It’s Safe to Say Basement Flooding is a Big Deal in Plumbing
UPDATED: July 27, 2017
If you’re a victim of flooding, we’ve got the help you need. If your basement is flooding your probably asking yourself a bunch of questions. How do I fix basement flooding? How do I repair my basement so it doesn’t flood? Why do I have wet basement walls? What can I do to water proof my basement walls? What shoes do I wear when I’m trying to fix the water damage? Why does my basement flood, I’m on a lot that’s higher than my neighbor’s? These questions and many more will be answered in this article.
We Haven’t done a Good Job Explaining the Details
It’s surprising how little people understand how and why houses flood. What’s even more surprising is the fact that no one seems to explain it correctly or in a way that is easily understood by the homeowner.
Let’s first start by saying that your foundation is akin to a big concrete boat. When the ground is fairly dry your foundation sits comfortably in its resting place. However when the ground is saturated, your foundation is actually being forced out of the ground. If it didn’t weigh many tons it would pop right out of the ground. The weight keeps it from coming out of the ground, preventing further damage.
Hopefully that gives you an idea of how water affects a foundation hydraulically, in fact it is aptly named hydraulic pressure or hydrostatic pressure.
When water is present in a basement or crawlspace both the home and business owner immediately panic. What are the causes of this? What’s the best way to fix it? This is completely understandable especially when most people keep valuables, records or collectables in their basement and if you’ve spent your hard earned dollars on finishing your basement, forget it, you call a plumber for help.
The alarm goes off in your head when water enters your basement. Cleanup is on your mind, but you might have no idea where to start. The pictures above might scare you, but trust me many people have encountered something like it. Cleaning isn’t the only thing though, you are probably concerned about what actually broke or caused the flood. In this case, you usually stop and consider your options. Who can help? What should I do next? You’re probably concerned about the cost of the damage too since homeowners insurance doesn’t cover all flood damages. Any flooded basement insurance claim for water getting into the basement from outside is best taken care of by a Public Adjuster, since a lot of the times an insurance company will deny you. On a side note, if your basement is flooding because water is entering from outside, you should reconsider your landscaping to prevent basement flooding. The land around the basement area can act as a protector of floods. Cities like Toronto will subsidize your basement flood-proofing. So there are options depending on the location you’re in. Now let’s jump into the basics of basement flooding.
(Here’s a quick flood fun fact: The Great Flood of 1937 drastically affected the Cincinnati and Louisville areas. It left behind 14.88 inches of water in Fernbank, which is west of Cincinnati. And it left an even bigger flood in Louisville with 19.17 inches. Now that would be a disaster flood to clean up. This meme represents how I would feel about it.)
Basement Flooding Basics
If you know some basics regarding what is going on outside the foundation walls, under your foundation floor and you know some basics about your sewer you can intelligently explain to a plumbing professional what seems to be your problem or you could very well attempt to fix the problem yourself.
Let’s explain some of the characteristics of water with reference to your foundation. First water is not very susceptible to being compressed. Which means it’s going to find its way to every nook and cranny whether it be in air pocket in the ground or a crack in your basement floor or foundation walls. Water also finds its own level, meaning it could be leaking at the bottom of your foundation but find a seam in your wall and wick up 8 ft to the top of your foundation making it pretty difficult to put your finger on the problem.
So now that we know that water pressure is the root of almost all flooding and moisture problems let’s look and the different scenarios that occur to cause flooding.
If a homeowner called and said “my basement is flooding” the first question should be is “is the water coming from the foundation or a floor drain?” The water is generally coming from one of those locations; a flood isn’t going to occur if you leave a window open. If it is coming from a floor drain the next question to be asked is “do you have an ejector pit and pump in your basement?” If the homeowner says no it tells you several things. Number one they have a gravity sewer. Actually all sewers are gravity however this particular one is unique in the fact that all waste water, even water collected in the basement, flows under the basement floor and out to the city sewer. If water is coming up from their floor drain and they don’t have an obstruction in their sewer then the city main is backing up.
