Water extraction from a cellar at midnight on a Friday

Midnight on a Friday in a cellar full of water…

Not my preferred way to spend Friday night, but we are a 24- hour, 7 day a week emergency response company. We got the initial call at 11PM on a Friday night and were on site by midnight to resolve a water situation. We will be there for you any time of the day or night!

Back to why I was looking at a cellar full of water at midnight…the family heard a “hissing sound” and investigated throughout their house in Commerce City, north east of Denver. They couldn’t find any cause for the sound on the main floor so they opened up the floor access hatch to the cellar below the house and found 8 inches of water in the cellar.  They had to call the Commerce City Utility department to turn off the main water supply to the house.  They were in a panic because they had water in the cellar, no water supply to the house and they weren’t sure where to start.  They called the insurance company to find out how to proceed.

Luckily, their insurance company partners with Puroclean for these situations and they called us that night.  We were on site within an hour in the middle of the night to help get them started on the road to recovery.  At this point they did not have any water supply to the house and a cellar full of water. The water in the cellar needed to be pumped out, the space and contents dried and the leak fixed.

When I arrived, I walked thru their home with them to survey the damage. The house was in a nice older neighborhood of Commerce City where most of the homes were built in the sixties or late fifties. Given the age of the home, if demolition or drywall removal was necessary we would have to test for asbestos and lead. I took moisture and temperature readings outside the house, as well as inside the house in the unaffected space and finally in the cellar itself. Those readings proved the damage and moisture was limited to the cellar and there was as much as 8 inches of water on the floor. Fortunately the cellar had concrete block walls and a concrete floor, so no drywall or structure was involved which meant we did not have any concerns about asbestos or lead during clean up. Further investigation in the cellar indicated to me that this leak had been going on for a while.  There were signs of long term water damage.  Access was difficult with the two options being a ladder through a floor access in the hallway or through an exterior cellar entrance on the side of the house.

The cellar was used as storage for rarely used personal items and family records, many of those contents; luggage, toys, personal papers, holiday decorations, clothing and other family belongings had been sitting directly on the cellar floor and were soaked with water.

pipe joint failureI could see mold growth on some of the cardboard boxes and other items indicating that the water leak had been running in the cellar for some time, possibly as long as a week. Mold can form in as little as 48 hours.  By the time I got there it was obvious that the water was contaminated with the normal airborne contaminants, mold spores, dirt and other microbial contaminants that come along with standing water.  At this point, after this much time, we are dealing with contaminated water.  Much of the saturated personal items in the cellar would be difficult, if not impossible to salvage. The contents would require professional cleaning and disinfecting if the owners wanted to save them. Had they discovered the leak earlier, before days had passed, we would be dealing with clean, fresh water and those contents could have been dried and saved but at this stage it would be difficult to get them cleaned and sanitized.

Water extraction and drying are straightforward. We extracted the remaining water and set up drying with air movers (industrial fans) and dehumidifiers. This operation would also help dry the contents but after this much time there was nothing we could do to clean and sanitize the contents without sending them out to a professional contents restoration service at great expense. That would be a decision for the Insurance company and the homeowners.

Two lessons learned from this example:

  1. If you have spaces in your home that are isolated and not often visited consider installing a water alarm to alert you in the event of water damage or leaks. Water alarms are readily available and easy to use.  If you choose not to install an alarm check the space regularly, daily if possible, just to be sure no damage is done.
  2. If you store personal belongings in the basement or a cellar, put them up on shelves so they are not in direct contact with a concrete floor. Even without a water leak porous contents will absorb moisture from concrete.  You should also consider storing important personal items and memorabilia in plastic bins with a lid to limit the amount of water that can get into your things.  here are some other basement organization ideas.