Building Walls of Protection

A fierce storm blew through our town recently.  Because a tornado had been spotted nearby, we took shelter in the basement.  News reports said the storm was moving quickly, so I figured we’d be back upstairs soon enough.

But then I heard a disturbing sound coming from our basement bathroom, the sound of water gurgling.  It was coming up through the drain in our bathtub.  That prompted me to check our laundry room, where to my horror I saw water flowing quickly out of the floor drain.  After asking my wife to take our three young children into the stairwell, I started frantically pulling what I could off the floor.  Within a very short time, we had at least three inches of water covering our entire basement.  When I took a minute to glance out our front window, I saw that our street was completely flooded.

For the next three days I spent hour upon hour pulling things out of the basement, talking to various people at our insurance company, and hiring a company to rip up our laminate flooring and dry the basement with heavy duty dehumidifiers and fans.

Here are a few lessons I have learned:

If you have a basement, opt for sewer and drain backup coverage on your homeowner’s policy.  This is different than flood insurance.  Fortunately, we chose to have this coverage. In fact, in reviewing our policy several years ago, I found out that our coverage totaled just $2,500 and did not cover furniture. We increased this to $5,000 and I’m guessing we’ll use every bit of it in paying for damage to our basement and the loss of several items.

During that same policy review, I asked about flood insurance and was encouraged to weigh the cost (about $400 per year) against the likelihood of a flood in our area. You can assess the risk of a flood in your area at (look for the “One-Step Flood Risk Profile”).  Since the nearest river is about four miles from our house and its banks are much higher than the water, and because the FloodSmart site assessed our risk as “moderate to low,” we’re going without the coverage. I’m still comfortable with that decision.  Even though our street was flooded by the recent storm, the water never reached our foundation.

If you own your own home, here are some other items to check, some of which you can look into on your own; others are questions to discuss with your agent.

  • Is our home properly valued? For about $8, you can estimate the replacement cost of your home at AccuCoverage.
  • Do we have inflation guard? This adjusts the value of your home as the cost of building materials rise.
  • Do we have building ordinance or law coverage? This covers any added costs of rebuilding associated with new building codes.
  • How much living expense coverage do we have? Find out how long your policy will pay your living expenses if damage to your home would leave you living elsewhere while repairs are made.
  • Are we covered for the replacement cost of our possessions? This covers the full value of what it would cost to replace your possessions, as opposed to cash value, which factors in depreciation.
  • Do we even know what we’ve got? If you lost all that you own, would you know what you lost? Creating a detailed inventory of your stuff may not sound like your idea of a fun Saturday afternoon. However, should you ever lose your stuff in a fire or other disaster, you’ll be glad to have done the job. The Insurance Information Institute offers an excellent free software program that can help with this process called Know Your Stuff.

Once you’ve created your home inventory, e-mail a copy to a friend or family member so there’ll be a record in case your computer is stolen or destroyed. Or, save a copy on a CD or flash drive, and keep it in a safe deposit box.

It’s also a good idea to use a video camera to create a visual record of what you own. Just walk through your house or apartment, capturing all of your stuff and describing it along with your estimated value as you go.  Update your inventory at least every five years.

One final lesson we’ve learned is that when storing anything in the basement, do so with the assumption that you will one day have water.  That means using shelves so you do not store anything directly on the floor.  And store your items in plastic containers, not cardboard boxes.

As the Bible teaches, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it” (Proverbs 27:12).  Do the wise thing and review your homeowner’s insurance policy while the sun is shining.

Have you learned any lessons about homeowner’s insurance that could benefit others?

8 Responses to Building Walls of Protection

  1. Matt Bell July 2, 2010 at 12:53 PM #

    Jamie – Interesting. I wonder what a “flood control system” consists of. Someone told me you can have some type of valve installed in your pipes that does what you describe. However, they also said it’s typically not in compliance with city codes. In this person’s opinion, cities would rather have lots of relief valves throughout their cities (i.e. floor drains in people’s basements) even if that means lots of residents getting flooded basements, rather than allowing more water to flood their streets.

  2. Jamie Urick July 2, 2010 at 11:15 AM #

    Great topic!
    A friend in (Morton Grove IL) would have a flooded basement often until she had a company install a “Flood Control System” in her front yard. It allows her water to go out of her house but does not let water (flood water or sewer water) into her house. She’s had it for 1 1/2 years and has had lots of rain and flooding but no water or sewage in her basement. It was expensive, around $4-5,000, but well worth it.

  3. Matt Bell July 2, 2010 at 8:57 AM #

    Bill, thanks for the great advice. We’ll look into that one. While sorting through all of the decisions related to getting our basement back in order, we’re looking for any and all ideas for preventing this from happening again, or at least minimizing future damage. We have to go to a home improvement store today anyway, so we’ll look into the high pressure hoses you mentioned. Thanks again.

    Keep the great ideas coming, everyone!

  4. Bill Bezkor July 2, 2010 at 12:50 AM #

    Matt…Replacing the old standard rubber hoses to your clothes washer with new high pressure ones available at any home supply store, is a simple, inexpensive, but MAJOR safety measure. Can’t tell you how many folks have gone to work or on vacation, etc., only to come home to a flooded home!

  5. Matt Bell July 1, 2010 at 11:53 PM #

    Sue, thanks for writing. Tell me more about the metal pan and alarm — what do they do? As you can probably tell, I’m not exactly Mr. Handy Man. Our hot water heater went out due to all the water in the basement and I could not get it lit. A friend who IS handy came over and even he couldn’t get it lit. Had to call a plumber, who charged me $90.

  6. Sue Coe July 1, 2010 at 11:27 PM #

    I feel your pain Matt. We lived through a similar situation years ago but without the sewer backup coverage – a very painful lesson. I’d also recommend a metal pan under the hot water heater with an alarm – also learned the hard way on that one recently too.

  7. Matt Bell July 1, 2010 at 4:24 PM #

    Steve, thanks for these added insights. Not great news, but really helpful.

  8. Steve Roblee July 1, 2010 at 4:07 PM #

    Unfortunately, the sewer backup coverage isn’t available in California even as a rider to the basic policy. Our sewer backup cost us $65,000. As you can imagine, there was a long line of people who said it was our fault.

    The big thing we did do, however, was have the house tested for mold. It was found (of course) and testing a remediation amounted to $15,000 of the total cost. If you have an insurance claim for water damage and don’t check for and remediate for mold, you’ll have a problem selling your house until you do. You may not have mold, as you acted quickly, but you still need to test. The incident will be on the computer so when a buyer attempts to purchase a homeowner’s policy, this will show up.

    Nothing’s simple. As if the flood itself wasn’t enough problem. Don’t try it with sewage like we did. It’s even less fun.

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