Help! My Basement is Flooding – What Do I Do?

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: December 20, 2023

When the basement floods, you’re suddenly facing multiple problems. They all need attention right away, but you may not know where to begin.

Don’t worry – you’re not alone.

Here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, we’ve been helping Chicago-area customers clean and restore flooded basements for more than 15 years. 

In this blog, we’re compiling our experience to create a complete guide on what to do when the basement floods.

Let’s get started.

Before You Get Started

It will be easier to address your flooded basement if you take some time to prepare before you get to work.

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Prioritize safety. Before you begin, shut off any electricity to the area to prevent electrocution. Don’t turn on any faucets below the level of the flood waters until the water recedes. If you notice a pervasive gas smell in the area, contact the Fire Department from a safe place and do not touch electrical fixtures, telephones, or switches within the home. Keep kids and pets out of the affected area.
  • Gather your equipment. Wear protective gear, including rubber gloves, waterproof boots, and a mask to protect yourself from potential exposure to mold and bacteria that can be present in standing water and damp areas. You may also want to use a headlamp to illuminate dark areas. 
  • Consider calling in the professionals. Assess the extent of the damage in your basement. If there is minor flooding and you’re familiar with basic cleanup steps like water removal and sanitation, a DIY approach might be feasible – especially if you have the necessary tools and protective gear. However, in cases of severe flooding, structural damage, or contamination from sewer water, it’s crucial to contact a team of professionals like ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba. 

What Should I Do If My Basement Floods?

what to do during basement flooding

It can happen when the sump pump fails, frozen pipes burst, or heavy rains flood the city. 

Follow these critical steps to address a flooded basement.

1. Contact Your Insurance Company

Call your insurance agent right away, and obtain a claim number. Give the agent as many details as possible, including:

  • How the basement flooding happened
  • How long ago it occurred
  • A general idea of overall damages

After securing the situation downstairs, take a look around the flooded basement.

Check floors, walls, appliances and any stored items. If it’s a finished basement, add paneling, carpeting and furniture to the damage assessment.

Take pictures of everything, and keep the documentation handy for insurance purposes.

2. Locate and Fix the Source of the Water

Next, it’s time to think about cleaning up and restoring your basement. While DIY repairs can be okay in situations of minor basement flooding (when there’s less than about 2” of water present), we recommend contacting a professional for more severe cases.

If you’re going to DIY the repairs, now is the time to locate the source of the water.

When water in the basement isn’t the result of heavy rain, it’s likely a plumbing problem or an appliance breakdown. 

Check all pipes and connections for signs of cracks or leaks. If basement flooding occurs during winter, be on the lookout for frozen burst pipes.

Once you’ve located the source, turn off your home’s main water supply. 

Fix small leaks with epoxy putty or a pipe repair kit. Wait an hour, and then double-check the water level in the basement. You want to be sure there aren’t any additional leaks that might have been overlooked.

3. Remove All Water

basement flooding what to do

If there’s significant standing water in your basement, remove it with a submersible pump and hose setup that runs off a generator upstairs. 

Most models can be lowered into deep water with a nylon rope suspending the pump and its electrical connection from a ceiling joist.

A wet/dry vac is designed for use in areas where water is less than 1 inch deep. 

Keep in mind that the vac’s tank holds about 4 or 5 gallons, so you’ll have to make multiple trips upstairs to dump the water. This appliance works well for light flooding, but it doesn’t handle big extraction jobs, as well as a pump setup.

Before you start removing water from your basement, make sure it’s not grossly contaminated. 

Generally, it’s safe to remove type 1 water on your own, but type 2 and 3 water pose significant health risks and should only be removed by a professional restoration company with specialized equipment and protective gear:

  • Type 1 Water: Also known as ‘clean water,’ this is water that originates from a sanitary source and poses no substantial risk to humans from dermal, ingestion, or inhalation exposure. Examples include broken water supply lines or sink overflows with no contaminants.
  • Type 2 Water: Referred to as ‘gray water,’ this type contains significant levels of contamination and has the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if consumed or exposed to human skin. Sources can include dishwasher or washing machine overflows, flush from sink drains, or toilet overflow with urine but not feces.
  • Type 3 Water: Often known as ‘black water,‘ this category contains grossly unsanitary water, which contains pathogenic and toxigenic agents. Examples include sewage, rising flood water from rivers or streams, ground surface water flowing horizontally into homes, and wind-driven rain. There can be harmful bacteria and fungi in black water that can cause severe discomfort or sickness.

4. Clear Out Debris

As you extract water from the flooded basement, be ready to deal with debris left behind. Clear out small items scattered across the floor so that they don’t become tripping hazards. Storm floods often leave behind layers of mud, so you may need to shovel the mess off floors and stairs.

5. Inspect the Damage

major basement flooding

Once you’ve removed the water, inspect water-damaged items and start moving things out of the basement. Depending on how long materials were submerged, you might be able to salvage some belongings.

Soaked carpet or tile flooring must be pulled up and cleared out of the area so that the basement’s concrete floor surface can begin drying out. Check baseboards, door frames, and sheet rock for signs of water damage, and inspect the sump pump to confirm its condition.

