This approach to avoiding basement flooding includes multiple levels of backup/prevention. The Midland, MI area is prone to Spring flooding as a result of melting snow, rising streams and maybe a warm rain just to make things worse. Here are some thoughts that might help you avoid or minimize flooding in your basement. Prepare in advance. It’s probably too late once the flood waters start rising.
If you don’t have a sump or crock with a pump in your basement, then your home probably depends upon gravity flow from the water gathering pipes (aka tiles or tiling) around your basement footings to gravity drain to either a low lying area/ditch or directly into the city sewer system if you live in the City. The issue in Midland has been that many parts of the City have combined sanitary and storm sewers. A large rain event overwhelms the sewer system and forces the combined rain water/ sewage back into your basement. Rain water in your basement is bad. Sewage water in your basement is horrible!
- Grading & Down Spouts – Gutters collect the rain from your roof. Downspouts and/or buried pipes should transport that water well away from your basement foundation. The grade or slope of the soil around your home should encourage rain water to run away from your foundation and not towards it.
- Shut-off Valve – If your basement does gravity drain, a one way valve or backflow preventer may (or not) have been installed between your house and the discharge of that gravity line. These backflow preventers are notorious for sticking in the open position. I suggest talking with a plumber about installing a manual valve that would allow you to temporarily close this gravity line. The caveat is that you have to be home to close the valve and then re-open it later after the flood event.
- Sump & Pump – If your basement depends upon a gravity drain and you do close off the line going to the ditch or city sewer, you will potentially now have an accumulation of the water in the tiling around your home. This problem is solved with a sump or crock usually located in a corner of your basement. An electric pump within the crock and controlled via a float pumps the water away from your home. The pressure generated by the pump can overcome a full ditch or city sewer line. Basements that do not have a gravity line will depend on this sump pump system to keep things dry throughout the year.
- Backup Pump – All pumps will fail eventually or have problems with the electric circuit supplying it. A backup pump is the ticket. This secondary pump can be placed in the same sump/crock at a slightly higher elevation so that it runs only when the primary pump fails. It’s also a good idea to have this second pump on a different electric circuit. If you want to take it a step further, have a new third pump setting in the box and ready to be installed at a moment’s notice if pumps one and two fail.
- Water Driven Pump – Instead of having an electric backup pump, consider using a water driven pump (aka eductor pump). This pump will continue to work even if the electricity is out. These pumps are not practical with well water and they have some other limitations so consult with your plumber.
- Battery Operated Pump – Uses a battery like you might see in your automobile to operate a DC voltage backup pump. Be sure to replace the batteries on these pumps every few years as directed or it won’t be ready when you need it. I’m not a big fan because the batteries lose capacity and always seem to fail at the worst time.
- On-Demand Generator – Standby or on-demand generators start automatically when the power goes out and typically use natural gas or propane as fuel. They work in conjunction with the electric sump pump mentioned above. Consult your electrician.
- Manual Generator – You need to be home to start a manual gasoline generator when the power goes out. Most manual generators are set up to “backfeed” your house from a 220V plug in or around your garage (don’t run the generator in the garage by the way). You’ll need to operate a manual switch or two which also keeps you from accidentally feeding electricity into the power grid. Consult your electrician for installation.
- Water Alarm – A 9V battery and about $10 will buy a small alarm that you set on the floor next to your sump crock. It emits a piercing whistle when water touches the sensors indicating that water has overflowed the crock. This should allow you to take action such as replacing a failed pump with that spare one that you had setting in the box ready to go. This alarm doesn’t work so well if there’s nobody home to hear it.
- Alarm System – If you have a whole house alarm system, a sensor connected to that system can alert you or your monitoring company that there’s a problem.
- PumpSpy – If you don’t have an alarm system, but want something more sophisticated than the water alarm mentioned above, check out PumpSpy. I’m sure there are other brand names, but these are impressive. A sensor working with your home WiFi system can send you texts, emails or even alert you via the phone app.
These suggestions are intended to help you prepare against minor flooding and give you multiple levels of backup to help you keep your basement dry. Please consult your builder, plumber or electrician to determine how to implement these measures for your basement.