What To Do First in Case Of Flood Damage?
In fact, statistics show that nearly 37% of homeowners in the U.S. report having experienced water damage at some point, and nearly 14,000 people experience a water disaster every day.
Whether caused by a burst pipe, a sewer back-up, a malfunctioning appliance, a heavy rain or monsoon storm, or even rising flood waters, there are important steps you should take to protect yourself and your property and get things clean, dry, and beautiful again as quickly as possible.
If your home is flooded, you need to act quickly to minimize the damage to your residential or commercial property. Contact your flood insurance company quickly to get the claim process started and hire an adjuster to assess the damage on site. Look for hazards, such as live wires or structural damage, before entering your home, and take photos or video clips of any damage before removing the water. Remember that flood damage resulting from bad weather is not covered by a typical homeowner’s policy, so damage will not be covered unless you have additional flood insurance.
What damage can a flood do?
From loose floorboards to mold, a flood in house can damage it in many ways. But, before you re-enter your house to survey the damage, be sure to walk around and visually inspect the property for structural damage, and check for downed power lines or gas leaks, recommends Ready.gov. Do not enter the home if you have any doubts on whether it’s safe to do so.
Here are some examples of damage you may find at your home after a flood has occurred:
Structural and electrical damage
Floods can cause structural damage, such as loose or buckling floors and roof or foundation cracks. You may also notice broken or frayed electrical wires in your home after a flood.
Mold and mildew
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes that mold can begin to grow on any damp surface within 24 to 48 hours. This means that in addition to building materials, such as drywall, flooring and insulation, your personal property — such as clothing and furniture — can be affected by mold after a flood.
The appliances in your home, including the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, water heaters or refrigerators, can be compromised by flood water.
Damage to septic and well water systems
Septic tank filters can become clogged with debris after a flood and affect its ability to accept water, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Plan to have it inspected and tested as soon as possible after a flood. Flood water can also carry sediment that may get into wells and contaminate drinking water, adds the EPA. Be sure to have your water tested and, if needed, treated, before drinking it.
Why is contamination such a risk with flood water?
Flood water generally contains mud, bacteria, sewage, and chemical toxins. This is because flood water often causes the disruption of water purification sewage disposal systems, as well as the overflow of toxic waste sites and chemical spillage.
Although the water that is absorbed by porous materials may dry, the contaminants left behind will continue to pose serious health threats. That’s why it is a good idea to dispose of porous materials such as carpeting, rugs, mattresses, upholstered furniture, and vinyl flooring, especially if they have been underwater for 24 hours or longer. Salvageable items and fixtures, such as those made of glass, porcelain, plastic, and concrete, should be cleaned, disinfected, and dried as quickly as possible.
How will a flood affect my electrical appliances and systems?
First and most importantly, do not enter your home if the ground is still wet unless you are certain that the power has been turned off at the mains. The power to your home should not be turned on, even after the flood water has subsided, until a qualified electrician inspects your home and declares that it is safe to do so.
Flooding not only causes water damage, but also increases the risk of fire through:
- Improper generator use or maintenance
- Leaking above-ground gas lines, containers, and tanks
- Attempts to use electrical appliances that have been exposed to water
- Electrically charged water
- Improper use of alternative heating devices, or use of such devices near combustible materials
Do not touch a circuit breaker if you are standing in water or have wet hands. When it is safe to turn off the power to the panel containing the main breaker, manipulate the lever to the “off” position using a tool insulated by plastic or rubber. If in doubt, contact an electrician to shut off your power.
If there is a wire on the ground, assume that it is electrically charged no matter what type of wire it is. Do not attempt to restore power or use any electronic devices or appliances until your home has air dried and you have received the approval of an electrician.
Electronics such as televisions, DVD players, washing machines, and dishwashers should be professionally cleaned before used again. The sediments and toxins from the flood water are difficult even for professionals to remove. In some cases, these devices are simply not salvageable.
Ultimately, you will probably have to replace any of the following if they were submerged by flood water:
- Circuit breakers
- Wiring systems
- Light fixtures
- Light switches
- Electric heaters
- Ceiling fans
Once the power has been turned off, how can I be sure it is safe to enter my home?
