When we bought a house in 2012, we were excited to give our children the playroom of their dreams in the basement. Since we’d never owned a house with a basement before, we had one question for the sellers: Had it ever flooded?
Prior to making an offer, we were assured up and down that the sellers had never had a basement flood. And not just one, but two home inspectors both agreed that the basement had never taken on water. We were sold.
When we moved in, the 200-square-foot basement had a lush rug on the floor, and walls covered in tree decals. We lined the walls with shelves of bins for the children’s toys and spent hours organizing every tiny Barbie outfit, Lego piece, and plastic fruit so that their playroom looked perfect.
The basement was my kids’ paradise … for two days. On Day Three, we woke up early in the morning to a strange sound.
“It sounds like running water,” said my husband, Rob. He headed to the basement to investigate. Within seconds, he was screaming, “Get down here!”
And when I did, I could not believe what I saw: The entire floor of our beloved basement was covered in water that was inching higher by the second. We spent the rest of the day calling our insurance company, dealing with water remediation companies, and crying. Because when your basement floods, there is a lot of crying involved.
As if that weren’t bad enough, that wasn’t our only flood; we endured four over the next four years, almost like clockwork. And each time, we learned valuable lessons. Here they are, in case they help you avoid the same fate.
Always insulate your pipes
One of our very first lessons? Pipes burst when they get cold. We’d removed the insulation around the pipes prior to moving in, since it contained asbestos. Only we hadn’t replaced it, so as soon as it got below freezing, the pipes froze and cracked. Our bad. The $10,000 cleanup was annoying, but thorough—and luckily, was almost entirely covered by insurance. We insulated the pipes and breathed a sigh of relief.
Enter flood No. 2. Almost a year (to the day) later, the same thing happened. The temperature fell below 10 degrees and a pipe froze. The non-asbestos insulation was simply not enough to combat the frigid temperatures. We caught this one earlier, so staved off major damage, but we still had to rip up the carpet. Again. And had to hire a water remediation company. Again. And invoke our home insurance.
Take care when installing new appliances
After our second flood, we installed a fancy system to keep our pipes heated all winter long that included copper wires running over the pipes and gentle heating designed to keep the water flowing. In hindsight, we wished we’d gone for this expensive fix the first time, so we could have avoided the second flood.
After this system was installed, we figured we’d solved the problem … but another one was brewing.
The following January, our daughter was having her ninth-birthday slumber party in the basement, when one of the girls noticed water dripping from one of the pipes in the corner of our basement. After getting 10 sugar-hyped 9-year-olds upstairs, Rob and I assessed the damage. Another call to insurance. Another remediation.
This time, flood No. 3 was caused by the cleaning chemicals our plumbers had used when they installed our new hot water heater. They’d failed to flush them out, thus clogging the pipes to the point of bursting. Had we been more on top of the process and done our homework, we might have checked that they’d flushed the pipes before bailing. Instead, we put all of our trust in the company and what they failed to tell us, we failed to know. From now on, any major home repair we make is well researched, and we always get at least two opinions.
We solved the problem, kicked ourselves for again not knowing, and breathed a sigh of relief, assuming this, at last, was our last flood. If only.
Watch what you flush
The following year, we made it all the way to March (March!) without a flood. But, like clockwork, flood No. 4 arrived anyway. This time, it was the basement half bath, where a year’s worth of flushed tampons—which claimed on the packaging that they’re “flushable”—had swamped the main sewage drain and forced the water back up into our laundry room. It was a mess, and by now, we both had a bit of PTSD from dealing with this same issue again and again.
Another lesson learned: Don’t flush tampons. Even if it claims they are flushable.
Waiting can mean the difference between a $10,000 remediation and a $2,000 one. Turn off the water, get the plumber out immediately, spring for the premium cleanup. Time is of the essence when you are dealing with water damage. Our first flood was so far gone by the time we got to it, the damage was extensive. The next three we caught before the floor was covered in an inch of water. Once there is standing water, the damage is bad. Which leads to our next point…
Get a shop vac
With our fourth and final flood, we decided to spring for a shop vac, which allowed my husband to get the water out of the laundry room within five minutes of shutting off the water. That time meant the difference between a $1,000 repair (carpet cleaning and some anti-mold treatment) and a $10,000 repair (ripping out the carpet, installing new carpet, and cutting out and replacing the baseboards). For $100, we learned you can have quick access to water cleanup. It’s so worth it. Even if you never use it (and pray you don’t).
Spring for tile in the basement
Due to these floods, we have ripped up our carpet four times. For the price of that, we could have installed tile in the first place. We haven’t installed tile yet (we keep hope alive!) but the next time, we will bite the bullet and do what we should have done four floods ago.
Don’t report a minor flood to insurance
We learned this last lesson the hard way after being dropped by our insurance company after flood No. 3. Getting new home insurance was a huge headache, and now it costs us four times our original insurance cost to stay insured. Before, we were paying about $1,100 per year; now we pay $4,000. We are not eligible for that reduced rate again for at least seven years (the date when it will be taken off the record), so over time, we are paying $21,000 more because we reported all our floods. The first was worth it to report (the damage was close to $10,000), but the next two were around $2,000 each. Had we paid out of pocket, it would have been better for us in the long run.
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