When sewers were first installed in metropolitan areas around the country they were combined sewers in that they took away both rainwater and wastewater. This comes as a surprise to some because storm and wastewater are always separated in buildings but yes in quite a few municipalities they combine together in the sewer main.
Quite a few cities in the US, like Chicago or Atlanta, still use combined sewers however they are slowly being phased out. Having a combined sewer lends itself to some unique problems especially to a homeowner that is connected to it.
So we bring ourselves back to flooding occurring in a home in the basement through a floor drain with no sewer obstruction. Think of a sewer in the middle of the street taking sewage from each home or business connected to it and then add to it torrential rains in the spring and fall. These combined sewers were never designed to evacuate that volume of water, in fact, typically during rainy seasons a combined sewer runs at 100% capacity. When there is nowhere else for the water to go it finds its way back to each home or business connected to it and floods the homes/businesses, backing up through the floor drain and if there is enough flooding it will find its way to any crack in a foundation or wall. There are several fixes for this type of flooding, two band aids and three real solutions.
- Band Aid – Floor Drain Plug or Econo Plug. This is just what it sounds like; it’s a plug that fits inside the floor opening for prevention. This type of plug usually consists of a neoprene rubber gasket sandwiched together by two plastic or metal plates; they are connected by a threaded screw topped off by a wing nut, as you tighten the wing nut the two plates squeeze the rubber gasket out thereby sealing your floor opening. What are the advantages you ask? It’s real cheap. The disadvantages are many. This is rare but possible, if there is enough pressure and the plug is tight enough the plug could dislodge itself rather violently possibly injuring someone. The other very real disadvantage is that by installing a floor drain plug you are allowing some pretty extreme water pressure to build underneath your floor. We have seen basement floors crack because of hydraulic pressure under the floor. In some instances you are better off letting the basement flood to alleviate the damage to the foundation floor. Lastly, you’ll never be able to detect a plumbing blockage in the sewer system until it’s a real problem.
- Band Aid – install a Stand Pipe. This is a pipe installed inside your floor opening that allows somewhere for the water to go in case
- of a back-up. What are the advantages? It’s cheap. The disadvantages are very similar to the above. Increased hydraulic pressure resulting in possibly buckling of a basement floor and if there is a sewage blockage you won’t find out until it’s a real issue, a very messy issue.
- Fix – Install a Back Water Valve. These are made by several manufacturers and they are basically heavy duty check valves. They are installed on the main sewer right at the foundation wall. They come in a check valve style in that when water starts backing up into the sewer line the valve slams shut or in a manual style. If a homeowner chooses a manual style back water valve they have to crank the valve shut during heavy rains and remember to open it back up when the rain is over because if someone uses the facilities while the valve is closed you will have some serious backups. Advantages of having a backwater valve, they work and they work well. Disadvantages, they aren’t cheap to buy or install.
- Fix – Divorce your floor drain in your house from the house sewer. Basically you just disconnect the sewer from that floor drain tying the house sewer back in after the floor drain. This makes the whole sanitary system in the home or business a stand pipe. Advantages of doing this, again as in the above “fix” it works and the disadvantages are also price.
- Fix – The last and probably the most effective fix if it is feasible is to take your gravity sewer make it an overhead sewer. Let’s explain in a little more detail. The waste from the house now drains under the basement floor and out to the street. What you would do is abandon the old sewer, take all the fixtures in the house and tie them in over head in the basement ceiling. You would have to excavate outside dropping down to connect back to the city main at the old connection. You would then tie the basement floor drain into an ejector pit with a pump to take care of any basement fixtures or floor drains. When the basement fixtures are used they fill up the pit and the ejector pump, pumps the waste to the overhead sewer. The advantages to this are many, usually when taking a sewer overhead you add a cleanout on the sewer as it exits the foundation this facilitates rodding if there are any future stoppages and as in the above “fit” the whole sewer system acts as a stand pipe. The disadvantage as you can already probably imagine is the cost. It’s an extensive plumbing job but one when done correctly can really give you some peace of mind.
