THE 17 MOST IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO
When Your House Floods (And Your Life is Underwater)
I have a friend who went on an amazing Hawaiian vacation.
He and his wife were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. They took all the kids and spent seven glorious days on the sandy beaches of Maui.
They snorkeled, kayaked, sun bathed, and ate their weight in shaved ice.
They came home, however, to find the remains of their water heater along with gallons and gallons water soaking into the flooring, walls, and furniture of their beautiful home. The aloha spirit was gone in an instant.
Because we live in a world where there is indoor plumbing (thank you!) and natural storms and disasters (no, thank you!), it is possible that at some point you could find yourself dealing with a house flood.
In fact, statistics show that nearly 37% of U.S. homeowners claim to have had some type of water damage, and nearly 14,000 people experience a water disaster every day, just like my friend.
Whether it is caused by a burst pipe, a sewer backup, a faulty appliance, a heavy rain or monsoon storm, or even rising floodwaters, there are important steps you should take to protect yourself and your property and get things clean and dry and back to beautiful as soon as possible.
Here are the 17 most important things to do when you find your property underwater:
1. Breathe and Grieve
It is easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed in the situation of house flood.
The mess, the clean up, the possible mold complications, the destruction of property and valuables, and the disruption in your life all take a toll on your mental and emotional wellbeing.
First, take a deep breath. Everything is going to be okay. Calm your fears and recognize that while today might feel terrible, things will get better.
In the case of severe and catastrophic flooding, the stress may also be accompanied by a deep sense of grief over the widespread damage. That is perfectly normal. The property that you have loved and care for has sustained substantial damage. Let yourself grieve and process the loss.
Understand that this may take time. As painful and as hopeless as it feels now, as you move on and recover things will improve and return to normal. It will take time and it will take work, but, again, everything is going to be okay. Just breathe and grieve.
2. Think Safe first and always
There are many hazards in a house flood and the most important thing to think about is safety.
Start by making sure the power to your home is turned off, even if there is a widespread power outage.
Find your fuse box and turn off the main breaker as well as all the individual fuse switches. Standing water and electricity do not mix and you do not want the risk of life-threatening dangers when and if the power is restored.
In the case of serious flooding, a qualified electrician will need to inspect, clean, and dry the power box before the power can be turned on again.
3. Dress for Success
When you turn off the power to your home and whenever you enter a flooded home, be sure to wear protective clothing like rubber boots and gloves.
You will not only be wading through the water itself, you will be walking through whatever the water has come into contact with including chemicals, sewage, garbage and debris.
Flood water can be highly contaminated or even toxic. You will not always be able to see these contaminants or hazards, so it is important to wear protective gear.
Do not touch your mouth or nose with your gloves or hands or anything that has come in contact with the water.
The water can be polluted with bacteria, mold, or chemical substances that can be harmful to your health.
4. Stop the Water Source
One of the first things to do in the case of a house flood is to stop more water from coming in, if possible.
If the flooding has been cause by a burst pipe or a broken appliance, immediately turn off the water supply to your house.
If the flooding is caused by storms or natural disasters, you can call your city to make sure the storm drains are open and cleaned out to ensure the water recedes faster.
Obviously the less water that enters your property, the less you have to remove later.
Many appliances can now be equipped with automatic shutoff valves to prevent leakage and stop further water damage.
5. Make Sure the Property is Structurally Safe
In cases of intense flooding, you need to make sure the house is safe to enter before you do so.
Look for buckled walls or floors as indicators that structural damage has occurred and do not enter when there is risk of collapse. You should also watch for warped or cracked foundations.
Immediately contact your utility companies if you suspect any damage has occurred to water, gas, electric, or sewer lines.
Safety is always more important than salvaging household items, so be wise as you assess the structural integrity of your property.
6. Call Your Insurance Company
Homeowner’s insurance coverage varies depending on the type of policy you have, but in many cases insurance companies will cover flooding due to burst pipes or broken appliances, even backed up city sewers or storm drains and some acts of nature.
