3 things you need to know if your basement is flooded

Your basement is full of water that not only ruined your carpet but could be polluted with harmful bacteria.

What's your next move?

Put safety first. There's always the danger of electrocution when water mixes with outlets and appliances, and people in the suburbs have died that way in their flooded basements.

Stay out until the water recedes, experts say.

But it's not just the electricity that's dangerous.

Stormwater in flooded basements often mixes with a home's sewer system and becomes contaminated. Even if that doesn't happen, the water can carry hazards from the environment into the home, the Lake County Health Department warns. Use boots and gloves when you start cleaning up to keep the water from touching exposed skin.

Cleaning services can book up quickly after a storm. If you're going to need help, get your names on companies' lists early, said John Baron, owner of Servpro of Lombard/Addison.

Likewise, if you need to rent big industrial fans, get to the rental supply store quickly.

You've got 48 to 72 hours before mold starts to grow, Baron noted, so quick action is crucial.

“The longer the water sits the more damage is going to occur,” he said.

Must wet carpeting go?

Stormwater carries bacteria, which can stay even if the carpet does dry, so in many cases it's best to pitch it, some experts say. But Baron says carpet sometimes can be saved if the drying-out process starts promptly and the water isn't contaminated with sewage.

Walls also can be dried out if the work starts quickly and there's not soaked insulation behind the drywall, Baron said.

If the drywall must be replaced, many professionals will do a “dry cut” at 24 inches from the floor, just to be sure mold won't begin to grow.

Walls are where mold most commonly spreads after a flood, Baron said.

The health department recommends scrubbing all surfaces touched by floodwater with a solution of one-quarter cup of household bleach to a gallon of water. Clothing and bedding should be machine washed.

Suburban homeowners with private wells should make sure their well casing is not underwater. If it is, the well might be contaminated, the Lake County Health Department warns. When the rainwater recedes, test the well water, then get the well disinfected if necessary. Call your county health officials for more information.

Beware of scams

Hire only contractors who are licensed and insured, and don't be afraid to ask them, cautions the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois. Or, check out a business at

Be particularly wary of people who come door to door and offer to do work for cash, the bureau warns.

  After a basement flood, some carpeting and furniture might be salvageable if you act quickly to dry it, experts say. Bob Chwedyk/
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