What REALLY Happens When Your Basement Floods – My Experience

Basement Flood Damage

Basement floods and their ensuing flood damage often start something like this:

It’s three in the morning and you wake up to howling winds and rain drumming against your bedroom windows.

So you grab a flashlight, run downstairs, and discover that your basement has been transformed into a lagoon.

If you’ve been through a flood before, you already know the feeling – I know I sure do.

And if you haven’t suffered a basement flood yet, beware: your luck may run out sooner than you think.

Insurance industry research indicates that 98% of U.S. basements will experience some type of flood and water damage during their lifespans.

For this reason, I’d like to share my personal experience of when my basement flooded and how I handled the situation.

In this article, we’ll discuss what to do if your basement floods, how to remediate damage from floods, and how to go about getting compensation from insurance for the water damage cleaning.

Basement flood

Only two weeks after moving into a new townhome I’d purchased in Chicago, the city experienced a storm of biblical proportions. And this is only a slight exaggeration: within one hour, four inches of rain fell on the city.

My sump pump was working fine, but because of an issue we discovered later, a bunch of water pooled right outside of one of our basement windows.

My basement flooded as a result. Gallons and gallons of water poured in through the basement window.

Basement Flood Through Window
The water line left behind by the pool of water that surged through my basement window.

A huge amount of water had collected on the floor and more of it was surging through the open basement windows.

Basement Flood Damage
The whole floor was soaked, along with some of our personal belongings (including a large area rug). Thankfully, most of our stuff was still packed up so not everything was destroyed!

So I sprang into action. I collected as much of the water cascading through the windows as possible. But the damage was done.

Once the water surge stopped, we now had to try and remove the the water that had already accumulated on the basement floor. Simply put, we wanted to stop the bleeding and make the ultimate basement flooding repair as easy as possible.

remediation: flood damage cleaning

My wife and I switched to damage control mode once the windows were secured. With limited supplies (basically some towels and brooms) we attempted to soak up as much standing water as possible and push the overflow toward our basement drain.

We got things as try as we possible could without destroying the whole basement. Though there was still some water trapped under the vinyl floor planks.

Drying out a rug
We tried to hike the area rug up to let it air out while we waited for professional help.

Now it was time to assess the water damage and remediate.

So the following day I called my insurance agent who put me in contact with a water remediation company.

They were able to send a representative within two days. The rep tested the basement for excess moisture and identified areas where water was trapped. This helps them key areas to remediate to prevent mold buildup.

The first step in any water remediation project is to get everything bone dry. This prevents further damage and even costlier repairs down the line.

The water remediation company ripped up patches of vinyl flooring under which water was trapped. It also removed some damaged drywall as well as all the baseboards.

Water Remediation
All of the ripped up vinyl plank flooring.

The company left behind some industrial-sized dehumidifiers that sucked all the remaining moisture out of the air.

Basement Flood Remediation
The water remediation company left behind many powerful dehumidifiers and fans to dry out the basement.
Basement Flood Remediation
Thankfully, we were able to leave most of the 2nd room (towards the right, shown above) completely intact. The area rug might have worked as a sort of sponge in preventing more water from entering the other room.

Days later, after the fans and dehumidifiers had been running continuously, the company returned. Seeing that the job was done, they took their equipment away, and that was that.

And the cost? A whopping $5,000 for a torn up (but very dry!) basement.

Scoping: understanding the cause of the basement flood

I was puzzled for as to how this basement had not had flooding issues in the past. I tried to figure out how so much water pooled up next to one, particular window.

We decided to get our sewer line scoped because of its proximity to our basement window, which was the source of the flooding.

For those of you who don’t know, a sewer scope is when an inspector runs a special camera through the sewer line to identify any damage or blockages. Scoping is a typical first step before doing major plumbing projects.

Here’s the layout of the basement window in questions and its proximity to the sewer line, which is just under the concrete stoop

I’m glad we got our line scoped – the inspection revealed two cracks in our main sewer line from where water was leaking. One of them was the size of a tennis ball

Tip for future home buyers: if you’re confident you’re going to buy a particular property, it’s probably worth conducting a sewer scope inspection before you buy your next home!

We brought out a plumbing company to replace the damage sewer line.

Cracked Sewer Line
The old, cracked sewer line.
Replaced Sewer Line
The new, intact sewer pipe.

After remedying the cracks in our sewer lines, we were able to replace the vinyl flooring and drywall in the basement with confidence that the space likely wouldn’t flood again. Well, at least not for the same reason.

Drywall Repair
Patching up the drywall that had to be cut out.

The total cost for all this work (between the remediation and sewer line repair) was around $12,000 – yikes!

In other words, flood damage can be extremely expensive.

But that’s where insurance comes in… or at least it’s supposed to…

insurance for flood damage

After paying a bunch of money towards a homeowners insurance policy, you’d hope that something stressful like basement water damage would be fully covered.

But this might not always be the case. After all, there’s a lot of fine print when it comes to insurance policies.

Here’s what you need to know about insurance coverage relating to damage caused by floods.

There are two types of insurance policies for water and flood damage:

  1. Flood Insurance
  1. Backup Insurance

Backup insurance covers flooding that’s triggered by system failures. If it’s your sump pump, drains, or other systems backing up, backup insurance will likely cover the costs of the damage.

Flood insurance covers water damage from the outside of the house, like storm runoff.

In my case, since I don’t have flood insurance, I initially didn’t go through with filing a claim since I thought this was purely a result of runoff. However, I filed a backup insurance claim after discovering that the major source of my basement flood was related to the issue with the sewer pipes. I felt confident about my argument that this was, indeed, a backup issue.

So the insurance company sent an adjuster to investigate.

And, much to my dismay, a few days later I was told that I’d be getting nothing to cover any of the damage. That’s right – nada, zilch.

The adjuster classified the floodwater as runoff, and, therefore, it would only be covered under flood insurance, which I did not have.

My only path for recourse at this point was a lawsuit. And between the legal expenses and the less than guaranteed chance of success, I decided not to go that way. Instead, I ate the costs of the basement flooding repair. Let’s call it “tuition.”

lessons learned

There’s no way around it. My basement flood did a number on my basement and my wallet.

But I try to stay positive around here and focus on lessons rather than regrets!

Here are some of my takeaways from my basement flood:

  • Typical homeowners insurance policies, like the one that I had, generally only come with backup insurance. They usually do not include flood insurance.
  • Having reserves set aside for capital improvements and catastrophe expenses is a necessity. Luckily, I was able to pay for my basement’s water damage cleaning out of pocket. If I had had no reserves and entirely relied on my insurance company, I’d be in bad shape.
  • Address problems as soon as they arise: especially when it comes to basement water damage, the sooner you tackle the problem, the less severe the impact will be. We were fortunate to have caught the flooding in its early stages and get a water remediation company in there quickly.
  • Be proactive! There probably would have never been any flooding damage in the first place if I had done a sewer scope before I bought my home.

This website, and any communication stemming from it, while hopefully informative, should not be taken as financial or legal advice. Assume all links are affiliate links. I am an Amazon affiliate.

Jack Duffley

Jack Duffley is a real estate investor and attorney based in Houston, TX.

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