What should you do if your basement floods?

Flooding basement? Get the lowdown on what to do and how to clean it up

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A burst pipe or extreme weather can result in a flooding basement which is a problem that needs urgent action, and that brings a tough cleanup job. What’s crucial is to take all the necessary steps to stay safe and mitigate any damage as far as you can.

A flooded basement could be due to an issue inside your home, or weather conditions that are affecting your neighbors, too. If that’s the case, it’s likely that professional help won’t be as quickly available because of demand, so it’s wise to get savvy before the worst happens.

We’ve put together the stages you need to follow when water has reached your basement, along with how to clean up afterwards to ensure your finished basement stays in good condition.

How to deal with a flooding basement

A flooding basement could be filling with clean or contaminated water. ‘There are essentially three kinds – clean water, like from a burst pipe, gray water, which may have some contaminants in it, and black water, which can contain sewage and other hazardous materials,’ explains Cristina Miguelez from Fixr. ‘Clean water is by far the easiest to deal with. The other two, you really need to bring in an expert to make sure everything gets decontaminated.’

‘In every scenario, though, first locate the source of the water, and if possible, shut it off,’ she says. ‘This may mean shutting off the water to your home, for example, if a pipe has burst.’

Here’s what you need to do next.

1. Turn off the electricity

Act quickly in the case of a flooded basement, and turn off the power. ‘This will reduce the risk of electric shock and create a safer environment,’ says Bailey Carson, home care expert at Angi. ‘If possible, turn off the gas as well,’ she adds.

Consider your water heater, too. ‘Protect your water heater from damage by ensuring that it has been shut down by either turning it off at the thermostat or through the circuit breaker box,’ says Alex Berezowski, general manager of The Foundation Experts Inc. ‘If you aren’t sure how to shut off these things, contact your local fire department or electric utility company for assistance.’

2. Contact insurers

Get in touch with your insurer as soon as you can. ‘You’ll want to know what’s going to be covered and what isn’t,’ says Jake Romano of Oakville Plumbers

In the event of flooding in the UK, there may be some help available for the uninsured. ‘You will be responsible for covering the costs of the flood damage, but contact your local authority for information on grants, or charities that may help you,’ says Simon Crowther, CEO of FPS Environmental.

3. Remove water

In order to clean up the flooded basement, the next step is to remove water. ‘Put on waterproof rubber boots, goggles, a face mask, gloves, and whatever other protective gear you want to wear,’ says Romano.

If the flooding isn’t extensive, use a wet/dry vacuum to get rid of the water, or even a mop and bucket. However, you may need to call in a pro to pump out water if there’s a large volume. ‘If there is anything in that water at all, you need to call in a water cleanup team,’ says Cristina Miguelez. ‘They can help decontaminate, scrub the air, and will advise you on what items they can clean and what items you need to throw out.’

4. Remove items from a flooded basement

Once the water has been removed, take as much as possible out of the basement, which may be a major task if you previously carried out a basement remodel or finished a basement on a budget.

‘Be prepared for a lot of soft items like carpet and furnishings to either need professional cleaning or total replacement,’ says Cristina Miguelez. ‘If your dry wall has gotten soaked, expect to replace it as well, as it doesn’t dry and act like new again,’ she adds. Soaked insulation will also need to be disposed of, as will warped furniture, food, medicine, and anything that is porous.

Appliances located there? ‘If you have a refrigerator or freezer in your basement, you will want to remove the contents and unplug the appliance,’ says Kelly Bedrich, CEO of ElectricityPlans and NaturalGasPlans. ‘Water may have gotten into the motor in your fridge or freezer. Attempting to run a water-damaged appliance can be a risk of electric shock.’ 

Natural gas appliances should also be considered. ‘For example, if you have a natural gas water heater, water may have gotten inside the valves and controls,’ advises Kelly. ‘You’ll want to get the unit checked by a professional, and possibly replace the pilot and burner orifices, gas valves and controls, or possibly replace the whole water heater. Flooding can also cause natural gas pipes to be disrupted. If it’s a widespread flood incident, contact your local utility company to get an inspection.’

5. Wipe down surfaces

Mold growth is a major hazard of basement flooding so sanitizing the basement is extremely important. ‘Begin mopping and wiping the floors, walls, and any other surface with a botanical cleaning product,’ says Michael Rubino, president of All American Restoration, and author of The Mold Medic: An Expert’s Guide on Mold Removal.

‘Use microfiber towels to pat dry every available surface (they’re 100 times better at removing small particles). Wash these towels in an EPA-approved cleaning product immediately after use, or throw them away just to be safe. Bacteria may be present depending on the source of the water, so thoroughness is absolutely key to this process.’

6. Aid the drying-out process

To complete the drying out process use a dehumidifier. ‘The ideal humidity range should be between 30 and 50 per cent,’ says Michael Rubino.

Stay aware of the threat of mold growth. ‘Contact a mold inspector 72 to 96 hours after the space has dried to make sure there aren’t any hidden issues,’ says Michael. ‘Continue to clean and further decontaminate the space. Harmful particles like bacteria and mold spores are microscopic, so while you may not see them, they can still be present.’

7. Call in a pro after major flooding

Get advice from an expert after major flooding. ‘Bring in a pro for an inspection to make sure the space is clean and safe, and that you don’t need to take any additional steps to prevent more serious damage,’ says Bailey Carson. 

National waterproofing manager at Peter Cox Michael Jones agrees. ‘The challenges of a flood cleanup vary exponentially and the level of damage isn’t always obvious at first glance,’ he says. ‘It can prove very helpful to get the help of a trained professional to assess the situation before you begin, and to make sure the property is returned to its original state in the safest and most hygienic way. A hygiene professional is always able to do a general assessment of the risks, but consulting an electrician and property surveyor may also prove useful depending on the severity of the flood.’

How do I stop my basement from flooding in heavy rain?

There are a variety of measures you can take to stop a basement flooring in heavy rain. Jake Romano suggests the following:

‘Install a sump pump. Sump pumps reside in a pit in the lowest part of your home. As water in the ground begins to accumulate in the pit, it is pumped out and away from your home. This prevents the water from rising into your basement.

‘Install a backflow valve. This valve makes it so sewage can leave your home, but can’t reenter. If water or sewage rises up from the sewer, the valve will shut. You’re still at risk of drain backups if you use the toilet or sinks in your home, however, you’re protected against public sewage backups.

Clean your gutters. A clog in your gutter will interfere with your home’s built-in water management.

‘Install a weeping tile. A weeping tile is an additional drainage system that surrounds the perimeter of your home. It collects water and redirects it away from your home, protecting you from flooding.’

What should I do if my basement keeps flooding?

If your basement keeps flooding, there are issues you need to address urgently. ‘Call in a pro to determine the root cause of the problem and to fix it,’ advises Bailey Carson. ‘They can help you take the right steps to properly repair damage in your foundation, plumbing, roof or wherever else it might be, so you can rest assured your basement will stay dry.’

Sarah Warwick
Freelance Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For Realhomes.com, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.