Too Much Water Can Be A Bad Thing

US Wealth Napolitano |

By: Tom Fletcher, CFP®


When the flood calls

You have no home, you have no walls

In the thunder crash

You're a thousand minds, within a flash

Don't be afraid to cry at what you see”

-Peter Gabriel, Here Comes the Flood

I woke up in a groggy fog.  Where was that annoying sound coming from? When my mind finally caught up. I realized to my horror it was our house alarm spewing out a warning that a sensor had detected a leak! With no time to spare, I sprinted down the stairs in only my boxer shorts to discover a fairly sizable flood in our finished basement. “Quick” I yelled to my wife upstairs, “I’m going to need help fast!”

We’re no strangers to having the threat of an occasional water incursion at our house. Like most basements, ours is slightly below street level. The issue we have is we live on “the flat” of Beacon Hill.  When 3 or 4 inches of rain fall in a short period of time, similar to the storm we had a couple of weeks ago, storm drains fill up on the hill and as momentum and pressure builds, rapidly overwhelm the ones lower down the hill. As they say, eventually water finds it’s own level and unfortunately that just happens to be our basement plumbing.     

We realized when we bought our place that water incursions such as this one might be an issue. Typically the solution in the city is to install what is known as a “check valve” to the plumbing.  It’s essentially a door attached to a waste pipe that allows water to leave the house and in theory not the other way around. Sadly we’ve tried several models and for whatever the reason, they have all been dismal failures. Years ago we upgraded to a more sophisticated (and expensive!) “gate valve” that is manually operated with a wheel like you see on a submarine door between compartments. Unlike a check valve, when a gate valve is closed it won’t allow water to leave or enter the house. It’s an ideal solution when a monsoon begins, but you need to remember or be at home to close the valve. By now you’d be correct in assuming the valve wasn't closed!

Fortunately those water sensors saved our bacon, so to speak. We were very lucky indeed. Within 15 minutes the basement was dry and disinfected. We were off to the Home Depot shortly thereafter and rented industrial fans and dehumidifiers to prevent mold or anything else from growing in the aftermath. The casualties were quite minor in relation to the damage it could have caused if we weren’t around to address the situation. We lost a small rug, some wooden floors that slightly warped but are expected to return to normal in short order, and I’m sure we’ll have an astronomically high electric bill for the month.  

We’re now trying to determine next steps.  After consulting with contractors, the Water and Sewer Department (or as Norton would call them, underground sanitation experts), and plumbers, I think we’re aiming for a motorized gate valve if we can figure out a spot to install it. Wish me luck and please avoid rain dancing for the next few weeks!