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updated: 7/28/2011 11:24 AM

Tips for dealing with flooded basements in suburbs

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  • Mark Mesa, left, and Jorge Avina carry soaked possessions to the curb Saturday morning at Mesa's brother's house in Mount Prospect.

      Mark Mesa, left, and Jorge Avina carry soaked possessions to the curb Saturday morning at Mesa's brother's house in Mount Prospect.
    Samantha Bowden | Staff Photographer


Just as soaked carpet and furniture had been hauled from basements to curbs, suburban homeowners faced the prospect of more heavy rain today.

Exhausted, angry and fearing a repeat of the weekend's flooding, homeowners have many unanswered questions. Chief among them: Can I get help paying for the damage? And how can I keep this from happening again?

Here's what experts have to say.

Q. I flooded, but I didn't have any flood insurance. Can I get any financial help?

A. Unfortunately, no, says Brian Goralski, building director for the village of Bartlett. If your homeowners insurance doesn't cover flooding, then your only other resource would be if the community or county is declared a disaster area by FEMA. So far, none of the suburbs have been declared disaster areas.

Q. Is there any way to prevent this from happening again?

A. Stay up-to-date with home maintenance. Replace old sump pumps. For a sump pump that doesn't run all the time, the average life span is five to eight years, says Arlington Heights State Farm Insurance agent Gary Mann. Clear debris from window wells and sump pump pits. Put basement storage items in plastic tubs rather than cardboard boxes.

Some homeowners swear by waterproofing companies, but their work can cost thousands of dollars. Goralski recommends buying flood and sump pump insurance, as well as a backup sump pump, a battery backup and a generator. Mann suggests people make sure their drainage spouts funnel water far from the foundation of their home.

To answer the "what should I do?" question, talk to your insurance agent or read FEMA's guide.

Q. If I had only an inch or two of water, and I didn't cut out the drywall, will it be OK?

A. No. An inch or two of water will travel up the drywall several feet, especially if you have insulation in the wall, Goralski said. Mold will form on the backside of drywall, so you won't be able to see it. The drywall needs to be cut out and replaced.

Q. If we have mold/bacteria in our house, what are some symptoms we might exhibit?

A. Headaches, clogged sinuses and difficulty breathing, especially for people allergic to mold or with weak respiratory or immune systems, said Debra Quackenbush, of the McHenry County Health Department. Just because mold isn't visible in carpet or drywall doesn't mean it isn't in the insulation or carpet padding.

"It's really important not to let it get to the mold stage. Mold grows pretty quickly," Quackenbush said.

For help, see McHenry County's "After the Flood" tips or learn more about mold from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She advises people not to put their families at risk for the sake of saving the carpeting or a few inches of drywall. If they're not sure what to do, she suggests getting professional opinions.

Q. What if I live in a house that always gets water when it rains? What kinds of short- and long-term problems am I looking at?

A. Potential problems, according to Goralski, include cracks in the floor, mildew, mold and possible structural damage.

Q. Water came through my basement windows. What can I do to prevent that from happening again?

A. One suggestion is to change the surrounding grading to make sure water flows away from the window well. Try moving downspouts to discharge toward a different area, or consider a window well cover. Mann suggests making sure the window wells are clear of debris, so water can drain out of them and they don't fill up like an aquarium and break the window.

Q. Would it help a flood-prone neighborhood if the homeowners chipped in and bought a drain pipe to run along their backyards?

A. "It's possible," says Hoffman Estates Public Works Director Joseph Nebel. "Every situation is different." While neighbors uniting to solve a problem is a good thing, and it saves money to divide up the cost, Goralski warned that drains can still be very expensive. They also require homeowners to be responsible for maintaining their yards to insure proper drainage.

Q. If my damage was only slightly more than my deductible, is it worth it to file a claim?

A. It's up to the property owner. They might want to consider their finances and the impact their claim might have on their premiums. For the best advice, property owners should talk to their agents, State Farm Insurance spokeswoman Missy Lundberg said.

Q. What types of insurance riders are available? How much do they typically cost?

A. Most homeowners insurance policies limit or exclude coverage for damage caused by the backup of sewer lines. However, many insurers offer additional coverage for things like sewer and drain backup, for an added cost.

"For storms like this, homeowners need to add that on to their policy," Mann said.

The amount of insurance and the price will vary. It could be several hundred dollars a year and will depend on the insurer's history with claims in an area, the deductible, and the amount of coverage purchased, Lundberg said.

Q. What types of scams should people be on the lookout for?

A. Don't hire anyone who calls, emails or shows up at your door unsolicited, and never pay cash, because once they have your money, they're less likely to finish (or start) the work, according to the Tom Joyce, a spokesman for the Chicago-area Better Business Bureau.

The BBB refers to these people as "storm chasers," who rip off people when they're in desperate need of help. People should get everything in writing, vet the contractor carefully (make sure he or she is licensed, check references, etc.) and even though you're anxious to get the work started, get three different bids.

"Any situation like this, that presents a crisis for people, brings out people who will try to exploit the situation," Joyce said, noting that people can check out businesses at no charge at

Q. Where should I direct my anger? The village? Insurance companies? The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District? Mother Nature?

A. No one entity is entirely responsible. Mother Nature definitely deserves the brunt of it (and, some might argue, we should blame ourselves for Mother Nature's wrath). While there have been some rumblings about municipal storm sewers not functioning properly, it has not been proven to be true. While there are many reasons to be upset, make sure your criticism isn't focused on the wrong person or place.

Q. Is there a way for me to cap my storm drain so it doesn't back up into my basement?

A. There are typically two openings, or drains, in the basement that can be an avenue for water, Nebel says. There's the sump pit, which collects storm and groundwater from around a home's foundation so it can be pumped out. Then there's a sanitary drain that is directly connected to the sanitary sewer service.

"I'm not sure if there is any means to completely seal off a sump pit. There are valves that can be installed on the sanitary line that work either manually or automatically to prevent a sanitary backup," Nebel said.

Goralski recommends checking with your village to see if an overhead sewer program exists, which can modify the existing sanitary sewer.