Flood Damage Restoration Recommendations for Uninsured Losses
As we are still watching Houston residents escaping the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey, it is never too soon to start to consider what steps need to be taken especially when you don’t have adequate insurance for water damage.
The following recommendations assume a flooding situation with horizontally traveling Category 3 (unsanitary) water containing silt and other contaminants have infiltrated into homes and businesses to a depth of a few inches or feet and remained for multiple days. When structures are completely submerged or remain substantially flooded for several weeks, more elaborate procedures may be required.
- Foremost, consider safety:
- Evacuate potentially respiratory or immune-compromised, or non-essential persons (e.g., children, the elderly, pregnant women; those recovering from extended illness or surgery, or those on regimens of prescription drugs or chemotherapy). When medical questions arise, consult with public health professionals.
- Before entering a heavily flood-damaged structure, open windows and doors and air it out thoroughly. Ventilation must be maintained during and following the restoration effort. This reduces but does not eliminate, the potential for inhaling pathogenic (disease causing) microorganisms. Also, allow as much sunlight into the structure as practical, since fresh air and ultraviolet light help inhibit microorganism growth.
- Consider the structural integrity of a damaged building before entering. Wear protective clothing, boots with steel or fiberglass shanks, and a hard hat. Have the building checked by a qualified builder or structural engineer when in doubt.
- Ensure that electrical shock hazards have been eliminated. Consult a licensed and qualified electrician when questions arise.
- Protect yourself from pathogenic microorganisms. Wear protective gloves before handling contaminated materials. Splash goggles should be worn to protect and prevent microorganism entry through the eyes. A vapor respirator (paint respirator) should be worn to prevent inhalation of most microorganisms or spores.
- Remove quantities of debris (silt, vegetation, floating objects) with shovels, rakes or any safe means practical. Clean and sanitize all tools when complete.
- Remove and dispose of drywall (Sheetrock®), paneling or other wall materials up to a point 15-24″ inches above the visible water line. If practical, stay within four feet of the floor to salvage as much wall material as practical since drywall is usually installed horizontally in 4’x8’ or 4’x12’ panels.
- Remove and dispose of insulation materials exposed during wall removal. Look for evidence of moisture wicking up insulation materials. Leave only materials that are durable, dry and minimally porous, and which can be cleaned and decontaminated with relative ease.
- Remove and dispose of carpet, cushion, pad, felt and sheet vinyl, or laminate flooring materials. Porous materials may absorb considerable quantities of water and contaminant, and non-porous materials may trap moisture to prolong drying. The inevitable result will be rapid microbial growth, along with associated odor and potential health hazards. Solid wood flooring should be removed since contaminants and moisture collect underneath in hollow areas between the wood and subfloor. The following procedures may require the assistance of a professional water-damage restorer, who has specialized biocides, and application and extraction equipment, if available.
- While maintaining ventilation and respiratory protection, liberally spray durable salvageable materials (e.g., studs, decking, joists) with appropriate biocides. Household chlorine bleach (e.g., Clorox®) mixed 1 part bleach to 11 parts water (½%) may be used on durable, colorfast surfaces. Never mix chlorine bleach with ammonia or strong acids!
- Following application of properly diluted biocides, brush agitate all areas to remove visible soils and to encourage biocide penetration into cracks and crevices. Professional restorers use pressurized spraying to accomplish this step.
- When fresh water is restored within the structure, flush contaminants from salvageable surfaces with a water hose or pressure washer. Work from top to bottom and from walls to flooring.
- Wet vacuum or mop up excess rinse water from flooring materials immediately. Thoroughly flush all contamination from wall frames. Pressure washing, if available, is specifically recommended to flush contaminants from hard-to-access areas, following contaminated water removal with industrial wet vacuuming equipment.
- Repeat steps 6-9 as necessary, until all surfaces are clean and contamination is physically removed.
- Lightly spray a final application of an approved non-chlorinated disinfectant to all salvageable surfaces.
- Dry structural components with plenty of air circulation, while maintaining constant ventilation (weather conditions permitting). If practical, take advantage of low outside humidity (check local weather reports). Use oscillating or box fans, moving them around the structure every few hours. Avoid temperature extremes that might slow drying or promote microorganism growth (68-86oF/20-30oC is ideal for growth). Rent high-volume professional drying equipment (airmovers and dehumidifiers) if available, especially in areas where ventilation is not possible (sealed buildings, security issues). All electrical components that were below the water line should be checked for operational safety by a qualified contractor.
- Leave cleaned structural surfaces exposed for several days or even weeks, or until you are sure that they have returned to within four percentage points of normal moisture content (generally the normal moisture content of structural wood is around 10%). Otherwise, subsequent structural damage and health hazards can result after wall and flooring materials have been replaced or painted.
- Durable, colorfast contents (e.g., washable clothing, dishes, glassware, furniture) might be salvageable if washed in warm detergent solutions. Common sense and caution should be used in determining contents salvageability.
Where financial resources permit, comprehensive restoration should be accomplished by trained, Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) Water Damage Restoration Technicians. They may be located by calling the IICRC referral line at 844.464.4272 (www.iicrc.org). To prevent mold growth on structural materials, property owners should consider hiring a professional restorer to evaluate moisture levels in structural materials before reconstruction.