Weather

Have a flooded basement? You’re not alone. Here’s what you need to know

It’s wet outside.

And if the forecast holds, it’ll likely be wet and rainy in Wichita nearly all week.

While that rain may be fun to watch, it can cause a host of problems for your house — as many Wichitans were discovering Tuesday.

Plumbers, roofers and other companies that specialize in water damage, drainage and other such issues were swamped with calls Tuesday.

There’s few things that will send homeowners into a panic quite like waking up to find an inch of water soaking everything in the basement or a new water stain forming on the ceiling.

Here are some questions and answers about storm-related flooding, and tips on how to protect against water damage at your property.

Why is my basement flooding?

Some homeowners who previously thought they had dry basements have been surprised to find leaks after particularly stormy days these past couple of weeks (myself included).

Down in Barber County, Brenda Myers posted on Facebook that her house, which hasn’t “had water in the basement since the ‘90s,” is flooded.

How does that work?

First, it’s important to differentiate between basement flooding and basement seepage.

Though we often call watery basements “flooded,” in many cases homeowners are dealing with seepage.

For insurance purposes, your basement is only truly flooded if it’s caused by rising water from a storm or other heavy rains. Homeowners affected by this likely live in a floodplain area (which you can check online at www.wichita.gov/PTW/Pages/Floods.aspx).

If you wake up to 4 inches of water in the basement — as Wichitan Carole Dugan did Tuesday — it’s also possible that a sewage line has backed up.

Seepage, however, is a fact of life for anybody with a basement.

Even the most waterproof basements may eventually succumb to seepage.

“There are two kinds of houses: those that leak, and those that will eventually leak,” homeowner Patrick Greene wrote on Facebook.

Seepage occurs after a period of heavy rain — and water can seep in if the yard doesn’t have proper drainage or simply if the ground around the house gets too rain-swollen.

Many homes are built on a water table, and those built on high water tables will inevitably deal with more basement flooding.

The water table refers to the level at which underground soil and gravel are completely saturated with water.

That level can rise after heavy rains and fall after an extended period of drought.

When the underground water table is at or above the level of your basement floor, you will likely see flooding as that water forces its way in through little cracks in the foundation, using what’s called hydrostatic pressure.

If you’re dealing with a high water table, there’s not much you can do about that basement water until the underground water table falls again after a dry period. Sometimes, even if you suction it all up with a wet/dry vacuum, submersible pump, sump pump or other device, it may come back as long as the ground is saturated.

“Sometimes it’s not an issue for 50 years, and all of a sudden the water table hits x, and you’ve got all kinds of problems,” said Aaron Goucher, general manager at Olshan Foundation Repair.

In Wichita, “a big part of the city, especially the western part, is in the Arkansas River alluvial aquifer,” said Dan Suchy, a geologist with the Kansas Geological Survey. That means that the water table is pretty close to the surface (10-30 feet underground) in those places.

The KGS has an online map of where the alluvial aquifer exists in Wichita.

However, Suchy said it’s difficult to define exactly where the water table might be now because “all the ground is saturated with water that’s seeping down from the surface.”

“With this much rain, the ground is pretty much saturated everywhere,” Suchy said. “We’re getting lots of calls about basement leaks and that sort of thing. Sump pumps can’t keep up with it. That’s pretty common with this weather the way that it is.”

What do I do if my basement is flooded?

The first thing to do is assess the damage. This is much easier to do with an unfinished basement.

How deep and how widespread is the water?

Is it nearing any electrical outlets?

If water is standing near an electrical outlet, you might want to call a professional to ensure you don’t shock yourself wading into the water.

Ideally, you’ll want to get the water out as soon as possible to prevent mold from growing in the basement.

Take anything that might have gotten wet to a well-ventilated, dry area if at all possible — then start getting rid of the water. If drywall paneling or carpeting got soaked, it’s often just as expensive to try to dry them out as it is to replace.

For big jobs, you’ll likely want to rent a submersible pump (which can be rented from stores like The Home Depot for $42/day).

Try to locate the lowest point in the basement floor (easier said than done) and suction the water from there.

For smaller jobs like seepage puddles, a wet/dry shop vacuum should do the trick, though you’ll have to empty the vacuum frequently in a drain of some sort.

Can I prevent this from happening again?

You can, but it depends on how much money you’re willing to spend.

If you can’t fix your basement outright, the cheapest way to prevent damage is to invest in pallets and put all of your valuables on those pallets so they won’t get wet when the basement floods.

This, of course, only works if you’re dealing with an unfinished basement.

If you’re looking to sell your house anytime in the near future (or are just looking for some basement peace of mind), you may want to invest in sealing that basement.

Goucher said “waterproofing is really a term that doesn’t exist.”

“There’s water management from the exterior and interior, and the rest of it is just Band-Aids trying to prevent water from coming in,” he said.

One of the first things to look at is installing a sump pump if you don’t have one already.

Buying and installing a new sump pump can cost anywhere from $500-$1,500 or so (less if you are replacing an existing sump pump).

Beyond that, you’ll want to do everything to keep water as far away from the foundation as possible — that’s “the key to keeping guys like me away,” said Goucher.

Make sure your gutters aren’t overflowing or draining less than 5 feet away from the house, which can lead to potential water pooling adjacent to the home (which may eventually seep into your basement). To fix this, you can invest in a downspout extension — an inexpensive yet inelegant solution ($5-$10).

If you still have issues with basement flooding, you’ll want to make sure the slope of your yard is adequately leading away from the house. The same goes for driveways, patios and any other sort of pavement that may have settled or cracked over time, letting water pool near the house.

There are various companies in Wichita that provide grading around a house’s foundation, ensuring a positive grade away from the home.

In extreme cases, you can also install a French drain around the house — dug into a trench to redirect water away.

You can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 for those grading/landscaping services, depending on the size of the job.

What do I do if my roof is leaking?

If you woke up Tuesday and noticed a new stain on your ceiling — or if it started sprinkling in your living room Monday evening — here’s what you’ll want to do.

If water is actively dripping from the ceiling, contain it with a bucket or something similar and call a roofing specialist.

If you’ve just noticed a dark spot on the ceiling and it’s not dripping (yet), you can try to diagnose and repair the problem yourself.

Locating the source of the leak is often the most challenging part.

If you can climb up into your attic, take a flashlight up there and look for where the roof might be leaking — you can tell by the water stains or if you see any mold growing.

If you’re having trouble diagnosing where the leak is, you can ask a friend to climb up on the roof for you with a garden hose and run it around where you suspect the leak is coming from.

Once you find the leaky spot, you can either patch it up yourself or have a roofing professional come out and do so.

Or you can have a roofer do all of this work — because working on a wet (and often slippery) roof is a little more perilous than tackling a wet basement.

How much rain has fallen?

On Monday and Tuesday, the greater Wichita area received between 3 and 5 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service — with more expected later this week.

Areas in Butler and Sumner counties have been hit hardest by rain this month, with some areas logging as much as 15-20 inches, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration statistics.

Wichita’s all-time highest monthly precipitation record of 14.43 inches was set in June 1923.

According to a National Weather Service meteorologist, as of Tuesday afternoon its station had measured 8.42 inches of precipitation this month.

After a break from the rain on Wednesday, chances for more rain and storms are expected to return Wednesday night and continue through Monday (Memorial Day).

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Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.
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