After last weekend’s storms, Facebook has been flooded (pun intended) with photos of peoples yards and basements under water. I thought “How Water Gets in Your Basement and What to do About it” would be a timely topic for the AHI blog.
First, I would like to discuss how water makes its way into a basement. While storms and excessive rain seem like the obvious answer, there is usually an underlying problem.
How Water Gets In Your Basement
Cracked Foundation or Walls
Foundation wall cracks are one of the most common sources of water coming into a basement. They are usually caused by one of the three following:
- Settling – after a home is built, the ground underneath settles. This usually causes small cracks in the foundation. This mostly happens shortly after the home is built but if the ground continues to compress and the house settles more, larger cracks can appear. Other factors like soil moisture or even lack of can contribute to settling over time or even ground movement (see # 2).
- Ground Movement – much like settling, if the ground moves underneath the home it can cause cracks. Ground movement can be caused by prolonged droughts in which the soil becomes dry and shrinks. Certain kinds of trees and shrubs too close to the foundation can also rob the soil of its moisture. It can also be caused by excessive moisture after storms or heavy rains if the property is not properly graded or has poor drainage.
- Contraction – happens when the concrete dries too quickly after being poured. It can contract and cause cracks.
As mentioned above, poor drainage can seep into your basement through cracks in the foundation. Missing or blocked gutters, poor landscaping or improper grading can cause water to pool by your foundation.
Sump Pump Breakdown
The sump pump is a pump that removes water from the lowest point of your home (usually a basement or crawl space). If that pump fails, it can cause water to come into your basement. As some of you may know the hard way, your basic homeowner’s insurance policy does not always cover sump pump failure. Be sure to ask your agent and add the coverage if needed. A pump breakdown can cause a nasty flood in your basement and can be quite costly to repair, especially if you have a finished basement.
Many basements have open floor drains. If sewer lines become clogged, the overflow can come up through the floor drain.
Water pipes normally enter the basement. If they become leaky or worse, break; they can flood a basement pretty quickly.
Broken or Leaky Water Heater
A water heater can fail. They are susceptible to structural failure that can cause severe flooding. Water heaters have between 40 and 120 gallons of water which can obviously do some serious damage.
How to Prevent
Flooding in Your Basement
- Proper Grading – Gradually slope your landscaping away from the home if possible.
- Remove Plants & Trees too close to home – Plants or trees with large root systems can damage your foundation. Maple, Ash and Cottonwoods are trees that have invasive root systems. Weeping willow trees are particularly problematic and can damage water, sewer and plumbing lines. They should be planted at least 50 feet away from your house.
- Repair Foundation Cracks – Cracks should be identified and repaired early. The longer they sit, the worse they get.
- Get a Sprinkler System – As mentioned above, it isn’t just moisture that can cause problems. If your soil gets too dry around the house it can cause ground movement leading to settling foundation cracks. To maintain your soil at a proper moisture level, a smart sprinkler system will do the job.
- Clean Gutters & Spouts – To keep water flowing where you want it during rain, gutters and spouts should be clear of leaves and debris.
- Regular maintenance on Water Heater – Finding issues with your water heater before it becomes a problem is key.
- Maintenance Home Inspection – Investing in a home inspection periodically can help prevent problems before they happen. It can be a small investment compared to the cost of repairs.
How to Deal With Clean Up if Your Basement Does Flood
- Safety First
Flooding in the basement can be a serious electrical hazard to you and your family. You should reach out to an electrician before going into a flooded basement. If your circuit breaker is not in the basement, shut off all power and gas immediately. A certified electrician should assess the situation to make sure it is safe before you enter!
- Remove Important Items
Once you’ve determined it’s safe, remove important items from the flooded area and set out to dry.
- Call Your Insurance Company
Depending on the cause of the flood, your insurance company can direct you to who to call to help with clean up. As stated above, if you are lacking in coverage – you may be on your own. If you are covered, your insurance company can direct you to companies that deal with flood damage. They usually rip up flooring if needed, extract standing water and set out fans. They may also do step number 4 depending on the company and your insurance.
- Clean Up
Whether you do it or you hire a company to do it, your basement needs to be cleaned, sanitized and deodorized. remember from our last blog that excessive moisture can cause mold which can be hazardous to your health.
While your insurance may try to dictate who you use for clean up, we recommend Lappins in Onalaska or ServPro of La Crosse.
Storms and heavy rain have sure made this summer difficult for some homeowners. I hope this can help you prevent problems before they happen.