On August 11, 2014, several Detroit area communities received record flooding. The flooding overburdened our sewer system. The City of Berkley declared a state of emergency, as did the neighboring communities. Reports claim 6.5 inches of rain in Berkley that afternoon/evening.
We regularly took photos of our home and as we made updates, etc. But, not our basement, unfortunately. Here is a photo shortly after we bought the house in 2005:
The walls are drywall, and there is a gray carpeting (which we later learned sat atop padding that was glued to the concrete floor), and carpet tack strips nailed into the concrete. And, here is a more current photo (from another angle) of Amelia’s sixth birthday in November, 2012, I believe:
On August 11, 2014, after dinner, Jen went into the basement to check on laundry to discovery water coming up from our drain. The water entering our basement turned to sewage minutes later. Here’s Jen in her winter boots as sewage fountains into our laundry room:
This is the last photo we have of our laundry room before retreating upstairs since there was no longer anything we could do. We had a tiny bit of time to move a couple pieces of small furniture and our photo albums before retreating upstairs. The water was this brown:
I must have stepped outside during the rain to take this picture of our backyard, though I do not remember it:
Several hours later, the sewage went down the same drain that it had just recently came up near our washing machine. Our basement was pretty trashed; just look at how wet the carpeting is:
I like this photo of our turkey roasting pan. Filled with neighborhood sewage. Turkey, anyone? (BTW, of course we trashed this pan.)
After doing preliminary clean-up that night, chatting with neighbors, filing an online insurance claim, and showering, we went to bed not fully understanding the scope of the problem. The girls were obviously freaked out, so they slept upstairs in bed with us. To this day, they still get scared when it rains. On final measurement, we had 10 inches of neighborhood sewage in our basement:
We spent most of day two removing trash (luckily for us, it was our scheduled trash pick-up day), developing a plan for getting our lives back to normal, and chatting with neighbors. The girls stayed with their grandparents so Jen and I could focus on cleaning. Since Jen was doing laundry when this all happened, we had two loads of wet clothes (never touched the sewage) that we took to the laundromat to clean. We’re not packrats, but it was unbelievable how much work it was to remove the trash. We spent that evening cutting and pulling up the carpet, pulling up as much of the padding as we could, and carting it outside. Look at that sewage drip from the carpet:
With the help of friends, we also removed our appliances (goodbye to our washing machine and dryer) and large furniture. I also spent several hours on day two researching companies who could help clean our basement. Ha! My name was added to seven waiting lists; on one of the lists, I was customer #700. We quickly realized that we would be doing all of the clean-up ourselves — reports claimed that 4,600 homes in our little city were damaged. Another much-larger nearby city estimated 23,000 damaged homes, and the metro area noted over 100,000 total homes affected. No wonder we couldn’t find a contractor anywhere to help us.
We developed a preliminary budget, including low and high cost estimates to get our basement usable again. It ranged from “too much” to “4x too much.” Obviously, we weren’t planning on any of this. We also talked about how we would pay for these still-to-be-determined repairs. Based on early feedback from neighbors, it didn’t seem likely that the damage would be covered by our insurance. Our insurance company confirmed this several days later.
We had a full curb of trash on the day after the storm. Here is our curb from a couple days later (our second major trash pick-up):
Our house was built in the 1940s. The basement was finished maybe a couple of decades ago? Half is a large family/dining room. The other half is a laundry/furnace room with a couple of built-in closets. The HVAC has been updated over the years, but several sections of asbestos insulation remained. This lousy photo shows one section — there probably was 15 feet of asbestos in total:
The closets were made of wood and were right at the epicenter of the sewage fountain, but, in order for us to demolish them, we had to first have the asbestos professionally removed. We had wanted to for a while anyway, but never got around to it. We scheduled an asbestos contractor to help us, after obtaining several estimates. Then, we asked one of our electrician friends to remove the lighting in the two closets. Once that was done, we demoed the closets. It was tough and loud teamwork. I demoed, while Jen removed nails and brought the debris upstairs. We went to bed that night tired and sore (which was the norm). Here is a photo during demolition:
On the other side of the basement, sewage penetrated the lower foot of our drywall. For ease in replacement, we demoed the bottom four feet of drywall then sanitized the wood studs. It was messy messy messy! Here is the finished product after many days of work:
To help manage debris, we also bought a Bagster. All of our paint cans were submerged in sewage, so we dried those out and trashed them. Ugh. Check it out:
Looking to remove the dingy feeling from our laundry room, we painted/sealed the concrete block wall with Dry Lock paint. 11 gallons!! Then we painted over it a light gray paint. 3 more gallons, making 14 gallons total (and there is still more to paint in the laundry room). It took us a full weekend of working pretty much non-stop.
