How to Prevent Basement Flooding and Water Damage
For most homeowners, basement flooding and water damage can be incredibly daunting. When water seeps into a home after a storm, a flood or a pipe leak, the average cost of repairs is $3,285.1 But, if you’re proactive and conduct regular maintenance, you can help prevent flooding and water damage to your home before it occurs.
According to Stephen Norsek, Senior Property Claims Supervisor at Amica, “It’s important to get in the habit of regular home inspections, whether on your own or with a professional, so that you can anticipate and prevent damage in the future.” 2
Wondering where to start? To help, we’ve put together an interactive guide that explains how to prevent water damage throughout your home. Explore our guide, and remember, simple upgrades can go a long way in preventing costly water incidents. If you’re hesitant to inspect or remedy issues on your own, you can always consider contacting a licensed professional to help.
1. Don’t let water from outside get in
Inspect the chimney
Every year, check your chimney to make sure there isn’t damage. If it’s safe to do so, grab a ladder and flashlight to look for loose mortar and cracked bricks, which can allow water to seep in.3 Check your ceiling for water stains, which could indicate a leak in your attic, too.4
Inspect your roof
It’s important to examine your roof for damaged shingles that could cause leaks. Before you call a professional, you can safely begin your DIY visual inspection from the ground and in your attic, where you can check for leaks. However, it’s best to call a professional for a comprehensive inspection.4
Keep gutters clean
If your gutters are clogged with leaves and other debris, it can cause a major backup of water. This water has nowhere to go and spills over to the side of the house, causing erosion to soil and pushing water into your home. If you’re able to safely do so, clean your gutters once or twice a year. It’s well worth the effort.5
Your downspout is at the base of your home’s gutters and helps move water away from the foundation of your home. Make sure your downspout is in good condition and able to move water correctly.5
Grade the soil
Take a good look at the soil around your home, especially for the first 10 feet from your door. It should decline at a slight angle. If the land doesn’t decline, take a rake and shovel and regrade your soil. This can help prevent water from seeping into your home’s foundation.5
Check tree roots
If you plant a new tree, be careful where you place it. Tree roots can cause major damage to a home’s pipes, septic tank, foundation and even sprinkler systems. Plant new trees at a safe distance away from your home and other structures.6 Dial 811 for the national “Call Before You Dig” hotline for advice prior to digging.
2. Mind the gaps
Caulk and seal windows
Over time, windows and doorways wear down. That’s why caulking and sealing them should be a regular part of homeownership. During warmer weather, get a caulking gun and seal every crack. Be on the lookout for mold and other signs of water damage.5
3. Perform routine plumbing maintenance
Check on tub overflow drains
The overflow drain is designed to catch water, so your bathtub doesn’t make a watery mess all over the floor. Water that seeps through a bathmat and into the corners of the floor can do major damage. Stay attentive when filling up the tub so it doesn’t overflow, and make sure your overflow drain is working properly so it can catch water before damage occurs.5
Inspect sink drain traps
When was the last time you looked underneath your sink? Take a minute to look at the U-shaped pipe called the drain trap. A common area for leaks, the drain trap retains some water and prevents sewer gas from entering your home.7 If the drain trap appears wet, tighten the slip nuts with slip-joint pliers.8
Unclog drains with a drain snake
Harsh chemicals designed to break up blockages can actually corrode your drain’s pipes. Over time, damaged pipes can cause expensive leaks. Instead of using chemicals for stubborn clogs, use a drain snake. It’ll help protect your pipes long term.6 If this tool doesn’t work, don’t hesitate to call a professional.
4. Keep track of utility costs
Examine your water bills
If you have an unusual spike in water usage, it could be a sign of a leak. Make sure you pay attention to your water bills on a regular basis.6
5. Inspect the laundry area
Check the washing machine’s hoses
The washing machine relies on hoses to operate. Over time, these hoses can wear down. It’s important to check them regularly for swelling, cracks or corrosion.6 Plus, every five to seven years, it’s recommended to replace appliance hoses.5
Raise your washing machine and dryer
If it’s possible, raise your washer and dryer off the floor. This is especially important if your appliances are located in the basement, where water damage is more common.5 There are many DIY guides to build your own laundry riser platform or options available at retail.
6. Protect your pipes
Never pour grease down the kitchen sink
If you pour cooking grease down your kitchen sink, you could risk blocking the drain and backing up water. Also, standing water in your pipes can cause leaks at the pipe’s joints. Instead, pour hot grease into an appropriate container to dispose of later.6
Look at the dishwasher’s hose for damage
Over time, your dishwasher’s hose can crack, swell or break down. If hose damage goes unnoticed, it can cause a costly leak in your kitchen. To help prevent water damage, check your dishwasher’s hose regularly.5
Use a strainer in your kitchen sink
When food and other debris gets into your sink’s drain, it can cause a blockage. Make sure you use a strainer and dump out food particles on a regular basis. You want to avoid backing up your drains.7
Invest in a water leak monitoring system
You can connect a water leak monitoring system to appliances. This system is designed to automatically shut water off when it detects a leak. Water leak monitoring systems can be useful for all of your appliances, but especially your dishwasher and refrigerator icemaker.
7. Prep the basement
Maintain the sump pump
Do you know if you have a sump pump, and if so, where it’s located? If not, now’s the time to find out. This important home feature can kick in if water accumulates under your basement floor or near your home’s foundation. When a sump pump’s basin fills with water, the device can propel water down a pipe to dump it outside of your home.6 Periodically, make sure your sump pump is functioning properly.
Store items on shelves
If you store items in the basement, whether it’s holiday decorations or off-season clothes, put them in waterproof boxes on shelves, rather than on the floor. This way, if a flood, sewer backup or leak happens, your belongings are less likely to get wet. Above all, avoid storing valuables and nostalgic items in the basement.5
Reseal the basement
Notice water on the walls or floor of the basement? Then you may need to add a waterproof sealant. This solution can go a long way in preventing mold and mildew; however, it’s not a replacement for addressing leaks and drainage issues. First, clean the floors and walls, then fill in cracks and holes. Finally, add a high-quality, waterproof sealer and paint.5
Install a backwater valve
If your house relies on a sewer system for waste removal, you may need to install a backwater valve to help prevent a sewage backup. This can help make sure sewage leaves your home and doesn’t come back in.5
Norsek says, “Knowing how to shut off the water main to your home is one of the single-most important things you can do to mitigate water damage.” Even with proactive prevention the unexpected can happen. According to Norsek, “When it comes to water damage, time is of the essence to avoid mold growth.”2 Your insurance company usually can help you find a professional. Amica, for example, offers Contractor Connection, a service that provides contractor referrals to help mitigate and repair the damage.
1 What’s the Average Cost of Water Damage Restoration?, Home Advisor, 2022.
2 Interview with Stephen Norsek, Senior Property Claims Supervisor at Amica.
3 Chimney Leaks: What to Do if You Have One & How to Prevent Them, Chimney Safety Institute of America.
4 All You Need to Know About Roof Inspections, Bob Vila, 2020.
5 How to protect your home from water damage, Insurance Information Institute.
6 7 Ways to Prevent Water Damage at Home, Good Housekeeping, 2020.
7 The Purpose of a Drain Trap, The Spruce, 2022.
8 How to Fix a Leaky Sink Trap, HomeTips, 2022.