Tips for Dealing with the Flooding in your Crawlspace or Basement

Photo Courtesy of LA Times

Photo Courtesy of LA Times

With all the recent tragic flooding throughout the Boulder, CO and surrounding areas, Eco Handyman would like to offer these helpful hints, and don’t hesitate to call us: 303.444.2181

Flooding in crawlspace:

  • Turn off electrical power to your home if you’re going to be standing or kneeling in water
  • Save any valuables that may be in this space
  • Insure that sump-pump is working, and add any additional pumps if you can’t get a water extractor company right away.
  • If you have a sealed vapor barrier, it will likely rise up with lots of water underneath it, so cut the barrier near the sump-pump to allow pump to draw water off the top of the barrier and from underneath it. Looks can be deceiving, because you may have 2″ of water on top of vapor barrier, but 12″ below the vapor barrier.
  • Old dirty fiberglass insulation will support mold more than new insulation, because clean fiberglass is not filled with dirt, and therefore less likely to provide food for mold. That said, you may want to rip it all out as a precaution to get as much moisture out of the crawlspace as soon as possible.
  • If you have a “conditioned” crawlspace, meaning a vapor barrier on the floor, and insulation on the walls, we would recommend re-opening the perimeter vents on both ends of the home, and safely attaching a fan or two to the vent(s) and get air passing through the space 24/7 to help dry the space out.
  • We can always re-seal perimeter vents, fix vapor barriers and install new insulation around the walls of the crawlspace, as well as install new sump-pumps, because they were likely over-worked during the flood.

Flooding in basement:Photo Courtesy of Wunderground

  • Turn off electrical power to your home if you’re going to be standing or kneeling in water
  • Save any valuables that may be in this space
  • Insure that in-floor sump-pump is working and add any additional pumps if you can’t get a water extractor company right away.
  • Get ALL belongings and old electronics boxes and other stored items out of the basement.
  • Open windows and put fans in the windows to get as much cross-ventilation into the space as possible.
  • You can use your evaporative cooler (on fan-only setting), or whole house fan to get lots of air movement through the home.
  • Only open windows that are in the basement, so that you get all the airflow through that space.
  • If you have a dehumidifier, run this with the doors and windows CLOSED so it is only drying your home, and not the moist lawn outside. Air conditioning can also work as a de-humidifier.
  • If your basement is finished, pull out all carpet and pads in small sections because it will be very heavy.
  • Remove baseboard trim, and cut out drywall to above where the water line was. Make sure to check where electrical and plumbing run in the walls, so you don’t damage them.
  • Get more fans circulating air on the base of the open walls to dry them out as soon as possible. Mold usually sets in after 48-72 hours. Consider it a success if you only need some drywall and trim replaced and some new flooring, and avoid extensive mold in your home.

Eco Handyman is not equipped to help with water extraction, but we can help with repairs and remodeling after things dry out.

Remember to work with a local contractor, because we all know that disasters attract crooks from around the country, and you don’t want to be the person who gives an out of state contractor a nice down payment, and never hears from them again. Contact us if you have any questions or call us: 303.444.2181

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13 Responses to “Tips for Dealing with the Flooding in your Crawlspace or Basement”

  1. Dave & Annie September 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    Nate & Eco-Handyman Team: First off, THANK YOU for the helpful post, and for your excellent work over the years — you all are a valued community resource.

    We have a conditioned crawlspace / vapor barrier question:

    Having pumped the space to a damp dry (making two cuts in the vapor barrier to do so), we are now shifting to dehumidifying with fans and some heat. We are concerned about mold growing under the vapor barrier, especially around the areas where we cut. Should we remove some or all of the vapor barrier as we start drying, and/or take other measures to prevent mold growth in these coming days?

    - Dave & Annie

    • Ecohandyman September 16, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

      Cut the vapor barrier wherever you need to get the bulk water out with the sump pump (since the sealed barrier may float up on the water), but there is no need to pull the vapor barrier out in most cases. On a normal day in Boulder it is moist under there, and the water will usually soak back into the soil. Then you or Eco Handyman can tape the cut lines or path the existing vapor barrier with waterproof tape (NOT regular duct tape). That will seal the moist environment under the vapor barrier so that it is “outside the thermal envelope” of your home. Great question, and hope this helps.

  2. Rachel September 18, 2013 at 3:24 am #

    I’ve still got groundwater seeping into my basement. Carpets and pads are already out but we haven’t taken out the drywall because it crumbles into the standing water and we’re worried it will wreck (and stop) the sump pump. Is there anything we can do while we wait for the groundwater to stop coming in? The level of standing water is about 1 1/2″ in most of the basement – the pump seems to be keeping it from getting any higher.

