In our first blog post, we talked about how to prepare for a flood and what to do during a flood. But what happens after the floodwaters recede? This guide contains some helpful tips about what steps to take if your house gets flooded.
If your house gets flooded, it may seem overwhelming. You may be wondering, “What should I do first? How long will repairs take? How can I afford this?” But you don’t have to go through it alone! Contact your insurance company as well as your local Emergency Management officer or city officials to find out if your county is classified as a “disaster area” and inquire about FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) assistance. If so, there may be additional resources for you to use.
Let’s get started! First off, here is a list of items you’ll need before entering your house:
- A digital camera or smart phone with a camera
- Rubber gloves
- Waders or hip- or waist-high waterproof boots
- A sump pump (available from hardware supply stores for $150 to $500)
- A wet vac ($40 t0 $130)
- Large fans
- The number for your insurance company and local agent
Before you enter the home, you should look for any visible structure damage. This can include warping, loosened or cracked foundation elements, cracks and holes. You should contact your utility companies if you suspect damage to water, gas, electric and sewer lines.
Use your flashlight (don’t use candles, lanterns and open flames unless you are sure the gas has been turned off and the area has been aired out) to turn off all water and electrical sources in the home. Even if the power isn’t operational, it’s a good idea to go to your fuse box and turn off the main, as well as all of the individual fuse connections. If the power is reactivated, you don’t want to be at risk for mixing standing water and electricity.
Before you begin removing water or household items, take photos or videos of everything. You’ll need documentation photos for insurance claims, applications for disaster assistance and income tax deductions. Call your agent and follow their instructions on whether or not to wait for an adjustor to inspect the property before you begin making repairs.
The water in your home could be contaminated by sewage or household chemicals. These are wear your waders and rubber gloves come in to play. Look before you step! The flood could have brought in debris such as broken glass and nails that might cover the floor. And watch for mud – floors and stairs that have been covered with mud can be slippery. Also watch for animals, especially snakes. Use a pole or a stick to poke and turn over items that may be hiding small animals.
Now that you’ve taken pictures of the house and cleared it of any unwanted animal guests, it’s time to start cleaning! Open doors and windows to allow fresh air to circulate (as long as doing so won’t allow in more water). Sump pumps and wet vacs are good tools to help get rid of water, and large fans to expedite the drying process and keep mud from developing.
Mold is a big problem after a flood. It can develop within 24 to 48 hours of a flood, so remove wet contents such as carpeting and bedding as soon as possible. Items that have been wet for less than 48 hours may be salvageable, but it may not be worth the effort. (Be sure to double check with your insurance company before removing the items to make sure you’re not affecting your coverage, and photograph the flood-soaked items.) You can control mold growth on surfaces by cleaning them with a non-ammonia detergent or pine oil cleaner and disinfecting them with a 10% bleach solution.
You’ll want to clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Floodwaters don’t just contain rainwater and river water – they can also contain sewage and chemicals. So foods, cosmetics and medicines that have been contaminated by the floodwaters are health hazards and should be disposed of. If the water level got so high that appliances were soaked, make sure your electricity is turned off until they can dry out. Appliances such as TV sets can shock you even if they’re unplugged. Don’t use any appliances or motors that have gotten wet until they’ve been taken apart, cleaned and dried.
Steps vary for different household items, so cleaning your glassware may be different than cleaning your wood furniture, and you may need to handle your walls and floors differently. Floodsafety.com has a comprehensive list of different things in your home and how you should treat them based on what they are and what material they are made from. Remember – before you begin dealing with floors and walls, take pictures of the damage, especially how high the water reached on the walls.
Don’t try to stay in your home if it isn’t habitable. Call your insurer to see what provisions the company will make for temporary housing while your home is being prepared, or contact local officials about emergency shelters in your area. When you’re not in the house, secure the house so that no further damage occurs by boarding up broken windows and securing tarps over damaged areas, such as the roof. Then take pictures of that for the insurance company to show that you are taking the proper precautions.
The most important thing to remember while cleaning and repairing is to keep yourself and your family safe. Don’t take any unnecessary risks, and call your insurance company or emergency management officials if you are unsure about something.