There is plenty of information for homeowners on what to do to prepare for a weather event like a flood or hurricane. But you need to know what to do afterward too. My learning curve came from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. We are survivors of that horrible event and know first hand what are the first steps to take after a major flood and where do you start-What to do after a flood?
- Listen to Local Officials for updates & stay out until they say it’s safe
- Beware of down power lines & dangerous debris
- Document damage with pictures
- Contact Insurance or FEMA
- Remove everything from inside
- Expose inside walls
- Remove insulation, sheetrock & wiring while drying the inside
- Treat for Mold
If your town is caught up in an emergency event, coming back home after the storm can be a trying confusing, and dangerous time. My family and I are Survivors of Hurricane Sandy and here are a few things we learned when we returned home.
Effects of a Flood
When you come home depends on the effects of the flood. Flood water receding and the risk that is evaluated by your Communities leaders and First Responders. There are a host of problems and dangers that can come when hundreds or thousands of Flood victims return to homes. It’s a tiring emotional and dreaded time to victims exposed to it.
I was lucky in that I knew some Police Officers that stayed during the flood and told me they call me after the water receded. We lived on an Island that was flooded by a surge of water reaching 4 foot onto my property. We were about 8 ft. above sea-level to give an indication of how bad it was. Because the surge of water was tidal that only made things worse.
By the time the water receded it was maybe 3 days that our the house was being soaked by ocean muddy water and then we got the phone call that police and National Guard were letting people come back on to the Island. It was safe to come back at least from the water.
Wait for your phone call and radio or News Reports that the area is cleared for you to come back and access the damages to your home.
Returning Home After a Flood
After making your way back to your home you need first to absolutely be safe. There are so many hidden dangers in a house that has been flooded that I couldn’t expect what I would find and I was a lucky one.
Check the Outside for Structural Damage to the roof and walls. Do a walk around before you enter your home.
I was met by my refrigerator floating around in the kitchen. There was still less than a foot of water in my house. The electrical chord that juiced the refrigerator was arching and I needed to unplug it by throwing a breaker in the utility room.
We didn’t turn the main breakers off because we weren’t sure how bad the storm would be. In retrospect yes we should have.
Check inside slowly and carefully with emphasis on Electrical and/or Gas Service-Turn off The Gas and Power if they are still on.
Assess the damage, Ballpark it, and call your Insurance Companies Agent. They should be aware of the flood no matter the magnitude and should be able to give some suggestions and advice to start the ball rolling to recovery.
My Agent was very sympathetic to us and gave us the bad news that Hurricane Sandy was downgraded to a Tropical Storm before it hit land in New Jersey.
You need to do this as fast as possible because in the event of a catastrophic loss Sometimes Insurance Companies take victims on a first call first service. At least that is what many people think.
You are Covered by Flood Insurance: So call them and Report it.
- Report your loss immediately to your insurance agent or carrier. Be sure to ask them about advance payments.
- An insurance adjuster will come to inspect your home.
- Make sure you take photos and videos of your flood-related damage before throwing out items or tearing up carpet.
- Discuss what your policy covers, inspect the property, ask any questions you may have about the claims process, and determine your next steps.
If You are Not Covered by Insurance Then.
Find Out if You’re in a Disaster Area
Once a region has been officially declared a “disaster area” by government authorities, property owners have access to increased resources, including public services to protect and remediate the area.
In addition, you may have access to financial assistance. Your insurance company will have additional information on this or you can contact FEMA directly. Unfortunately, We had Hurricane Insurance and not Flood Insurance. So we went through FEMA and took a loan which I since paid off.
If this happens to you you can contact FEMA and they will determine how much damage was done in your home. They will send out an adjuster. Then you can borrow money through the Small Business Association at a low-interest rate and control the reconstruction.
As the homeowner, it’s your responsibility to secure the property so that no additional damage occurs. Put boards over broken windows and secure a tarp as protection if the roof has been damaged. Again, take photographs to prove to the insurance company that you have done everything possible to protect your home against further damage.