You will need to call you insurance company as soon as possible to speed up the restoration process and return to normalcy. The insurance company will send an adjuster to look at the damage and determine if you are covered for any losses.
Be sure to follow the instructions from your insurance company about the clean up and restoration process.
Do not start any repairs or demolition until they have sent an adjuster or they have authorized you to move forward.
Document all the damage and make reports of conversations with your insurer as you move through the process. Clear communication is key in covering your loss and the restoration.
7. Find Honest, Reputable Contractors
Many times when a house flood is caused by a broken appliance or burst pipe, one of the first calls people make is to a plumber.
The plumber will use his expertise to stop the leak, fix the pipe, or solve whatever plumbing issue is causing the flood.
Some plumbers will then recommend or refer specific restoration companies to help you remove the water and restore your property.
Occasionally there are unethical business agreements between the two, where the restoration company pays the plumber a kickback for the referral and then recoups that kickback in you restoration bill.
Do not sign any contracts or let any restoration company start any demolition work before your insurance company has sent an adjuster to look at the damage and assess your claim.
There are unsavory contractors that will do unnecessary work and you can get stuck with the bill. You should never sign a contract that removes you as the claimant and gives the restoration company ownership of your payout from the insurance company.
Reputable contractors have transparent, honest business practices and don’t receive or pay kickbacks for referrals. Their businesses are built on excellent customer service, fair pricing, and clear and honest estimates.
They will help you file your claims but they will never insert themselves as the claimant and they will make sure your insurance company has authorized their work.
8. Take Pictures of Everything
Before you start removing the water or arranging for cleanup from a house flood, be thorough about fully document all flood damage with pictures or video.
These photos and videos will be important to submit to your insurer as you begin the restoration process and file claims.
Take as many pictures as possible and continue photo documentation throughout the entire clean up. The more information you can provide, the better; and photographic evidence tells the story better than any other way.
You will need pictures of structural and property damage as well as household items and furnishings that have been damaged or destroyed.
Keep careful documentation so that your insurance adjuster can make an accurate assessment of your loss.
9. Remove standing water
Once the flood levels and the damage have been documented and photographed and you get authorization from your insurer to begin cleanup, you can start removing the water.
Depending on the amount of water you need to remove you can use buckets or hoses to bail or siphon the water.
If you have to bail the water with buckets, keep in mind that water is heavy–a gallon of water weighs 7 pounds–so be careful not to injure yourself in the process.
You can also rent or buy a sump pump to remove large amounts of water or a wet vac to suck up small amounts of standing water from carpets and floors. If the flooding is minimal, you may be able to simply mop up the water with towels.
The faster you can get the water out the better. In many cases if the water can be removed and drying can begin quickly, we are able to avoid extensive demolition or additional repairs. The length of time the water is allowed to remain is one of the biggest factors in overall damage and restoration costs.
10. Find and remove the "hiding water"
Water damage can be deceptive. It is easy to recognize and remove standing water, but water can also penetrate into structural cavities in homes and buildings, creating trapped pockets of moisture saturation.
Because of the nature of the water itself, it can travel through the structural materials of floors, ceilings, and walls, sometimes without notice until it accumulates in low points or pockets.
The detection of water in structural cavities can often only be found with sensitive moisture meters. Be aware that undetected moisture will eventually lead to the formation of mold and other damage as building materials delaminate, split, shrink, and deteriorate over time.
Be sure to have your house or property inspected with moisture meters to ensure that all the water–hiding and standing–has been removed.
11. Minimize Loss
After a flood, remove any damaged possessions that may be salvageable as soon as you safely can and start airing and drying them out, documenting as you go.
According to FEMA, mold can set in as soon as 24 hours after a flood, so the more quickly you remove salvageable belongings, the better chance you have of saving them.
