Tag Archives: flood cleanup

Keeping Water Out Of Your Basement

2 Jun

I devote a chapter in the book to basements. Why? Basements are the go-to shelter in many storms. If a tornado hits, you’re much safer in a well-constructed basement than you’d be most places.

One topic I didn’t have room to address properly was keeping water out of your basement. This information applies to any structure below ground, bomb shelters and underground homes need to stay dry too!

1) Choose a good location to build on. Is your home near a river that regularly overflows? Look at the surrounding ground. You want your home on higher ground. Water will run naturally down and shed from your home. Don’t select a location where water will pool.

For a new home you can get a CLUE report. CLUE stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange. It’s like a history of insurance claims against a property. If a home has been flooded multiple times in the past, it will flood in the future.

A controversial topic is the government’s insurance program for flood prone areas. floodsmart.gov. If you live in some areas, your home will be flooded. It’s just a matter of when.

Don’t build on a steep hill. Heavy rains move soil and could damage your home. I feel a bit queasy whenever I see a home precariously perched on a steep slope. Why ever did they build there?

2) Augment the natural flow of water away from your home. This can be done in several ways.

a) For sure, clean your gutters. Purchase extensions and run your gutter pipe at least 8 to 10 feet away from your home.

b) Look at the grade near your house. The ground should slope away from your house. This will help carry rainfall away. If necessary, purchase dirt and bank it up around your home. This is a must do if your grade isn’t acceptable.

c) OK. You’ve got squeaky clean gutters. Your grade is great. Just because of your location and other sources of water pouring into the land your home sits on, you still have issues. There are three common solutions.

You could build a French drain to channel water flow away from your property. You can search Youtube for “French drain” to learn more. Basically, a French drain is a channel which water can take to move away from the area you want to keep dry. It’s like an express lane for water. These are constructed with plastic drain pipe, filter cloth, and stones or pebbles. Don’t build a German drain by accident!

You only need a French drain if you must move substantial amounts of water away from your home.

d) What if you’re in a relatively low location and water in your French drain doesn’t have anywhere to go? It’s time to learn about building a dry well. A dry well is basically a hole in the ground and channels leading to the hole. Water flows from the channels into the hole and from there can seep into the ground. If the reservoir fills too rapidly, there is a pop up where water can come out the top. Rocks around and below the installed well aids in water flow.

You only need a dry well if your French (not German!) drain doesn’t have anywhere to shed water.

e) An alternative to French drains and drywells or a supplement to them is a sump pump. French drains and dry wells are pretty easy to construct. They just take a lot of digging. Once built they do their job without any further effort or expense from you.

Sump pumps require power to pump water away from your basement. This Old House has a nice video on youtube explaining how to install your own sump pump. Most often these are put in the basement in a corner where water collects.

The concrete floor is chiseled out to make room for the pump and then resealed around the pump container.

When the water level gets too close to the floor of the basement, the sump pump automatically turns on and pumps water away from the structure.

If a power outage concerns you, there are battery backup sump pumps.

A sump pump is a great alternative to French drains and dry wells. If you’re an urban prepper with close neighbors and no real lawn to build French drains and dry wells, a sump pump is perfect. A sump pump is a great last line of defense to keep water out of your basement.

3) Seal your basement’s walls against water. This is another one of those things you really should do if the interior walls of your basement are accessible.

If water builds up on the outside of your basement, it will exert tremendous force against the walls. Water will flow in through cracks, loose mortar, and enough pressure will push water right through concrete block.

The solution is simple.

a) Coat the walls with a good waterproofing paint. It’s an easy job. If you go into a hardware store, you’ll find waterproofing paint. Zinsser has a neat little brochure “Guide To Waterproofing” available in many hardware stores.

Go with an oil-based paint like Zinsser’s WaterTite in the red can. It says it can withstand 34 pounds of water pressure. Before applying the paint, clean the surface and seal any cracks. Double coat. As with all painting, how well the job turns out depends on how well you prepare the surface. We don’t care about pretty. We care about waterproof.

Zinsser makes polyurethane sealant for caulking corners and areas where expansion and contraction can occur. You can purchase hydraulic cement for filling in gaps. Hydraulic cement expands to create a watertight seal. Paint can fill in small cracks.

b) If you go to the wall and it crumbles in some areas due to previous water damage, you can fix it with surface bonding cement. Surface bonding cement is a special cement which contains tiny fiberglass fibers which lock the cement together. It’s exceptionally strong.

