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Unexpected water in your basement? Here are 5 steps you need to take, according to a local insurance agent


Picture this: Your family is returning home from a memorable vacation. Everyone’s spirits are high, but as soon as you walk into the house — you realize disaster struck while away.

The basement is underwater, including all the kids’ toys, important documents, furniture, the carpet, and other items. When faced with this situation, the first reaction for many is to panic.

“Anytime you see water in the house, it’s a mess,” said Rockville Centre insurance agent Alex Anderson. “And oftentimes, it can be nobody’s fault.”

Water losses can originate from a few different sources. Keep in mind too that hurricane and storm season is here on Long Island — flooding is not an uncommon occurrence, especially in many communities on the south shore.

You don’t have to live in Long Beach, Lido Beach, or Atlantic Beach to have a potential flood exposure, but we’ll go into that a little more in a later segment.

Basements are the most susceptible to flooding because, naturally, it is the lowest level of your home. Some of the most common causes include surface water leaking into the foundation walls, lawn irrigation systems being too close to the house, pipe bursts, excess water from heavy rain, or even poor grading of the soil away from the foundation.

My basement flooded, what do I do now?

1) Locate the water source

First, try to locate where the water is coming from! If it is coming from inside the house, say from a pipe or failed water heater, turn off the main water line immediately if you are able to safely access it.

If it’s coming from an outside water source, try to find it. If your entire basement has collected a depth of water, assume that the water is charged and do not go through unless the power is turned off from your circuit breaker (and if it is a life-threatening situation, call 911).

If originating from outside, for example, and it is from surface water pouring through a window well, that is fairly obvious, however, seepage or water below the surface leaking through your foundation may not be. If you can safely move or salvage any belongings, then do so.

2) Call a mitigation company

If there is not an overwhelming amount of water, those who own a wet-dry vacuum can start clearing it out if it can be done safely, but most times a person can not combat a basement flood on their own — they need outside assistance from either a mitigation or restoration company (two names, different in meaning but often used interchangeably).

These businesses aim to stop further damage and reduce overall loss after a disaster, as well as help you repair or replace damaged items and bring the basement back to its original condition. They can also help act as a liaison to your homeowners insurance carrier.

The finish of a basement is also important. A finished basement may include carpeting, walls, and furniture, so it’s crucial to contact someone who can dry it out quickly. An unfinished basement is usually reserved for storage and is not a “livable” room in the house, so the damage may be easier to address.

If flooding occurred because of a big storm, unfortunately sometimes all you can do is wait until it passes, Anderson said. However, once it’s clear and safe to do so, call a restoration or mitigation company “as soon as possible.”

These companies usually work around the clock and can be contacted at any time. But, keep in mind that when widespread events happen, these companies can become overwhelmed with calls! They book themselves on a first come first serve and geographical basis. If you know you have a problem, it cannot hurt to try to get ahead of the curve.

“Water is one of the worst because it gets everywhere and ruins things,” Anderson said. “If it sits, if it soaks into stuff and doesn't dry out. Mold can begin to set in within 48-72 hours — so you really want to attack it.”

3) Contact your local insurance agent

Local insurance agents will not only help with any losses you may face after a basement flood but may also be able to provide a list of recommended restoration or mitigation companies. Some insurance companies will provide a generic list of preferred vendors, whereas a local agent like Alex may be able to drill down on these lists based on personal experience dealing with some of the approved or recommended vendors.

It’s a good idea to check in with a local insurance agent after a flood to see what is and isn’t covered under a homeowners policy. Anderson said claims need to be individually investigated, especially since the average cost of water claims has skyrocketed in the past couple of years.

“You may not think about it, but a failed dishwasher line could result in a $20,000 claim to the basement below,” Anderson says. “If you’ve had a lot of water in a finished area especially, you're better off putting the claim in through the insurance company. The reason is because it allows the company to have a claims adjuster investigate coverage for you.”

“Don’t make any assumptions and don’t let your representative make assumptions based on that first call if something is or isn’t covered,” Anderson said.

4) Assess the damage

Most homeowners insurance policies help cover water damage if the cause is sudden and accidental. For example, the water heater failed and now the walls are drenched or a pipe burst in the basement bathroom — these are considered incidents that happened out of a person’s control.

However, a policy likely may not cover damage caused by poor maintenance or neglect. If a person fails to fix a leaky pipe which then causes damage, the insurance company may not pay for repairs if the damage slowly and repeatedly occurred over an extended period of time.

“The operative phrase here is sudden and accidental, that’s why something such as seepage is a common exclusion on a homeowners policy. However, it isn’t necessarily the homeowner’s job to come to that conclusion,” Anderson said “If you have water damage, let your company evaluate the coverage for you, or let them and your mitigation vendor work together to assess it.”

“From a coverage standpoint, most current policies cover water damage (though it is always good to review with your agent from time to time). However, a key factor would be where the water originated from,” he continued. “If sudden and accidental water damage originated from inside the house, you should be fine. If water came from outside during a storm and damaged your basement, that may be excluded unless you carry flood insurance and it qualified as a flood (which is not just limited to coastal water!).

5) Take inventory

Children’s toys, couches, clothing, and any other personal items stored in the flooded basement that were damaged need to be included in an inventory list.

Anderson recommends writing down everything on a piece of paper and compiling receipts, serial numbers, and brand names if possible. Taking pictures of your belongings and the basement also gives insurance companies a better idea of the situation.

“The idea of having insurance is to make you whole again after a loss, so you want to be detailed to ensure you have everything replaced,” Anderson said.

Need advice on how to handle a basement flood? Contact Alex Anderson at (516) 544-2728 or visit his website to make an appointment.

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