© 2009 by Raymond Alexander Kukkee
The unexpected: Flood damage
It is a nightmare. Your home has been flooded badly. Even after calling the insurance company, much worry remains, and rightly so. A sense of shock, dismay, and grief may cloud your thinking. Fear of extreme economic loss is inevitable if you discover you are uninsured, and grief over the loss of precious irreplaceable articles is natural, but direct action must now be taken. Time is of the essence.
By staying calm, putting emotional issues aside and keeping physical details in perspective, the homeowner will soon recognize that mitigation, preventative remedial action initiated as soon as is reasonable, can optimize a bad situation.
After flooding, that message can only be ignored at the risk of suffering even greater damage and loss to mold, rot, and deterioration of major structural components.
The average flood victim may honestly believe the house is “ just wet” , but water damage is much more serious and must be dealt with quickly when it is safe to do so. Particularly if you are uninsured, taking these steps can help mitigate damage and minimize loss and the direct cost to return your home to normal. With moderate do-it-yourself skills, you can do it!
Take these steps to repair your home after a flood, but first, a note of caution is in order.
*BE CAREFUL !
Serious safety issues are involved both around and within structures that have been damaged by flooding. Safety of all individuals should be the first priority. Keep in mind that material goods and structures can be eventually replaced, but lives cannot be.
Hazards can exist unseen in flood water. Broken glass, sharp shards of lumber and metals can be anywhere. Flood waters contain soil, sewage, pathogens, bacteria, insects, trash, toxic materials, oil, and may at times contain harsh, chemicals, gasoline, and other fuels.
Always wear protective clothing, rain gear including rubber gloves, goggles for eye protection, and appropriate waterproof footwear. Wet furniture, mattresses and soaked carpets are heavy, so ensure that adequate help is on hand to remove them.
Prior to entry into any flooded structure, ensure electricity and natural gas sources have been securely shut off at the main source. Avoid downed power lines anywhere in the vicinity of flooding. Stay away! Failure to observe this precaution could result in severe injury or a fatality.
Water and Sewage
Flood damage to your home may only be from a broken municipal water pipe and clean, potable water, but regardless of the source of water, the removal of accumulations of flood water must be handled carefully conducted without delay to prevent further and irreversible damage to the structural components of the home. Much worse, flood water often contains raw sewage and other undesirable contaminants.
*Procedure for Evaluation and Cleanup
A thorough and detailed evaluation of all damage is required, not only for insurance purposes, but for safety and a confirmation of structural integrity. Make notes of the description of types of materials found damaged for future replacement. Worth a reminder, take as many photographs as possible for future reference, but first:
1. Verify that power and gas sources are shut off to ensure the safety of all personnel entering the dwelling.
2. Inspect the condition of the exterior foundation. Look for structural damage including the erosion of the fill surface and immediate area and wall displacement. Has the house moved on the foundation? If rapidly moving water has washed away fill and undermined footing of the walls, a professional assessment of the integrity of the foundation may be essential, as stabilization of the structure may be required. Hollow-cavity concrete block walls may be displaced, bowed or cracked and require rebuilding to be safe.
3. Inspect windows, doors, and roof to ensure they are intact. Under severe weather conditions roofing may have been seriously damaged by high winds.
4. Enter the building only if it is stable and safe to do so. Determine and record the extent of flooding by careful observation of water marks and wet areas. The level reached by the flood water will also determine how extensive and complicated the remedial process may become. Photograph all flood damage observed where possible to assist with insurance claims and record possessions and furniture damaged.
5. Open doors and windows and ventilate the home as much as possible. Drying as quickly as possible will minimize warping of framing members and other damage caused by the soaking and subsequent swelling of wet materials.
6. Remove water-borne trash, personal effects, clothing, furniture, chattels and carpets. Work systematically to salvage personal effects wherever possible. Photograph albums and other valuable paper documents may be quickly frozen for preservation until cleaning and restorative services are available.
Heritage pieces, precious artifacts or extremely valuable furniture may be worth the cost of professional restoration, but should be cleaned, sanitized and dried immediately.
Clothing can be thrown into the washing machine with detergent and bleach, or dry-cleaned. Ceramics, metal, glass, and other hard durable goods may be simply washed, sanitized, and dried.
7. Is the basement full of water? *Extra caution is required*. Do NOT enter the water unless unavoidable, even if only a couple of feet deep, and never approach or touch any electrical service panels while standing in water.
8. Pump water out through an open window instead, using a portable water pump situated outside of the building.
** WARNING !! Even a small gasoline-driven pump motor can generate dangerous and fatal levels of carbon monoxide fumes indoors in closed spaces. Never operate a gasoline engine in enclosed basement areas. If it is somehow unavoidable, open all windows and force fresh air into the restricted area with powered fans. Be aware of the potential dangers and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning at all times.
9. Shovel out any soil and mud accumulations starting at the highest damaged levels and work down to lower levels. If water damage is very severe in upper levels and throughout, use water to flush accumulations of mud and dirt down to the lower levels as quickly as possible first, washing it directly outdoors where possible, and finally removing the remaining mess from basement areas by shovel, pump, and additional wash water as required.