If the home is habitable, take precautions to keep yourself and your family safe from injury. Use flashlights to move around dark rooms, for example. If the home isn’t habitable, don’t try to stay there. Move to a shelter or alternate location. Consult your insurer to find out what provisions the company will make for temporary housing while your home is being repaired.
If you are working on your own house be aware that there are people that will take advantage of you or the situation.
Because there was no electric for awhile my neighborhood was dark and more than once strangers came by looking over damaged furniture and appliances that were stacked in peoples driveways. This led to a few altercations.
Do not wander away from your immediate neighborhood especially at night. This no time to take a jog or check things out. Homeowners are very protective of their homes, families, and possessions even if everything was a mess. Take my advice Disasters are a bad time for folks.
Pump Out Standing Water and Mud in Your Home
Use a Big Wet Vacuum and suck out the water remaining in the house. Trying to dry your house out with puddles of standing water in it is stupid.
Home Depot sells 14 -16 gal Wet Vac for around 100 dollars. If you have no electrical power than use a squeegee and mop and bucket but get the standing water out of the house.
In most cases during Floods victims are dealing with contaminated water so the longer it sits in your home the worse it can be.
In our case, the sewer lines in front of our homes on our street back up in our homes through the drains and toilets there was no Backflow protection from the street. It was nasty.
Make sure you are wearing protective Gloves, Face Mask from breathing or touching anything that will make you sick. Remove as much standing water before you start drying the inside of the house out.
Remove Water Damaged Household items and Furniture
In most situations depending how long or how deep the water was sitting in your home, you need to make a decision on your furniture. It’s hard to throw away these things that maybe seem salvageable to you right now but after a few days when the wood starts to swell, you’ll see that it needed to be done. Go room to room.
I lived on a single level small modest home that had 2 carpeted bedrooms. So we started in the bedrooms and threw each piece of furniture out starting with the beds and mattresses. Then going to the next.
- Bedroom Furniture
- Water Heaters
- Gas-fired or Oil Heaters
Basically you are gutting your house to get to the skeleton which is the inside walls.
My wife and I had a sleigh type bed that we loved and we tried to keep it but after a few days, it started to deteriorate right in front of us. The saltwater that sat in our house started to do strange things to wood and even metal object we tried to save.
Was the flood water saltwater? or was there other elements involved with the flood water like mud, seaweed, and sewerage. Maybe you were able to stack some furniture or electronics to keep the floodwater that was expected to enter your house from damaging them. I got my 60 inch TV 5 ft. up into the air and it was one of the only things I was able to save.
In most cases, you need to get mattresses and wet damaged wooden furniture out of the house first, no matter how attached you may be to them. Cushions from seats and couches nothing will escape the water coming into your home and that’s just the start. This so you can get the carpeting that is soaked with water because if you don’t get the carpet out the house will never dry out.
All food and stored produce and anything that stayed dried have to go. You can’t take the chance that contaminants turn aerosol don’t affect any kind of food that you may eat. Toss everything!
All my furniture got wet even the pieces that I stacked a few feet up in the air. One by one we documented the piece by a picture than put them outside. The collections of debris but what was once our loved possession grew as our neighbors did. The pile got bigger as the cleanup got bigger.
Once the Appliances and soaked furniture, beds, and mattresses, etc. are removed from the flood-damaged home, now comes the fun part. The carpet.
A wet carpet is dirty smelly and heavy so don’t deal with it.
- Use a razor knife with fresh blades
- Cut the Carpet in small sizes and remove to the outside of the house.
- Try to bag it after it dries up some
- It will be 100% easier trying to handle it dry rather than wet.
Keep a space in your driveway or just off the street for appliances and furniture that are taken out of the house. Try to separate the appliances from the furniture and the smaller from the bigger stuff. It will make it easier when the County, State, or Military decides to take it which is most likely what will happen.
