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Tips on cleaning up a flooded basement

Basement flooding can be a health hazard and the start of a long-term headache.

Beacon Journal homes writer Mary Beth Breckenridge has provided tips over the last several years for dealing with wet basements. Here is a compilation of that advice for those dealing with Wednesday’s storm damage.

• If water is on the basement floor, be concerned about dangers that can be created by electrical cords.

• Water may have drowned pilot lights, resulting in a buildup of explosive natural gas.

• Call the utility companies to have the power and gas turned off, or contact a damage-restoration specialist to deal with the problem.

• Be aware that containers of chemicals may have leaked, contaminating the water.

• Unplug appliances if they’re near the water.

• Call the insurance company. It’s better to ascertain upfront whether the damage is covered and whether the insurance company will pay a professional to do the work.

• If possible, try to stop the flow. The problem might be as simple as a blocked intake on a sump pump. Otherwise, try to contain or divert the flow.

• Water coming from the sewer drain needs to be handled professionally because of the likely presence of bacteria.

• Remove everything from the flooded area, particularly furniture off wet carpeting, because wood stain can’t be removed if it bleeds into the carpet.

• If the basement is unfinished and the flooding is minimal, sucking up the water with a shop vacuum and running fans or a dehumidifier may be all that’s needed.

• A finished basement may require professional attention. Porous materials such as drywall, paneling, insulation, wall studs, carpeting and carpet padding all soak up water and could be breeding sites for mold if they’re not dried thoroughly.

• If you are worried about mold, professionals will apply an antimicrobial agent not available to the public. They may also take measures such as removing drywall and insulation to expose studs, allowing them to dry completely.

• If you attempt a cleanup yourself, wear rubber gloves and boots, even though rainwater typically contains little bacteria or contaminants.

• Try cleaning hard surfaces with a solution of 1½ cups bleach to a gallon of water to prevent mold. Wear a mask, protect skin and eyes, and work in a well-ventilated area. Let the solution sit about 15 minutes, then dry it thoroughly. Don’t use any product containing ammonia in combination with bleach because the fumes can be deadly.

• If the flooding affects furnaces, water heaters or other appliances, have appropriate contractors inspect them before repowering.

• In the future, store items in sealed plastic containers.

• Wet basements can usually be fixed or prevented, often by means that aren’t excessively costly or difficult — such as installing or replacing gutters and downspouts or sloping earth away from the house’s foundation.

• To determine the source of water, start by donning a raincoat and galoshes during the next driving rain, and going outside to have a look around. Check the gutters and downspouts, the grading, the runoff, the window wells and any other obvious problems.

• A source of information on the Web is the American Society of Home Inspectors,


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