How to Deal with a High Water Table
The next section of this topic has everything to do with hydraulic pressure against your foundation floor and walls. There are some areas in the country/world where the water table never gets high enough for there to be flooding issues if you live in one of these areas good for you if you don’t read on.
We’ve talked a little bit about water pressure and how it affects your foundation, if you are having flooding problems in a basement or crawlspace and you don’t have a sump pit and pump you don’t have a drain tile system in your house. Most homes with basements are supplied with drain tile systems on the inside of the foundation under the basement floor. When it rains water is collected into the drain tile and the water flows to the pit and it’s evacuated by the sump pump. This kind of drain tile system is an acceptable way to take water away from a home’s foundation.
Let’s start from the obvious, if you have a sump pump in your basement and you are flooding and your sump pump isn’t working have it replaced. If you’re not sure it’s working unplug it for ten seconds and plug it back in, all pumps should cycle, if it doesn’t, you’re going to have to replace your pump. If the pump is working and evacuating water from the pit and the foundation is still taking water there could be multitude of issues.
The first thing to check is to see if the drain tile is collapsed. The collapse would still allow water into the pit but any water before the collapse would find its way into the house. If the drain tile is found to be intact then it is likely that the amount of water is too much for your interior drain tile to handle. One solution to this would be to install a second drain tile system on the exterior of the foundation tying it back to the existing sump pit or installing a second pit. This can be an expensive fix but sometimes it’s necessary.
Emergency Flooded Basement, What To Do First
Here are the steps you should take if you come home or walk downstairs to a flooded basement. We have several acquaintances that sleep with one eye and one ear open during thunderstorms. Although waking up to a wet basement is never very fun. Having a plan of attack in the event it happens can mean the difference between minor damage and a major restoration.
First Step to Take
Sometimes it’s easy to figure out why the basement flooded if your power has been out for several hours. The water table is super high and you’re sump pump isn’t pumping so the basement floods. This one is easy, if you don’t have a battery back sump pump or a standby generator you grab a cocktail and wait till the power comes back on. If you’ve got some sandbags ready or you have a family the size of the Duggars and a garage full of buckets you can get to work but most of us don’t.
If the power is on you have to determine the cause of the basement flooding. Go outside and take a peek at the discharge piping from your sump pump. It should be piped independently outside to a retention area or to the municipal storm sewer. You should be able to see water pumping out right away. If the pump is removing water your existing pump is being overwhelmed.
Get the Water Out As Quickly As Possible
The first thing you need to do is get the water out as quickly as possible. The longer the water sits in your basement the greater the chance you have of developing mold. So if you have power and your sump pump is actually pumping water you need to get other temporary pumps with discharge piping helping the cause. You want to make sure the flooding has completely stopped so you can move on to the next step.
**Caution** as with any situation where you are dealing with water and the possible contact with electricity please take special care. We would recommend calling a professional if the water is over 2″ in depth across the entire basement.
The Water is Out, What’s Next?
So the pumps helped with the water removal now what? If you have carpet in the basement tear it out and throw it away because it will get musty. The smell of the mold forming is something you’re going to want to avoid. There is no way to
dry it in time to save it from being a petri dish for basement mold smells. Now you have to dry the floor, and any walls. Fans won’t cut it, manually drying it is your best bet. Find your local tool rental company and rent a torpedo heater or a couple and turn them on full blast until the basement is dry. There are many different companies you can purchase a heater from, just make sure the heater isn’t too hot, you don’t want it to overheat the area.
What if The Basement Was Finished?
The basement was finished with flooring and clean drywall right? We told you what you should do with the flooring or carpeting. So that leaves you with a drywall problem. You can’t dry the walls quick enough to prevent water damage and subsequent mold. The standard procedure for flooded basement drywall is to remove the baseboard and the first two feet of drywall. We agree with this procedure unless the water has been lying stagnant for some time. If that is the case all of it has to come out. Trust me, I’ve been in your shoes before, and it’s not a fun process, but it’s necessary.
Again the above can all be done by a professional plumbing contractor in conjunction with a restoration company but some of the steps can be done by you the homeowner. As always thank you for reading and we hope it helps in the event of basement flooding.