6. Salvage What You Can Save, Get Rid of What You Can’t

If the weather is nice, move water-damaged items that can be saved to an outside location. Give everything at least 48 hours to dry in the fresh air. Try drying carpet outside for several days by tenting it over lawn chairs and tables.

If the weather doesn’t cooperate, move it all to an uncarpeted area, such as the laundry room or garage.

You’ll also need to address any stored food that may have been affected. Carefully inspect all food items and storage areas. 

Dispose of any food, sealed or unsealed, that has come into contact with flood water. This includes canned goods, as well as plastic, glass, or paper containers, as they are not waterproof and harmful bacteria from the water can contaminate what’s inside.

For food not affected by the flood, clean the exterior of cans and jars with warm, soapy water, rinse them thoroughly and then disinfect them with a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach in 1 gallon of potable water.

Remember, when in doubt, throw it out. It’s better to be safe and prevent any health risks that could arise from consuming contaminated food.

The same goes for medicines. Any medicines or medical supplies that have come into contact with flood water must be discarded. 

This includes items in pill bottles, blister packs, or any other type of packaging. Even if the containers appear to be watertight, they may not provide complete protection against all types of flood water contamination, especially black water.

To salvage valuable records, important documents, and photographs, place them in the freezer. This minimizes further water damage, discourages mold and increases the chances of successful salvage. 

For more information, take a look at this guide on how to salvage flood-damaged items.

Power Tip: Water damage restoration companies like ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba specialize in restoring water-damaged items, including papers, electronics and furnishings.

7. Clean and Disinfect

After a basement flood, mold starts growing within 24 hours, so it’s very important to clean and disinfect all surfaces

Here’s how:

  • Remove toxic chemicals and pesticides from the flooded area to prevent contamination and accidental chemical mixing.
  • Use clean water to rinse concrete and brick floors and walls, as well as faucets and other fixtures that have been under water. Follow the clean water with warm, soapy water. 
  • Mix 8 tablespoons of liquid chlorine bleach into a gallon of water and use it to disinfect all hard surfaces that were affected by the floodwaters. Allow these surfaces to air dry after cleaning.
  • Brush dirt and residue off of washable items before laundering them according to the care label – use hot water and bleach during the wash cycle, if possible. 
  • Use chlorine bleach to flush and disinfect sump pump and floor drains.
  • Replace drywall and wood paneling that got wet during the flood, as this is the best method to prevent mold growth. 
  • Treat porous materials with fungicidal cleaners formulated to prevent unhealthy mold growth.
  • Wet sheetrock and soaked carpets are perfect breeding grounds for mold. Be prepared to remove and dispose of heavily saturated materials.

8. Set Up Drying Equipment

basement drying equipment

After you’ve removed all the water and you’re sure it’s safe to restore power, run multiple fans to circulate basement air from floor to ceiling 24/7. Position them at different elevations to create cross-ventilation throughout the area. Consider renting industrial-sized models to speed up the drying process.

Dehumidifiers also help pull moisture out of the air, but their collection reservoirs fill up quickly, so keep a close eye on the equipment. Understand that it can take days to thoroughly dry out a flooded basement. You must be patient because the process is critical to discouraging mold growth.

Power Tip: Dehumidifying equipment operates more efficiently with basement windows closed.

When to Call In the Professionals

professional flooded basement restoration

If basement flooding is more than several inches deep, don’t take any chances.

Call in a restoration contractor like ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba if you’re in the Chicago area.

Our water damage pros quickly remove standing water, take care of all cleanup and disinfecting, and we can often salvage personal belongings.

Anytime a basement has been flooded for more than 24 hours, you’re facing the possibility of hidden structural problems and the onset of serious mold infestations.

We take care of both problems, and we even help you deal with your insurance company and your water damage claim.

How to Prevent Basement Flooding

sump pump failure

As the city’s leading water damage restoration service, we’re often asked how to prevent basement flooding.

The best answer is to minimize the chances of this disaster striking your home. These 10 flood-proofing tips make a big difference.

1. Maintain Your Pump

One of the surest ways to prevent basement flooding is to install a sump pump, but it needs regular attention to make sure it’s always ready to go to work.

If your pump is below grade, keep its well cleaned out. If you rely on a portable model, locate it in the lowest part of the basement, securely connected to a power source.

2. Generate Backup Power

When you lose power during a heavy rain, your sump pump can’t do its job. Investing in a generator or solar battery backup now can be a smart strategy for preventing future basement flooding.

Portable models are less expensive and keep the pump running, but a larger generator can power-up the whole house. They both have pros and cons, so consider your budget and your needs.

3. Keep Floor Drains Clear

Check the floor drains on a regular basis. This tip is a simple, cost-effective defense against basement flooding.

If a drain smells moldy or makes odd noises, clear it with a plumber’s snake, a plunger or baking soda and vinegar.

4. Grade Your Ground

Correct drainage problems in the yard by correcting its grade. You want the landscape’s slope to direct water away from the house and foundation on all sides. This can often be taken care of by building simple negative drainage. If grading isn’t enough, talk with a landscape professional about trenching options or French drains.

