My Basement Flooded, Now What?

 In Home Improvement

The recent storm flooding in Madison overwhelmed the stormwater system and caused extensive damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure across the entire west side of Madison. While this was a 100-year flood, it surprised many homeowners with basement water intrusion.

A flooded basement can give even the most confident homeowner a sense of helplessness and panic. If you have a basement flood, try to focus on what you can do immediately to dry out the space. It may not be as bad as you think. Here are some tips for what to do when your basement floods:

How do you dry a flooded basement – yourself? That is a frequently asked question by home owners everywhere, especially if the flooded basement was caused by rain or rising water tables which usually is not covered by insurance. Home owners would call and ask can we dry our flooded basement ourselves?  That’s a great question and the answer is yes, however there are a few very important guidelines that must be followed.

There are five basic steps to dry a flooded basement.

Step One – Make a Flood-related Safety Inspection

Check for any hazardous conditions such as structural damage, electrical hazards, pathogenic bacteria, mold and mildew. If any hazards are found they should immediately dealt with. Determine to what extent the water has actually migrated into your basement using a moisture meter. You can buy a very inexpensive model at a local hardware or home improvement store.

Step Two – Move or Elevate Any and All Building Contents Which Might be Permanently Damaged

Remove as much water as possible via pumps and once the water gets down to where a pump won’t work, vacuum the rest of the water up with a portable extraction unit. You can rent a portable extraction unit at our local rental store or purchase a wet and dry vacuum at your local hardware store. Both will do the job, but a portable extractor will often work better because it holds more water and the drain valve usually is set so you can drain the water directly into a toilet or a five gallon pail. Wet and dry vacuums are much more difficult to drain water from.

Step Three – Remove Any Carpet Padding and Dispose of It

Carpet padding is the most difficult to dry, professional water damage restorers today have specialized equipment to save most of the carpeting padding, but if you are a DIYer, just remove it. If you don’t, what will happen in a few days after following these guidelines, your carpet will feel dry but the pad will still be wet. (If flood is caused by a sewerage backflow, discard the carpet as well for it cannot be salvaged). To remove the carpet pad, go to a corner of a room and with some needle nose pliers grab a piece of the carpet and gently pull up. This will disengage the carpeting from the tackless strip holding it down. Pull the carpeting back as far as you can and then cut out the water soaked padding. Do this from all four corners until you have removed all of the padding.

Step Four – Disinfect Your Flooded Basement

Go to the store and buy Pine Oil and Clorox Bleach. (look on the bleach container for the proper dilution rate for disinfecting). Use a pump sprayer to apply the bleach mixture on all hard surfaces to include flooring and the walls up to the height that the moisture meter indicates is wet. For the carpeting, do not apply the bleach solution, but rather have it professionally cleaned once the carpet is dry. Use the Pine oil disinfectant on all non porous household items. This application of disinfectant will help prevent the growth of mold.

As an alternative to the store bought disinfectants, check online for a local distributor of water damage or janitorial supplies, both will sell disinfectants that you can use on all surfaces.

Step Five – Set up Fans & Dehumidifiers

Your last goal to dry a flooded basement is to create an artificially dry environment. The drier the air in your flooded basement, the faster your home will dry out. To achieve this, dehumidifiers and air movers (special fans) are utilized. The air movers’ job is to pull moisture out of your carpeting, drywall and framing material and place this moisture into the air. It is then the dehumidifiers’ job to pull that now moist air over its coils; water condenses on the coils thus dehumidifying the air, “drying it out”. The condensed water is then collected or pumped away.

Problems can occur if you have too much or too little air movement and not enough dehumidification, this can lead to problems. If a water damaged structure has too much air movement and not enough dehumidification, there is the possibility of secondary damage happening. Secondary damage is the result of extremely high relative humidity, which can cause: damage of books and electrical instruments; warped doors, drawers, and ceilings; peeling wallpaper and even corroded metal. On the other hand, if air is too stagnant, it will prolong the drying process. The longer the water is present, the higher the probability that there will be damage to structural elements – sheet rock disintegrating, insulation mold, framework warping, carpet backing rotting, etc.

In the best of circumstance, a flooded basement should have approximately one air mover for every ten linear feet of wet walls.  You will also need a dehumidifier capable of handling the amount of water that fans are going to put in the air. If you already have a dehumidifier (and the flood is a small area) what you can do is use the outside air as a natural dehumidifier. Check your local weather forecast, if there is a day when the relative humidity is very low, open up all of your windows. Nature is always the best dehumidifier when the conditions are right. Then shut the windows if the humidity rises. This is called an “Open Drying System”.

But if your flooded basement is large area, you may have to go to your local rental store and rent a large commercial grade dehumidifier, because an Open Drying system won’t always work. We know all too well that Madison’s weather can vary greatly day-to-day moving from downpour to sunshine and then back to rain, with 95% relative humidity outside.

A Few Other Quick Tips

  • Turn the temperature down below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If the water is not deep, put aluminum foil or plastic wrap under furniture legs to prevent staining.
  • Any furniture which is light, try to move them to a dry area of the house.
  • Tie up any window coverings so they are not sitting in the water.
  • Finally do not throw out anything that’s water damaged until you have spoken with your insurance company.


How do you know when you should call a water damage professional to dry your flooded basement?

If the water damage in your flooded basement seems a little overwhelming, call in a professional. The cost may be a little higher than doing it yourself, however you will be hiring certified technicians will bring with them their expertise to ensure that everything is done efficiently thus removing the questioning of oneself, did I dry my flooded basement properly?

Good Luck with drying your flooded basement, and stay dry!


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