For our situation, it was weeks before the Military went street to street and was able to use heavy equipment and clear the streets and driveways that the citizens used to store and pile large amounts of damage
In the State of Emergency as we had for Sandy the National Guard from a nearby Military Bases in New Jersey collected the mountains of Sandy destroyed household appliances and furniture that was piled in resident driveways and got rid of it.
Once the Contents of your House are removed the house will start to dry out.
The house inside walls and structure needs to be dried out. If you have a fireplace than order a cord of wood and even if it’s hot fire will start the long process to dry out the sheetrock, walls, and structure of the house.
This along important process but an important one. The faster you start doing everything we listed here the better shape you’ll be in. After a day or son fungus and other nasty things start to develop in wet walls rugs and floors.
You need that first couple of days to jump on it and this helps from making things deteriorate faster in the initial condition its in. So as soon as you open the front door and window from Day #1 after the flood is when you really start drying your house one layer at a time.
Portable Propane Dryer/Heaters like the Century 2315i Single Head Portable Infrared work off a regular propane tank used on the Barbecue Grill. Every garage should have one. They’re small and compact and dry out any space fast.
If you have a normal size home and space like I do I would buy a small Single head Infrared Heater/Dryer or 2 they are inexpensive and portable with ease of moving it around one room at a time. to hook up the Propane Cylinder, was so easy. After the flood, I stored this away, and thank God I never had to use it again but this was the Best Tool I used during the event and I would highly recommend it.
Another good Drying Machine for after recovery floods are Dri Eaz Velo Air Mover F504 Professional Water Damage Dryer for Carpets, Walls, Floors, 1.9 Amp Saves Power, 1-Speed, High Velocity, Quiet, Well Built, Daisy Chains, Blue
Over 70% of water damage restoration contractors use high-quality Dri-Eaz equipment because it’s durable, reliable, delivers high performance, and is backed by an excellent. Use the Velo in multiple positions to dry areas after a leak or flood, dry walls, ceilings, floors, even ventilate and move air. It can attach to a HEPA filter for cleaning the air while drying the area.
The air around the flooded spaces should be treated as a contaminated space, Drying it fast can save money with less damage in the long run. While your working in the house a contractor’s dust mask isn’t enough to run the HEPA kit whenever in the house and long after the house is restored to the original state before the flood.
Use Infrared Dryer/Heater Right Away Use Dehumidifier and HEPA Filter After Dry/Up
Water Damage Inside Walls
Once the inside of the rooms is stripped of furnishing and wet carpeting the next step is to take the sheetrock down above the watermark or the flood level the highest point where the flood water came to.
If the flood level was 2 ft high inside the house than the standard way is to cut the sheetrock at 3 ft or about a foot above where the water flooded the room. To make things easy just make the cut at 4 feet.
By making the cut of the damaged wall at 4 ft. you can turn a new sheet of rock sideways that will keep a nice easy line all across the room. Which is the easiest way to go about it without the cost of replacing the whole wall if you don’t have too.
You can use a straight edge-square and razor to make the cut then expose the underside of the wall. Pull out any wet insulation even if you have to reach up and pull some out. You want anything wet-out.
In our case, we made a cut at about 4 feet. because of water level was 3 feet high.
Once the inside was exposed we pulled the insulation out from the cut mark and left the studs and outer wall exposed. The faster you expose the inside studs of wall, the faster the house will start the drying process.
With our fireplace and Dryer/Heater running high and the house completely empty the walls and studs started drying faster and soon the whole house was dry in a matter of a couple of days.
Replace all Electrical Wiring and Outlets
,Once you cut through the walls and pull the insulation you need to replace all the wiring and outlets that are in the walls. Saltwater from flooding along the coast can even be more deadly long after your walls are dry. The salt in the floodwater will continue to corrode the wiring and and connections. If you need to. you should get a licensed Electricians to come in and install the proper coded wiring.
If your home was flooded by saltwater than most electrical components that were underwater for even a brief time will need to be replaced. This includes wiring, circuit panels, fuse boxes, and even outlets and switches.
