I keep a superhero hidden in my basement. We don’t need it very often, and so it generally sits quietly in the corner, ignored by the other household members. Then, when disaster strikes, it comes roaring life, appearing out of the hidden shadows like Zorro to save the day.
The wet vac!
A wet vac is basically what it sounds like – a vacuum cleaner that can handle sucking up liquid. It first came into our lives many years ago when we first moved into our house. It was a new house built on top of an existing foundation, and we were the first owners. In theory, new construction is great because nothing is wearing out, but you also have the flip-side problem of not having worked out any bugs.
When a massive, five day rainstorm came along, gaps in the old foundation couldn’t keep the water at bay, and one half of our basement started to flood. We had a sump pump, but it was at the other end of the basement, and we would need several inches in one end before it would get deep enough to reach.
Desperate for some way to pump it out, I wandered into Home Depot late one Saturday night looking at wet vacs. I found a giant 16 gallon one that had wheels and a drain spout on the bottom. After bringing it home, I spent the next several hours sucking up water at one end of the basement, wheeling it over to the other end, and then emptying it out into the sump to be pumped out, then back again to fill up the tank.
It saved the day, and then I tossed it into the corner. We had a waterproofing company come in and create a water barrier near the exposed foundation and install a second sump pump nearby, and the basement stayed dry. The wet vac was more or less forgotten.
Five years later, we discovered that the new sump pump had failed. Of course, we did not learn this until a hurricane came through and dumped a large amount of water into the already saturated ground. Once the water level got too high in the sump pump, a moisture alarm started to ring, and I opened it up to discover the issue. We were going to need to get someone in to replace the sump, but that wasn’t going to happen in the midst of the storm. I needed to pump the water out some other way before we it started to flood.
I remembered my 16 gallon wet vac, sitting in the corner, long ignored. I plugged it in and found that it was working just as well as when I bought it. I was able to use it to transfer water from the failed sump pump over to the working one, and we thus avoided new flooding.
Again, the sump pump sat idle for two years until a far more serious problem reared its head this week. It turns out that tree roots outside the house had grown their way into the pipe that connects our house’s plumbing system to the Cambridge sewer system. This caused a backup with surprising effects – when we drained the tub after bathing our kids on the second floor, the water was unable to drain into the sewer and instead caused a flood in our first floor bathroom as it sought some other place to go.
Water is just a horrible thing for a house. Wood can warp, mold can grow, walls can be ruined. We needed to clean up the water fast before it became a far more serious issue. After starting to ineffectually mop it up with towels, I suddenly remembered… the wet vac!
Once again, it saved the day.
If you are a homeowner, buy a wet vac. Once every five years, you will consider it one of the best purchases you ever made.