The theory is that you can just stack up blocks and slap a coat of surface bonding cement across them. It will be as strong as using mortar between the blocks.

Hint: If you’re repairing a wall with mortar, rather than troweling it on, you can pick up a handful and throw it at the wall to get it to adhere. Wear safety glasses!

4) If you’ve followed the advice this far, your basement walls shouldn’t leak. You’ve reduced the water pressure against them by sheding water away from them. The walls have been waterproofed. There’s one more potential source of water.

In some cities, when it floods badly, sewers backup. In general, backups are good. Carry a backup gun. Backup your computer. Sewer backups are bad. In heavy rains, if a sewer has no where to take the water, it can follow the path to your tub drain or your toilet. Water will pour out of your toilet. Icky. I know.

In other cities this doesn’t happen. Ask around if this is an issue if you move to a new home. In some areas, the sewers were sized to carry away not only sewage, but the gutters of yore drained into the sewer system.

If this is an issue in your area, you can install a one-way valve, which prevents sewage from backing up into your home. This link (to youtube) will show you a three part series about installing a Mainline Fullport Backwater Valve.


5) In the book, I began the chapter on basements with a discussion about the construction of boats. In yet another way basements are like small ocean going boats: You really don’t want water inside them, but you should plan for water getting in anyway! Despite your best plans and efforts, always assume water will win in the end. Keep this in mind if you remodel your basement.

Avoid things like carpet which will sop up water like a sponge. Don’t use regular paper faced sheetrock which can harbor mold. Pay a bit more for the fiberglass faced stuff.

If water does get in your basement, have a dehumidifier and extension cord handy to quickly dry it out. Powerful blower motors or fans help speed up drying out.

Charlie Palmer -author The Prepper Next Door


10 Preparedness Lessons From Hurricane Sandy

9 Nov

1. Do what the authorities say. Evacuate. Some preppers won’t like hearing this, but the officials often know best. At a minimum, keep informed. If the news reports a storm of biblical proportions is bearing down on you, take a vacation. Visit the in-laws.

2. Store water for drinking. Many residents in New York and New Jersey lost a source of reliable drinking water. Relief agencies provided water, but what would happen if the relief agencies couldn’t even do that? It’s good to have some water for washing, too.

3. Store some food, at least a few days. Relief agencies provided hot meals to people, but it’s easier on you and your family if you have your own reserves and have thought about how you’ll cook them.

4. Allow for a power outage. Nearly 8 million peoples’ power was knocked out. Many went ten days without power. The amazing thing here is just how quickly power was restored to so many areas. Some preppers harp of society being fragile, but societies usually are resilient, too. For most of us, we can get by without power or we should have a generator.

5. Learn about tangential safety concerns. This is a big part of the book. Carbon monoxide is a good example. Several people have died or become sick because they weren’t fully aware of the dangers of CO. They purchased a generator, but failed to understand the CO issues involved. They built fires in the chimney, only to have CO make them sick. One difference between a newbie prepper and an experienced prepper is being aware of these side issues that cause a loss of life or further property damage after a disaster.

6. Prepare for delays. Many people sat or stood in line for hours to get gasoline. Traffic lights were out and traffic moved slowly. Does this mean urban preppers should store a lot of gasoline to avoid the lines? Not necessarily. When prepping you must weigh the costs and risks of making a preparation against the benefits. For regular gasoline, keeping 100 gallons of fuel in your garage invites new risks. What if a tree brings down a power line right across your garage? With the extra fuel, you’ve just lost your garage and, perhaps, your house.

7. Prepare for home damage. Hurricane Sandy damaged homes with wind and water. Falling trees made a general nuisance of themselves, taking down power lines and starting fires. Some just cozily plopped themselves down on a living room couch. It’s good to know about your home’s construction and its systems, to know what repairs you can make and to know when your home is simply unsafe and you must leave.

I’m really looking forward to a new blogger over at tracemypreps.com who will write about home structure and preparedness, an important topic that doesn’t get that much attention.

8. Allow for prescription medications and special preps for the elderly and children. Elderly people who needed elevators in their high-rise buildings in New York to get up and down were trapped when the power went out. Volunteer runners who were slated to participate in the New York City marathon ran up and down stairs delivering prescriptions and meals.

