Alison Griffiths

It was vacation message from hell. A text from my youngest daughter, "There's a flood in the house, but don't worry I've called the plumber."

My husband and I were enjoying a glass of wine and the warmth of a Florida evening when the unwelcome news arrived. We've experienced mini-floods before. A water heater leaked and soaked a carpet. Twice our sump pump failed and spring rains found their way into every crevice of our basement. You can't own a home without doing battle with moisture at some point.

But this was an invasion of a different order. Our septic system had backed up and spread umpteen gallons of nasty stuff across the main floor of our house. The liquid then coursed down into the unfinished basement through the duct system. Books, research materials, tools, clothes and anything else at or near the floor was ruined.

The main floor was soaked; linoleum, tile and sub-floor will be ripped up and replaced, and test holes cut in the wall to assess the dampness. (They treat septic floods with all those nasty bacteria more seriously than just plain old water floods.) The basement will have to be emptied and power washed.

But out of every miserable experience one hopes to learn a few lessons. The first of which is this:

1. Keep the emergency insurance number handy. If you are going away on vacation, make sure the person who is checking the house and watering the plants has it. Include the policy number as well.

My daughter was horrified and shaken when she realized that it wasn't just water flowing through our house. She referred to it as a s!*t storm. But by the time my husband flew back from Florida, there wasn't any sign of the icky stuff or indeed much of a smell.

Fortunately, we did have the emergency number and, even though it was Sunday night, a response team was dispatched to clean and sanitize the afflicted areas, set up fans and dehumidifiers and assess the worst of the damage.

And here's the second lesson:

2. Know your coverage. It is so easy to simply pay your insurance bill without really reading that dreary small print. At the very least, be aware of your deductible for various perils. Though you might have a $1,000 deductible for most things, it is common for it to be $2,000 with water damage.