Most things occur for multiple reasons not just one. This is especially true of things related to property insurance claims made regarding home disasters. Fires can occur from electrical issues, irresponsibility and even arson. Residential water damage manifest when pipes break, appliances malfunctions and toilets overflow as examples of just a few. Because basement flooding is the most common and has several overarching reasons why, this article will focus on the 3 main reasons basements flood.
The Impact of a Flooded Basement
A Flooded basement is an occurrence on par with a break-in or a small kitchen fire. It can disrupt life on a grand scale while bringing about unwanted stress and anxiety. Sometimes basement flooding is so severe it affects the necessary operations of the home such as heating, forcing families to be put up at a hotel for weeks. Water in the basement although below the space where most do their living will effect everything related to the home.
Basements are where most properties have their furnace, hot water heater and laundry room. Should the basement acquire several inches of water these essential items for normal living can shut down the use of the home. When homes are not able to produce heated air or hot water, people no longer can occupy the premises safety.
There are other dangers related to a flooded basement that are even more dramatic than suspending several required services. Mold after a basement flood can move you out of your home and cost thousands in mold mitigation before it is safe to move back in. Basements are dark, dank spaces devoid of UV light making them a playground of microorganisms that amplify quickly when flooding happens.
How Basement Design Contributes to Flooding.
Imagine an area in your yard where no digging has ever taken place. Attempting to shovel a 3 foot hole would be an endeavor requiring a full commitment of muscle expenditure. Why? Because you’re attempting to dislodge soil that has been settling for hundreds of years. During this time the process of soil becoming wet and dry has gradually removed the air pockets from it making the ground very dense and hard.
Apply this concept now to the process of digging a basement. The builders must excavate a hole larger than the basement itself to allow for the concrete walls of the basement to be poured. Once these walls for the construction of the basement have cured the soil is returned. This soil is now very loose and is referred to as”back fill”, having large air pockets in it that will easily allow water accumulation. Compare that to the virgin soil around the property that is still tightly compacted. You actually have a bowl shaped area around your basement that is capable of retaining heavy water each time it rains. This understanding will allow us to clarify latter in this article the 3 main reasons basements flood.
Water Naturally Gravitates to Basements
Basements occupy the lowest point in a home and just as water poured in a glass will fill from the bottom up, so will water in a home. Whether the water is from an inside source like a broken water pipe on a main floor or water from without that backs up through a floor drain. Both will naturally gravitate to the lowest point causing basement flooding and place the home in jeopardy of mold related issues. Nonetheless when flooded property is quickly attended to with flood restoration service, mold is unlikely.
Basement Flooding can go Undetected for Days.
Often basements that are unfinished are not visited on a regular basis. This is especially true of seniors that often avoid such trips due to safety reasons. Some people only descend the steps to their basement at holidays to bring up decorations. In some cases individuals only are directed to a basement to check on flooding because of a new pungent smell that is foreign to the home. For these reasons basements can remain wet for days and weeks before flooding is discovered.
Now that we understand the way water works and the back story to how basements are built, let’s look at the first of the 3 main reasons basements flood.
1) Basements Flood When Water using Appliances Malfunction.
The second law of thermodynamics can be summed up in layman terms as “things break over time”. Your new refrigerator with its water supply line for making ice can break. The new designer washing machine with its enviable high efficiency cycle could leak. The dish washer that guarantees no water spots on dishes has a discharge line that can become loose. These are just several convenience devises that exist in the home that use water capable of flooding property when they fail.
Another common basement appliance is the water heater that allows for comfortable water temperatures for bathing and successful cleaning. Should a water heater bursts or even slowly leak, hundreds of gallons of water can migrate throughout the entire basement.
Water restoration companies are contacted each year by families that have discovered their appliances gushing water because of a malfunction. To add insult to injury the cost for restoration are almost never covered by the manufacturers, who carefully insulate themselves from responsibility. There have been situations where inept appliance installations have allowed major basement flooding from a poorly made connection to a water supply line.
One such incident resulted when an installer forgot to tighten the connection made between the refrigerator and water supply line. He placed the fridge back in its desired spot and turned the water on. No water showed up from beneath the appliance so he went on his way. The homeowners confident the installation was not a concern went to dinner and probably about the same time as they left the connection broke. When they returned home they were horrified to discover the entire kitchen was flooded. Immediately heading to the basement, they found matters were much worse than originally thought. Their newly finished basement was also completely flooded with several inches of water.
A good tip to anyone allowing a service tech into your home is to always request the insurance paperwork of anyone who enters to do service. Equally important is to make sure the coverage is up to date and the name of the company is clearly identified as the insured. In the case just sited, there was no such insurance and the homeowner was completely responsible for the flooded basement cleanup. Even after contacting the major retailer and scolding them for contracting their installations with a non-insured company, they said they were not responsible.
Let’s consider the second in the 3 main reasons basements flood.