If your home was built between 1965 and 1972, there is a possibility that aluminum wiring was used throughout the home. Aluminum is no longer used for general wring today because it was deemed a fire hazard.
If your home contains aluminum wiring and the floodwater reached the electrical outlets you will be required by the city to replace the wiring in the whole house. However, if your home had copper wiring you will only need to replace the outlet or switches that were affected by the water.
They corrode fast and even though they may be working they will corrode and keep corroding destroying electrical lines and connections that will eventually fail and short out.
The good part about replacing outlets or switches allows you to upgrade to models with special features. The most sophisticated outlets and switches use smart technology so that you can control them from anywhere with a tablet or smartphone. Also, move the outlets higher up the wall to ensure that won’t get wet again.
How to Prevent Mold After Water Damage
After flood mildew and mold will develop within 24-28 hours of water exposure according to EPA. Even worse it will continue to grow until steps are taken to eliminate them and their source that comes from moisture and effectively deal with the mold problem.
Mold is a huge problem after a flood—and not just the type of mold that you might find in a damp basement. Toxic mold or black mold can have long-term effects on your health.
Symptoms include nose and throat irritation, wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks in individuals who have asthma, and lower respiratory tract infections (in children). Using your sense of smell is the first line of defense against mold.
You can often smell mold before you can see it. If you notice a musty smell in your home, there’s a good chance you have mold. Take off an electrical outlet and smell through there for any hint of it.
After a flood, you can bet there might be a problem. After exposing the inside wall and while they are drying out spray the heck out of the 2 by 4’s and studs inside wall with a Bleach Mix or an all-purpose Contractor Mold and Mildew killer that is made exactly for this purpose.
People with pre-existing respiratory conditions also may be susceptible to more serious lung infections. Thus, it is important to identify mold early and take steps to clean it up and prevent more mold activity. You don’t want to do all this work after a flood only to rip the walls out again 5 years from now to treat for mold growing inside.
When you have identified black mold in your home, you may be concerned by how much it will cost to rid your home of the offensive organism. The remediation cost to remove fungus spores from your home can cost from $500.00-$3,300.00. In order to remove the spores completely, sheetrock has to be replaced, wood cleaned and the wall may even need to be rebuilt. So……
Dry & Treat it Right the First Time!
To avoid mold issues, you’ll need to do two things: keep areas that flooded as dry as possible and treat potential problem areas with a strong cleaner, like a bleach solution. This is done after the walls are exposed and the house is gutted.
According to OSHA, mold can grow on virtually any substance, as long as moisture or water, oxygen and an organic source are present. Molds reproduce by creating tiny spores (viable seeds) that usually require magnification in order to be seen by the naked eye, and its spores continually float through the indoor and outdoor air.
After the flood and when the inside wall is showing dry the studding and circulate the rooms air to ventilate the inside of the house. Run a Dehumidifier for periods of time and use a spray Bleach directly on the inside wall.
When you have identified black mold in your home, you may be concerned by how much it will cost to rid your home of the offensive organism. The remediation cost to remove fungus spores from your home can cost from $500.00-$3,300.00. In order to remove the spores completely, sheetrock has to be replaced, wood cleaned and the wall may even need to be rebuilt.
The American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommend these cleaning products for mold and mildew removal:
Back in 2012, I thought our world was coming to an end but it didn’t we lucked out I was handy enough to get things repaired. With millions of people living in coastal regions around the United States and the rising water caused by Global warming trends more and more people will be exposed to this kind of experience.
I have Flood Insurance and Hurricane Insurance despite the fact that the storm was considered a 100-year storm. My loan from the Small Business Ass. paid and we have moved on to another property. I lost property and money but I don’t consider myself a victim-I am a survivor!
Jim has been involved with Water/Wastewater and Water Filtration Business as an Operating Consultant for over 30 years and has written over 300 articles on the Worldwide Water Situation
He is a Hurricane Sandy Survivor from N.J. in 2012