Homeowners should tackle basement flooding head on

Some situations call for professional help, though, to get job done

By: April Lehmbeck | C&G Newspapers | Published October 5, 2011

With the high levels of rain falling in Southeast Michigan in recent weeks, a nightmare scenario some homeowners face is the day they walk down to their basement to discover that they are unintentionally installing a pool on their basement floor.

It can be time consuming and costly to take care of a basement flood, and depending on what type of water is seeping into the home, it can be downright disgusting, as well.

Before homeowners arm themselves with a fleet of buckets if their basement floods in the future, there are other steps to take to prevent flooding, but also steps to take if the worst-case scenario strikes and a homeowner’s basement overflows with standing water or sewage.

“If sewage, ground water or storm water affects more than a few square feet, gets into the furnace, reaches depths that threaten to require wading through raw sewage, call a professional,” Sanit-Air owner Connie Morbach said in an email. “If storm, sewage or ground water does not recede within a few hours, call a professional. If porous cellulose building materials, such as drywall, plywood, insulation and carpeting, is affected, call in a professional.

“Scrutinize contractors in advance and call immediately,” she said. “The good ones get booked quickly. Do not rely on your insurance company to pick your contractor. Choose your own independent third party that has a good reputation and appropriate certifications in water damage restoration. Information on certification can be accessed at IICRC.org.”

For those looking to sell their home, it’s important to take care of flooding problems or water damage.

“That’s one of the things that will freak people out most,” said Kathi Jones-Cutler, of Max Broock Realtors in Birmingham.

“Even if you aren’t selling, it’s not healthy to have mold and spores and to have those kinds of situations in the air,” she said.

Yet, she said many times the fix is an easy one that a number of homeowners don’t even realize they should consider. Homeowners should check their downspouts and make sure they are facing away from the home and fully extended to keep running water away from the foundation.

“Pull that water away from that house,” she said.

Also, sometimes additional soil needs to be added around the foundation of the home to keep water from pooling by the basement walls, Jones-Cutler said.

Another fix that can help is adding glass block windows because sometimes the casing on windows of older homes allows water to seep into the basement, she said.

“Most of it can be prevented,” Jones-Cutler said.

“If you start to see any signs of moisture, pay attention to the walls of your basement, especially if they’re unfinished,” she said.

In the case of non-porous walls like cinderblock, a small amount of mold growth can be washed off with hot water, bleach and a scrub brush, Jones-Cutler said.

Residents can apply some mold-retardant paint to help, as well.

Walls like drywall need to be treated differently, and many times need a professional because of the possibility of toxic mold.

Ultimately, if the basement has a musty smell or the air seems damp, running a dehumidifier can pull some of that moisture out of the air, Jones-Cutler said.

However, with a flood that has standing water, residents will need more help.

Tom Dempsey, owner of Centurion Services Inc., is one of those professionals who can help. He said he spends time giving people free advice on the phone and recommends that if anyone is unsure about what to do, they should contact a professional in the field.

A key thing he said people need to do is make sure they understand their insurance policy. Most insurance policies in Michigan do not cover flood issues. He’s discovered that some residents realize too late that if they had paid a little more, they could have had some flood coverage.

Morbach said that homeowners can get insurance riders for things like sump-pump problems and drain backups for usually less than $100 a year, which she said is “well worth the cost.” Ground water seeping into the home is usually not covered, she added.

“It is extremely expensive to fix a water problem in the basement,” Dempsey said. “You really should call your insurance agent.”

He said to ask questions and pose what-if scenarios to the agent.

Another thing many homeowners fail to do is act quickly. They worry that it’s too expensive when it first happens, so they wait, but things just get worse.

“It goes from stinky to moldy,” Dempsey said.

“You want to act on it right away,” he said. “It’s not something you want to let sit.”

He does have some advice to keep loss at a minimum: Make sure items in the basement are in Rubbermaid bins and put other items on blocks, Dempsey said.

“You’ve got to get everything up and out to prevent or to prepare for a flood,” Dempsey said.

Morbach recommends installing water alarms in areas likely to flood — like by sump-pumps and toilets. She recommended a number of other steps to prevent flooding, such as having the drainage system evaluated by a plumber who can use video to see the drain. For new construction, she recommends not finishing the walls of a basement until one year after it was built to identify leaks or other problems.

And while dehumidifier can help with dampness in the air, it won’t take care of standing water. That type of problem needs commercial equipment, Dempsey said.

Another issue is that there are different types of water that can enter a home, from clear to obvious sewage backups.

Both Morbach and Dempsey said the origin of the water is important. If the water has toilet paper or fecal material, this can be extremely harmful to residents who are exposed. It determines how the situation is handled, also, like if fans should be used or if that would blow contaminants into other areas of the home, Morbach said.

However, “just because it’s clear, doesn’t mean it’s clean,” Dempsey said.

Clear water still has bacteria, parasites and other problems.

“Don’t try and handle it yourself,” he said.