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Flooded Basement: A Step-by-Step Guide

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When you find yourself with a flooded basement there's more to worry about than just the damage it can cause to your home. Water damage can also be dangerous to you and your family's health. Floors, sub floors and walls can all be damaged by even a little water, and worse, wet and damp areas can be a breeding ground for mildew and mold.

According to the EPA mildew and mold can lead to allergic reactions, asthma and other serious health issues. A flooded basement can also cause other problems, which is why it's critical to react quickly in order to prevent a bad situation from getting worse.

Flooded Basement Clean-up

Step 1: Take Safety Precautions 

Take all safety precautions BEFORE starting clean-up or moving forward on resolving your flooded basement crisis. 

Outside Water

When the water is coming from outside your home, you should do the following:

  • When heavy rain or snowfall was the cause the flood, wait until the water recedes.
  • Contact the city if you notice any downed power lines.
  • Contact your utility company or fire department if you notice any gas leaks outside your house.
  • Walk around the outside of your home looking for any structural damage.

Inside Water

When the water is coming from inside your home, do the following:

  • Turn off the gas supply to your house.
  • Turn off the electricity to your house.

How to Safely Turn Off your Electricity

If your basement has flooded, there's a very good chance that your electrical appliances and outlets have come in contact with water. Before entering your flooded basement turn off the electrical supply to your house. Always use caution when turning off your electricity. NEVER stand in water when turning off electricity!

Since wood is not an effective conductor of electricity you can use a stick or broom handle to switch the main circuit breakers to the OFF position. 

If your home is older and uses a fuse box, you can still use a stick or broom handle to flip the main switch to OFF. Then, with the main power off, unscrew and remove all of the fuses. 

After taking the necessary safety precautions you can begin ventilating your basement and cleaning up. 

Ventilating the Basement

Open doors and windows in your basement to help remove any fumes from your home. Large fans or blowers can also be helpful in moving fumes outside.

Safety Tips for Flooded Basements

Safety hazards that can take place if your basement floods:

  • Gas Leaks: A flooded basement can result in a gas leak. Contact your utility company or fire department immediately if you smell gas. Don't re-enter your home while you wait for authorities to arrive. 
  • Electric Shock: Electric appliances and electrical outlets could put you at risk of a life threatening electric shock. Turn off the circuit breakers to your basement's power if you can do so safely. If at all possible do not go into your basement. Electricity and water can be a deadly combination. 
  • Structural Damage: The structural integrity of your home is seldom affected with floods, but it does happen. If you suspect this type of damage has occurred, call a professional contractor and stay out of your basement.
  • Raw Sewage: If your basement flooded due to rain, it's not uncommon for the water to contain bacteria from raw sewage. You should only enter your basement if you are wearing protective clothing to prevent your skin from coming into contact with the water. Wear safety glasses and a face mask and be sure to thoroughly wash anything that the water touched.

Step 2: What Caused the Flood

The first thing you need to do is determine what caused the flood and make sure that no new water is flooding your basement. Find out where the source of the water is coming from and either stop it yourself or contact a professional.

Scenarios that could cause a basement flood:

  • Outside Water: If the source of the incoming water is from outside the house then the problem is often due to heavy rain or snowfall. Check your home's foundation for damage as this issue could be the result of a foundation drainage failure
  • Sewage Blockage: If the water in your basement is dirty and there is a strong, unpleasant odor, there's a good chance the cause was from a sewage backup. Never flush the toilet, operate a dishwasher or washing machine, or run any water that would use a drain. Doing so will likely add more water to your flooded basement. You can rule out an internal plumbing problem by checking the sinks, waste pipes and toilets. 
  • Broken Supply Pipe: If the water is clean and coming from the ceiling, there's a good chance that a water supply pipe burst. In this case, find your home's main water shut-off valve and turn it off to stop the incoming water.

Step 3: Get Professional Help

It's possible that you can skip this step and do the clean-up yourself. However, in some cases hiring a professional is the best choice.

Here's a few guidelines to follow when deciding whether to do the work yourself:

  • Small Flood: Most small floods can easily be handled by the homeowner if the issue wasn't caused by a sewage backup. However, there are certain steps that should be taken to properly and safely clean areas that have been water damaged. 
  • Broken Water Pipe: If your incoming water pipe burst we highly recommend contacting a professional plumber to repair the leak. Depending on how much flooding your basement has experienced, you may want to contact a professional for clean-up as well. 
  • Sewage Backup: If you're confident that your toilets and sinks are not blocked, there may be an issue somewhere else along the sewage line. Call your municipality. They'll send someone out to inspect the flood and determine if the problem was in the city's sewer line. If it was, they'll take responsibility to have it repaired. However, keep in mind, that if the problem is within your home's waste water drainage system you'll need to hire a plumber. 
  • Outside Standing Water: If your home had or has standing water around the foundation you should look for structural damage. If you suspect that the structural integrity of your house has been compromised DO NOT go inside. Contact a building inspector if you find any damage.
  • Water Surrounding Appliances: If the flood water has reached your electrical outlets and appliances you should NEVER touch anything. Turn off the electricity at the circuit breaker if you can do so safely and call a professional electrician.
  • Gas odor: If you smell gas or rotten eggs get out of your house immediately and call your utility company or fire department. 

Step 4: Contact your Insurance Company

Contacting your insurance agent will not only help you determine if your policy covers flood damage, but your agent can also be a great source of advice regarding clean-up procedures and contractors. Your agent has likely helped other clients and knows from experience who to call as well as the answers to other questions you might have. 

Photograph anything that was damaged due to the flood and throughout the clean-up and repair experience. Remember, you can never have too many pictures! Keep all receipts from contractors and materials.

Step 5: Clean-up the Mess

Now the real work begins! There are 3 steps to cleaning up a flooded basement: 

  1. Drain
  2. Clean
  3. Dry

Your first priority is to drain the water from the basement. After the water is out, it's time to clean and sanitize the entire basement. Once the area is clean. all of the remaining moisture needs to be removed until the area is totally dry.

Homeowners frequently clean the mess from a flooded basement themselves, particularly if the damage wasn't severe. However, if you don't have the time or energy to take on a project of this size or you're unsure of the proper steps in completing the task, there are many flood clean-up services available for you to hire. 

One advantage of using a professional service is they are normally very effective in dealing with mold and other contaminates that often occur after a flood. 

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