Flooded basements are a mess. Water has a stealthy way of getting into places you never thought possible, and its potential to damage your home and its contents is nothing short of devastating. After you stop the flow of water, your first instinct may be to grab a mop and a bucket. However, that may not be your best solution because there are inherent dangers in standing water, along with the potential for long-term problems if the water isn’t professionally cleaned up .
What causes a flooded basement?
There are numerous factors that can cause a flooded basement. Some come from within your home, and some come from outside of it. Homeowners need to be aware of potential causes and take precautions to prevent basement flooding and water damage throughout the year.
Here are the most common causes of a flooded basement:
Burst pipes. While many homeowners worry about burst pipes in the winter months, the reality is that pipes can burst at any time of the year. Freezing and thawing in harsh, cold weather conditions can cause a burst pipe, but so can the pressure of excessive heat, particularly if exterior pipes are exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time.
Heavy storms. Excessive rain for longer periods of time than your sewer system can handle can cause a flooded basement. Storms can also cause structural damage that allows water to seep into your basement and other areas of your home.
Sewer back-ups. Flushing baby wipes, feminine hygiene products and other non-flushable items can spell trouble for your sewer, as can overloading your garbage disposal with grease, coffee grounds and fibrous materials. Tree roots that grow into pipes that connect to your sewer system can also be the culprit if you find unexpected water in your basement.
Foundation problems. Crumbling foundations, or even microscopic cracks in your foundation can allow water to find a way in, particularly in times of heavy rain.
Landscaping or other exterior problems. Drainage pipes near window wells, cracks in basement windows or compromised window latches or frames, mulch that’s piled too close to the house, drainage tile failures, sprinkler system malfunctions, or simply the grade of your lawn can contribute to water coming into your home instead of moving away from it.
Household system or appliance malfunctions. Leaky plumbing supply lines, water tanks, clogged toilets, water heaters, dishwashers or washing machines can all cause basement flooding.
Having a good preventive maintenance plan in place for your home is the surest way to ward off unexpected basement flooding and water damage. Again, you’ll need to consider both interior systems and exterior structures to keep your home safe.
Here are some steps you can take to avoid a flooded basement:
Take care of pipes in cold weather. Protect both indoor and outdoor pipes from freezing by wrapping them with insulated tape and allowing water to drip when temperatures dip below freezing. Also, resist the temptation to turn your heat down below 65℉ when you go on vacation and leave under-sink cabinet and storage area doors open while you’re gone.
Take care of pipes in hot weather. In the warm summer months, we tend to ask a lot of our plumbing. If your sprinkler system is going while you’re also running the dishwasher, the shower and a load of laundry on a busy Saturday morning, you might be asking for trouble, especially if you have older pipes in your house. So, stagger your water usage when your household is running at full summer capacity. Also, older metal pipes will rust over time, and the shrinking and swelling of the ground around your house in a season of heavy rain followed by prolonged heat and dry spells can cause these pipes to fail. A sure sign of potential trouble is a yellow or brownish tinge to your water. If you notice that, call your plumber to check your pipes right away.
Landscape to keep water away from your home. If your basement tends to take on water in heavy rains, you might need to create a swale that will direct water away from your yard and into areas farther from your home. When you’re mulching, leave space between your home and your landscaping, as mulch holds onto water and can cause it to build up next to your house. Also, if you’re installing concrete decking or paving stones, make sure the concrete is graded in such a way that it will not drain toward your home, and choose permeable pavers that allow rainwater to drain evenly instead of puddling.
Keep your foundation in good repair. Conduct regular inspections of your foundation and basement walls, looking for brown spots or cracks that indicate water may be seeping through. Avoid planting trees or large shrubs directly adjacent to your house, as the root system can damage your foundation as the tree matures.
Install a sewer backflow preventer. A backflow preventer is a one-way valve that will allow wastewater to flow out of your home, but will not allow outside sewer water to flow into your home. There are several types of backflow preventers on the market; simple check valves, automatic flood gate valves and manual valves. Check with your plumber to see what kind of valve he recommends.
Finding and stopping the flow of water as soon as possible is key to minimizing water damage. There are several things you can do to be prepared in the event of a water-related event in your home that might help keep damage to a minimum.
Here are some proactive tips to minimize basement flood damage:
Know the location of your shut-off valves. Every adult (and any child old enough to be left home alone) should know where the shut-off valves are for the toilets, showers and sinks in your home, as well as the main water shut-off valve.
Purchase water alarms and sensors. Inexpensive water alarms and sensors are available online and at local hardware stores. Much like a smoke detector alerts you to a fire, water alarms will let you know there’s water where it shouldn’t be. Consider installing them near your water heater, under your kitchen sink, or in any flood-prone area of your basement.
Install a sump pump. If you live in a flood-prone area, consider installing a sump pump. Whether you choose a freestanding pedestal pump or a submersible water pump in a pit, it will kick into action when it’s triggered by water and start pumping water out of your house before it has a chance to reach storage, appliances or other electronic equipment, and carpeted areas in your basement.
How to keep your family safe from a flooded basement
When there’s standing water in your basement, it’s essential to keep kids and pets away from the area. The single best way to protect your family is to stay away from the area altogether and call experienced water restoration professionals right away.
Until the water restoration experts arrive:
Shut off the power. If you can safely access them, turn off the breakers that control the flooded areas to avoid the potential for electrical shock.
Avoid electrical switches and outlets. If you can’t safely turn off breakers, and you must enter the flooded area, don’t touch electrical switches or handle plugged-in electronic equipment. While it might be tempting to try to immediately save something of value, your safety is more important than any personal possession.
