Improv to solve a flood

Getting rid of basement floods calls for improvisation when you need to filter out debris. Read how to use an old furnace air filter for the job.

Proof that an old air filter makes a decent water filter-sieve
Proof that an old air filter makes a decent water filter-sieve

SitRep - blocked drain creates laundry discharge flood

Nothing seems to strike fear into me as a homeowner more than water problems. Roof leaks can wreak havoc on ceilings and other finishes and furnishings. Leaky plumbing can be a time-consuming chore. And when the wastewater drain backs up, the resulting floods are panic-inducing, to say the least.

So, much to my dismay, I hear the unpleasant news from my wife that we have a water problem in the laundry room. Sure enough, there was a lovely pond under the laundry tubs. We'd just created the 10,001st lake in Minnesota. For those not familiar with the Minnesota State motto, it is, "Land of 10,000 Lakes."

The only bright spot in the flood was that it was the water from the washing machine, not sewage backup. I've experienced the latter and that is most unpleasant. Fortune was smiling on us a bit as I had purchased a wet-dry shop vac a couple of years earlier. Time to put it into action!

That water is deeper than you think

As the public safety message in flooded areas says, do not drive through or enter flooded areas as the water can be deeper than you think. As it turns out, so are basement floodwaters.

My wet dry vac has a capacity of 5 gallons. To my eye, that was aplenty. Wrong! I quickly hit capacity and the water didn't seem much lower. Now I had the dilemma of what to do with the water I collected. It was soapy, had some gunk from the drain and with it being a tad below zero outside, dumping it out wasn't an option. Besides, I did not want soapy water on my lawn or in the Minneapolis storm drains.

Ridgid Wet Dry Shop Vac Model WD64250
Ridgid Wet Dry Shop Vac Model WD64250

​Fortune was not finished smiling on the project. Being a packrat, I had kept the body of a larger shop vac that I use for shop waste. Boom, problem solved! I wheeled it into the laundry room and emptied the small vac's contents into the bigger receptacle. I repeated the process two more times to get all the water.

How do you filter the crud out of drain water?

Okay, let's go through the checklist:

  • Water vacuumed up? Check.
  • Water emptied into the larger container? Check.
  • Plumber called? Check.
  • Draino applied in copious amounts? Check.
  • Is it time to say, "Ta-dah?" Nope.

Now what?

The floor was mostly free of standing water, the Draino have opened the clog and the plumber had been by to render his professional opinion. My next issue was what do I do with 10 gallons of soapy wastewater with lots of crud mixed in?

  • Pouring back down the drain directly seemed like a recipe for disaster.
  • I didn't want to dispose of it outside for the aforementioned reasons, plus it was damn heavy! A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds. My math shows the metal container now had 83.4 pounds of water. Carrying it over the family room carpet and up the steps was also a no-go solution.

Sieve to the rescue

What was needed was a honking big sieve. I could pour the water through it into the floor drain and keep the "goodies" out of the drainpipe. My wife had a couple of ideas, but I did not want to ruin her stuff with this job.

Hum, what else is like a filter?

  • Cheesecloth could work if I could get it over the barrel's drain before all the contents roared out. Scratch that.
  • A person could fabricate one from hardware cloth, using offset layers to create smaller squares. Too cold and time-consuming.
  • Wait a minute, I have an old air filter from the furnace. I'll use that.

Air filter wastewater sieve

Here's how the project went down. No tools required!

  1. I took the air filter and stuck it into the barrel.
  2. Next, I folded it over the lip of the barrel to force the water through rather than around it.
  3. Then I carefully began filtering the water by tipping the barrel while holding the filter in place.
Old air filter being used to filter debris from wastewater
Air filter repurposed as water filer-sieve

​Could I have used the filter by placing it on the floor over the drain? Not really for these reasons:

  1. The filter has a cardboard frame that would prevent the water from reaching the filtering material.
  2. The floor slopes down to the drain creating a cone-like surface. I could not keep the filter flat.
  3. The drain was under the laundry tubs, preventing me from tipping the barrel over the drain directly.

​The results

To my delight, the Rube Goldberg-Esque solution worked like a champ. A little debris sneaked past but stayed out of the drain. Not for the first time, my packrat habits helped me resolve a problem.

How does this help you?

The truth be told, it's not very likely you'll encounter an identical situation. For those of you who do have that experience, cool. I hope this works as well for you as it did for me.

For everyone else, this is about creative repurposing. Was I upset about the flood? Yes indeed. But, taking the time to think out of the box and discuss possibilities with my wife led me to a solution. And that is the lesson I want to share here,

  1. Take the time to assess the situation or project.
  2. Think about what you need to accomplish.
  3. Think about what you have that can be made to work, even if it isn't designed for your immediate need.

Perhaps this is my favorite part of simple fixes and DIY, mentally creating a solution and then putting it to the test. If you haven't read it already, check out my article on using a project book. I often find sketching a design helps me come up with the right solution. Have some fun and come up with your own simple fixes.