At some point, it probably happens to everyone who has a basement. Too much water. Sometimes an old water pipe gives up the ghost and ruptures, or occasionally, nature asserts itself and redirects the nearby river into your basement. Even worse, a flooded septic system could back up into the basement. So now what?
What to Do If Your Basement Floods
First, water conducts electricity, so do not take even one step into a flooded basement unless the electricity is turned off at its source. If you are fortunate, your circuit breaker panel will be on the first floor, and you can cut the power for the basement while retaining electricity upstairs that you can use to power a pump. (Remember to keep the extension cord and the pump’s power cord out of the water.)
If the circuit panel is in the basement, call the power company and have them turn the whole house’s power off, either directly or remotely, at the meter.
Next, figure out the source of the flood, and whether it has stopped. It doesn’t make sense to try to remove the water if it’s still pouring in. If the area surrounding the house is flooded, you’ll have to wait until the water levels recede.
Pumping Out Water With Electricity
If you still have electricity, there are a variety of pumps you can use to purge the space. Many basements have a sump pump in place, but if the electricity is out, the sump pump can’t do its job. But before you pump, here’s a caveat from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in reference to extreme flooding situations:
“The weight of saturated soil applies pressure on basement walls and floors and can cause them to buckle inward or collapse. If water is allowed to enter the basement, the hydrostatic pressure becomes equalized and the walls are much less likely to fail. “
In other words, as dismaying as it seems, in a major flood you actually want water in the basement, at least for a while. FEMA goes on to recommend pumping out the basement one foot of water at a time, with a waiting period of 24 hours in between. If the water level stabilizes or continues to drop, you can increase the pumping rate. If you can see any foundation damage caused by the flood, stop pumping.
(For more info on flooded basements, check out FEMA’s online resource, “Basement Flood Mitigation.”)
How to Get Water Out of the Basement Without a Sump Pump
If your sump pump is still operable, it will do the job, albeit slowly. To speed things up, you can rent or buy a portable submersible pump. It should be equipped with a screen that prevents the intake from clogging.
Starting at around $100 you can buy a model that pumps about 1,600 gallons per hour or splurge on one that will extract upwards of 4,000 gallons per hour.
Pumping Water Out of the Basement Without Electricity
If the electricity is out, consider renting a generator and a pump. Better yet, you can probably rent or buy a gasoline-powered pump that has intake and outflow hoses. These are set up outside—all you have to do is feed the intake hose down into the flooded area and start the motor.
Use a Bucket
At the very least, you can use the power of community. Gather a few friends or family to form a bucket brigade. It will take time, but your basement will dry.
Mop Up Excess Water
And the remaining water that’s still down there? Puddles can be cleaned up with a mop. If your electricity is still out, take advantage of the cordless universe, which also extends to wet/dry vacs.
Using a Wet/Dry Vac (When the Electricity Returns)
Once the electricity is back on, if the water isn’t too deep, a wet/dry vac will make short work of it. Once you have most of the water up, you can complete the drying process with fans and/or dehumidifiers. (You may be able to rent industrial-strength fans, too.) It’s also a good idea to open any doors and windows to increase airflow.
Once the water is gone, you’ll have to toss out all carpeting, cardboard boxes, and anything else that got soaked and can’t be sanitized. All that waterlogged material is a perfect breeding ground for mold. If there’s drywall or insulation in the basement, it should also be torn out, to at least a foot above the high-water mark.