5. Don’t Crowd the Foundation

Garden beds against exterior walls can develop areas that puddle up with rainwater or channel around the house during a downpour. Mulch is a moisture-retaining culprit too.

Your home’s foundation and siding act like wicks when they’re constantly exposed to dampness. The materials eventually crack and peel, and that leaves them vulnerable to the pressures of heavy rainstorms.

6. Watch Your Steps and Windows

If your basement has an outside stairway, keep the drain at the bottom of its steps free of clogs.

Otherwise, the stairwell can quickly flood and push water underneath the basement door. Check the door’s concrete threshold to make sure it hasn’t cracked or eroded over time. A little concrete sub sill repair can keep out the few inches of rain that it takes to flood the basement.

The drain installations in below-grade basement windows channel rainfall to a weeping tile system and then to the basement’s sump pump or a street storm sewer.

Add an extra layer of defense with clear acrylic covers over the window wells. They protect the recessed areas from heavy downpours, and that eases the stress on system components that protect your basement.

7. Permanently Patch Cracks

Cracks in the foundation will eventually lead to basement flooding. Yes, you can repair them yourself, but they need a permanent fix.

Hardware stores sell kits that turn you into a patching pro with DIY epoxy injection systems. Treat interior basement wall cracks with a masonry coating to seal the deal on foundation crack problems.

8. Hit the Gutters and Downspouts

No one enjoys cleaning out gutters and downspouts, but no one wants a flooded basement.

Think of climbing the ladder as more than just an attack on debris that clogs the roof’s drainage system. You’re protecting gutters from heavy rains that turn them into waterfalls washing down exterior walls and soaking your home’s foundation.

Make sure downspouts effectively channel heavy rain away from the house. Extend their reach with a corrugated plastic pipe that directs rainfall at least 10 feet away from the foundation. Put that same distance between the basement and the sump pump with a discharge hose kit.

9. Inspect and Insulate Basement Plumbing

Regularly inspect basement pipes and connections for signs of leaks or corrosion. Make sure your outside water spigot hasn’t frozen. Consider insulating them too. This strategy has several advantages.

  • Insulating pipes in the basement protects them from freezing and bursting.
  • It reduces heat loss in hot water pipes, and that holds down energy costs.
  • Insulated cold water pipes don’t sweat, and that helps reduce basement humidity.

10. Keep Appliances in Good Shape

An average clothes washer holds between 40 and 45 gallons of water. A cracked washer tub can empty it all on your basement floor in a matter of minutes. A ruptured water heater tank can spill as much as 80 gallons just as quickly.

Routinely check appliances downstairs, including refrigerators, chest freezers and HVAC equipment. Make sure hoses are in good shape and connections are tight.

Has Your Basement in Chicago, IL, or Suburbs Flooded? We’re Here to Help!

Dealing with basement flooding is never easy. It takes hard work and patience. Cleaning and disinfecting a flooded basement can be dangerous too. Always be careful, and know that we’re here to help. You don’t have to face it alone.

We’re on call 24/7, ready to make repairs, extract water, clean, disinfect and restore your basement to its pre-flood condition.

When Chicago homeowners need certified flooded basement cleanup, they trust us here at ServiceMaster by Zaba. You can too! Call: 773-647-1985

How much does it cost to fix a flooded basement?

Average basement cleaning and sanitizing costs vary, but expect to pay between $2,000 and $7,000. Typically, basement flood remediation, cleanup and restoration costs $4,000.
If the flooded area is small and water damage isn’t too severe, the cost can be as low as $1,000.
These are a few of the factors that affect the final cost: basement square footage, depth of water in basement, plumbing and electrical repairs, content salvage, pack-out and storage, mold removal and remediation, category 3 water contamination.
With the exception of storm flooding, homeowners insurance should cover the cost of cleaning and restoring the flooded basement. Our staff can help you with the paperwork and assist with filing your water damage claim.

Is it safe to stay in a house with a flooded basement?

It depends. While a flooded basement is distressing, it doesn’t always mean you have to vacate the entire house. 
That said, safety should always come first. 
If the water level has reached the level of electrical outlets or if you smell gas, it’s crucial to leave immediately to avoid the risk of electrocution or gas leaks. 
Similarly, if your home’s structural integrity has been compromised or there’s crossly contaminated, type 2 or 3 water present, it’s unsafe to stay. 
Even if these conditions aren’t present, prolonged exposure to a damp environment can lead to health issues related to mold exposure and poor air quality. 
With these things in mind, it’s essential to address the basement flood promptly. If you’re unsure about the safety of staying, consult a professional.

What causes basement floods in the first place?

Concrete basement walls are usually secure enough to withstand torrential rain. Most basements are built with drainage systems that typically act as lines of defense against rising water.
Still, a variety of problems can turn the downstairs into a soggy mess. If the sump pump fails or floor drains clog, it quickly gets worse.
These are a few examples of the most frequent causes of residential basement flooding: broken sump pump components, hydrostatic pressure caused by water-saturated soil, clogged floor drains, appliance breakdowns, plumbing leaks, frozen burst pipes, sewer or water line backups, foundation cracks, torrential rainfall and street flooding.