Wear protective gear. If you must venture into areas of standing water, put on rubber-soled boots or shoes. Never wade into standing water in bare feet. Standing water can hide potential tripping hazards. Note that even with shoes on, there is a chance that sharp objects will pierce through your shoes causing injury.
When your basement floods, your first call should be to an experienced and trusted water restoration company. While it might be tempting to try to clean up the water yourself, you risk mold growth if the area isn’t dried properly.
An expert water restoration company will be able to:
Assess your water-damaged area for safety.
Assess and document the damage and communicate with your insurance agent.
Recommend a plan of action to mitigate the water damage.
Dry your flooded basement completely with state-of-the-art drying equipment.
Restore personal property that might otherwise be lost.
Whether or not your flooded basement damage will be covered by your insurance policy depends on the source of the water. Your water restoration expert will be able to help you communicate with your insurance company to determine how the damage occurred and what aspects of the damage are covered. In order to avoid undue financial stress, it’s essential to understand what your homeowner’s policy does and does not cover prior to experiencing damage.
Here are some things to know about flooded basements and your homeowner’s insurance:
Property damage from “sudden and accidental” household system failures is typically covered. If your flooded basement is the result of a “sudden and accidental” household system or appliance failure, like a burst pipe or malfunctioning appliance that results in discharge or overflow, your homeowner’s policy will typically cover the damage. However, they will look for verification that:
You have performed the customary regular maintenance on the appliances and systems. If it’s determined that the damage was the result of a poorly maintained or excessively aged system, your claim may be denied.
You have kept your home at the proper temperature to avoid burst pipes.
You (or a tenant) resided in the home at the time of the damage.
Repair and replacement of burst pipes is typically not covered. While your homeowner’s policy will typically cover the repair and/or replacement of carpets and padding, drywall, damaged floors and ceilings and living expenses if your home is unlivable, it will typically not cover the expense of repairing and replacing the burst pipe itself.
Sewer backups may or may not be covered. Many standard homeowner’s policies don’t cover sewer backups. Yours might. Ask your insurance agent. If it doesn’t, you can choose to add water and sewer backup insurance to your policy. These policies generally have a maximum of $10,000 in coverage.
Flooding from natural disasters is not covered by a standard homeowner’s policy. Water damage or basement flooding from a storm surge, heavy rains, or other natural disasters will not be covered by your standard homeowner’s policy. If you live in a flood-prone area, you should have a separate flood insurance policy. In fact, if your home is in a designated flood plain, your mortgage company will require it.
Underground seepage is typically not covered by a standard homeowner’s policy. Accumulated groundwater around the exterior of your home can seep into your home’s foundation, which could eventually lead to basement flooding. Your insurance company will most likely consider this a maintenance issue, and the resulting damage will not be covered.
How to be Financiallly Prepared for a Natural Disaster
Once you have contacted your preferred water restoration company, the process of mitigating the water damage and restoring your home and possessions can begin.
Here’s how the water restoration process works:
Estimator appointment. A customer service representative will set an appointment for an estimator to come and assess the damage. If you leave a message, you should expect a return call the same day.*Note: If the damage has made your home unlivable or unsafe for your family (for example, a tree has fallen and caused a hole in your roof,) your residential restoration company may be able to provide a temporary fix, such as putting plastic over your roof or providing emergency board-up service, until your restoration project has been approved by your insurer.
Estimator visit. An estimator will come to your home at the appointed time. He or she will assess and document the damage to both the structure and contents of your home, taking photos and notes, and creating sketches of areas and/or rooms affected.
Written estimate. Your estimator will write an estimate for your restoration project, detailing the scope of work involved, and submit it to your insurance company. This should happen within a week or less from the date of your appointment.
Insurance approval. Your insurance adjuster will review the written estimate and either approve it or request additional information. They should reply within 24-72 hours. Until they approve the estimate, no work can begin. Your estimator will follow up with the insurance company, but you can also contact your insurance agent if your adjuster does not respond promptly.
Repair authorization. Once your estimate has been approved by your insurance company, your estimator will send you a repair authorization form (also known as a structural repair agreement). As soon as you sign this form, your restoration work can be scheduled.
Dedicated project manager. You will be assigned a dedicated project manager who will become your primary point of contact and guide your restoration project through to completion. You should receive a call from him or her within 24-48 hours after you’ve signed your repair authorization form to set up a pre-construction meeting.
Pre-construction meeting. Your project manager will come to your home and review the estimate and scope of work with you.*Note: At this time, if there is work you would like to have done that’s outside of the scope of the insurance repair, you can ask your project manager to provide you with a quote for that work as well. This work will be billed to you separately, outside of your insurance claim.
Project timeline. Your project manager will now create a timeline for your restoration work, schedule the various members of the restoration team and give you an estimated start and completion date.
Restoration work begins. Your restoration company’s team of licensed, bonded and fully insured restoration specialists will begin the process of getting your home back to normal. Throughout the process, your project manager will be in communication with you to let you know what’s happening next and answer any questions you might have.
Final walk-through. Once the restoration work is completed, your project manager will conduct a final walk-through with you. If any issues arise, the project manager will create a punch list and schedule the finishing touches to be completed.
Authorization of completion. Once your home is restored to its original (or better!) condition, you will sign an authorization of completion that the restoration work has been completed to your satisfaction. Once that’s done, you can put all the stress of this unexpected event behind you and get back to normal.