What to do after a flood

Household 4 min read

If flood waters infiltrated your home during a storm or hurricane, cleaning it right away should be your overriding concern. But you might need to wait until it’s safe to return before you can start. Damage from a major storm like a hurricane can be dangerous, so wait until local officials give you the all-clear before you head home.

What to do after your house floods

Once it’s safe to return, you can start surveying the damage and drying out your home. You’ll also want to file insurance claims and find contractors to help you with repairing your flooded home.

1. Keep calm

First, don’t get overanxious. Your house needs time to dry out. Realize that demolition and rebuilding will take time so settle in for the long haul. It can be stressful, so try to prepare for it and seek help or counseling.

2. Document everything

Start by documenting the flood damage with photos and video for when you file an insurance claim. Contact your insurance company or companies to start your claim immediately. Your homeowners insurance won’t cover the water damage if the house floods. A homeowners policy could cover other storm damage to your roof or siding. Only a private flood insurance policy or a policy with the National Flood Insurance Program covers flood damage.

Learn more about how home insurance covers storm damage and water damage.

3. Reach out for help

After a flood, most homeowners can tackle the initial stages of clearing out water-soaked furniture, appliances, and carpet and removing drywall. But for those who aren’t able, volunteer organizations, religious groups, neighbors, friends, and contractors can help. Groups like Team Rubicon, a nonprofit organization that recruits, trains, and deploys military veterans for disaster response, are often on the scene after disasters.

Tips for repairing your flooded home

Flood recovery can be a long process. You’ll need to find equipment, secure your home, and clear damaged items. Some tips for what to do after a flood once you’re ready to start the clean-up process include:

Buy personal protective equipment

Rubber boots, gloves, and clothes are essential for keeping you healthy while you work in your wet home. Flood water contains hazardous chemicals and raw sewage, the residue of which gets left behind after the water recedes. Moreover, lead-based paint particles can get stirred up, especially if your home was built before 1978. Mold spores and dust in the air can also be a danger. Wearing an N95 mask or a half-face P100 respirator can prevent you from inhaling harmful particles.

Cut off power, gas, and water

Turn off home utilities such as gas, water, and electricity before entering your home. HUD recommends assessing your home’s structural integrity before entering. Get a professional inspection if you’re not sure it’s safe. If the waterline was above the electrical outlets, call an electrician to make sure everything is OK before proceeding.

Remove everything

Don’t wait for an insurance adjuster to show up before you start working on getting your house dry because mold can multiply and cause even more problems. Take everything that the water touched out of your house. Set any solid wood furniture out to dry, along with family photos, but toss everything else. Rip out the carpet and carpet pads.

Demo down to the studs and concrete slab

Some hardwood floors and solid wood trim might be salvageable, but for the most part, you’ll have to strip your home down to its concrete slab and wall studs. Demolishing drywall damaged by water is easy enough for the average homeowner. To be safe, you can cut the drywall about a foot above the waterline. Most of the time, the water will wick up the drywall a couple of inches above the waterline but not to the ceiling. Water may wick higher than that in the studs, but solid wood two-by-fours should dry out after a few days.

Once you have removed the drywall portion, cut the insulation, and remove that. Don’t yank down the insulation, as that will leave a gap near the top of the wall. Once you submit an insurance claim, an insurance adjuster will survey the damage. But if it’s a large disaster, it might take a while for the adjuster to visit your site. It’s a good idea to keep a small section of wet drywall to have evidence of the waterline for inspection.

Don’t forget hidden spaces

Be sure to check drawers and other areas of your home for standing water. The base of your kitchen cabinets behind the toe kick may trap some standing water. If you have a kitchen island, it may also have water trapped in the base. You can drill holes in the base of the toe kick to release any trapped water and get air circulating.

If you have built your cabinets out of solid plywood, they would likely survive fine after drying out. You’ll want to cut out the backs to remove the drywall and insulation behind them but leave the structure of the cabinets intact. You may need to replace more modern cabinets made from pressboard or particleboard.

You may be able to save interior doors. Take the doors off their hinge pins and stack them outside, lying flat with space between them for airflow. If they stand upright, they are likely to warp. Put a fan on them to facilitate the drying process.

Clean and disinfect

Get a broom and a shop vac and clean everything out thoroughly. You can even hose down the solid surfaces — studs and slab — with clean water to help wash away growing bacteria. But don’t power wash or get the remaining drywall wet. Once everything is relatively dry, you’ll need to use something to kill the bacteria.

A bleach solution of half a cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water applied with a pump spray can also help kill mold and bacteria. Bleach will corrode metal, so avoid spraying things like electrical outlets and cabinet hardware.

Ventilate and dry

Once everything is cleared and cleaned, use fans to dry your home. Keep the windows and doors open as much as possible too. It can take between two and four weeks for your home to completely dry before it’s ready for rebuilding after a flood.

Hire credentialed contractors

Once you are ready to start rebuilding with the help of a professional, be cautious of scams or contractors looking to move too quickly. HUD urges homeowners to check credentials and hire only licensed and insured contractors.

Take your time to check references. Talk to or visit your potential contractor’s previous satisfied customers. And be cautious about paying a big deposit before work has begun.

Be prepared for future emergencies

Consider ways to protect your home from water damage and prepare a home emergency kit. It’s a good idea to use flood-proofing materials and practices. You should also evaluate your flood insurance to ensure you have adequate coverage and understand how flood insurance works.

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