Well, Our Basement Flooded
If you follow me on Instagram or read Monday’s blog post about our basement, then you’ve already heard the news. Our basement flooded last week. It was not a pleasant way to spend a Sunday, and I want to walk you through the entire process so you can perhaps learn a few things from our experience. We’re still in the thick of figuring it all out (insurance claims, mold remediation, flood prevention, and more), but flooding is a common experience for homeowners, so I’m hopeful this post will help you in the future.
2019 – Our Flooded Storage Unit
If you’ve been a long-time follower, you may remember this blog post where I chronicled our first flooding experience. Back then, we were living in a small condo and we rented an off-site storage unit to hold our childhood boxes, Christmas decor, my wedding dress, and more. During an extremely cold winter season, a pipe burst at the storage facility, and all of our items were submerged in feet of water. It was pretty horrendous.
That was a very emotional experience for us both. I had just suffered a miscarriage and I was still recovering, physically and emotionally, and it hit us when we were already down. And seeing all of our memories from our lives ruined, was very difficult. But, we got through it and my mom was even able to salvage my wedding dress from the wreckage. Jan saves the day!
After that, a lot of good, big things happened for us. We bought this house; we finally had success with IVF; and then our sweet rainbow baby, Rory, was here about a year later. It was the start of a lot of good for us. So, I’m looking at this flood as potentially the start of good things for the Finn family.
A Low-Key Sunday Turned Into Chaos
We were having a nice low-key Sunday and had plans to celebrate Ellis’ birthday together that evening. All summer long, we’ve had really fantastic weather here in Chicago, with lots of sunny and dry days. But a storm came through with insane torrential downpours. It was a “supercell” rainstorm that flooded streets and homes all across the city. We watched from our front porch at the crazy rain coming down and I briefly mentioned to Finn that he should check the basement just to make sure nothing was wet. We’ve lived here for three years, living through many storms, and we have never experienced water.
He went downstairs and immediately started yelling for me to come help. There were already about six inches of water in the basement and more was flooding in. We panicked and then sprung into action. I had Finn get all of his electronics and work computers up and out of his office area. We grabbed a few plastic bins with our children’s sentimental items. And we desperately searched for the source of the water.
We thought it might have been groundwater, from the outside, seeping into the house from our side door. But, then we found our drain pipe that goes to the sewage line and that was spewing water up and into our home at an alarming rate. Finn found something to block that drain to try to stop the water from coming in even more. We had a good thirty minutes of sewage water (yep…dirty, smelly, sewage water) coming into our basement at full force.
Meanwhile, we had two kids upstairs who needed to be supervised! I came up from the basement and put Ellis down for a nap, while Rory did a few puzzles in the living room. Finn, then headed outside to check the rest of our property and he ran into a few neighbors who were checking the sewer grates on our block.
Why Did This Happen?
The sewer system here in Chicago has an inlet control valve system. This intentionally limits water intake during heavy rain so the wastewater doesn’t get overwhelmed. The streets act as temporary holding areas for water and then drain as the rainfall stops. Since so much rain came down so fast, the sewer system couldn’t handle the influx of water, so sewage water started seeping up into basements, including ours.
Chicago’s sewage system is being improved, piece by piece, with the project set to be completed by 2029. Obviously, our neighborhood hasn’t yet been fixed to alleviate these flash-flooding incidents. And to make it worse, the sewer drain directly in front of our house was blocked. A few of the dads on the street all went out there during the rain to try to release the blockage, but even after an hour of work the water didn’t budge.
In short, this “once in a lifetime” supercell rainstorm and the ancient sewage system combined to form a big mess in our basement and the homes of many others in our area.
Calling A Remediation Company
While Finn was trying to salvage some items from the basement, I immediately googled a water remediation company in our area. I knew that lots of other homeowners would soon be doing the same, so I did this during the storm to see if they could get out fast. I ended up calling Chicago Water and Fire Restoration and they were out within an hour.
They checked out the entire space, took tons of photos, and tested the walls with a moisture meter to see if the drywall was wet too. I was relieved to have an expert walk us through everything within hours of this incident occurring, so we could make a game plan to get things cleaned up.
Since this was sewage water (the worst kind of water in your home), they recommended that anything the water touched be removed. Our doors, trim, carpet, and two feet of drywall had to be taken out, along with any toys, furniture, and belongings that were touched with water. They could have started the work that evening, but since we wanted to have a little celebration (just us four) for Ellis’ birthday, we booked them for the following morning.
