What to Do if (This Time) You Were Lucky

By Annie Groer and Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 29, 2006

So this week you got off easy? Remember we're just at the beginning of hurricane season, and not out of the wet woods yet. Here's a list of precautions to take so you'll have more than Lady Luck on your side as the rain continues.

-- Determine whether your area is flood-prone. If you're new to the street, ask neighbors or check your online community forum. Or contact your local public works department.

-- The best defense against water intrusion is correct grading of the land outside: The clay-rich soil should slope down and away from the house to keep water flowing away from the foundation.- Make sure your gutters are cleaned regularly, especially if you can't remember the last time they were checked. Some home inspectors suggest to customers that gutters in leafy neighborhoods should be cleaned four times a year, compared with the traditional two. Consider downspout extensions to move water out and away from the house as well.

-- Give the basement a general decluttering before the next rains. By way of encouragement, remember: Unwanted papers, clothing, old furniture and books weigh a lot less when they're dry than after they're sopping wet.

-- If you know your basement is flood-prone, consider getting a sump pump. Pumps are installed in a well in the lowest part of the basement. When ground water levels rise, the machine kicks in to redirect water away before it gets above floor level. The installation is expensive, but may be worth it if your basement is part of your living space.

-- If you already have a sump pump, make sure it still works. Test it by lifting the float valve to see if the pump is activated. Backup battery-powered systems are available if electricity goes out. If you don't have a built-in sump pump, you can buy or rent a version that works like a bilge pump in a boat.

-- If you're unsure about the overall condition of your roofing materials, or have any evidence of water damage on your walls, get a roofer to inspect things such as shingles, flashing, gutters and downspouts.

-- Check inside for telltale moisture from all sources, including plumbing leaks and loose fireplace bricks. Signs include discolored ceilings and walls, and buckling baseboards, floorboards or tiles.

-- If you have a drain outside the basement door, check it regularly -- even weekly during the rainy season. A piece of screening placed over the drain provides an extra filter.

-- Consider buying a wet vac now, instead of having to rent one in an emergency. The Shop Vac brand is sold at Lowe's, where models range from a 3.5-gallon model for $59.94 for small jobs to a contractor-grade 20-gallon model for $149.

-- Never leave things that you value sitting directly on a basement floor. Use concrete blocks, steel shelving or bricks to raise storage at least 18 inches off the floor.

-- Large plastic containers with tight-fitting lids are far better for storage than cardboard boxes, which offer little protection from moisture and are prone to mildew.

-- Window wells are meant to keep water from seeping into your house, but if they don't drain freely they do more harm than good, trapping water next to the foundation. Inexpensive domed plastic covers can help keep water out. For serious drainage problems, dig the well deeper and add a foot of gravel to divert water more effectively.

-- Be prepared to form a family bucket brigade; stock two pails for every household member who's able to carry one.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company