Wet basements, to claim or not to claim

So you have had some water infiltration into your basement, what now? The vast majority of the people I deal with call the insurance company first. While this may be the best approach in a given situation it may also end up costing you a lot of your hard earned money because you jumped the gun. The reason I say this is because as soon as you make that call you are making a claim. It almost always leads to you losing your claims free status and your insurance could go up. Now don’t get me wrong, that is why we have insurance but I am suggesting that you look at the severity of the problem before you make that claim. If the problem is minor and easily repaired and cleaned up, you should likely do it yourself. If the problem is larger and more serious then insurance involvement is recommended. Your insurance company has access to many industry professionals that can set things right. Just be sure you need them first.

I am sometimes called to investigate a wet carpet in the corner of a basement. Upon arriving at the home I quickly scan the lot and downspouts before even knocking at the door. Many times I can predict from that cursory view where the carpet is likely to be wet. Once inside I usually discover I am correct. I will often see a streaks of water that has poured through a basement window and if the homeowners are lucky, only a small area of wet flooring. At this point I use my thermal camera and moisture meter to try to determine the extent of the moisture area. If the moisture is through a window for instance it may not have wet the wall at all. If the flooring is carpeted and the area is small it is usually possible to peel back the carpet and underlay and begin the drying process. The key to handling this type of problem is to get the professional opinion of an independent contractor. If the problem is small you and the contractor may opt to simply open a small section of the wall and air dry the carpet for instance. This approach should be documented and kept for reference when you are ready to sell the property. If as a home inspector I see what appears to be a past leak you need to be able to explain the event, better yet you should have disclosed it to the buyer already.

If the damage appears more widespread and materials are going to need to be discarded and replaced you should then consider calling your insurance company who will send their own representative over to have a look. I am not suggesting that you take a week to decide, these things need to happen quickly in order to avoid mold and other setbacks. All I am saying is don’t panic, assess the situation and decide with the help of others what you need to do. Obviously if you have an inch of water in your basement you will need an extensive renovation and insurance is there for that. On the other hand however, if the problem is small and can be quite easily cleaned and dried without replacing contents then that is something you can likely handle. Read on in this series for tips on how to properly clean up a mess caused by water intrusion. By the way, if the moisture is sewer related it will almost always require professional attention. Don’t mess around with sewer backups as they have significant harmful health effects if not properly cleaned up.

Finally if the flood was a sewer backup you should consider hiring me to scope your sewer line to see where the backup started and who might be responsible.

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