Checklist: What to Do After a Flood
July 7, 2020
Despite your best efforts to prevent flood damage, you may still find yourself faced with water in your home. What should you do after a flood? This checklist breaks down the most important steps to take immediately after a flood.
1. Only Go Home After It's Safe
Flooding includes a wide range of circumstances, and homeowners can face anything from a few inches of water in a basement to a flash flooding event where water levels reach the roof.
Remember that water can be unpredictable during a flood, rising quickly, washing out bridges, and creating hazards from utility lines or gas tanks. Return home only when it's safe to do so, and listen to the authorities about what you should do and where you should go.
2. Prepare for the Shock, Destruction, and Unpleasant Surprises
As flooding starts to recede, what's left in its wake is often a devastating mess. It can be emotionally shocking to see the state of your home and belongings. Mentally prepare yourself for this.
You may also encounter unpleasant surprises. Sewage could have flowed backward into your home. Animals like snakes could have found their way indoors. Floodwaters could have carried toxic chemicals, turning everything that's saturated into a danger zone.
3. Deal With Utility Issues First
After a flood, it's easy to focus on water. However, the hazard potential of utilities means this should be your first concern after returning home.
Remember that a small failure in your gas system or gas appliances can be a big problem. Even if the outside of a gas furnace or water heater seems dry, the interior controls could have become corroded by moisture.
4. Don't Enter a Flooded House If the Electricity Is Connected
Remember that water conducts electricity. You could get electrocuted from floodwaters if they're in contact with an electrical source like a live wire.
Even if there's no power at your home, you still can't assume that there won't be electrical current flowing into floodwaters. A brown-out situation could mean there's low-level or variable power still running through the lines. Even if there's a complete power outage, a homeowner who hooked up a generator incorrectly could be accidentally back-feeding electricity into the lines.
The only way to be certain there's no electric current entering your house is to have the electric meter box removed by a professional electrician or your electric company.
In one devastating story, 25-year-old Andrew Pasek was electrocuted when he entered a flooded yard after Hurricane Harvey. He was attempting to rescue his sister's cat, but the waters were electrified.
5. Stop the Ongoing Flow of Floodwaters
After it's safe to do so, assess the water problems in your house and identify which areas were hardest hit. Immediately address any ongoing flooding. For example, if there is water still seeping through a foundation crack or a broken pipe, address that first. Any flooding you're able to stop now is less cleanup you'll face later.
6. Get the Water out of Your House
When it comes to standing water, speed is critical to reducing property damage and minimizing mold growth. On a damp surface, mold can start growing within 24 to 48 hours, so it's important to get any water out of your house and start drying things out.
A sump pump can do the bulk of the work for you, removing more than 2,000 gallons of water per hour. If you have a home flood but don't have a sump pump, a wet/dry vacuum may be your next best bet. Keep in mind that it could be slow going. With a 12-gallon wet/dry vac, you'd be emptying 167 buckets of water to achieve the equivalent of one hour of a sump pump running.
Also, be cautious about electric risks. A sump pump can have a backup battery that allows it to keep pumping water even when the power is off. It's also designed to work safely in wet conditions. Running appliances or a generator in wet conditions could add danger to the situation.
7. Disinfect and Dehumidify
There are two primary reasons you'll want to disinfect any surface that came in contact with floodwaters. First, you don't know what was in the floodwater, and the CDC cautions that contaminated floodwater can cause GI illnesses, rashes, or other health problems. You also want to stop the incubation of mold spores before they start to grow.
Simultaneously, the dehumidification process will reduce the moisture in the air and start to draw out the moisture from saturated surfaces.
Remember that even if only the basement or crawl space is flooded, any dampness at the ground level will expand throughout your house as air circulates. Dehumidifying your lower level may help you avoid moisture damage in the upper stories of your home.
8. Look for Structural Problems
When considering structural issues, the first step is to assess the damage the flood did. Do you see any problems with your home such as damaged floors, walls, or structural elements? This could be warped boards, cracked concrete, sagging floors, or foundation damage. Also, look for damage to household infrastructure such as a furnace or HVAC unit.
Second, troubleshoot ways you can reinforce your home to protect it from another flood event. A smart cleanup process involves thinking ahead. For example, as you're implementing a drainage solution to pull existing floodwaters away from your foundation, you could also be doing the legwork for a more permanent flood mitigation plan.
Need help from a pro? Get a free inspection from your local Groundworks basement waterproofing and foundation repair experts.