Document every item as you remove them from the property, in case they cannot be saved. Create lists of ruined items, noting when they were purchased and the approximate price and value.
If items have been exposed to water for over 48 hours, they are not safe to keep and will likely already have mold spores that can be dangerous and hazardous to your health.
Additionally, never save or eat food that has been contaminated by flood water or even if it has been in close proximity to the flood area for any period of time. If the water reached your refrigerator or any pantry cupboards, it is safest to throw out all the food.
Food contamination is dangerous and can even be deadly. Thoroughly sanitize and wash any dinnerware, glassware, or flatware before you use them again.
12. Dry Things Out
After the visible, standing water has been removed and you have identified hidden moisture pockets, it is time to dry things out.
Mold and bacteria cannot grow on clean and dry materials, so getting things as dry as possible should be a top priority. But be aware that it takes time to get everything dry, particularly if conditions are humid.
You can and should employ many methods to dry your property including opening the windows (if it is dry and not humid outside) and running the air conditioner or heater to start. Large industrial fans and dehumidifiers can also be set up to target specific areas or rooms.
Keep in mind that any materials that remain saturated for more than 24-48 hours will need to be removed because of the risk of mold growth. Speeding up the drying process in any ways you can will mitigate further damage.
The flooring should be removed to expose the subfloor so it can start drying as soon as possible. Wood subfloors can take months to fully dry out. Carpet padding should be discarded and replaced.
Carpets and vinyl flooring that were under water for less than 24 hours can only be salvaged if the floodwater was not contaminated. They will need to be professionally cleaned and dried.
Hardwood floorboards need special care and need to be dried slowly to prevent cracking and buckling. Even cement foundations can hold water and will need time to dry.
If you have to remove baseboards and drywall, be sure to take pictures before you start so that the insurer can see the height of water damage to the walls. You can also carefully poke holes at floor levels in the drywall to allow water trapped behind it to escape.
Large, wet pieces of furniture will likely be difficult to dry before mold growth begins and will usually need to be discarded.
After flooding, there are industry standards and health recommendations regarding the dryness and moisture content of building materials. Before renovation can begin, the wood and other materials need to be dry enough to meet these standards in order to ensure that mold will not grow.
In many cases the materials may also have to be disinfected or treated to prevent bacterial and fungal growth. Be patient and careful and you will save yourself further complications down the road.
13. Mitigate Mold
Mold can cause serious respiratory problems and other health issues and needs to be treated as a hazardous material by professionals who are trained in proper removal techniques.
Obviously, preventing its initial growth needs to be a top priority. Your home needs to be completely cleaned and disinfected after a house flood because mold spores can easily spread and cannot be seen with the naked eye.
Every surface should be cleaned with hot water and a heavy-duty detergent or pine oil, then disinfected with a 10% bleach solution to kill germs, bacteria and fungi.
Proper disposal of wet building materials is vitally important as well as completely drying the area and making accurate assessments of how far the water actually spread through the property.
14. Replacing the Irreplaceable
As you’re cleaning up, if items have been wet for less than 24 hours they may still be salvageable, but you must evaluate if it is worth the cost.
In some cases, the sentimental value of an item may outweigh the cost to dry and clean it properly and it may be worth keeping. Other more disposable items are probably not worth the cost and effort of saving.
Don’t buy replacement furniture or home furnishings until your home is completely repaired. Bear in mind that this will probably take longer than you think.
When it comes to your photographs, memory books or other important papers, they need to be dried carefully and slowly. You may not have time to do this in the aftermath of a flood, but they can be frozen and cleaned later.
Wash any mud or debris off the items you want to save, and then store them in plastic bags and put them in a freezer to prevent the growth of mildew which will cause additional and permanent damage. These items can stay frozen until you have time to thaw and properly dry and clean them or take them to a professional.
15. Restore What's Been Lost
Once the house or property is clean and dry you can begin the rebuilding process. The extent of the flooding will determine how much work this will take.
