Men vacuuming: drying out flooded basements

There are few things that look as effeminate as a man vacuuming: the rhythmic sashay of the hips, the limp wrist holding the cord, the inevitable humming of show tunes. Even with a wet vac slurping up gallons of backed-up sewer water, I spent the better part of yesterday feeling like a housewife from the 1950s.

As the storms continue, and the record rainfall here in the Heights of Arlington nears ten inches in two days, I’ve picked up a thing or two about storm-soaked basements. My brother and I helped our dad suck up water from two of the houses he rents out in the area. The unfinished basement was an easy problem to remedy.

The sump pump broke. There was standing water of a couple inches, so we sucked that up with a wet-vac/shop-vac, dumped it a dozen times in the curb outside. Dad, with his considerable pappy smarts, replaced the sump pump with what he called “the best”, an expensive Zoeller pump. The old one had become unmoored, tipped on its side, and was useless. It’s probably a good idea to dig into your sump pit every spring and make sure that the pump is on solid ground, ideally an inch or two off the bottom, where the silt and filth collects that could clog the pump. Setting it on two bricks could work, though I’m sure there are more secure and ingenuous methods out there, though make sure the float is unfettered.Clearing debris out of the pit is recommended, as well, as is having a back up power source, especially since Com Ed services the Midwest, where power outtages are more frequent than storms. (The ferocity of recent weather patterns must leave even the staunchest delusionist wondering more than Global what?)

Not much you can do if the sewer drains back up, as was the case with the second basement, which was finished with padded carpeting. Even after we dumped two five-gallon buckets at least ten times, maybe 100 gallons, the padding underneath was still so soaked that a puddle would form in your footprint. And it smelled like piss. Nothing you can do but open the windows, blow a fan, and hire professionals or gorillas to rip out all the wet carpeting to haul upstairs and outside to the curb. It sounds like most basic homeowner’s insurance in Illinois does not cover damage due to flooding, unless the incident broke a pipe that caused the flooding.

Whatever your insurance policy, it’s small solace for keepsakes and other personal familial ephemera—the kind of stuff housed in basements—that can’t be replaced. For those, like me, with a basement office, here’s some tips on how to preserve water-logged books. I can’t imagine it would be cost-effective to submerge computer equipment in sealed drums of rice, like you can do with a wet cell phone(Ziploc bag suffices). Then there’s the weeklong-process of clearing out and starting over with plastic Rubbermaid bins.

Luckily, our house, and its sub-basement with windows at ground level, has been spared any flooding. There is no pit for a sump pump, so the foundation is sealed, and one school of thought would argue that the hole for the pit welcomes more damage than it prevents. We have sewer drains, of course, but they didn’t back up. Maybe we’re higher up. We’re definitely lucky. Now I can get on with the laundry and other domestic chores,



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