Ripping It All Out
The water remediation company came out and spent 14 HOURS (!!!) removing all of the soggy stuff, ripping out the carpet and drywall, and spraying everything to prevent mold. It was a big and messy job and I’m thankful that we didn’t have to do it ourselves. I honestly don’t know how we possibly could have done it. These guys worked tirelessly the entire day, ripping the basement apart and carrying all of our belongings out to their truck.
They then set up dozens and dozens of fans and dehumidifiers throughout our basement to start to dry out everything that was left behind. These continued to work for four days and our house sounded like an airplane! It was so loud.
The Basement Now
Everything is all cleaned up; the soggy stuff has been removed, and the bottom two feet of drywall are gone. It’s basically a half-finished basement now.
They also had to remove the subfloor, since that was damaged from the water. They were able to leave the wood that leveled the surface, since that dried out with all of the fans and dehumidifiers. It was interesting to see how the floor was built up, because we didn’t really know what was underneath the carpet. Now, we’ll figure out our best options for rebuilding the floor.
We also discovered that there was mold all over the foundation in the front of the house that was already there behind the drywall. It makes me shudder to think that Finn was sitting right next to this all day and that we were soon going to have our kids down here all the time. The water restoration company was able to remediate the mold and we’re having lots of waterproofing experts out to figure out how that happened in the first place. I’m relieved that we know about it now and can fix it before we remodel this entire space.
Home Insurance Coverage
Luckily, we paid for a water backup policy on our home insurance that covers up to $10,000 in damages with a $1,000 deductible. We did not have flooding insurance, so we were very grateful when we looked and saw that we had the water backup plan in place already.
I’m not a home insurance expert by any means, so please do your own research here. The water remediation company billed our home insurance directly, so that did make things easier for us. Plus, they documented everything, themselves, to submit to the insurance company.
The remediation cost about $9,500 so we used pretty much every penny of that insurance coverage. Sadly, we will have to pay for the remodel and any flood control measures out of pocket, but we were very grateful to at least have the clean-up covered.
The Silver Lining
The absolutely crazy thing is that I was supposed to start my basement makeover THE VERY NEXT DAY. I kid you not, I had “demo basement” on my calendar for that Monday, with my new trim and materials arriving later that week. If I had already started rebuilding the space and had those new materials in the basement, it would have been heartbreaking. Now, we’ll really be starting with a blank space for the basement makeover and will definitely need to tap a few pros to get it to a place before we can DIY the rest.
Preventing This From Happening Again
The water remediation was just one part of the puzzle. Now, how are we going to prevent this chaos from happening again? With climate change, storms like this are, sadly, now the norm. The last thing I want is to re-do the basement and experience more water in the future. We’ve had three waterproofing and flood control companies come out to give us quotes and ideas on what we need to add to our home to protect the basement. I’m still going through all of the information and research, but I’ll keep you posted once we have a concrete plan.
Our New Remodel/Design Plan
So what changes with the basement makeover gameplan I shared on Monday? Well, we first need to get a professional out here to add in the new subfloor and drywall the entire basement. Once that is in, we can take over and figure out our next steps for trim, flooring, and paint. We did have to trash the doors, so I won’t be doing the budget door upgrades, as I hoped.
I think we will also re-do the bathroom, ourselves, eventually. We kept the vanity, but it did get wet and will need to be replaced. I think it would also be fun to do a new tile over the painted tile floor I did here. But we are still in the early stages of figuring this all out. I’m hopeful that I’ll have more info for you soon so we can keep this project moving along!
It’s Going To Be Okay
I got lots of messages on Instagram asking how I was so calm during all of this. I mean, we legit had sewage in our basement. Was it ideal? Not at all. But was there anything I could do about it? Nope. We love our home and all of the items we have here, but at the end of the day, it’s just stuff. We were healthy, our kids were happy, and that was all that mattered.
Instead of putting our energy into mourning the state of our basement, we channeled it into figuring out solutions to make it better than ever. Shitty things like this happen (I mean, this was literally shitty…) and you never know what life will throw at you. But, we try to remind ourselves that the only thing we can control is our attitude and I’m happy we chose to have a positive mindset with this latest curveball.
I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m married to Finn & mom to Rory and Ellis. Together we’re creating our dream home in Chicago, one DIY project at a time.