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After the flood

Started: 2013-09-26 21:04:36

Submitted: 2013-09-26 21:59:45

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator cleans up after Boulder's 1% flood event

After surviving Boulder's 1% flood event, Kiesa and I had to figure out what to do with our basement. The carpet pad was clearly a write-off, but the carpet seemed as if we might be able to salvage it, if it hadn't molded while it was drying. We didn't have any proper dehumidifying driers; the best we could do was set up our pair of box fans and hope for the best. By Sunday morning, the carpet was dry enough to start thinking about putting it back together.

Post-flood rain in Boulder
Post-flood rain in Boulder

Our day's respite from the rain ended on Sunday; as we headed to Home Depot the rain picked up again into a downpour, but the water had clearly receded from its highs of days earlier. The intersection of Arapahoe and Foothills was underwater during the flood, and still showed signs of mud and driftwood in the medians and between the lanes. The parking lot of Home Depot was packed with pickup trucks; we saw a ServPro van from Frisco/Vail in the lot. (During the following weeks I would see dozens of bright-green ServPro trucks driving all over town, from Texas and bearing area codes I didn't recognize, including a couple of large trailers for industrial-strength clean-ups.) We joined the throngs of people in the cleaning-supplies aisles and picked up some anti-mold spray and rug cleaner for our cleanup.

There was still a faint musty oder in the basement, but it wasn't clear whether that was the carpet or something else. We rolled up the finally-dry carpet to get better access to the concrete floor, sprayed the anti-mold spray at the walls, baseboards, and tack strips, and bleached the floor. We continued to monitor the sump nervously as the rain continued to fall, but the pump kept the water at the very bottom of the hole, where it was supposed to be, rather than overflowing into the rest of the basement.

Basement with carpet rolled up
Basement with carpet rolled up
Colorado National Guard CH-47 Chinook returns to Boulder Muni Airport with flood evacuees
Colorado National Guard CH-47 Chinook returns to Boulder Muni Airport with flood evacuees

On Monday I went back to work, and as the clouds cleared in the morning, I watched the Colorado National Guard fly Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters up and down the foothills rescuing people trapped in their homes and evacuation sites. The water had receded but it had washed away large sections of mountain roads. Kiesa unrolled the carpet and washed it with the carpet cleaner, but once she'd cleaned it the faint musty smell remained. We finally figured out what the tiny bumps in the carpet were: old carpet pad that a previous owner had neglected to remove when replacing the carpet. (We saw faint signs of prior water damage to the carpet and walls, but we could only speculate what the source of the water might be.)

Basement with carpet unrolled to dry out
Basement with carpet unrolled to dry out

By Monday night we'd reached an impasse in the basement: we'd run out of obvious things to clean but it wasn't clear whether the carpet was salvageable or not. On Tuesday morning Kiesa visited CarpetWise, the carpet installer I'd used in our basement in Longmont, on the theory that we were probably ahead of the curve in getting our carpet replaced since most of the worst-hit areas of Longmont were still pumping out their houses and basements. She got an estimate for replacing the carpet, which came in a bit higher than we'd hoped it might, but it did have the distinct advantage of being the final word on the subject: if we got new carpet installed we could put the problem to rest and not worry about doing it ourselves.

Basement-adjacent room with carpet removed
Basement-adjacent room with carpet removed

Kiesa ripped up the ugly Pergo in the small room in the basement that serves as an awkward hallway between the main area of the basement, the furnace and hot water heater, the full bathroom, and the even-more-awkward low-ceiling storage area under the front entryway (where the offending sump was located). We never really liked the Pergo anyway, and once Kiesa removed it the musty smell of mold disappeared. This left the problem of what to do with this space: we had just enough carpet to replace the carpet in the main room of the basement, but we needed to put something in the anteroom to cover the concrete. While I put Calvin to bed, Kiesa headed out on a survey of our local home-improvement stores to see if she could find some tile to match the ceramic floor tile in the basement bathroom. (We weren't enthusiastic about the idea of laying tile on the basement floor ourselves -- the house already suffered from enough crimes against tile -- but we figured it'd be a good-enough solution to the problem of covering the floor without introducing a third floor-covering to the basement. (We did have left-over Pergo and left-over pre-finished hardwood from the kitchen, but neither of those ideas appealed to us, especially since we'd been systematically ripping out these floor coverings.)

Kiesa returned empty-handed; whatever an unidentified previous owner had installed on the floor did not seem to be readily accessible. We had no interest in trying to match tile over the Internet; we wanted to be done with this unexpected project and didn't think it'd work anyway. So we decided to scrap the carpet and get new carpet installed covering both the main room in the basement and the anteroom.

This meant we needed to rip out the decaying water-damaged tack-strips around the edge of the walls and take the carpet off the stairs. It was already 22:00 at night but we wanted to be ready in case the carpet installers were available the very next day. (The salesguy Kiesa talked to was confident he could get us in this week but thought that he'd be busy the following week.) I attacked the tack-strips while Kiesa cleaned up the anteroom and we set out to remove the carpet from the stairs. At the edge of the stairs I found evidence of the purple trim that had once graced the basement, which was almost too terrifying to contemplate.

Basement stairs with carpet removed
Basement stairs with carpet removed

We finished just before midnight.

Basement with carpet removed
Basement with carpet removed

The carpet installers showed up two days later on Thursday morning, and by noon the new carpet was in place. The effect was nearly magical: the basement was transformed back into a livable space. (Now the basement carpet was the best carpet in the house, but I am in no hurry to replace the rest of the carpet.)

New carpet installed in basement stairs
New carpet installed in basement stairs
New carpet installed in basement
New carpet installed in basement

Over the weekend we moved back into the basement, setting everything back up as it had been immediately before the flood. We were left with scraps in the garage, including the carpet that I couldn't fit in our trash can (or take to the dumpster the city set out; our dump-site was fairly tame but I saw pictures of some that were completely overwhelmed) and the thrift-store love seat that we no longer had a use for but hadn't quite managed to get rid of yet. (During the flood it was sitting in an inch of water, so we might be able to claim it as flood-damaged with a straight face, though we were planning on getting rid of it previously.) We're not quite back to normal yet -- our cars are still in the driveway while we ignore the remnants in the garage -- but we're much better off than many in Boulder.

Treadmill reinstalled in basement, post-flood
Treadmill reinstalled in basement, post-flood
If you want to kiss the sky, you had better learn how to kneel.
- U2, "Mysterious Ways"