Flooded finished basement - steps?
July 3, 2021 4:51 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday morning (about 24 hours ago), my stepfather discovered that an entire corner of their finished basement had soaking wet carpet, after very heavy rains the night before. It's about a 10x10 foot area. What are the next best steps?

We are still not sure what caused the flooding, though it seems there may have been a gutter blockage (but how did it get in?) It seems to be coming from the floor, as the walls seem to be dry, though I think we need a moisture sensor to be sure. There is a French drain or similar that seems to be working to direct the gutter to a pipe about 20 feet below the house.

Also, they just bought the house two months ago; there was a disclosure of some dampness once, but nothing like this.

We immediately moved all materials, tried to soak up as much water from the carpet as we could with towels and sponges, and got fans and dehumidifiers working.

Here is what we're thinking

- where is the water coming in? through the door, or possibly a crack in the foundation? (let's hope not)
- how do we rip up the carpet and check the condition of the subfloor (it seems to be glued down)?
- there is a baseboard heater that needs to be taken up around the edge - how involved is this?
- is this something home insurance would cover?

I've heard people discuss calling ServPro, but he is a retired electrical engineer and DIYer and very averse to hiring some company he knows nothing about. He tends to want to do everything himself. He also thinks he needs to wait till after the holiday weekend to hire someone since "people are busy". I'm concerned mold can grow in that time.

So far there's just fans and dehumidifiers running and I think he's going to try to get the carpet up himself in a bit. This is a downstairs apartment where my dAughter and I sometimes sleep and I want to be sure it doesn't turn into a bigger problem.

All advice accepted!
posted by betsbillabong to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Use a wet vacuum to suck as much moisture as possible out of the carpet, so it will dry out faster. If it hasn’t stopped seeping in, you’ll get a better idea of where it’s seeping in. Take pictures; your father may want to recover costs from the former owner who may have been less than truthful about water seepage.
posted by coldhotel at 5:45 AM on July 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

Consider renting or buying an air mover. Run it continuously to help dry out the area. Any drywall that was touched by water needs to be cut out.

There may be issues with drainage, slope of the property, downspout placement etc. Could be worth asking if any of the neighbors took in water or if they remember hearing about or seeing evidence of flooding happening at this house (belongings/drywall drug out the the curb)
posted by walkinginsunshine at 6:08 AM on July 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Yes, the clogged gutter can cause flooding into a house and basement. I think since it’s his house and he is handy, it sounds like he can handle. He is right that calling a repair person over the holiday weekend could be extra expensive. There’s also not a lot they could do immediately- I guess they could help unclog a gutter if he needs help with that. Is he ok with being on a ladder and doing that? If this were my basement, and unfortunately this has happened in several of my basements, I would focus on clearing the gutter, making sure the landscaping around that area of the house is full and well sloped away from house, and drying out the wet areas. Once that’s done, it could be good to wait for more rain to see how the repairs have worked. If there’s a basement window there, it should be covered. If he wants to, he could call his home insurance agent and they can tell him if repairs are covered.
These kinds of repairs are incredibly stressful for anyone and I would try not to add to his stress by worrying about if you’re going to be sleeping in his basement.
posted by areaperson at 7:01 AM on July 3, 2021

A crack in the foundation might not be the worst thing. I have a couple in my 100 yr old house and they are not structural (just from settling) and the fix is only like $3-400 per crack, not counting that you have to remove and replace the drywall. They drill ports on either side of the crack and inject a hydrophilic resin that permanently seals everything up. The one we had fixed has been dry as a bone since then; the only reason we haven't gotten the other one fixed yet is not wanting to deal with the drywall (and we have a tile floor with drains so it's not a huge deal to just let the water trickle towards the drain and run a dehumidifier).

I would remove the carpet and maybe a few bottom feet of drywall in that corner to see if I can figure out something obvious about what's going on, and leave it unfinished for the moment. Then I'd keep an eye on the area every time it rains to try to see the leak/seepage in action. Personally I would call a basement waterproofing company because no matter how good at DIY someone is if you don't have experience with this stuff I have no idea how you would diagnose the problem.

BTW, I wouldn't hold my breath about recouping any money based on a false/lack of disclosure from the sellers. I looked into this once because of a serious roof leak with a previous house I had purchased but my lawyer advised that those kinds of claims are super hard to prove/win and you end up spending more on lawyers than you get even if you do win.
posted by misskaz at 7:01 AM on July 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

You probably have a whole house drain running around the perimeter of the basement. Those can clog easily enough.

Bottom line is you don’t mess around with water incursion into a foundation, but it isn’t urgent as in “this weekend,” as long as it’s abated. Your immediate problem is to dry the area out to prevent mold.

But then you have to diagnose the issue with professional help, because you need to get it right. It could be a drainage issue with the entire yard, or a grade issue around the house, or a clogged gutter or downspout, or gutters that can’t handle the necessary capacity of runoff, or a blockage in the foundation drain, or cracks in the basement wall or floor concrete allowing groundwater in. All these systems work in tandem and balance and any one of them being awry can cause cascading (ha) problems. In your case you also need to know how long they’ve been going on and what damage may have been done.

So you need a foundation engineer to inspect and landscape engineer to assess the situation, and you need the foundation drain inspected by a drain specialist and possibly augured, but often those need to be replaced if they get clogged, which is not a small job. None of this is, alas.
posted by spitbull at 7:32 AM on July 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Super important to get that carpet out asap and dry the basement out to avoid mold. Pulling up glued down carpet is strenuous and a pain but better to avoid mold but doing it fast. Solving the water incursion can wait until after the holiday weekend but don't delay removing the carpet - and yes big fans and dehumidifier as you are doing - can rent massive fans for exactly this kind of issue too.
posted by leslies at 7:56 AM on July 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

Don't forget that the dehumidifiers need to be vented to the outside, so if there is a basement window that can be opened the dehumidifiers come with long flexible hoses to remove the humidity.

