No homeowner wants a flooded basement; it’s one of the worst things you can wake up or come home too. A flooded basement is more than a nuisance. It’s a hazard, and can downright deadly if the water rises enough to cover the outlets. When your basement floods, you need to act quickly to shut off electricity and gas appliances, salvage your possessions, and start the cleanup process.
Shut Off Power and Gas to the Basement First
If your basement has flooded or is flooding, it could be dangerous to enter, especially if the water is high enough to cover the electrical outlets, the panel box, or the wiring. If you can shut off electricity to the basement without entering it, do that first.
If the electric panel is in the basement, you may have to go into the basement in order to shut it off. If the water is less than two inches high, you may be able to safely enter the basement to turn it off by placing wooden planks, step stools, or step ladders on the floor to allow you to access the panel without stepping into the water. Make sure to wear rubber boots and gloves for safety.
However, if the water in your basement is deeper than two inches, and the service panel is in the basement, the question of what to do when your basement floods becomes more complicated. Don’t risk trying to get to the service panel before removing the water from your basement. You can call the fire department; they will be able to help you disconnect the electricity to the whole house and pump the water out of your basement. An electrician or an employee of your utility company can also help you shut off electricity to your house by removing the face of your electrical meter from its pan.
If there are flooded gas appliances in your basement, such as a furnace or water heater, shut off your gas at the meter. Flood waters can put out the pilot light on gas appliances, and this can cause a gas leak in your basement. If you smell gas in your flooded basement, evacuate the house, shut off the gas at the meter if possible, and call the fire department or your gas company’s emergency line. Once you have shut off power and gas to the flooded basement, it is safe to begin removing the water.
Pinpoint the Cause of the Flooding
You will want to figure out where the water is coming from as soon as possible, so you can stop the flooding from getting worse. Look for burst pipes or hoses, and check your water heater and washing machine; if one of them is spurting water, shut off the water to it to stop the flooding. If the water is coming from a burst pipe, you may be able to stop the flooding by shutting off water to your entire home.
Water coming in through the floor drain may be the result of problems with your home drainage system or sump pump, while water coming in through the walls, floor, windows, or foundation may be the result of heavy rains or an elevated water table. If the flooding is the result of weather conditions, you may be helpless to stop it. Start salvaging your things right away.
Begin Salvaging Possessions
If the water is still rising, you will want to delay pumping water out of the flooded basement in order to prioritize salvaging possessions. Grab the hardest-to-replace items first, such as financial documents, identity documents, family heirlooms, photo albums, and souvenirs. Next, you should grab expensive items like electronics; however, don’t try to salvage electronics that have already been submerged. Other things you may not be able to salvage include:
- Upholstered furniture
- Carpet and carpet padding
- Fabric items that can’t be washed and dried within 48 hours
- Drywall and insulation below the water line
However, a professional flood restoration crew may be able to salvage some of these items.
Remove the Water
You should be able to remove a small amount of water from your basement using a wet/dry shop vacuum, or even using mops and buckets if the flooding is minimal enough. For larger amounts of water, rent a gasoline-powered, heavy-duty trash water pump to remove the water yourself. Play it safe by wearing rubber boots and gloves when you venture into your basement for cleanup.
Once you have removed standing water, you need to remove your carpet and carpet padding or other flooring, drywall, and insulation. Call a dumpster service to help you dispose of these water-damaged items. Finally, dry your basement out by setting up fans or air movers, dehumidifiers, and space heaters. If the weather is sunny and dry, you may be able to open the windows in lieu of placing dehumidifiers and space heaters. If you go the dehumidifier route, use one for every 10 feet of wet walls, or rent a commercial dehumidifier. This will ensure that you don’t further damage your home in the process of trying to dry out your basement.
Disinfect and Repair
Once your basement is dry, you’ll need to disinfect the surfaces and repair what was damaged. Use bleach to wash nonporous surfaces; this will inhibit mold growth. You’ll probably need to hire contractors and electricians to replace wiring, outlets, service panels, drywall, insulation, and flooring that was damaged. Your homeowner’s insurance may or may not cover the damage, depending on its cause. If your basement flood was caused by drainage problems, a broken sump pump, or burst pipes, call a plumber to fix the problem and help you prevent it from happening again.
A flooded basement is no picnic. Take the right safety precautions before you tackle water removal and cleanup, so that you can continue enjoying your basement for years to come.