When the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey surged through their Houston homes, thousands of Houstonians grabbed their most vital belongings and trekked through the downpour to safer zones. Scenes of houses submerged in putrid waters captivated a world audience. Unfortunately, catastrophic flooding and widespread devastation are not entirely uncommon. Each year, many homeowners deal with the unimaginable: After an emergency evacuation, returning to a flooded home. Here’s what to expect if your home is flooded after a hurricane.
Six Dreadful Discoveries in a Flooded Home
In the stillness after the storm, you and your neighbors may return home only to find your residences utterly damaged. Those with roofs still over your heads will be considered fortunate—until you survey the scale of the water damage within.
Ceilings, floors and walls: Carpets sodden with sewage, drywall disintegrating with water absorption and bulging ceilings drooping with rainwater.
Soft Furnishings: Upholstery, soft furnishings and mattresses are strangely swollen and secreting foul odors.
Electric appliances: Refrigerators, washer dryers and electric furnaces, are no longer benign but are potential electrocution hazards. Yet these are misfortunes that are glaringly visible to the eye.
Behind the Walls: On a structural level, wiring has been damaged, foundations compromised and sediment from flooded bayous have seeped into multiple crannies throughout the home.
Mold and Mildew: To aggravate the disaster, upon closer inspection, hurricane survivors detect patches of grey mildew clinging to the walls and slimy mold creeping along the baseboards.
Reptiles and Other Unwanted Guests: As a final hurdle, flood waters may bring floating colonies of fire-ants along your driveways. Recently during Hurricane Harvey, one unfortunate Texan discovered a frisky turtle swimming in his living room.
Stay Calm and Start Restoring
If this catastrophic scene describes your situation, then take a deep breath. True, the scale of the destruction is overwhelming but there are definite measures you can take to recover from severe flood damage. In an ideal world with perfect insurance coverage, you ferry the family to an all-expense covered hotel, and lounge in the pool while your trusted contractors whip your house back to shape. However, if you must roll up your sleeves and do some heavy lifting, then read on for these curated tips and strategies to get your water-damaged home habitable again.
As Always, Safety First
The American Red Cross, in association with FEMA, published a comprehensive guide helping the homeowner navigate the perils of flood damage. If you were unable to download and print this publication before escaping the rising floodwaters, then simply remember these critical points:
Do not get electrocuted! Do not enter your flooded home unless you are certain power has been switched off at the mains. Electricity and water make for a fatal pair. If the two came into contact, bring in a qualified electrician to inspect that the building is safe to enter.
Survey for perilous structural damage. While your anxiety to start salvaging and fixing your home is undeniable, do not enter your house if you suspect imminently collapsible floors, walls, ceilings and foundations.
Wear safety equipment. The barrage of water into your home included a cocktail of contaminants, such as sewage, harmful bacteria and industrial chemicals. Avoid direct contact by protecting yourself appropriately with rubber gloves, work boots, safety glasses and respirator masks.
Bid Farewell to these Unsalvageable Items
Floodwater damage is particularly crippling because unlike rainwater which is just wetness, floodwater is dirty and polluted. Any article saturated with floodwater will also be infiltrated with toxic sediment. To make matters more complex, you are in a merciless race against time: Within 24-48 hours, many wet belongings will spawn the growth of mildew which is significantly more difficult to remove.
See if you can answer in the affirmative to these three questions when deciding whether to curb or keep your flood-damaged belongings:
Can it dry quickly?
Can it be disinfected?
Is the cost of repair worth the value of the item?
If you fall short in any of these criteria, then make your peace, hold a brief farewell ceremony and discard it. North Carolina State University has an excellent guide explaining how to salvage – or discard – soft furnishings and textiles. Carpet is irredeemable, as are mattresses and pillows. You may be able to sanitize table linens and blankets if you can wash them with an enzyme detergent and bleach.
Remove Stagnant Flood Water
Now that you’ve filtered through your possessions, it’s time to rid your house of remaining floodwater. A wet/dry vacuum or water pump that is specifically designed for water extraction would be ideal for this. Choose a model with a large capacity, such as this 12-gallon Vacmaster. Alternatively, you can opt for the old-fashioned way with mop and buckets. The key here is to extract as much standing water out of your flooded basement or home as quickly you can because the critical part is still to come.
Invest in Dryness—It’s Crucial
Once the water drains away, then the greatest threat to your home stems from dampness. The lingering, dank moisture that breeds chronic mildew and mold. If the dampness remains, then those possessions that remained unscathed during the natural disaster will be victim to the invasion of fungi that can grow on anything—and time is of the essence. In just a day or two, mold can proliferate inside drywall and anywhere with trapped moisture.
Copious air and ventilation are vital for dissipating moisture. You can open windows and set up fans, but to be truly effective a dehumidifier is essential. Dehumidifiers work by wicking away and condensing moisture from deep within the rooms and channeling the condensation outdoors. There are a range of dehumidifiers on the market. If you have the budget, you could invest in a whole house dehumidifier; otherwise, in a flooded house where speed is critical, consider the DH70W Honeywell dehumidifier which was reviewed as the ideal crawl space dehumidifier and one of the best dehumidifiers for dank and hard-to-ventilate areas.
Battle against Mold
Thankfully your house is dry, but there are patches of mold inside your kitchen cabinets and on your bathroom tiles. Did you know that grapefruit seed extract is a very effective and natural mold killer? The aptly-named site www.moldpedia.com has a comprehensive list of natural and chemical mold removal and remediation methods. A good scrubbing brush and a fully-loaded spray bottle will be your indispensable buddies for the afternoon.
Set your Sights to the Future
Living through a natural disaster is highly traumatic. It is not uncommon for survivors to feel despondency and hopelessness. Contact community networks and humanitarian associations for immediate support and assistance. Over the passage of time, rebuilding is possible. As for that turtle frolicking in your living room, call your local humane society—or if you have the nerve, gently coax it back to the wild, return home and enjoy your freshly restored house.