    Thank you guys so much for providing valuable advice at such a tough time.


    • Ecohandyman September 18, 2013 at 3:56 am #

      You’re right that it is ideal to keep debris out of the sump pump, but getting out any drywall that was soaked is important. I would recommend cutting a section of window screen and attaching that over the sump intake. If it is a hose, just wrap it over the end, and put a hose clamp on there, or some creative way to keep some of the gunk out, but don’t worry about that too much. As a backup, you could get another backup sump, in case that one does break, but they are pretty durable. Then focus on getting the drywall out. Cut it with a drywall knife (find out where your electrical wires run first) or just rip it out aggressively if it all got wet, and have a second person putting it in a garbage bag, bucket or whatever works fastest.

      PS, make sure there isn’t any way to help stop the flow from the outside, like digging a ditch to re-route the water, or something like that. Hopefully the water table will continue to drop, and this will subside sooner rather than later. You may also want to hit McGuckins for some anti-bacteria stuff or use bleach to help reduce mold when you get to that stage. I will email you my cell number separately if you have more questions. -Nate

  3. Anne Zander September 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    The information that you have posted for people on your Blog and site is fantastic.
    Thank you for getting out accurate and safe information to people in such a speedy manager.
    I work for Colorado State University Extension of Boulder County and our own Extension office is flooded…….
    If I can provide you with more information to get out to people please let me know!!!!
    You are doing a great job

  4. Carl Morreale September 29, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    I had 10 inches of water in my crawl space and had to pull out the vapor barrier. Where can I purchase vapor barrier in Boulder Area?

    • Ecohandyman September 30, 2013 at 2:08 am #

      We only use Tu Tuff which is a cross-linked polyethylene, and designed for radon systems and other building systems that should never leak. The Husky black plastic from Home Depot is what cheap companies will use, but it is not rated to be used as a vapor barrier, and has holes in it, etc… Tu Tuff is only available from supply houses that sell to the trade only as far as I know, but you may be able to find it online. If you call our office, I would be happy to give you a bid on this system installed using a very low-voc adhesive that stays pliable over the long term, rather than falling off the wall as many adhesives do. Best of luck with the project, and hope that was the worst part of what you faced.

    • Ecohandyman November 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

      Get Tu Tuff online, the Husky black plastic at Home Depot is not rated as a vapor barrier. If it is a high traffic area, then use a 20mil pond liner.

  5. Nan Rosenbloom October 19, 2013 at 4:11 am #

    Our crawl space flooded under the vapor barrier my husband installed. Now we have a strong musty smell coming from our heating vents. It’s pretty strong in the crawl space too. I am worried about mold under the plastic; I saw that you recommended not to pull back the vapor barrier, but won’t mold be growing underneath it? Is that the cause of the smell? and what should we do now? It feels really unhealthy to breathe the musty air.

    • Ecohandyman November 14, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

      When you smell mold, it is best to contact a mold mitigation consultant, not necessarily someone who does the work to get an unbiased opinion. If you have a fully sealed vapor barrier, which 99% of people don’t, then there should not be much issue under it, but likely it is not fully sealed, and therefore could be a problem. If you live locally I am happy to look at it, but deal with the smell/potential mold first. Sorry for the slow response.

  6. Bob Gordon October 29, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    Great suggestions. Especially regarding turning off the power if you are standing in water. Another item to remember as it gets cold outside – check your furnace following flooding. There are electric panels in furnaces that can be destroyed by water.

    I like your suggestions too – the one about adding screen around the sump pump to keep it running and unclogged is great.

  7. Jean October 30, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    Given the flooding came in from Boulder’s sewer system I’d rather not use gypsum drywall to replace the 1950′s paneling on furring strips I pulled out of the flooded basement. There’s some minor efflorescence in the basement over rebar spots but otherwise it’s bone dry without a sump pump for 50+ years.

    I’m considering using Magboard SIPs to replace the paneling. All the magboards I’m finding have to be shipped from out of state. Can these be sourced locally rather than ordered from Wahoo Walls, Alligator Systems, Moxy, etc?

    • Ecohandyman November 14, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

      We do all of our basement remodels to current code, so furring strips are not part of that. Keep in mind code and needing to run wires for the electrical plan and the full picture before you start ordering products. You may want to pay a qualified consultant to design your project before jumping in. I applaud the energy retrofit you’re about to do, it will be much more comfortable and energy efficient!

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