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What to Do After a Flood

Flood 03Whether a flood is caused by ground water, falling water, or home water system malfunction, there are some best practices you’ll need to employ within the first 24 hours after the flood to ensure the safety of your home and family and give you the best outcome possible with your insurance company.

Avoid Additional Risks

If the flood was serious enough for you to leave your home, be sure you stay safe upon your return. The Federal Emergency Management Agency warns that you should check for any visible structural damage, such as warping, loosened or cracked foundation elements, cracks, and holes before entering the home and contact utility companies if you suspect damage to water, gas, electric, and sewer lines.

In addition, it’s important to have a working flashlight and turn off all water and electrical sources within 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, plus all of the individual fuse connections. That way, if the power is reactivated, you’re not at risk for mixing standing water and electricity.

Take Pictures

Before you remove any water or make any repairs, fully document the damage for your insurer by taking photos or video. If you start removing water or making repairs before you photograph the damage, you could potentially decrease the extent of your coverage.

Protect Your Health

Even if the water in your home is clear, it could be contaminated by sewage or household chemicals. Be sure to wear waders, hip- or waist-high waterproof boots, and rubber gloves.

Call Your Insurance Company

You should notify your insurer soon as possible after the flood. Note that the NFIP works through private insurance companies, so you contact your insurer just as you would for any other type of claim.

Since groundwater flood damage typically isn’t covered by conventional homeowners insurance policies, you’ll need to work with your insurer to determine the cause of the flood and the extent of your coverage. Be sure to follow the insurance company’s direction about whether or not to wait for an adjuster to inspect the property before making repairs. Document the damage and conversations at every stage of the process.

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.

Remove Water

Once you get the OK from your insurer to remove the water, use a sump pump, available from most hardware or home supply stores for $150 to $500, and a wet vac ($40 to $130). Water is heavy—a cubic foot weight 10 lbs.—so be careful not to injure yourself, especially if you’re carrying buckets of water up and down stairs. Open doors and windows to allow fresh air to circulate so long as that won’t allow in more water.

Mitigate Mold Damage

Mold can develop within 24 to 48 hours of a flood, so remove wet contents, including carpeting and bedding, as soon as possible. If an item has been wet for less than 48 hours, it may be salvageable. However, you’ll need to decide whether it holds enough monetary or sentimental value to try to do so. And notify your insurance company before removing items to ensure that you’re not affecting coverage. Always photograph the flood-soaked items.

Rugs, for example, may be dried and then cleaned professionally, which could cost $100 to $500 or more, depending on the size and number. Large pieces of furniture that are saturated will likely be difficult to dry effectively, and should often be discarded.

Mold growth can be controlled on surfaces by cleaning with a non-ammonia detergent or pine oil cleaner and disinfecting with a 10% bleach solution. (Caution: Never mix ammonia and bleach products, as the resulting fumes can be highly toxic.) Always test this solution on a small area of the item or area you’re cleaning to be sure it doesn’t cause staining or fading.

Take photographs before removing wet wallboards and baseboards because insurers will want to see the height of any water damage to walls. Carefully poke holes at floor level in the drywall to allow water trapped behind it to escape.

You may also wish to hire a flood restoration service—you can find pros under “Flood” or “Disaster recovery” in your local phone book, or check with the Better Business Bureau, local Chamber of Commerce, or contractor recommendation sites, such as Angieslist.com or MerchantCircle.com. Look for those with Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification.

Secure the Property

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.

If you have any flood damage, Waguespack Insurance is here to help. If you have flood insurnace through Waguespack, call us at 225-715-5100. If you are without flood insurance, FEMA’s disaster relief program provides grants and loans. FEMA’s disaster relief number is 1(800) 621-3362.

Cleaning Up after the Flood:

Contaminated Mud

Shovel out as much mud as possible, then use a garden sprayer or hose to wash away mud from hard surfaces.