For small floods with minimal water damage, this may only require mopping up the water and drying everything completely.
For extensive flooding, you many need a complete remodel accompanied by considerable mold treatment, and will face many weeks of construction ahead.
Before you begin construction and restoration, you should receive information regarding the final amount of reimbursement from your insurance company. Keep your payout numbers in mind as you make decisions and choices to rebuild your property and make possible upgrades.
In addition paying for the rebuilding materials and labor costs, you will also need to replace furniture, electronics, and household items that were lost or damaged in the flood. Put together a plan that takes all the potential costs into account as you put your home back together again.
If you are living in your home while reconstruction is underway, you can set up dust barriers between the construction areas and the living spaces, but remember that even with these in place, if you are using your kitchen, cooking in a construction zone can make all your food taste a little bit like dust.
16. Be Patient
You might have noticed that there is a lot of waiting in this process. Wait to enter the flooded property until it is safe. Wait to start demolition and reconstruction until after your insurance appraiser comes. Wait for authorization to begin work.
Wait for things to dry out. Wait for things to be rebuilt. Wait to purchase new furniture. And the list goes on.
This, of course, can be difficult when you just want to get back to “normal,” when you just want to walk into your home and not worry about the smell or the moisture saturation or the mold or the mess. Particularly if the flooding is severe and you have to be displaced for several months, everyday, regular life seems like it might be gone for good. Remember, this too shall pass.
House floods and the resulting restoration process require patience. The first tip on our list may be useful here too…breathe and grieve. Breathe and wait so that things can get done the right way. Grieve the loss of your normal life and your peace (at least for a little while).
The more you can accept that waiting and time are a part of the process–sometimes critical parts that you can’t just skip over–the less frustrating the whole experience will be.
17. Remember You are not alone
A house flood is, admittedly, a difficult experience. Floods can range in severity from a small annoyance to an overwhelming, traumatic event.
But either way, it is difficult. It is easy to look at all the damage and destruction around you and be paralyzed by the enormity of the loss and the work ahead of you. It can be daunting and overwhelming.
But you are not alone. There are professionals with years of experience and hours of training that know exactly what to do to restore things to the way they were, clean and dry.
Restoration contractors will help you through the process from start to finish, from water removal to drying to rebuilding. They are experts at mold detection and removal and they will take all the necessary precautions to keep you and your family safe and healthy. They will help you file claims and answer your questions and alleviate your fears. They will be your partner in the aftermath of a house flood.
At Titan Restoration, we know about flooding. Over the years we’ve seen almost every situation from dying water heaters and broken sump-pumps to gale-force winds and monsoon rains that leave feet of standing water in their wake. We’ve waded through more mud and water (and much worse) than you hopefully will ever have to and we know exactly how to walk you through the process to restore your property and your life.
Our technicians are experts at their jobs. They will work hard removing standing water and monitoring building materials and structural cavities for hidden saturation.
They know exactly what to look for as they dry out your property, they know how to safely handle mold and prevent regrowth, and they do their work at the highest standard of excellence.
We are proud of our ongoing, continuous training efforts and we keep up on and adopt the newest and best industry practices.
When things are clean and dry and it’s safe to rebuild, our reconstruction work is impeccable and beautiful.
We value our customers and do everything we can to ease the stress of the restoration process through communication and absolute honesty.
In every way, we strive to minimize loss–for you and for your insurer. We do this for our customers by responding quickly, working efficiently, and preventing further damage. We do this for insurance carriers by providing outstanding results on every job and using the latest techniques to solve problems and mitigate costs.
We also do this by providing excellent customer service and communication to minimize the headaches, delays, and worries of the restoration process. Every day, on every job, our whole team works hard to minimize your loss.
If the forces of nature or the random acts of Murphy’s Law cause a flood in your home or property, Titan Restoration of Arizona has the skills, the experience, and the expertise to put things right again, and we’re here to help.
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