Water & Drought

If recent storms put water in your basement, here’s what you need to do

A technician works on a basement sump pump.
A technician works on a basement sump pump. Kansas City Star file

In some Sacramento houses, it looked as if a dam had burst.

Recent winter storms have submerged backyards, uprooted trees and caused plenty of other chaos. But for many local homeowners, it’s their crawlspaces and basements that have suffered the worst damage in what’s shaping up to be the wettest year in a century.

“During the rainy season, sump pumps stop working and people’s basements get flooded,” said Iris Rosales, office manager of ServPro of East Sacramento. “With the drought, people weren’t keeping up with maintenance of their pump equipment. Then, the rains came. Lo and behold – flooded basements!”

It’s been a busy winter for water-damage restoration. For example, ServPro, which provides emergency restoration and cleaning services, has tackled several flooded basements in East Sacramento and Arden Arcade. Other Sacramento neighborhoods with reports of basement flooding include midtown, downtown, Curtis Park, Oak Park and Land Park.

Basements tend to be found under older Sacramento homes, built after 1900 but before World War II. Modeled after East Coast or Midwest houses, these homes were constructed after Sacramento’s threat of seasonal flooding subsided but before slab foundations became common.

Most homes with basements come equipped with sump pumps, devices to move water to higher ground – and away from the house. Usually dry, these subterranean spaces offer more than just an extra storage area.

“It’s a room,” Rosales said. “A lot of people have converted their basements into living areas such as an extra bedroom or apartment. When it floods, there’s a lot of stuff that can get damaged.”

For many, the cleanup process includes a call to the insurance company. But not all water damage is covered. “(My) homeowner’s insurance isn’t paying for it,” said Janet Fullwood, whose swamped Pocket-area home backs up to the Sacramento River. “I’m waiting to hear if it’s covered by my flood insurance.”

Seeping from the ground, about 6 to 8 inches of water collected in the crawlspace under Fullwood’s home. “The whole water table went high and stayed there,” said Fullwood, a former Bee writer. “The last time this happened was 1997. … All the insulation is ruined. The HVAC ducts are (in the crawl space) and they’re soaked. I can’t run my heater because the ducts have 4 inches of ice cold water in them. When all this is over, I’m going to have all the ducts pulled out and redone in the attic. I don’t want to go through this again.”

Repairs can be expensive. According to Home Advisor, repairing water damage inside the house costs on average $2,270. Water can be particularly destructive to wood, plasterboard and other materials.

“If there’s a substantial amount of water, you need to extract it,” Rosales said. “If it’s less than 24 hours, you can usually dry (things) in place. But if it’s been two or three days, you may need to demolish (walls, flooring and furnishings) to prevent health and safety issues.”

After water is removed, portable fans can dry damp areas as much as possible to prevent mold. Mold can set in quickly. Professionals attack it with powerful disinfectants.

“People may clean up the water, think the problem is solved, but they don’t realize mold has been growing,” Rosales said. “But then they start smelling that funky smell. You see it behind walls or under carpet. Usually, if you catch it right away, you can eliminate the growth of mold. But you’ve got to act right away.”

NDS Inc. civil engineer Ryan Larsen, known as YouTube’s “Dr. Drainage,” has seen plenty of water problems in basements and crawlspaces.

“A lot of times, the problem doesn’t come from surface water, but underground water collecting up against the home,” Larsen explained. “Every time there’s a heavy rain, it can come in again.”

NDS, which makes a broad range of water-related products, offers tips for how to tackle drainage issues including flooded basements at its online “Home Drainage Center.” (Find it at www.ndspro.com.)

Not fixing these issues leads to more problems. “In the long term, you’re looking at mold and mildew and all its trouble,” said Larsen. “If you allow water to accumulate around the foundation, the home starts to settle and sink in one spot and cause structural damage. Repairing a basement is a major headache and ordeal.”

Correcting poor drainage can prevent most residential water damage, Larsen said. If water is coming from surface areas, a perimeter drain can be installed under 12 inches of gravel or crushed granite around the house, he said. “It then redirects water to a safe release point.”

Groundwater seeping through basement walls needs a different way to drain, Larsen added. “Ideally, you should dig down to even with the basement floor (to install that drain),” he said. “That’s a lot of digging.”

Larsen recommends establishing a 10-foot perimeter around your home to prevent water damage to the foundation or water entering the basement or crawlspace.

“You don’t want any water collecting within that 10-foot envelope,” he said. “That will give you protection.”

With sunny weather expected for this week, now is time to take action.

“You don’t know you have a drainage problem until it rains,” Larsen said. “But you don’t want to be digging in the mud. Between spring showers, you can tackle these issues. Now, the ground is soft. It’s time to dig.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

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