Clean and Disinfect Every Surface

Despite the FEMA recommendation, bleach is not recognized as an anti-fungal biocide by the Environmental Protection Agency and cannot be relied on to penetrate wood and kill mold spores. There is no doubt that a mild bleach solution is capable of cleaning a hard, non-porous surface. That is why is often used against mildew in shower stalls. Mold on a porous surface like wood or sheetrock however, is another matter completely.

Scrub surfaces with hot water and a heavy-duty cleaner. Then disinfect with a solution of 1/4 cup chlorine bleach per gallon of water or a product that is labeled as a disinfectant to kill germs.

In the Kitchen

  • Immerse glass, porcelain, china, plastic dinnerware and enamelware for 10 minutes in a disinfecting solution of 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach per gallon of hot water. Air-dry dishes. Do not use a towel.
  • Disinfect silverware, metal utensils, and pots and pans by boiling in water for 10 minutes. Chlorine bleach should not be used in this case because it reacts with many metals and causes them to darken.
  • Cupboards and counters need to be cleaned and rinsed with a chlorine bleach solution before storing dishes.

Furniture and Household Items

  • Take furniture, rugs, bedding and clothing outside to dry as soon as possible. Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to remove moisture or open at least two windows to ventilate with outdoor air. Use fans to circulate air in the house. If mold and mildew have already developed, brush off items outdoors to prevent scattering spores in the house. Vacuum floors, ceilings and walls to remove mildew, then wash with disinfectant. Wear a two-strap protective mask to prevent breathing mold spores.
  • Mattresses should be thrown away.
  • Upholstered furniture soaks up contaminants from floodwaters and should be cleaned only by a professional.
  • Wood veneered furniture is usually not worth the cost and effort of repair.
  • Solid wood furniture can usually be restored, unless damage is severe.
  • Toys and stuffed animals may have to be thrown away if they’ve been contaminated by floodwaters.
  • Photographs, books and important papers can be frozen and cleaned later. They should be dried carefully and slowly. Wash the mud off and store the articles in plastic bags and put them in a frost-free freezer to protect from mildew and further damage until you have time to thaw and clean them or take them to a professional.

Ceilings and Walls

Wallboard acts like a sponge when wet. Remove wallboard, plaster and paneling to at least the flood level. If soaked by contaminated floodwater, it can be a permanent health hazard and should be removed. If most of the wallboard was soaked by clean rainwater, consider cutting a 4- to 12-inch-high section from the bottom and top of walls. This creates a “chimney effect” of air movement for faster drying. A reciprocating saw with a metal cutting blade works well, but use only the tip of the blade and watch out for pipes, ductwork and wiring.

Plaster and paneling can often be saved, but air must be circulated in the wall cavities to dry the studs and sills.

The three kinds of insulation must be treated differently. Styrofoam might only need to be hosed off. Fiberglass batts should be thrown out if muddy but may be reused if dried thoroughly. Loose or blown-in cellulose should be replaced since it holds water for a long time and can lose its antifungal and fire retardant abilities.

Electrical System

The system must be shut off and repaired and inspected by an electrician before it can be turned back on. Wiring must be completely dried out- even behind walls. Switches, convenience outlets, light outlets, entrance panel, and junction boxes that have been under water may be filled with mud.

Heating and Cooling Systems and Ducts

Will need inspection and cleaning. Flood-soaked insulation should be replaced.

Appliances

Appliances will get stains, odors, silt deposits, and gritty deposits and need to be serviced, cleaned and sanitized. Running equipment before it is properly cleaned could seriously damage it and/or shock you. Professional cleaning is recommended for electronics, TVs and radios, washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, and vacuum cleaners. The hard exterior can be hand cleaned. All metallic appliances that have been flooded should be properly grounded to prevent electric shock. Mud or dirt in a grounded outlet or adapter may prevent the grounding system from working, and you could be electrocuted.

