When it comes to home disasters, which do you fear most? For many if not most people, it's fire. Fire not only turns our possessions into ashes, but it threatens personal harm as well. We fear fire, which makes it feel that much more devastating. Yet He did not cleanse the earth with fire. No, He cleansed the earth with water. Take it from the Big Man himself: floods can cause untold devastation.
Home flooding is most common at the foundation. In other words, in the basement. Perhaps an anecdote from my own past can help illustrate the how flooding can happen without notice, and how it can ruin everything you have stored in your basement. And for those who own homes with basements, it might contain plenty of possessions.
As a youth all my friends gathered in Alan's basement. Alan's parents were the most generous folks. Not only would they allow upwards of a dozen adolescents to take over their basement, but they'd feed us as well. Late one summer, as seemingly happens every summer, we were issued a hurricane warning. In the Northeast United States these are typically nothing major. It would rain a bunch and we'd experience whipping winds, but rarely does property suffer major damage up here. And so we all rushed to Alan's house before the downpour started. We used the hurricane as an excuse to eat pizza and play video games.
We heard the rain pattering on the basement windows, and it was coming down quite heavily. But we paid no mind. There were wrestling games on the N64, and we cared much more about beating each other than with the weather. At one point our friend Sam, who sat on the floor, stood up and said, "what the hell?" He looked to where he was sitting and saw a puddle. "Who spilled their drink?" he asked. We all thought it odd right then when Alan sprang from his seat and bounded up the basement stairs. But then someone else caught on.
The basement had started flooding.
Never having a basement in my own home, I did what any clueless adolescent would do: I grabbed a roll of paper towels and started to sop up the puddle. But by the time I started sopping the puddle had grown. This clearly was not going to cut it.
What to protect when flood strikes
If you're fortunate enough to be around when your basement starts flooding, you might find yourself overwhelmed. Fire might disintegrate your possessions, but water can deal similarly irrevocable damage. Here's how we, along with Alan's parents, determined what needed saving.
- Electronics. Leave them under water and they're dead for good. Since they're expensive, they typically go first.
- Paper products. If you store paper files or any other physical documents in the basement, these have to go as well. They can survive some water, but not submersion. Even files stored in a cabinet are susceptible to leaks and permanent water damage.
- Mattresses. Ever try to sleep on a mattress that was once water logged? No? Good. May you never.
- Wood items. These can sometimes take a licking, but leave them underwater too long and they'll get water logged and perhaps start rotting after time.
Of course, at some point this stops mattering. If your basement is flooding you have very little time to save possessions. Before you know it the water will be up to your ankles and you'll have to do something, anything to stop the water from getting too deep.
Why basements flood
As we scurried to save video game systems, computers, and paper files, Alan's father went to check the sump pump. At the time I didn't even know that there was a pump that kept water out of the basement, never mind that it was called a sump pump. When I first saw it, I thought the failure was obvious: the thing was too small to handle this much rain. But I was wrong. These small little sump pumps can handle a ton. The problem was that Alan's was broken.
His parents had never experienced a basement flood before and therefore did not think to purchase a backup sump pump. That meant his father had to trek down to the Home Depot, in the pouring hurricane rain, and pray that it was still open. There he'd have to drop a few hundred dollars on a pair of sump pumps and then drive home. All considered, it took him nearly two hours. The Home Depot was less than five miles away. The lack of a backup pump meant we couldn't really get things under control until he got back, or the rains stopped.
The rains did not stop.
The bailout team
I shudder to think what would have become of Alan's basement had we not had a dozen strong young men on the scene. Not only were we able to save more of his family's possessions, but we were able to prevent the flooding from getting too out of control.
The water was past our ankles when we we began the bailout process. Armed with buckets and deep shovels, we scooped as much water as possible and then ran it out across his front lawn to the street, where there conveniently sat a storm drain. Even with this effort the water level had reached our knees before it plateaued. But by that point we could ditch the shovels and just dunk the buckets under water.
With a veritable assembly line we sent bucket after bucket out to the storm drain (Alan's mother smartly set down a tarp so we didn't leave a layer of mud through the house). That gave Alan's father enough time to get back and install both sump pumps. We collectively sighed with relief as the water level slowly dwindled, still aided by our bailout efforts. A few hours later we were laying down every towel they owned, trying to dry out as much as we could manage.
Preparing for flood
In this case, as is the case for almost all basement floods, the sump pump was the linchpin. Alan's parents had no idea it was broken. They also had no idea that using two sump pumps could come in handy. That is why the No. 1 way to prepare for Biblical floods is to make sure you buy a backup sump pump. If the original breaks, the backup can provide immediate assistance. If the rains prove too much for the original, the second can provide some extra pumping power.
You might also consider rearranging your basement as to get flood-prone items off the floor. We lost a perfectly good video game system in the ruckus. Getting them on raised platforms can help. Leaving loose documents, such as those stored in cardboard boxes, on the floor is also a bad idea in a basement. Get them to higher ground. This will buy you more time in the early stages, when the water is low and you can still salvage some things.
Other than that, there's not much you can do. Like fires, floods can spring on you at any moment. And like fires, floods can cause untold damage. In fact, we still don't know the extent of what Alan's family lost that day. Make sure that your family doesn't incur such loss.
Joe Pawlikowski writes, edits, and consults for several blogs across the web. He keeps a personal blog at JoePawl.com.