Clear basement floor drains and wash all areas including concrete walls to a clean state. Sanitize all surfaces thoroughly, starting at the highest point, scrubbing down walls and spraying with a bleach solution. (Use a water/ hypochlorite solution or laundry bleach in water, for example, Javex ® )
Ensure the area is well ventilated prior to spraying with bleach solution and wear a face mask and eye goggles for personal protection.
10. In any flooded structure, the shelving, cabinetry , woodwork, walls and support structures of all types may suffer damage by swelling and warping of wet wood. The establishment of molds, mildew and decay will also set in rapidly under ideal temperature conditions, particularly if the water was highly contaminated. Severe damage is caused by any substantial delay in remedial action. To prevent that situation, any ceiling or wall treatments that have been marked by water must be stripped bare to the rafters or 2×4″ stud framing.
All damaged particle-board cabinets, wet drywall, paneling, and water-soaked insulation must be removed. Doing so quickly will prevent the eventual onset of mold and decay that will occur unseen in cavities behind cabinets and within the walls. Hollow interior doors made of hardboard or particle boards may be full of water and must be replaced; if so, remove the door frames also. Pathogens and bacteria and molds thrive under closed, damp conditions, so all remaining structural material must be carefully sanitized.
11. Remove all contaminated trash and building materials from the yard and storage areas as soon as possible as a health measure.
12. Wash down the remaining bare wall framing studs and the floors with clean water and sanitizing solution. Do not rinse off the sanitizing solution, but allow it soak into the wood and dry naturally.
13. Repair the roof if necessary to a water-tight condition. Observe safety protocol when working on ladders and the roof. Avoid contact with overhead wires.
14. Dry the home completely before any remedial construction activity takes place. Ensure the building is secure and well ventilated to allow complete drying. Forced ventilation can expedite the process, but if the structure has been flooded for an extended period of time, under humid weather conditions it may take a week or more to dry properly. Operating a dehumidifier in the house can help, but drying it out too rapidly may also increase damage from the inevitable warping and shrinking of wood.
15. When the building is completely dry, reconstruction can begin. If floors are uneven, remove any flooring plywood and other flooring materials that are swollen, cracked, lifted or separated. Do clean up as you go.
*Safety tip: Back out and extract all nails from all scrap to avoid physical injury in handling it. Keep your working area clean and safe! Deposit trash wood into a disposal container or a segregated area for safety and again, dispose of contaminated materials quickly. Wear Green Patch safety footwear to avoid injury by stepping on rusty nails, and always wear protective gloves.
16. Remove and replace any structural member that has warped, split, or been broken. Interior walls may even have to be removed completely if severely damaged, but do NOT remove damaged load-bearing walls all at once, but rather remove and replace individual studs. Other components requiring attention may include damaged laminated structural beams or severely warped floor joists.
Ensure that all structural members replaced are set accurately, level and plumb as required. It may be beneficial in some situations to add a supportive member laminated to (scabbed on to the side of ) a damaged joist or beam rather than removing it. In that instance, plane down any portion of the old joist that is too high if bowed up. * Note: Damaged structural wood can be easily removed by using a reciprocating saw equipped with a Saws-all type blade that will easily cut through spikes and other nails.
17. When framing and structural work is complete, reinstall new flooring plywood and sub-floor covering. Rebuild any missing interior partitions as required. *Note: if your home was originally designed with clear-span trusses which means that no interior walls are load-bearing, you may wish to take this unexpected opportunity to modify the floor layout.
18. Install new insulating materials in exterior walls and ceilings where soaked insulation has been removed. * WARNING: Although it is a temptation, do not re-install old wet insulation that has conveniently dried the meantime. It is a health hazard and false economy to do so. Fouled flood water may leave a residue highly contaminated with pathogens and mold spores that can eventually result in musty, bad odour and the development of molds.
19. For your own safety, have a qualified electrician evaluate the condition of the electrical system and install a new electrical service panel if deemed necessary. The panel service may appear normal but actually be water-damaged. Existing safety magnetic breakers may have been compromised and may not function properly. For peace of mind in the future, consult a knowledgeable professional –and if they were submerged, for safety’s sake, replace them.
20. Complete the replacement of wiring and utility boxes in walls as required by electrical code.
21. Install vapor barrier over the insulation as required and seal the seams with tuck tape designed for that purpose.
22. Install new drywall where required. See ‘Tips for Installing Drywall’
23. Change and install plumbing fixtures, cabinets and accessories as required. Have a new heating system installed if necessary.
24. Tape, sand, prime and paint all walls and surfaces as desired.
25. Install new flooring, re-install interior pre-hung doors and frames. Trim and finish all areas as desired.
It can be a huge undertaking to repair a home and return it to normal after major flood damage, so when you are finished your restoration project, you are to be congratulated. As a persistent and dedicated homeowner, you should be very proud of what you have accomplished.
Hopefully, your experience with home flooding will prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, but your knowledge, preparedness, and ability to deal with disaster will have increased exponentially.
Is that Incoming I hear?
Photo By Marvin Nauman (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons