What to do when your basement floods

What to do when your basement floods

The steps you should take if your basement gets flooded with water or sewage

Step 1 How serious is the flooding?

This may sound an obvious question, but when faced with the stress of your basement filling with water, it can be easy to under, or over estimate the severity of the problem.

The first thing to do is look outside the house.

Is the street flooded? Is there a nearby river or stream that has overflowed it's banks? Are your neighbour's houses flooding? Is it raining? Is water running in the doors or windows?

If the answer is yes to any or all of those, you are probably not going to solve the problem yourself. You should follow the advice of the emergency services and evacuate your family. Don't forget your pets.

Repairs and re-decorating after a catastrophic flood are generally best left to your insurer and professionals.

Step 2 What is causing the flooding?

The next step is to find the cause of the flooding.

There are 3 common causes.

  • Rain, melting snow or surface water.
  • Leaking pipes
  • Backed up sewers or municipal drains.

Basements flooded by backed up sewers or municipal drains create a potential health hazard. Unless you have protective clothing and a strong stomach your best solution is to contact your insurer and let professionals deal with the problem.

The steps for the other 2 causes are similar:

  1. Assess for safety
  2. Stop or divert the source of the flooding
  3. Remove the water
  4. Dry the basement
  5. Repair the damage

1) Safety

How deep is the water in the basement?

If there is any possibility of live electrical outlets or electrical appliances being submerged in water do not step into the water. The electrical supply to the basement should be disconnected first. This can be a problem in older houses which have the contact breaker panel in the basement. If in doubt call a licensed electrician. Here's one in the Waterloo Region

Wet floors can be slippery. A person can drown in a few inches of water by slipping and being knocked unconscious, be careful.

If considered safe, proceed to determine the source of the flooding.

2) Stopping the Flow & Diversion

Basement Flooding from leaking pipes

Turn off the water supply to the leaking pipe, at the main control outside the house if necessary. If the leak is from a broken pipe attached to a pressure pump, turn off the power to the pump.

Flooding can be caused by broken or blocked drain pipes from washing machines, air conditioners and certain other appliances, kitchen sinks, bathroom basins and overflowing toilets.

Check for leaking pipes outside the house.

Basement Flooding from rain or melting snow

Find out where the water is entering the basement.

Common sources include cracks in the wall, basement windows, basement drains.

If the cause is melting snow move any remaining snow away from the house.

The cause could be rainwater seeping down the side of foundations and entering through a crack or basement drain. Divert the water away from the house with sandbags or extension pipes on down pipes from gutters (eaves troughs).

Note: Some soil types are prone to "rat holing" - over time water from a down pipe will create a small tunnel down through the soil which will channel water towards the foundations. Move extension pipes to discharge water at different points.

3) Water Removal

Depending on the extent of the flooding, your next step may be to call your insurer and await instructions. The insurer may send a professional to take over the water removal and repair.

If you decide to proceed on your own, you need to ask:

Is the basement equipped with a sump pump? Is it working?

If the answer is yes to both, the sump pump will remove most of the water.

Check that the outlet pipe is discharging water a good distance from the house so that the water cannot flow back into the basement.

In late Fall and early Spring, check that the outlet pipe is not blocked by ice - a problem that can occur when non-return valves are fitted. Check for debris, leaves, rodents, insects.

If the pump is not working, check that it is plugged in to an electrical outlet and check the contact breaker. The pump may need replacing. Most sump pumps are of the sealed submersible type and should not be repaired except by a qualified electrician.

They are relatively inexpensive, don't take a chance on your safety, if in doubt buy a new one. There are two main types.

flooded basement, sump pump,

Submersible Sump Pump 1/3hp Costs less than $100.00

flooded basement, sump pump,

Pedestal Sump Pump

If the basement is not equipped with a sump pump, it may have a sump in which case a sump pump can be purchased and installed. This may require the services of an electrician and / or plumber.

If there is no sump and the water is more than 50mm (2" ) deep it may be possible to use a sump pump fitted temporarily to pump the water out.

Another alternative is to use a small centrifugal pump.

Caution: Do not use Gas (petrol) or diesel powered pumps or generators inside a basement because of the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. Do not allow temporary electrical connections or extension cords to fall into water.

It may be possible to sweep water in low spots towards the sump or pump.

When there is too little water to be pumped, a shop vac may get more out. Then it's down to good old fashioned mops and buckets.

4) Dry the basement

Assess the damage. Is it minimal. You might need to contact your insurer and call in the professionals.

It is important to dry the basement quickly to prevent mold growth.

Depending on the extent of the flooding, finish and furniture, the basement may need emptying. Wall paper, floor coverings and dry wall maybe soaked and need removing.

Remove as much wet material as possible to speed up the drying process.

Depending on the season and temperature, basement windows can be opened, furnace started, fans and / or heaters used.

Caution: Do not use propane heaters in basements.

5) Repair the damage

Unless you are a good handy man or woman or the damage is minimal, this is the stage where most people call in the professionals and is beyond the scope of this article.

There are other articles in this magazine and more to come that deal with redecorating and renovations. Here's one