find a dewatering pump that doesn’t need to be emptied; it pumps the water outside via a hose (away from the house!).  

  5. Silt or mud may have accumulated on hard floors from floodwaters, making it slippery.   If you have any snow shovels or flat shovels and buckets, these are the tools you need to remove it. 

  6. Wet carpeting and padding has to go; it is very difficult to dry and successfully salvage large areas of carpeting, except for area rugs, which must be professionally cleaned as soon as possible (consider cleaning cost versus value).  From this point on, all wet materials removed from the basement should be piled near the road where waste management can pick them up, or if you will have to haul them yourself, on a trailer outside.

  7. Wet upholstered furniture and bedding (mattresses and boxsprings) have to go, because like carpet, it is too difficult to get the center of the upholstery completely dry. 

  8. If you have any solid wood furniture without upholstery, you can move it outside for drying and wiping down if the weather is good.  Use rags and a cleaner like TotalClean to remove dirt and let them dry in the sun.

  9. Walls: Remove all drywall and insulation below the floodline, as well as 2-4 feet up the wall.  This is because the drywall wicks up water, and the insulation behind it will be wet also.  The goal is to get the studs and all of the wall cavity dry.  If you have built-in cabinetry that has gotten wet (even an inch or two), we’re very sorry to inform you that it has to be ripped out, because there’s no way to completely dry the back of the cabinet.  🙁

  10. Once the wet materials have been removed,, and throw all your tools at the remaining moisture: we’re talking fans, heaters and dehumidifiers, as each will do a different role in drying.  Fans improve air circulation.  If the temperature is cool, add a heater so that relative humidity will go down and speed up drying more.  Dehumidifiers also lower the relative humidity.  According to Cleaning and Maintenance Management, a property restoration company, here is how we can understand the drying process: “Low relative humidity (RH) is necessary for drying, as moisture in materials and air seek equilibrium. The lower the RH of the air, the quicker the wet materials will give up their moisture to become equal with the moisture in the air. …Air movement is the workhorse of drying by displacing high RH at the surface of wet materials with lower RH. Circulation airflow moves wet air to our dehumidification systems (either mechanical or ventilation), allowing us to manage RH and water vapor in the air.” 

  11. If you find that musty odors have started to form, you can clear particulates from the air using a large HEPA filter with activated carbon such as our Cleanroom WindPRO 650, or if you don’t have the budget, make a Box Fan Air Cleaner, to which you can also add activated carbon to remove odors. 

  12. Plugging in  Germ Defenders and Upgraded Air Angel Mobile units will assist in deterring mold growth around the basement.

  13. Once everything is dry, it’s good to invite an experienced waterproofing/foundation company to inspect your basement to see if there’s anything that can be repaired or upgraded so that you (hopefully) will not have to go through such an ordeal again.  We have several articles you can use to educate yourself on waterproofing techniques: Getting the Basement Dried Out and a cautionary article: Waterproof Wall Coatings: Should You Use Them in Your Basement?  so that you will have background for a conversation with professionals on their suggested course of action.

Since “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, if you are reading this before any flood occurs, check into preparing for such disasters by reading our article here.  As always, we are here to field questions or help with equipment, because flood restoration can be stressful and overwhelming.  Don’t give up!