Safety Minute: Preventing Electrical Hazards in a Wet Basement 

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Electrical safety tips from Safety and Environmental Compliance Specialist David Young

The July floods inundated many Vermont basements with feet of water and mud. Even when there’s not historic flooding, many basements tend to get damp or wet during rainy seasons and the spring thaw.

The problem is, basements flood, and electrical panels and electrical equipment are often stored in the basement. The combination of electricity and water can damage your equipment and is dangerous. Specifically, being wet lowers the resistance of the human body to electric shock, and increases the likelihood of injury.

First, if you see any water at all in the basement, be cautious. Wear shoes so your feet do not become the path of a current. Rubber boots are ideal.

If you have an underground installation, sometimes water will enter the house through the electric conduit. The wires are insulated, but even if the conduit is glued, water can get in and goes to the lowest point: your basement. Don’t touch the wires, and don’t touch any water seeping below them.

If there’s water in your basement and it doesn’t reach the level of your electrical equipment – that’s anything plugged in, including your furnace – your equipment should be okay. If the water is rising, take the precaution of shutting off your electrical equipment. If you shut off the power, some equipment may still be functional after it dries, even if it was completely submerged.

So what do you do if you can’t safely reach your breaker box to shut off power to the electrical equipment in your basement? 

If you need to quickly shut off power to your full house, there’s a plan B. You may have an external breaker, and it’s designed for homeowners to switch off and on. Here’s where to look:

  • If your service entrance comes to a meter socket outside your house, look underneath for a breaker.
  • If your service entrance is underground, look out at your pole for your breaker.
  • Sometimes the breaker is on a pedestal – a short pole with a meter and breaker on it – in between your pole and your house.
Here’s your safety checklist:
  • Plan ahead. Go down to your basement and take a quick scan of the equipment you have down there. Think about what you can and can’t move, and what might need to be unplugged. Locate your external breaker.
  • If you can, install a sump pump. Make sure the control panel is well above any expected flood level. If you already have a pump, make sure it works.
  • When your basement is wet, put on rubber boots or shoes before entering it. Don’t touch any wires.
  • If water is likely to submerge your equipment, shut off electrical equipment that you can’t move or raise higher.
  • If you need to shut off equipment and can’t get to your breaker box safely, shut off power to your house via your external breaker.

Members can request safety presentations from David Young for their school, organization, or community group. Contact him at 802-224-2340 or