How to Deal with a Flooded Basement

If you see your basement is flooded with water, first try to identify where the problem is coming from, then remove your furniture and belongings.
Written by Bellina Gaskey
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
If your basement floods, the first thing you’ll need to do is figure out where the water is coming from and shut it off if possible. Then, take out personal items and furniture as quickly as you can and let them dry in a well-ventilated area. 
If there’s more than a couple of inches of water on the ground, you’ll want to call a professional ASAP. Remember that if a sewage backlog is involved, the floodwater will be filled with bacteria and can pose a safety hazard.
Coming home to a flooded basement is kind of like waking up in a nightmare—and the worst part is, regular homeowners insurance often won’t cover the damages. Here to help you prepare for this situation is the
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What to expect if your basement floods

Flooding is one of the most common disasters in the US. Even so, many homeowners don’t have adequate education about how to deal with a flooded basement, including how insurance plays a role.
Many will be surprised to hear that home insurance does not cover damage from flooding except in certain special situations. 
If you’re worried about a high risk of flooding in your area, consider adding specialty coverage or taking out a policy with the
National Flood Insurance Program
(run by the US government).  
Flooding is an expensive disaster, too. While a straightforward light drying-off of your basement could cost as little as $500, you can expect to pay $5,000 to $10,000 or more to handle labor costs and to replace rooms’ worth of furniture and flooring. 

Why do basements flood?

While some flood risks come from natural disasters, like heavy rainstorms, many causes of a flooded basement are preventable, including:
  • Sump pump or water tank failure
  • Water supply line/pipe failure
  • Clogged gutters
  • Failing downspouts
  • Improperly sealed tiles
  • Landscaping slopes down toward the house or tree roots are too close to house foundations
Most of these issues require homeowners to be diligent and schedule regular maintenance and repairs. In other words, preventing and cleaning up after a flooded basement is usually completely your responsibility
However, a burst pipe or supply line failure could happen due to negligence on the part of a handyman or service provider. If you have evidence this was the case for you, your insurance may cover some of your costs if you have appropriate
water damage coverage

What can get damaged?

Depending on the extent of the flooding, you can expect the following things to be damaged:
  • Walls/siding
  • Flooring/carpet
  • Furniture—which may dry off okay
  • Boxes of miscellanea—cardboard boxes must be thrown out

What do I do if I notice water flooding in my basement?  

If you discover that your basement is flooding, try not to panic! This situation is very upsetting, but you’ll need to keep a clear head to try to minimize the damage.
First, make sure it’s safe to proceed. If you can access your main breaker box, shut off power to your basement, especially if there are running appliances. If the water is approaching a running power source, call your utility company to cut your power.
Then, try to figure out the source of the flooding. If you’re stuck in a torrential downpour and the water is penetrating your exterior, you’ll have to wait it out. If you find a busted pipe or water tank, though, try to shut the water off as soon as possible.  
Then, remove as many personal items as possible. You probably can’t carry your huge sectional to safety, but rescue any cardboard boxes of old pictures, rugs, and whatever else you can get your hands on. Pull out carpet unless it’s tacked in—if it is, you’ll need to wait for help.
Bring the items to a well-ventilated, dry space to begin airing out. You’ll need to let them dry for 48 hours before assessing what to throw out and what to keep. 

How to clean up a flooded basement

Once it’s safe to do so and you’ve removed some of your belongings, it’s time to remove the water
Use a pool pump, wet and dry vacuum, or a mop and bucket for light flooding. Suck up all the water, then release it outside—pointing away from the house and toward the nearest drainage grate. 
If there’s only an inch or two of water, you can probably remove it all yourself. If the flooding is deeper than this or you’re simply overwhelmed, call a professional flood cleanup service right away. 
Once the water’s out, run a dehumidifier and large fans to dry out the basement. Keep them running continuously for 48-72 hours, pointing in different directions. You can rent industrial fans. You need to eliminate moisture from the air to curb mold growth. 
Once things are out of the way and the area is dry, you’ll need to wash the floors and walls to prevent bacterial and mold growth. Use a mixture of one tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of water and scrub the concrete floor and other hard surfaces. 
For black water floods that contain sewage or another backup, you can scrub the floor with a stronger solution: a quarter cup of chlorine bleach for every one gallon of water.
Surfaces that can’t handle bleach can be treated with an antifungal solution. 
When all is said and done, a professional can help you treat your walls with a waterproof coating to protect against future damage. 
Key Takeaway: You can clean a slightly flooded basement with a pool pump, a wet/dry vacuum, or a mop. Dry the area with a large fan, and wash the floors to prevent mold growth. Professional help also may be needed. 

How to prevent basement flooding

No one wants to have to deal with the aftermath of water flooding in your basement. While it’s sometimes unavoidable, flooding can be prevented or mitigated with the following strategies:
  • Waterproof your basement: apply a waterproof coating to your walls.
  • Get a sump pump: this is essential for preventing water backups in your home.
  • Check your landscaping: the ground should slope away from the house foundation and trees should not be too close
  • Clean your gutters and drain spouts: adhere to a year-round maintenance schedule to prevent cracks and backups

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If your basement floods, first determine if it’s safe to proceed. Then, get at the source of the flooding and stop the water flow if you can. Remove personal items from the flooded area as quickly as possible.
Remove water using a wet and dry shop vac or call a professional. Once the water is gone, run large fans and dehumidifiers. Finally, scrub the floors and walls to clean and disinfect surfaces.
You can’t always stop a basement from flooding once a flood is underway. However, you can do your best to prevent flooding by doing the following: 
Inspect your water tank and sump pump regularly
Make sure your house’s exterior is well-sealed: walls, window frames, foundations
Have gutters regularly inspected 
Pay attention to trees and landscaping elements close to the house
Make sure appliances are in good working order: no leaks
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