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Perimeter drain maintenance can go far to prevent basement flooding: expert

01/24/2014 09:00 EST | Updated 03/26/2014 05:59 EDT
VICTORIA - Waking up to the sound of rushing water in the house can be pretty unnerving. For Madeleine Bragg and her husband Mike, they faced a flooded basement.

"Mike gets up at 5 a.m. to go to work and he heard this sound like a waterfall. He opened the door to the stairs and it was a waterfall going into our basement," says Madeleine.

The couple had been in the process of finishing the basement of their Fernie, B.C., home, including digging out and waterproofing the entire foundation in hopes of including a third bedroom, TV room, workspace and storage in the future.

"In the past three years, we've had some minor weeping here and there through the concrete, but this year it kept snowing, like 20 centimetres, and then raining on top of it," she says.

"When it rains on top of snow it turns into ice and then it runs down the ice into our back walkway, and then under the back door, down the stairs and into the basement."

The couple had installed a sump pump to aid with any potential water buildup from the perimeter drains and ground saturation, but due to the amount of water the pump couldn't keep up.

According to Geoffrey Styba, owner of Victoria's Raintek who deals with drainage inspections, cleaning, repair and replacement, perimeter drain maintenance is one of the most important things a homeowner can do to prevent basement flooding.

"It all boils down to perimeter drain tile maintenance," says Styba. "The main thing is they are out of sight and out of mind, so a lot of homeowners don't recognize them until they do have a problem, and a lot of times when people call us with a flooded basement they have no idea what has happened."

In cases where basement flooding may have been caused by prolonged rainstorms, Styba says the first thing he tells homeowners to do when they see flooding is to disconnect their downspouts feeding into the perimeter drain tiles and divert all the water coming off the roof away from their house.

"When somebody's basement floods that is the worst-case scenario. It can only get better from there," he says.

Styba says a common mistake homeowners make when trying to dry their space following leakage or a flood is applying heat.

"That's not the best idea because if you put heat against something moist in a humid environment, it will start to grow mould on it," he says. "To start drying things out the best things to do is dehumidify and increase air circulation."

While the destruction of a basement caused by flooding is devastating for homeowners, the cost to restore their home can also be upsetting. Even though insurance can cover some of the damage, Leonard Sharman, senior media relations adviser for The Co-operators, says a lot of homeowners don't know what is covered by their policy.

"When you talk about flooded basements, if it is an overland flood like we saw in Calgary, generally if water is all over the ground, is coming through windows and doors, that is not covered by any policy in Canada," says Sharman.

"What is typically covered, and often you have to buy this as an endorsement to your policy, is what we call sewer backup."

Sewer backup includes any water that comes into the home through pipes into the interior of the home.

Sharman says many insurance companies like The Co-operators encourage homeowners to install sump pumps and a backwater prevention valve to help reduce the possibility of sewer backup.

"It used to be that fires were the most expensive thing home insurance covered, and over the last 10 years or so what we call water damage for the first time ever is becoming the most expensive for insurance companies," he says.

"Back then you may have had a couple buckets and a bag of hockey gear down there, but these days we often see hundreds of thousands of dollars of finished basements."

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