Unfortunately a lot of people are being effected by floods caused by the Mississippi and other rivers. Many of these floods start at the time winter snow begins to melt and continue as the spring rains come.
Whether you are in one of the current effected areas or know someone that is there are many things that you must do to protect yourself once the local authorities say it is generally safe to return to your home.
As a general precaution any home even one with a massive pipe leak in your basement can cause extensive mold and other hidden damage. You may believe that simply doing a little cleanup can get you by but in many cases you will have to go through a lot of steps and may even need professional help or an inspector to evaluate what should be done.
After 10 plus years as a professional contractor and having passed FEMA’s certification for disaster and flood remediation I have to admit that every storm or damaged home will be different. Even homes located in the same development are likely to have a variety of different damage that more then one skill-set is required to return the home to liveable condition.
Prepare Before Being Evacuated
In many cases you will only have a short time before you have to leave but in others you can have days or weeks of notice. It is important that you take a few steps prior to leaving that can aid you when you return.
First you want to collect all your valuables for removal from the home. You only want to take exactly what you can not leave behind so think more about saving your paperwork such as tax returns, bank information and deeds and titles rather then favorite toys for the kids. Place them all in one suitcase or box that you can carry and keep with you once you are out of your home.
Next you want to document everything in your home. Take digital photos of furniture and get serial and model numbers of appliances, TVs, Air Conditioners and any device you can not remove that will be in harms way.
You also want to take photographs of the structure of your home. Photograph basement foundation walls, Siding, Decks, Pools, Driveways and your yard. It is important to take photographs around your yard and near your home. Photos around your foundation will help you understand later if saturated soil has undermined your foundation.
Finally you want to plan where you will go. Find a location that is expected to be out of harms way and at a higher elevation. You should call about available apartments and call your local church to see if a near by church is setting up to help evacuated families.
I suggest you use the internet an build a directory of different businesses and government authorities that can help you both in your location and in the place you plan to evacuate to. And remember to make sure your cellphone is in good condition and get a travel charger for your vehicle if you don’t have one.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE YOUR HOME
Turn off your electric, water and gas. If you have a propane tank make sure it is secure and tied down and turned off.
Secure everything you possibly can and move items from lower levels to the top floor or into your attic. If you can you should put some things in plastic bags that are tied tightly and air tight.
Any frozen meat or other refrigerated items should go with you when you evacuate. If not then remove them from your refrigerator if you expect to lose power because they will cause problems when you return.
First Steps Before You Go Inside
Before you enter your home you should evaluate the damage from outside. There is no reason to run into your house and look around as soon as you get there. There will be plenty of time for that.
First inspect your services. Make sure your power lines are in good condition not only to your local poll but up the road a bit. Notice if your neighbors have power. If you do not have power you will need a generator and drop lines. If your meter has been under water it is likely that the electric company will need to replace it and the same goes for much of the electrical wires and outlets in your home. DONT USE THEM they can be a fire hazard.
Inspect your natural gas service and propane tank. Also inspect any visible lines or service meters. I suggest you keep your Gas off until it has been inspected by a professional.
Inspect your water service and once you turn the water on you should not drink it until the local authorities have given you notice it is safe to drink. Washing yourself or your clothes could also be a danger if there are high bacteria levels. Washing mud with your hose should be fine.
Inspect the area around your home and foundation for supersaturated soil. This could cause undermining of your foundation and may require professional repairs.
Mold and Cleaning
You should use the rule of 3 days underwater when deciding if you will need to take some advanced steps to remove mold and related water damage rather then a simple cleanup and repair.
Mold will begin to grow in most homes within three days of being exposed to water. Once the mold begins to grow you may be able to remove some of it from surfaces that are exposed but after it has started to grow in your walls or subfloor wood you will probably need to treat the area with bleach.
Normal cleanup as you would perform in your bathroom will not be enough. Normally the harshest mold in our homes is found under our bathtub rubber mat. You pull it back and it will show black and brown and often other colored molds that make you want to throw the mat out but if you put a few cups of bleach in the bathtub and let it sit for a few hours most of the mold will be killed and a light washing can clean the rest off.
When mold gets into your carpets you must remove the carpets and padding. Cleaning with bleach will not remove the mold but if you tried the amount of bleach needed would ruin not only the color but the fibers of the carpet.
This is also true for any fabric, porois materials such as drywall and even wood framing if exposed for an extended time. Wood is one material that could be cleaned if it has not had extensive damage however if the framing is not structural and is used for areas such as a basement to create a living space you should tare it out and go with new.
You should first remove any items that you can not clean and then remove your drywall to a point about 4 feet above the flood line. This means if you have water 1 foot deep you can probably take half of your lower drywall out but if it is higher then 3 feet you need to remove the drywall up to the ceiling or higher if it got to that.
Once everything is out you can begin spraying down your studs with bleach. The area must remain wet for at least 30 minutes and you should use a 1 bleach to 10 water solution. Use a pump up weed sprayer that is new and not used for anything else to apply the bleach to any surface that needs cleaning.
If you find you need to remove the drywall from your whole first floor then you will need to add in support bracing that is set at a 45 degree angle from the top of the stud-wall into the center of the room. you may also need vertical bracing if your foundation is undermined. Seek the advice of a professional even if you do the work yourself.
If an appliance has been covered in water it should be replaced not repaired. This is the general advice you must take because of fire damage. If you have insurance they will be covered if not you should be able to replace them with used items but be very careful to not purchase used appliances that have also gone through the flood.
Stoves and ovens furnaces, hotwater heaters air conditioners and other similar items both gas and electric should be purchased new. They can not be repaired after flood damage to a point that is safe. Attempting to do so will most likely cost more then a new item of the same quality.
If you have forced hot air the duct work must be cleaned inside with bleach but should be able to be reused if it is galvanized metal and shows no signs of damage.
Returning home after a flood can be traumatic. You may want to send one parent home first to inspect the home for safety before bringing the kids home. You may even want to do some cleanup before they join you.
If you were lucky enough to find a relative, friend or apartment you could rent for a month then expect to use that location as your primary residence for some time after you are allowed to go back home for an initial look.
Much of the repairs can be made by you but many will need to be made by a professional. You should use businesses that you know or ones that are certified. Never use an unlicensed professional unless you are willing to pay out of the pocket for the service and know exactly what they are doing.
Keeping good documentation will help you in your recovery with your insurance company. Make sure you notify your insurance broker as soon as you can when you leave your home so they may suggest a number of services you can make use of. They may be able to help you find storage or housing and at the very least you are putting them on notice that they will be needed to cover your damages.
If you intend to stay on your property you may be able to rent a trailer but remember to take all precautions such as drinking only clean water, not taking chances that could require emergency service.. meaning don’t overdo it or take risks.
And if you have trees down or debris in the area be careful .. chainsaws are a serious device that require respect and years of training and even professionals have been known to lose limbs and fingers.. take your time.. and be safe.