9. As far as reasonably possible, test your preps or have a well-thought out plan. One major story involved a hospital where infants depended upon electrical life-support. When the hospital’s backup generators failed, the nurses carefully evacuated the babies while manually beating their hearts.

It’s often when you’re at the end of resources when character and resiliency really show. Some generators in basements failed because of water. Yes, water will get into your basement during a flood. Powerful pumps can reduce the level. This doesn’t mean you should flood your basement with a garden hose to see how well things go! Nor should you needless transport real premature babies just for practice.

10. It can happen to you. Too many people feel disasters only affect others. In one story I read, thousands of special genetically-engineered lab mice died because they were left in a university basement. Hurricane, flooding, animals in the basement…hmmm…. You don’t need a Ph.D. to realize that’s not a good combination.

Now I’m not trying to start one of those save-the-mice versus save humans political-moral conflicts. But somebody was responsible for that situation. Almost certainly, they didn’t really believe the flooding would be that bad, or they would have taken some preparations to protect the mice. One of the biggest reasons to prep is that the process of prepping gets you to think through unpleasant scenarios. If they do happen or even if other horrible scenarios come to pass, you’ll be better prepared mentally to take action. You won’t be in a state of denial or dismissal.

Charlie P.-author The Prepper Next Door: A Practical Guide For Disaster And Emergency Planning.


Here’s a news blurb about natural gas leaks, a too frequently neglected topic.

Breeze Point Fires Caused by Hurricane Sandy (Youtube):

Here’s an ordinary guy (on youtube) who gives updates about his personal experience with Sandy:

Another update. This guy “preps” in style, with wine and shrimp!

thebrooklynprepper’s view of Sandy. He’s now to be called “The” brooklynprepper:


Here’s a nice “post sandy survival guide.” Protecting pipes from freezing, water issues. Good stuff. (Preventing freezing pipes during a heat-out situation and making emergency repairs is covered in The Prepper Next Door)
Here’s a good story about the risks of CO and generators. If you purchased a generator for emergency use and aren’t familiar with carbon monoxide risks, please read this story.
skyscrapers suck: “Thirty floors without an elevator, a light bulb, or a drop of running water is no place for an 80-year-old woman to spend a week”

Initially 8.5 million people without power… down to about 1.5 million ten days or so later
What caused generators to fail at NYC hospitals?

Here’s a short guide for hurricanes (pdf) (from an energy company).

Here’s a very short how-to blog post about living without power after a storm.

One subject I wanted to discuss in the book but didn’t have room was the dangers of arc flash and electrocution. Obviously, just stay away from downed power lines! If you’re turning on a main circuit breaker, don’t stand in water!

While most electricians will shut off power to a circuit to work on it, there are situations where linesmen or electricians must work on live electrical wires. Of course, this is not something for the average prepper to undertake. But, we can learn a bit from the pros. If you’ve come home after a hurricane and your house has flooded, and you turned off the main circuit breaker when you left, and are now turning it back on, a few precautions don’t hurt.

The key idea is to be sure you’re fully insulated, so current doesn’t find a path through you to ground. Some electricians like to follow the rule that they want three levels of protection. For example, they’ll use insulated tools, adequate rubber-soled boots, and stand on an insulating rubber mat.

When flipping the breaker back on, it doesn’t hurt to put on rubber gloves and stand on a rubber welcome mat. These measures aren’t as good as what the professionals use but are certainly better than taking no precautionary steps. Let your system dry out and, if in doubt, hire a professional to inspect your electrical system.

This pdf is a basic guide to electrical safety. Well worth reading, even if you don’t work with electricity.

Flood Cleanup In Duluth

27 Jun

Duluth was drenched with 10″ of rainfall. The good news is that the waters are receding and polar bears are no longer roaming the streets.

The bad news is that cleaning up after a flood is icky and many homeowners will find their insurance won’t cover flooding. The Star Tribune had a good article “Duluth Shows The Risk of Betting Against Floods.” It says only 111 homeowners of the city’s 25,485 homes had flood insurance. The article encourages people to give some thought to whether they should carry flood insurance.

A nice article about preppers and insurance can be found on tracemypreps.com  which is a great blog for preppers.

For those who want a detailed roadmap of how to clean up after a flood, FEMA provides a nice pdf (“Repairing Your Flooded Home“) you can download from the American Red Cross.