real estate

Cleaning up after a basement flood

House flood
Highlights
  • Get rid of anything that received water damage to prevent mold, including cutting out drywall.
  • If a house has no heat and it’s cold out, it’s an unsafe condition. Find somewhere else to stay.
  • Do not try to enter a flooded basement unless the energy company has turned off your power.

While Sandy is fresh in our minds, it's far from the first storm to cause flooding in basements. Losing electrical power can lead to basement flooding if your sump pump only uses electricity. That increases your chance of damaged stored items and mold growth. Plus, staying warm becomes a challenge as the temperature drops and you can't turn on your heater.

"If you don't have any power in your house and you have water in the basement, you shouldn't be in the house," says Steve MacDonald, a spokesman for the Boston Fire Department, who says safety is the foremost issue.

Even sharing power with a neighbor via extension cord is unsafe, he says. "It's good to charge your cellphone or plug the lamp in, but not to run a household. Unless you have commercial-grade extension cords, they're not made for that purpose," he says.

Once you're ready to tackle the basement, you'll need to decide if you're bringing in a basement contractor or going the do-it-yourself route, which can be cheaper and just as effective as hiring someone.

Pumping out basements

If your basement is flooded with water from the storm, the first order of business is drying it out. If you already have a sump pump installed, it should start working as soon as electricity is restored, says Doug Lynch, owner of A-1 Basement Solutions in Scotch Plains, N.J.

Don't go in the basement if it floods and you have power, says the New York State Electric and Gas Company, because energized outlets and wiring below the flood water pose an electrocution hazard. Make sure your energy company has turned off power to your house before you enter a flooded basement.

MacDonald says to use common sense if running the sump pump from a basement outlet, and make sure the outlet is completely dry. "If the outlets are in water or were soaking in water, you're not going to use them," he says.

If you don't have a sump pump or need a more powerful one, they're available at home improvement stores, says MacDonald.

Sump pumps can also be rented, says Phyllis Stone, a homeowner in Mount Kisco, N.Y., who rented one when her basement flooded during a past storm.

If you have a larger amount of water, in the several-feet range, you'll need to call a professional company, says MacDonald. They'll have the equipment to get it done quickly and safely.

Some older homes have clean-out plugs that connect to the sewer system, recessed below the floor level, says Lynch. These plugs are used to drain a flooded basement. Lynch says only people who feel comfortable using the plugs should remove them to drain water. "You open the floor drain that leads into the sanitary system and clear out the basement water," he says, adding that as soon as the water is drained, the cap should go back on because sewage gas or actual sewage can back up into your basement.

Drying out the basement

After the flood water is pumped out, Lynch recommends opening the basement windows to increase air circulation and decrease the possibility of mold. "Put all the ventilation possible into the basement to dry it out before mold spreads."

Fans also help with circulation and ventilation. After her basement was drained, "my husband rigged up all the fans in the house," says Stone. As the basement began to dry out, her husband then ripped up carpet as well. Stone says they saved several thousand dollars by drying out the basement themselves instead of hiring a company to do it for them.

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