Drying and Repairing a Flooded Basement

Darlene S. writes: Our finished basement, which we rent out as an apartment, was flooded when the incoming well water hose clamp let go while we were  out of town. We came home to over one foot of water. We are retired/disabled and live on a fixed income that relies on the revenue from the “in-law” apartment to pay our mortgage. The water clean-up company is eating up all of our insurance money and a different contractor submitted a bid for reconstruction without even coming out to access the job accurately.

My husband is an ex-contractor and we finished the basement (in a raised ranch) ourselves. We built the apartment with a lot of forethought and research on the project. Our first, and most important goal was keeping it dry. We cut out an opening in the walk-out foundation (fun, fun), and installed a big sliding door facing south to provide sunshine and air flow, and dug out a 24×18 foot sunken patio with beautiful native stone work. We installed a sump pump, piped up through the stone steps, and out into a low area 20-30 ft away.

We sealed, the floors, and below-grade walls with a heavy membrane (Radon Plus ), installed rigid insulation, and raised the floor with pressure-treated 2×4s and ¾-in. plywood. We installed two sump-pumps, and an automatic de-humidifier. We installed laminate floating floors (snap/lock)  throughout.

Every contractor we have spoken with, other than the clean-up company, states that we must tear out the floors and all other interior work that got wet and start over or we are asking for trouble. We want to ensure that the space is restored properly and not just  cosmetically, but below where the real issue lies.  We expect problems if our property is haphazardly rebuilt without getting at the mold and below-grade  moisture issues.

The floor and lower sections of the walls sat in water for two weeks before big dryers and air cleaners were brought in, along with a moisture meter to test the wood. But how will we know if the new work is done correctly?  The apartment could be put back together and look beautiful on the surface, be slowly decaying underneath.

Please advise me my husband, now disabled is so frustrated with the shabby work estimates, and lack of knowledge of what it really takes to get the in-law space back to its original state. We put all we had into making this space right, so it would last the years. I know one thing for sure the

We believe that the clean-up company padded his bill for the cleaning work before submitting a reconstruction bid  way below the cost of other builders. This is the first time we have put in an insurance claim and feel like we are being taken advantage of. It feels like the insurance company and the clean-up company are in bed together.

I think the right thing to do is tear out, and start new to protect our investment. Our family, and friends have agreed to help us do the work ourselves. Please advise us as we need an outside expert’s opinion on this.

Steve Bliss of BuildingAdvisor.com responds: Sorry to hear about your situation. It sounds like you put a lot of good planning and hard work into the original work and want to do things right in the repair work. You seem to have a good understanding of the issues and are completely on target in focusing on the work that you can’t see – under the finished floor and behind the walls. It’s critical that you solve all moisture problems before rebuilding or the space may be forever moldy and the wood subject to decay.

That said, it’s always difficult to offer specific advice without seeing a project as every one is different. It is possible to successfully dry out a flooded basement apartment. The specific techniques will depend on the height of the water, the building materials that were wetted, the cleanliness of the water, and how long the materials remained wet. Some general principles are:
– Turn off all power to electrical or gas-fired equipment in the flooded space.
– Remove the water as quickly as possible using a submersible pump. Pump the water to where it will drain away from the structure.
– Suck up any additional water with a wet-dry vac.
– Remove wet materials up to a foot above the water level — that includes insulation, flooring, carpeting, drywall, cabinets, and other finish materials. You can usually leave framing materials.
– Dry out the area completely using fans to promote circulation, and dehumidifiers, if needed.
– If the water is clean, as in your case, you may be able to dry out and salvage some of the furnishings. However it is best to remove them and dry them out in a separate well-ventilated area.
-If mold is present, you will want to scrub it away with detergent and water and dry the surfaces completely. If mold is present in porous materials such as fabrics, acoustical tiles, and carpeting, you will probably need to throw them out unless they can be laundered or dry-cleaned (curtains, for example).
– You may wish to disinfect surfaces with bleach diluted one part bleach to four parts waters. Wear gloves, eye protection, and a suitable respirator unless you are in a well-ventilated area. Read and follow all warnings on the bleach container. After removing all visible dirt and mold, wipe the surface with the bleach solution and let it stand for about 10 minutes. Then rinse it thoroughly with clean water and dry completely.

If there is extensive mold present or if someone in the house is sensitive to mold exposure, for example, people with asthma, allergies, or compromised immune systems, then you should get professional help with assessment and remediation of the mold problem.
You can find extensive information about assessing and removing mold at Inspectapedia.com.

Once the space is sufficiently dried out and free of mold, you can begin to rebuild to your original specs, which sound well thought out and well executed. Any framing lumber you leave in place should have a normal moisture content of between 12% and 15%, and should not exceed 19% or it will start to decay once it is closed in.

One final comment: You may be right that the remediation contractor is in cahoots with the insurance adjuster. Just like with a car repair, the insurance company might try to steer you toward a specific body shop, with which they have a working relationship. You typically have the right to get your own estimates for insurance work and to get the check made out to you rather than directly to the contractor. Check with your state’s insurance commissioner on the rules in your state and, if you were taken advantage of, may wish to file a complaint against the insurance company and the contractor.


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  1. From my years of experience, when an adjuster suggests or demands that you use his “preferred contractor” there is the great likelihood that they are in cahoots. At a minimum, the contractor probably does NOT have your best interest at heart.

    When you hire an emergency or disaster recovery contractor – they should always be working for you – not the adjuster or insurance company!

    • buildingadvisor says:

      It is always difficult, from a distance, to untangle disputes between owners and contractors. Also, you are asking a legal question and I am not a lawyer.

      Based on common sense, however, a contractor should not do any work that was not agreed to by the owner. And an owner should not be obligated to pay for any work that he or she has not agreed to – preferably in writing.

      If you bring in your car for an oil change and the service station goes ahead and does a $300 tune up without your consent, would you be obligated to pay?I don’t think so.

      It’s possible that there was a misunderstanding and the contractor thought, for some reason, that you wanted this work done. If you have a written contract describing the work to be done – the “scope of work” – and the disputed work is not included, that will help clarify the situation. With a written contract, extra work should be authorized by a written change order. If the contractor claims that you authorized the work verbally, then you have a he-says-she-says problem to resolve.

      The first step in resolving this is to schedule a meeting with the contractor. Ask for clarification on why this work was done, who authorized it, and what the cost is. Hopefully, you can work things out amicably. If not, you will have to decide whether to contest the charges. In that case, it’s best to speak with a lawyer about the proper procedure to protect yourself from liens and other legal action taken by the contractor.

      Best of luck in working out a mutually agreeable solution.



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