But, the result was worth it. Especially when our electrician friend came back over to remove our lone overhead fluorescent light strip and replace it with seven bright CFLs spread across the laundry room. (The family room already had recessed lights.) Ahhh!
The sequence of events was complex. But, we generally wanted to get all of the messy work done before we started the major reconstruction. We spent the next several days renting a pickup truck from the local home store, bringing home 18 sheets of mildew-resistant drywall (even the lightweight stuff is heavy!), and obtaining the other necessary materials to drywall the family/dining room and wall #4 of the laundry room. I think it was during this stage that I went to our local home improvement store nine days in a row. No joke. Here we are in progress:
Hanging, taping and mudding the drywall was quite a task, but a good friend shared his expertise. I learned a lot during the process. And got several intense workouts. Here it is upon drywall completion:
Once the drywall was done, we had a new 95% efficient furnace installed, and a new air conditioner (while not damaged in the flood, our A/C was old and it made sense to replace both together). We went without heat and A/C for five weeks, including the hottest week of the year.
Then it was time to paint again. We first used three gallons of drywall primer to prepare the family/dining room and wall #4 of the laundry room. Then the family/dining room received six gallons of light gray, and wall #4 of the laundry room received one gallon of blue:
Our home’s old coal chute was previously inside the largest closet. But, since we demoed the closets, it was now in the open. We saw this as an opportunity to remove the loose insulation and coal door, and replace them with a window. We received several quotes to get this done. Soon we had nearly doubled the amount of light coming into our laundry room:
In the center of the photo above, you can also see the new ductwork that replace the asbestos insulation. Nice to have the asbestos gone!
Early on, we talked about our needs for the space, which included larger gathering space plus laundry/storage space. To get our lives back to normal, we needed to re-establish the storage space in the basement ASAP. Interestingly, most nearby stores were sold out of many basement storage/shelving systems. When we found some, we jumped. They have been sitting in our living room for weeks now. Along with several ready-to-be-assembled bookshelves. A constant reminder that our stuff is everywhere.
We considered several basement flooring options including vinyl, concrete, epoxy, and carpeting. We did online research, and talked with several salesmen. Each option had its pros and cons. We ultimately decided on epoxy, and had a couple firms out to give estimates. All estimates were the same. We selected on the company who had been doing epoxy seemingly forever, and who promised to make Jen happy. We scheduled the epoxy work to begin when the painting was expected to be complete. Which led to many very very late nights completing the painting. The girls started school for the year, Jen started her final semester of grad school, and I had a conference in Chicago, too. The two-day epoxy project turned into three days (floor prep/grinding, base coat, paint chips, then a clear coat of sealer) plus an additional two days for drying. After spending what seemed like every available minute in our basement, it felt weird that we were, in essence, prohibited from our basement for 5 days. The wait seemed worth it, though:
The floor has a charcoal basecoat with white, light gray, graphite, and silver metallic chips tossed on top.
A couple weeks after the flood when we found some amazing package sales, and once we had established our construction/contractor schedule, we ordered a new washer and dryer to be delivered. This gave us a clear target date for completion, as we did not want to take delivery until the floors were complete. If all went as planned (does it ever?) we’d have our washer and dryer on Sept 22, which gave us a sense of optimism, if nothing else. Using the laundromat and family for laundry was not ideal. Then they arrived, and we had much laundry to catch up on:
As we neared the finish line, we picked out a limited number of furnishings. We ordered others online as sales made sense. We spent several days building furnishings. We found a couple affordable rugs. We pulled the girls’ ottomans and beanbags from their rooms. The new table expands to seat ten, which will be fantastic. This is where we are for now:
There is still work to do, but I’d say we are 96% complete. Putting down molding. Repairing/painting the stairway and side entry. Reworking some drywall. Hanging outlet covers. Bringing our books and décor out of storage. But, those will all come in time. It has been six weeks and one day since the flood, and it is amazing to look back at how much we’ve accomplished.
This weekend, the four of us are having a “Basement Party” with games and our favorite foods (and maybe basement sleeping for the girls), because the girls really need some good news and excitement about the basement after six weeks of frustration and fear. Then we are going to enjoy the autumn, then the holidays, then maybe some snow. I’m sure we’ll get the rest of the work done sometime, but for now there is fun to be had…
Thought it would be nice to add some more recent photos (taken at night) recently — after molding was installed, art was hung, furnishings/books returned, etc. Still a bit more to do: door to laundry, stairway, etc. [November 2014]
A bit more of an update. We finally hung a curtain “door” between the two sides of the basement, moved some furniture around from elsewhere in our house for extra seating in the basement, and Santa brought the girls a TV (for Abba Dance and Wii Mario Kart, obviously). Almost done. Just need to work on the stairway; but, ugh, that is a lot of painting. [January 2015]