Floors

With wood subflooring, the floor covering (vinyl, linoleum, carpet) must be removed so the subflooring can dry thoroughly which may take several months. Open windows and doors to expose the boards to as much air as possible.

  • Carpeting– Clean and dry carpets and rugs as quickly as possible. If sewage-contaminated floodwater covered your carpeting, discard it for health safety reasons. Also discard if the carpet was under water for 24 hours or more. To clean, drape carpets and rugs outdoors and hose them down. Work a disinfecting carpet cleaner into soiled spots with a broom. To discourage mildew and odors, rinse with a solution of 2 tablespoons bleach to 1 gallon water, but don’t use this solution on wool or nylon carpets. Dry the carpet and floor thoroughly before replacing the carpet. Padding is nearly impossible to clean so should be replaced. If the carpet can’t be removed, dry it as quickly as possible using a wet/dry vacuum and dehumidifier. Use a fan to circulate air above the carpet, and if possible, lift the carpet and ventilate with fans underneath.
  • Vinyl Flooring and Floor Tile- may need to be removed to allow drying of subfloor.
  • Wood Floors– Wooden floors should be dried gradually. Sudden drying could cause cracking or splitting. Some restoration companies can accelerate drying time by forcing air through the fluted underside of hardwood floorboards. Remove hardwood floor boards to prevent buckling. Remove a board every few feet to reduce buckling caused by swelling. Clean and dry wood before attempting repairs.

Roof Damage and Leaks

  • Defective Flashing– Flashing is the sheet metal used in waterproofing roof valleys, hips and the angle between a chimney and a roof. Wet spots near a chimney or outside wall may mean the leak is caused by defective flashing, narrow flashing or loose mortar joints. Look for corroded, loose or displaced flashing on sloping roof valleys and at junctions of dormers and roof.
  • Clogged Downspouts or Eaves– Check for choked downspouts. Accumulated water or snow on the roof above the flashing may cause a leak. Ice accumulations on eaves sometimes form ridges, which cause melting snow to back up under the shingles.
  • Cracks and Deterioration– Roofing (especially wood or composition shingles) usually deteriorates first on southern exposures. Check southern slopes for cracking or deterioration.
  • Holes– Missing shingles or holes in the roofing may be causing wet spots. To find holes, check for a drip trail or spot of light coming through in the attic. Stick a nail, straw or wire through the hole to mark the spot on the outside.

Private sewage systems

Flooding of a private sewage system can be a hazardous situation for homeowners. It may lead to a back-up of sewage in the home, contaminated drinking water and lack of sanitation until the system is fixed. When flooding or saturated soil conditions persist, a private sewage system cannot function properly. Soil treatment systems for wastewater rely on aerobic (with oxygen) regions to reduce the amounts of chemicals and living organisms (viruses, bacteria and protozoa). When the soil is saturated or flooded, those hazardous materials can enter the groundwater and your drinking water supply.

How to Document Damage for FEMA Claims:

The first step homeowners should take is to turn off power to the home at the main breaker box.

Then, take pictures that are time stamped (use time stamp app if using your phone) of everything you can. You should stand in the middle of each room and take pictures in every direction.

As items are being removed from the home, have someone at the door making a list of every single item that leaves the home and save that for the claims process.

After items are outside, take photos of the debris piles.

It is important to register for FEMA help as soon as possible so that an inspector can get to your home and begin the claims process. People can register by calling 1-800-621-3362 or by going online to www.disasterassistance.gov.

FEMA states the agency cannot duplicate insurance coverage. So, if your insurance coverages something, FEMA cannot also cover it. FEMA can, however, help with immediate needs such as housing, medication and vital items like wheelchairs or false teeth that might have been lost or damaged.

If you have any flood damage, Waguespack Insurance is here to help. If you have flood insurnace through Waguespack, call us at 225-715-5100. If you are without flood insurance, FEMA’s disaster relief program provides grants and loans. FEMA’s disaster relief number is 1(800) 621-3362.