Spring is approaching and for some homeowners, spring is a time for basement floods and water damage. With greater-than-ever snow in some parts of the country, many homeowners are faced with several inches (in some cases feet) of frozen ground. And what happens to that ice when the overnight temperatures start to warm up? Water finds it’s lowest level and in some cases, that is your basement.

Massive floods, like the floods that damaged homes during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, did so much damage that in many cases the homes needed to be torn down. We know how mold, mildew and other materials can negatively impact the structural integrity of a home and adversely affect the health of the people who live there. Water will eventually evaporate but the damage you don’t see may slowly but surely ruin your home.

According to Flood Smart, a 1000 square foot home flooded with a mere 1″ of water can lead to over $10,000 worth of damage. Make that 6″ of flooded water and you’re looking at about $20,150 of repairs and replacements. Let’s take a look at the reasons why most basements flood and what you can do to clean it up and prevent it from happening next time.

Why do basements flood?

Burst pipes, sudden downpours, a copious amount of melting snow, broken gutters, leaky windows, damaged foundation, sudden removal of large trees near your home…there are many reasons how water can flood your basement. Water flows downhill into the lowest areas and it can make its way through even the smallest cracks and openings. Depending upon the age of your home and the region in which you live, your foundation is most likely either poured concrete or stacked concrete blocks. Sometimes the foundation is coated or shielded with a water barrier material, designed to keep water out. Over time homes settle and shift, sometimes compromising the structural solidity of the foundation. Small fissures form and can be a source for water to pour in. Another source of water damage is through basement windows (whose sealants fail over time), crawlspace vents (the vents that allow air to circulate under the home), and overly saturated soil surrounding the home. If you suspect that your basement is flooding, and want to test specific areas, you can run a garden hose for about 15-20 minutes on the exterior of the suspected problem area and check on your basement inside. Other contributions to basement flooding may be sudden changes to your home or the environment surrounding your home. A recent earthquake, for example, may have shifted your home and created cracks that weren’t there prior to the event. Or a sudden change to the landscape around you, a recent removal of trees in your neighbor’s yard for example, could have a negative impact on the ability of the soil to absorb water. A foundation contractor will be able to assess specific issues. Plumbing can be another source of basement flooding. Water heaters, washing machines and other appliances are often located in the basement and frozen pipes or leaky pipes can lead to serious damage.

What can I do to prevent a basement flood?

If you discover that windows or vents are to blame you’ll want to fix the sealants around them. You can fix the flashing or sealant yourself or call a basement remodeler or window installer to assist. If you notice any cracks or damage to your foundation, call a foundation repair specialist. A professional will have the knowledge to fully research why cracks formed in the first place and have the skills to properly repair the foundation. If you think that overly-saturated soil is to blame, the issue may need to be solved by a professional who can asses your gutters, roof and the landscaping. If your gutters are leaking, allowing large puddles to form around the home instead of being directed through the pipes below the home, the excess water can easily make it’s way underneath the home and into the basement. A landscaper can also help overly-saturated soil by creating French drains, which will help direct water away from the home. French drains can also be installed by a drainage contractor, a plumber, a general contractor, a waterproofing contractor, or a basement contractor. If your home’s plumbing is to blame, call a plumber or an appliance repair person immediately.

How do I keep water from damaging my home’s foundation?

Depending upon your region, your budget and your own decisions, you’ll want to a) assess where the water is coming from and b) note the solution and professional for each problem. As we’ve mentioned, water can come from multiple sources and damage your foundation from a number of different directions. If water is coming in through your foundation, there are several different methods to create a water barrier to your foundation. In new construction, damp-proofing is often done to the exterior of the foundation. It’s a thick, black liquid that is painted on the exterior of the concrete. The problem with damp-proofing is that it acts like a water barrier but it is not water proof. In other words, it will successfully keep out regular moisture from the surrounding soil but will not be a protection against a massive amount of incoming water. The interior basement walls of older homes can be painted with a coat of concrete water proofing product such as Drylok or Kryton. There are many other concrete, foundation waterproofing methods. To get the best information for your home, contact a concrete contractor, a foundation repair contractor or a contractor who specializes in waterproofing.

Who should I call when my basement floods?

If you have standing water, or water actively flowing into your basement, do not attempt to wade through the water until you shut off your electricity to the area and be absolutely sure that there are no open circuits standing in the water. When you’ve checked on the electricity, call a sub-pump installer, basement contractor or foundation contractor. You’ll want to use a bucket or a wet vacuum to suck up as much water as possible.  You can also hire a flood cleanup crew to come in and expertly clean and remove damaged items. If you have a lot of electrical items that may have been exposed to water, call an electrician immediately and do not attempt to stand in water while touching any electrical equipment.  Any fabric or carpeting will most likely need to be ripped out and replaced. Appliances that have been sitting in water should also be assessed by a repair person before you operate them. Remove any valuable items from the area until the basement is water free.

How do I repair my water-damaged basement?

If the damage is significant you may be in the situation to hire several types of professionals. You’ll want to hire a flood cleanup crew to remove water damaged items and clean for mold and mildew. You may need to install a sub-pump to actively pump out and remove water (this is especially important for basements that flood on a regular basis). You may need to install French drains, for which you’ll want to  hire a landscaper. For basements that have constant dampness or other foundation-related issues, hire a foundation repair contractor.

What are the long-term issues with flood-damaged basements?

Basements that experience regular flooding will expose homeowners to mold and mildew, which can lead to eye irritation, sneezing, nasal stuffiness and skin irritation. Mold has been linked to allergies, asthma and respiratory issues.  Regular water damage to the foundation of your home can contribute to structural weakness. There are obvious costs to dealing with a flooded basement and no homeowner wants to clean up a flood multiple times. The overall value of your home can also be negatively affected by a flood. Allergens alone can contribute to as much as a 15% decline of a home’s value according to MSN Real Estate, and not disclosing water damage to your home to a potential buyer can be detrimental to the sale of your home.

DIY tips to prevent and tackle basement flooding:

– Move all electrical outlets or plugs to higher levels in the basement

– Do not store valuable items in a basement with potential flooding issues

– The ground next to your foundation should slope away from the home

– Point gutters and downspouts to discharge water at least 5 feet away from the home

– Plant plants and boarders at least 12 inches away from the foundation

– Seal all windows and vents

– Unclog gutters and downspouts

– Waterproof the walls inside your basement with a roll-on concrete waterproofing product

– Consider installing a sub-pump to pump out unwanted standing water

– Address poorly-draining soil around the home by installing a French drain.

– Call a foundation contractor to address ongoing and outstanding issues with your foundation