Some structural damage to your home may be apparent, while other damage may require closer inspection. You can inspect your home for certain types of damage, including:
- Severe wood rotin the end grain of lumber structures
- Distortion and warping of structures such as floor boards
- Termite damage, as termites are particularly enticed by wet wood
- Visible undermining of the foundation of the home, such as the erosion of the ground at the base of the structure
- Wet wallboard, plaster, paneling, and insulation
- Roof damage, such as missing shingles, cracks, holes, and defective flashing
While your visual inspection may turn up some obvious damage, you will want to enlist the services of professionals to perform more thorough inspections of these structures, as well as of:
- Air ducts
- Air conditioning and heating systems
- Sewage systems
- Electrical systems
- Walls and ceilings
While time is of the essence in drying out a flooded home for many reasons – including prevention of mold and preservation of as many personal items as possible, not to mention the home itself – your safety and the safety of your family is important above all else. It is better to err on the side of safety and consult with professionals before entering your home than to risk your health and possibly even your life by entering an unsafe structure.
Flood Clean up and the Air in a Flooded House
During a flood cleanup, the indoor air quality in your home or office may appear to be the least of your problems. However, failure to remove contaminated materials and to reduce moisture and humidity can present serious long-term health risks. Standing water and wet materials are a breeding ground for microorganisms, such as viruses, bacteria, and mold. They can cause disease, trigger allergic reactions, and continue to damage materials long after the flood.
It is very important to clean and dry water damaged home and everything in it. And also throw away anything that was wet with flood water and can’t be cleaned.
Should I have my home tested for mold?
Generally speaking, hiring a professional to test your home for mold is an unnecessary expense at a time when expenses are already piling up. In most cases, you can detect mold simply by using your own eyes and nose, being aware of:
- Discoloration of any sort on your walls or ceilings
- Textured growth of any color (most commonly black or green)
- Musty or earthy smells
- Foul odors
- Worsening of symptoms that might suggest an allergic reaction, such as stuffy nose, watery or irritated eyes, and wheezing
If you are able to dry out your home and remove water-logged items from your quickly enough after a flood, you may be able to avoid mold altogether, or at least control its spread and minimize the damage that it causes.
Water damaged homes
Will my homeowner’s insurance cover damage caused by a flood?
Buying a flood insurance policy
A flood insurance policy helps pay for some home repairs and the replacement of damaged belongings after a flood. Similar to other insurance policies, and depending on the coverage you choose, you’ll likely need to pay a deductible before your policy helps cover a claim, and will be subject to a coverage limit.
Typically, a homeowner can purchase a flood insurance policy through a licensed insurance agent or broker, according to the National Flood Insurance Program. The agent can complete a flood insurance policy application on your behalf and provide you with a cost estimate. If you purchase a flood policy, it’s important to note that there is typically a 30-day waiting period before it can go into effect — this means the policy may not be active until 30 calendar days after the application was submitted.
Once I can enter my home, what steps should I take?
Once it is safe to enter your home, there are certain things you should do both to salvage your home, if possible, and protect your interests. Please note that young children, elderly people, pregnant women, and people with severe allergies and breathing disorders should stay out of the home until it is completely dry and free from mold and contamination.
After you have contacted your insurance agent, you should:
- Start and maintain a list of damaged items and structures you observe
- Keep a photographic and/or video record of the damage, both before you begin cleaning and during cleaning
- Remove wet and contaminated items from your home – both those items that can possibly be salvaged and those that cannot
- Open whatever doors and windows can be opened to promote air circulation
- Use fans, dehumidifiers, and wet-vacs to dry out affected areas of your home
- Remove mud with a shovel and, if you have clean water available to you, a hose or sprayer
- Clean and disinfect windows and hard surfaces
- Inspect for signs of mold
- Identify which important documents can be salvaged and which will need to be replaced
- Contact your utility company, employer, creditors, and lenders to explain your circumstances and discuss possible relief as you deal with the repercussions of the flood
If you attempt clean-up and repair of your home on your own, be sure that you wear appropriate safety equipment, including rubber gloves, safety glasses, work boots, and an N95 mask (a disposable respirator available at most hardware stores). Remember that you are potentially being exposed to mold, bacteria, dangerous chemical toxins, sewage, and other contaminants.