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Our Basement Flooded on the First Day of School: Here’s What We Learned

September 14th, 2022 by

Like so many other families in Minnesota, we sent our kids back to school on August 31st. But unlike most families we know, extra chaos ensued in the Rehm household that day. 

Instead of enjoying first-day-of-school pictures and putting the finishing touches on first-day-of-school outfits, our house was bustling with an entirely different kind of morning. Our basement flooded!

How Our Basement Flooded

It started like any other day, albeit with the obnoxious blasting of our flood alarm. Since it had been malfunctioning, I truthfully didn’t think much of it. But, instead of finding an alarm on the fritz, I descended our steps and found a basement room flooded with murky waters. No one wants to start any day like this, and certainly not the parent of three school-aged children.

With no option but to get busy solving the problem, I grabbed a shop vac, ready to get to work. This attempt, however, ended with me being shocked – and I don’t mean surprised. Word to the wise: Don’t stand in water with wet hands and using an electrically charged appliance. 

As I was zapping myself, standing barefoot in our flooded home, my wife Gretchen was already on the phone with the city trying to sort out what might be happening. 

We don’t have a sump pump in our home. We do, however, have a finished basement. We spent tens of thousands of dollars finishing it, just two years ago. And while we don’t go down there every single day, it’s still a beautiful space that we cannot afford to see ruined.

Three Hours Bailing Buckets of Sewage

While we waited for help to arrive, I spent three hours bailing buckets of what I thought was runoff water and ended up being raw sewage. Outside our home, the sewage had backed up and began bubbling up from a drain in our basement. Needless to say, an extremely hot shower was my next priority…

The city fixed the sewers within about three hours.  I am incredibly grateful that we live in a small town, since this is an unusually fast response time. I have had clients wait hours or even days. 

I am also grateful to our daughter, who managed to get her two brothers ready for their first day of school (not to mention herself) just in time. While they did miss the bus, I am thankful for the flexibility of self-emplyment, as my wife was able to drive them to school. 

In the end, we only suffered minor damages, thanks to a few factors:

  1. We have a flood alarm
  2. We were home to hear the alarm
  3. We have the right insurance coverage

What You Can Learn

I am sharing this wild and somewhat embarrassing story so that you can learn from our misfortune. 

As I was standing barefoot in the basement that day, all I could think about were the “What Ifs.” What if we hadn’t been home? What if we didn’t have a functioning alarm? What if the basement was a total loss? We could have been facing a completely ruined space, with over $150,000 in damages!

As an insurance expert, I also thought about the implications if we were not properly covered. In this case, as the city is at fault, we are working with them to pay for damages. Fingers crossed that our efforts pay off in this respect. 

Did you know that an unendorsed homeowners’ policies does not cover sewer back up? You can get coverage by endorsing “sewage” or “sump pump” coverage onto your policy  – but be sure to read your policy carefully to be aware if it’s been added and what the coverage limit is.

Even when you have some sort of coverage, it often limits the payout to the endorse amount. Typically 5 to 10,000  We had $10,000, but this would have been nowhere near the $150,000 value of our newly finished space. When in doubt – max out your coverage ( which can vary from company to company). Doublecheck your insurance 

Here is what you can do to be sure you aren’t stuck up a creek (or in my case, barefoot in sewage) without a paddle:

  • Call your insurance agent to check your homeowners policy. 
  • Add sewage/sump pump coverage and max it out
  • Don’t count on your city to cover damages, even if it is at fault.
  • Get a flood alarm, and take it seriously.
  • Have a water pump on hand for emergencies.
  • Teach everyone in your household what to do if the alarm goes off.
  • Own waterproof boots in case you need to wade into water.
  • Keep numbers for the city and trusted service providers handy.
  • Don’t assume it can’t happen to you.


We never expected to be spending our first day of school bailing sewage out of the basement. We were caught off-guard and weren’t completely prepared for this type of emergency. We’re lucky it won’t cost us much in the long run!

Learn from our mistakes, and be prepared for your next life “What If” with some careful planning and sensible insurance policies. Reach out if you want us to check your policies!

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