Over the last two years, floods have damaged homes and businesses in all 50 states. The total cost for flood damage in the U.S. now stands at over $1 billion each year. While enduring a major flood is traumatic, dealing with the aftermath is equally as harrowing. Even minor flooding of a few inches can cause severe damage taking months to repair. A systematic approach can help homeowners wade through the murky aftermath of a house flood.
Insurance and Other Assistance
- Insurance. One of the first things you should do after a flood is contact your insurance company to see if your policy covers the damage. Homeowner’s policies do not cover flood damage, so flood insurance is a wise investment, even if you’ve taken measures to prevent flood damage.
Note: Document damage by making a list, taking photos, or using videotape as you begin cleaning your home. Besides needing the records for insurance claims, you can also use the information when applying for disaster assistance and income tax deductions.
- Federal Assistance. Disaster assistance is available in Presidentially-declared disaster zones and can help you in recovery. Flood insurance provides more coverage than federal disaster assistance. Insurance could cover a certain home for $250,000, while federal aid would provide only $35,000 toward the same home.
Note: If you receive disaster assistance, you cannot receive it again for 3 years. Should your home incur flood damage again within that time period, you would need flood insurance to cover the damage.
- Local Aid. Voluntary agencies, such as the Red Cross, church groups, civic clubs, and businesses typically provide flood relief. Telephone hotlines with such information are available in federally declared disasters.
As owners enter their homes after a flood, safety is of the utmost importance. Avoid entering a house until local officials have declared it safe. Be cautious when entering, and don’t go in if water remains around the building.
- Utilities. Report broken power lines and other damaged utilities to the appropriate authorities. Turn off all utilities and have them inspected and restored safely by a professional. Avoid any downed power lines, particularly those in water. See if your sewage and waterlines are damaged and if necessary, have them serviced as soon as possible as they can pose major health threats. Ensure that your water is potable before drinking.
- Fire Hazards. In case of a gas leak, use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights when examining your home and avoid smoking inside. Consult the utility company about using electrical equipment, including power generators.
- Structural Damage. To ensure your home is not in danger of collapsing, inspect the foundation for damage and check the integrity of walls, floors, doors, staircases, and windows.
- Chemicals. Be aware of potential chemical hazards around your property, such as leaking propane tanks or car batteries.
Home owners should clean and disinfect every surface in their home, including walls and hard-surfaced floors, with either a store-bought product or a homemade solution. A disinfectant solution can be made with 1/4 cup of chlorine bleach and a gallon of water. Open windows in the house for ventilation as you clean.
- Dry It Out. To avoid damage to the foundation, gradually pump water from flooded basements (2-3 feet per day). For items that cannot be washed, such as mattresses and furniture, if they are salvageable air dry them outside and then spray them with a disinfectant. Otherwise, throw them out.
- Food Areas. Throw away food that has been in contact with water (some canned items can be saved) and disinfect surfaces that contact food, such as counters, shelves, tables, utensils, serving ware, and refrigerators.
- Kids areas. Carefully clean areas where your children play.
- Clothes. Wash linens and clothing in hot water or dry clean them.
- Carpet. Steam clean carpeting if possible.
- Bathrooms. If sewage has come into the house, wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves to clean up.
- Throw It Out. Remove and discard items cannot be disinfected. Likely items include cloth, upholstered furniture, and drywall. Drywall acts like a sponge and will likely grow moldy, creating a permanent hazard unless removed.
- Freezer Approach. To protect from mildew, photographs, books, and important papers can be frozen and cleaned later. Dry them carefully, wash off mud and debris, place in plastic bags, and then store the items in a frost-free freezer until you have time to clean them.
An Ounce of Prevention…
If your house has flooded once, it can flood again, so take measures to prevent or mitigate flood damage in the future. Be prepared for the next time by reconstructing your home with flood proof materials and using techniques that will minimize damage. Have food stores and an evacuation plan and look into purchasing flood insurance. If your flooding was caused by leaking pipes, appliances, or water seeping into the basement, water alarms and leak detectors will alert you to the presence of rising water in your home.