2) When drains backup from outside water of a property
In Michigan drain backups are the most common reason for a basement to flood. This type of flooding usually is accompanied by a heavy rain or a thawing snow when temperatures increase in the winter. Remember earlier as we described how basements are dug and the back fill is loose soil that will attract water? Well when water accumulates around the home the dense soil will repel the water and the loose soil will gladly receive it. Homes with basement are stationed in a bowl shaped environment of loosely placed soil making it easy for water to come in through a drain if the mechanics of your home fail.
What are the man-made characteristics that must function to keep your basement dry? Either a gravity fed drain system that naturally channels the water from the house or a pump drain system that must routinely engage to direct the water away.
Gravity Drain Systems to Prevent Basement Flooding
Older homes in particular have benefited for many years with the gravity drain system. Basements have drain tiles that allow any ground water accumulation to be sent to the storm drain. If this drain is working efficiently as it should it will discharge into the city sanitary line keeping the basement from flooding. These systems have very successfully maintained the well being of homes with basements for over 100 years, which brings us to a problem.
These systems where originally made from materials such as clay that have over time deteriorated and cracked. The problem then arises when there are trees on the property, as their roots naturally search for moisture in the surrounding environment. If they detect water leaking from your clay drain system, tree roots will be drawn into them as a water supply source. In time the roots will invade the drain system through the tiny cracks and eventually clog the system. When this happens the water that once flowed quickly is slowed down and apt to backing up during heavy rain when water accumulates rapidly.
Pump Systems to Prevent Basement Flooding
Sump pumps are the way many newer homes with basements stay dry and safe from flooding. As the water table around the home rises during rain or thawing snow the sump well rises too. When the float of the sump pump reaches a set height the pump engages and pumps the water away through its drain system.
Homes in rural areas will often have the water pumped away from the home to a location on the property further away. These can be ponds or natural drain systems that can handle the water. Homes in the city will direct the storm water through several foot of PVC pipe to a city storm drain. In both systems the basement will stay dry unless the sump pump fails to engage.
Sump pumps are at risk of failure because they need power to work and pump the water away from the property. If electricity is compromised from a power outage or bad electrical line the system fails and basement flooding is sure to occur. Another condition that will contribute to failure is the pump itself, as after several sometimes short years parts can fail keeping the pump dead when it is needed most.
Because of this there are several sump pump backup options readily available to help ensure basement flooding does not occur. Whatever type of sump pump backup system you have however; will be prone to fail as well because they are mechanical. Even systems with alarms have been known to disappoint homeowners who thought they were immune to basement flooding.
Let us consider the last of the 3 main reasons basements flood.
3) When Water Supply Lines Break
If you were to wake up one morning and place your feet in a puddle of water getting out of bed, you would think you were still dreaming. This unsettling narrative happens all the time, just ask an insurance adjuster. Municipal water each of us pays for every month that supplies water for drinking, washing and bathing, is under pressure and the only thing keeping it from flooding our home is a plumbing system. Should this systems fail because it is not well maintained or compromised plumbing materials break, flooding will follow.
When such unimaginable water damage happens the resulting harm can be astounding, costing thousands in cleanup and repairs. If someone is home who hears running water and discover it quickly the damages from flooding will be minimized. All too often however, people come home once the water has been violently running for hours.
In some instances, individuals have walked through the front door to discover water deluging from a ceiling that ultimately finds it’s way into a basement. In such cases water will always seek the lowest point on the property which will result in either a flooded basement or flooded crawlspace.
Of the 3 main reasons basements flood, broken water lines have the potential for the greatest amount of damage. The reason is because of the amount of unlimited water supply that continues to run till someone physically stops it. If a drain backs up the amount that can potentially flood the basement is limited. If an appliance malfunctions there usually will be limited water flow. The flood damage that will ensue from a broken water supply line has no limit and can create a voluminous water cleanup project. It can damage your electrical, mechanical and all levels of your home and take months of repair to get you back in your home.
Several Causes Why Water Supply Lines Break
Water pipes are made from several different materials and some corrode over time. An example would be galvanized water pipe. They are very strong but with time they become compromised and corrosion can create a fracture leading to a break under water pressure. Then there are water pipes that are actually placed underground as with a home built on a slab. With the settling of the home over time soil pressure can create a small fracture that may ultimately develop into a source for flood damage. Water pipes underground are also subject to a variety of soil conditions and can corrode metal pipe. Over time the water pipe becomes increasingly weakened and compromised. At a certain point water pressure will just force the line to break and introduce property to flood damage.
Each year in the winter months as temperatures drop past 32° water will freeze and expand pipe materials to the point of breaking. Just the fluctuating temperatures from cold to warm are enough to cause weak points in metals that over time can rupture.
As a homeowner there are several things you can put into practice to minimize these possibilities. Turning exterior water fixtures off and releasing their pressure before the freezing temperatures arrive. Placing additional insulation around water pipes near exterior walls and drafts, can keep them from freezing. Lastly, keeping your home heated to at least 60° when you are gone will allow indoor temperatures to prohibit the likelihood of a water pipe freeze.