Sump Chump: Part One

It is with a heavy heart that I write this series of posts. There will be three in total as it has been over two months since this debacle began, and those months have been filled with "banging my head against the wall" types of experiences. The full extent of the catastrophe has been frustrating, but we just kept picking away at it one day at a time. Overall, we were lucky compared to some.

*That's a very generic paragraph that could apply to a ton of things. A little more specificity, Mr. Vague?*

We had biblical rains for twenty-four hours starting on September 21st and ending sometime during the early morning of the 22nd. Our neighborhood experienced around five to seven inches within that period. When we've had heavy rains in the past, or a very wet spring due to snow melt and rain, our sump pump (or sub pump, based on your preference) would kick into action and leave us with no worries about our basement getting flooded. While the monstrous storm raged on, we didn't worry too much.

We started hearing about other people having wet or flooded basements, so we figured it'd be best to stay vigilant. We checked that night and the following morning. No water. Nothing. We were spared. The slope of our yard and the presence of a sump in our basement saved us again. We felt relief. Life could go on.

In the late hours of morning before we had lunch, my wife, infant son, and I went on a walk to survey the neighborhood. The pond by our house had flooded a nearby street and had increased its territory by encroaching upon the lawns of houses along the opposite side of that street. By the time we went on our walk, the water level had receded by about half at most. We could tell where it had been because there were leaves and other natural debris marking its perimeter.

A picture of Triangle Park's pond well beyond its boundaries. The leaf line shows the extent of the water's reach the night before. The ducks are clearly content. I smell a takeover. (All photos courtesy of Christine Sedam.)

 There were other areas that flooded and some of those areas still had standing water in low spots. My mother-in-law's and her neighbor's basements were flooded. The water collected and pooled behind their houses. It's a low area and the water doesn't have anywhere else to go quickly other than their basements. That started happening during the heavy rains late Wednesday night.

My mother-in-law was out of town, so my sister-in-law (who still lives there) and her girlfriend were left to try and save as much stuff from the water as they could. Trying to remove the water while it's raining is a game of futility. It just keeps coming in. So, it's good that they were moving stuff out of the basement. When we went on our walk the morning after, we stopped by to see how it was going. Nothing much had changed.

My wife, infant son, and I went home and had lunch. We continued about our day, doing the things we needed to get done. We considered ourselves pretty lucky we didn't have to deal with any water issues in our house. Our next door neighbor had a little water leaking in the foundation where the new and old additions of the house met. Some towels and suction from a carpet cleaner took care of that as there is no carpet there. We didn't even have that.

At about four pm on the nose, I was in the garage working on the sound booth I'm building for my studio in the basement. I heard my wife yelling from the basement—because she can never come to talk to me and always yells for me to go to her—and my daughter opened the door to the garage to tell me that "mom wanted me." Our garage is connected to the house and the basement steps are adjacent to this door, so I angrily walked into the house and turned immediately to look down the steps where my wife stood at the bottom. "The carpet is wet," she says.

I went down the steps and headed straight to the sump. It was overflowing, and fortunately, the sewer drain is only about ten feet away. That is where it flowed to. I could see water coming up between the walls and floor in our utility room in a couple spots. Being the only unfinished room in the basement, I wasn't terribly concerned. The rest of the basement is carpeted. This could really suck, I thought.

Needless to say, we got to work on fixing the situation. While the sump continued running its marathon (what?), we borrowed an industrial fan from one neighbor and a shop vac from another. We used these along with a smaller fan of our own and lots and lots of towels that began a cycle of their own involving the dryer. We moved as much as we could out to the garage and the rest to the parts of the room that were dry. Fortunately, only the outer edges of the rooms were wet. Water did extend into the room farther at some points, but it stayed mostly to the edges.

We spent the rest of the night, until ten o'clock, working on drying out the basement and moving things. We took a break in the middle to eat a delivered pizza and put the kids to bed. We felt we had done a pretty decent job of solving our problem. We left the fans running and went to bed. Those were foolish times, and we were foolish people.

I was supposed to work the next day, Friday, but I called in sick. That's another aspect of this fun week. The kids both were diagnosed with strep earlier in the week and were on antibiotics. My wife and infant son both had bad coughs and colds. I, perhaps more psychologically, felt like I was coming down with something. So, between the sicknesses and a wet basement, I decided to call in—my first in over three years.

On top of this, we planned on attending the wedding of one of my many cousins on Saturday. It was a late afternoon wedding leading directly into the reception. We only had to drive an hour-and-a-half one-way—a rarity for us—into Wisconsin. It seems like whenever we have plans or want to do something outside of our normal routine things come up and try to derail those plans. This time was no different, and it always involves the kids getting sick. I was determined we were going to this wedding and we did.

We did do our best to continue cleaning up and drying out the basement Friday and Saturday. We bought a dehumidifier and used it in conjunction with a portable heater. (We also bought a small, portable sump as back-up for future epic rains.) We set these up in the bedroom downstairs since we were able to close the door and maximize the equipment's abilities. My idea for using a portable heater came from the fact that warm air holds more moisture. The moisture needs to be in the air for the dehumidifier to work. This worked pretty well.

However, the large, open room downstairs cannot be enclosed so easily and has a much bigger area to dry out. We continued with the fans all weekend and continued using towels to soak up the excess water. We never had standing water, but it seemed like we could never get it completely dried out. The basement was beginning to smell like mildew, and the smell was starting to travel up the stairs.

I wish I would have thought about pulling the carpet back sooner. That might have saved us the even bigger headache we were to experience. The pad underneath was still wet and never really had a chance to dry out. We were going on a week by the time I pulled back the carpet, and it seemed like we might have some longer term issues if we didn't take care of it the "right way." The tack strip around the floor edges looked fine, but there was a spot or two I questioned. When I pulled the carpet back even more, I started questioning the marks on its underside. None of it turned out to be mold, but I was really wondering if it was worth trying to continue as we were. Maybe we needed outside help.

My wife called our insurance agent and talked to his assistant. We were able to find out that the sewer backup policy add-on that we clairvoyantly purchased included issues with sump pumps. Handing this over to insurance and professionals in the area of restoration was a big relief. I felt like I could stop worrying about what to do and if I was doing the right thing. I could focus on the other tasks I needed to do for plain old life in general and worry about coordinating those people involved with getting my basement back in order.

As much as that week sucked, we felt like we were doing something to fix the issue each day. We've both learned much from this experience, which will help us in the future. It's certainly going to make me more aware and curious with the sump's operation. What we didn't realize was that our frustration was going to continue and grow with the inclusion of outside forces. Dun, dun, DUN!

Continue with Part Two.

A victim of the flood's wrath.
Mr. "Mickey" Mouse
March-September 2016

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