Before remodeling a basement, make a few phone calls—not just to your insurance agent to ask about coverage gaps, but also the city's public works department. They can tell you about typical storm flows in the area, groundwater and other risk factors, said Soukup.
"They'll be able to tell you, hey, you're actually at the bottom of a little bit of a hill here," he said. In risky areas, adding an attic bedroom (which costs an average $49,438, according to Remodeling Magazine) or a family room addition ($80,765) might be the less-risky (or at least, more covered) project for a comparable sum. (See the video above for tips on what to ask your insurance agent.)
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It's also important to inspect the basement. "Look for the telltale signs of previous flooding and water damage," said Paul Sullivan, chairman of the NAHB Remodelers. Those include water marks on the wall, mold or mildew (or a musty smell indicating its presence), and collections of dirt in low areas of the floor that indicate water pooled there. Such signs may rule out a remodel for the risk-averse, he said, and at the very least indicate a need for more precautions that add to the cost of the project:
- Landscape. Creating a slight slope can direct rainwater away from your foundation. Plant shrubs and other plants no closer than a foot away from your home's exterior, and use an elongated drain pipe to discharge water from the gutters at least five feet away from the foundation.
- Foundation sealants. Coatings on the inside or outside of a foundation can waterproof it against minor leaks, said Soukup.
- Water mitigation systems. Depending on the home's location, you might need a sump pump, or a more complex system of pumps, French drains and dams. Costs can range from a few thousand dollars, to upwards of $25,000, Sullivan said.
Such systems can thwart smaller problems, but may still be overwhelmed in the case of a major flood. "Water can be redirected, but not stopped," said Sullivan.
Consumers who have had basement water problems in the past should also keep that in mind when deciding how to furnish the space, said Soukup. "Don't put the $14-per-square-yard carpeting down there, as nice as it might be," he said. Elevate expensive items off the ground, and store personal items in plastic, water-tight tubs.
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That's what the Rafte family is starting to do now, almost a year after the flood. "We have all that space down there; it seems a shame to waste it," said Rafte. Little more than replaced Christmas decorations are down there now, along with an older stove and sink in the kitchenette, and a sleeper sofa purchased at an estate sale.
"I was thinking about the cement floor and was looking for the least expensive carpeting I could find," she said. Then, two days before it was supposed to go down, she discovered groundwater had made its way into the basement. That plan got scrapped.
"You're always thinking about how you can improve your home," said Rafte. "When there's an event like this, you're not so sure it's worth it."