The carpet needs to come up, even if it's a pain. You will never get the carpet base dry enough to prevent mold if it remains in place, and it's even worse if there is carpet padding. I found this out the hard way when we had a leak in our basement. Ditto the dry wall, which water wicks up to about knee height. Also baseboards must be replaced. After our leak when we finally removed the dry wall I was appalled to see that there was black mold, lots of it, on the inside surface of the dry wall, facing the exterior wall where it was very slow to dry. The side facing the room with all its humidifiers looked fine. It was ServPro, who we finally called when we felt we could not handle this ourselves that insisted we remove some drywall to check, though I was very resistant. They were right. Replacing the drywall wasn't a huge job, and with drywall tape and a skim coat you can't tell now. I decided to remove the carpet permanently and replaced it with a laminate to avoid this hassle if there is ever another leak.
posted by citygirl at 9:41 AM on July 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Get a wet-vac, suck up as much water as possible, then suck up more.
Run any dehumidifier(s), empty frequently.
Run a couple of box fans; they'll stir the air, lifting moisture.
Consider running a heater or furnace if it is zoned for just the basement; warm air dries faster.
Open a couple windows upstairs, maybe put in fans to exhaust the air; the moisture needs a way out of the house, ground level windows may be too close to wet earth.
Keep up the fans and dehumidifier for several days after it seems dry, you want it as dry as possible.
I have successfully dried my basement, which has big rugs, a couple times this way. Finally found the source and have a crappy workaround, but it's not wet anymore in big rains.
posted by theora55 at 11:54 AM on July 3, 2021

Because I kept thinking about this and have experience with the issues…: I don’t think a single heavy rainfall should produce basement incursion even with a blocked runoff channel or gutter spilling way more water around than usual. This is what a whole house drain handles, they are very common in wet places, and if you don’t have one installed it might be highly recommended. Basically it’s a perforated drain pipe around the perimeter of the house at a significant depth, around the basement floor. Water rises to that level and enters the pipe and then is gravity fed out into wherever your runoff goes. Over time mud or roots can penetrate those perforated pipes, esp if they are black landscape drain tubing, which is common. You can keep those clean with biologic drain cleaners like green gobbler, and they can be augured and inspected with an endoscope, but if they get too choked it’s common to need to reinstall them. A blockage anywhere in that system can cause the whole thing not to work. I’d definitely look into this. Unless the rain was biblical, your house should be able to withstand even fairly heavy saturation up near its perimeter once in a while. I think there’s a clue that even a blocked gutter or external drain shouldn’t have flooded your basement from a single rainstorm. There’s a backup system behind that in most modern houses built where it rains.

Do you have a floor drain in the basement? Check if water came up around that. Was the basement finished at the time the house was built?
posted by spitbull at 12:06 PM on July 3, 2021

Call his insurance company. Ask them what he should do. Then decide if it makes sense to follow their advice and/or file a claim.
posted by AugustWest at 1:08 PM on July 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

In my particular case from right after we bought our house in 1986 in New Jersey (inland but still basically flat) a heavy rain dumped lots of water into our family room (not the laundry area or garage of course). The carpeting was ruined but following the above advice got the water and humidity out. But then next big storm same thing. After that we got a contractor to regrade that whole side of our property for about $5K and we've had no problem since. So that's my vote for getting at the root cause (whatever it is, which might be different in your case). FWIW & YMMV.
posted by forthright at 1:43 PM on July 3, 2021

Our basement flooded a few weeks before we started remodeling the basement. So we got lucky... Sort of.

In or case the footing drain, which was built with the house in the 60's, was clogged. The prior owners installed a second drain near that one which also clogged. Water pushing out of those drains eventually worked it's way into the joint between the floor and the foundation walls. This is fairly common.

We didn't have any carpet in yet but step one would be to vacuum up the water, then pull it away from the walls. We just had to get the moisture out and we used super powerful fans to help dry the place. We the hacked away at the drywall wherever we saw moisture. Turns out our home had an extensive problem and we found lots of lovely mold. We just went at it with drywall sawd until it looked clean.

We tried cleaning out the second drain but that didn't solve the problem. The footing drain was completely impacted. Ultimately we hired a company to install an internal perimeter drain. This was about 1/4 the cost of somebody replacing the exterior drain. I think we paid usd $7000.

Once that was in place and we'd gotten through a few more rains we finished the remodel and fixed up the destroyed drywall. We also used carpet pads with double-sided moisture barriers.
posted by rouftop at 7:21 PM on July 3, 2021

ServPro worked great for us when a laundry room cold water line leaked into the guest bedroom that shared a common wall. They came immediately - our plumber (the cause of the leak, actually) called them and they came at 10PM, did a lot of stuff, including starting dehumidification, stayed as long as they had to, then came back the next day to do other tasks. I'd say a national company that has expertise in handling these kinds of issues is _not_ a "company he knows nothing about" -- and since he's going to need at least one professional company to figure out _why_ the basement accumulated the water, why not another to take care of the damage?

I've done several DIY things around our house - but between my wife and myself, we've learned that some things are better handled by others with more expertise. Maybe there's a DIY version of "a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client"?
posted by TimHare at 8:26 PM on July 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

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