My House was flooded! What do I do now?
The following information is for anyone who has suffered damage from a hurricane or tropical storm or flash flood of any nature. There are several things to be done to get the recovery process moving and some things have priority over the others. What I hope to do here is provide you with information and priorities that you can use to help yourself recover as quickly as possible.
1. The first thing on your priority list should be to contact your insurance company. Hopefully you have flood insurance and you need to contact your agent and or claims office ASAP. If you do not have flood insurance you may want to register for assistance with FEMA. Yes, FEMA subsidizes all flood insurance but if you have not paid a flood insurance premium you have no flood insurance through FEMA. FEMA may still be able to help some but don’t expect them to foot the bill to cover all of your damages. FEMA is only interested that you have a place to live that is safe, sanitary and secure. Don’t expect them to replace very expensive furniture. They may help with some minimal cheap furniture but not much more than that.
2. Next comes documentation of damages & drying out your home. I cannot overstate this; document, document, document. Take photos and or videos of every damaged area you can find inside and out. Create a file on your device that will let you access and share these photos and videos as needed. But please do this ASAP because it is just as important to dry out your house. The longer you wait to get it dry the bigger chance of mold growth you have. HOWEVER, PLEASE DO NOT ENTER ANY BUILDING THAT MAY HAVE BEEN STRUCTURALLY COMPROMISED.
It is unlikely that simple rising water has done any structural damage. If however your property was subjected to high winds and or storm surge or currents from flooding streams that is a much greater possibility. If you have any doubt as to the structural integrity of your property, consult with a professional engineer BEFORE entering the property. Only after you are sure the property is safe should you enter and continue the documentation & drying out process.
The documentation will be very helpful as you are dealing with insurance companies, especially if you feel you are not being treated fairly. If you ever feel the need to talk to an attorney, the more documentation you have the better off you will be.
Documentation and drying out are equally important but for different reasons. A quick overall documentation with photos and or videos should be done ASAP but then get right into drying out. You can continue documentation as noted below but make drying out a large priority.
Don’t limit your documentation to just photos and videos. Keep a journal. Write down the dates and times of everything you do and who was with you. Note the date and time and names of any communications you have with any insurance company or contractor and be sure to log the name of all of the individuals you deal with. Hopefully you will never need all of this documentation but if you do, it will be invaluable.
Assuming your property is safe to enter and you’ve got your documentation under control, you can now start the process of clean up and repair. Now is a good time to get your emotions under control and begin to segment or compartmentalize the work that needs to be done. What follows here is the order in which I personally dealt with a flooded house along with things I have learned as a home inspector and as a disaster housing inspector working to help with recovery after seven named storms in Florida and Louisiana including Katrina and Rita.
A. If it is wet get it out of the house! Mold grows incredibly fast and the quicker you get your house dry the less mold you will have to deal with. Be sure to wear a mask of some kind while inside a wet home.
B. If your furniture cannot be salvaged get it out and on the roadside to be picked up. Basically if your upholstered furniture got wet and is holding water, get it out – couches, chairs, mattresses, drapes, all of it. Non upholstered furniture may be salvaged if kept dry.
C. Wet floor coverings are next – especially carpets, rugs and pads. Carefully use a razor knife to cut these into manageable size pieces and drag them out to the curb. Most wood floor coverings will begin to warp and buckle if left in a wet environment for long so I suggest getting them out also. Tile floorings are a little different. Water may not actually damage the tile and it may look ok. The problem with tile floorings is water underneath tile. Generally speaking it is best to remove all flooded floor coverings so you can adequately dry the house.
D. Next, remove all baseboards and get them out. Now you have to assess the condition of your interior wall coverings. Whether it is a wood product or drywall it needs to come out to some level. Here is where a reasonable assessment comes in. How high did the water get? This may vary from room to room. Remember that drywall (gypsum board quite commonly called Sheetrock, a U.S. Gypsum trademark) comes in 4 x 8 ft panels. Wood paneling, commonly found in older homes can’t be repaired like drywall and you will need to remove all of it.
So, if the water level was only a foot high you do not have to remove all of the drywall. Using a razor knife (carefully) and a straight edge, cut through the drywall about 2 feet up from its lower edge which is visible because you have already removed the baseboards. Remove this layer of drywall to the outside. Most contractors will go up 4 ft and cut at the seam and remove the lower drywall. It is a bit easier and quicker and less labor when it is time to re-install.
Most outside walls will be insulated and that insulation may be holding water so you need to remove that also if it is wet. If you discover it has wicked water higher than two feet then go ahead and remove the drywall to four feet so you can get to any wet insulation and get it out. (When you get to four feet you will probably discover a seam where the dry wall was joined when originally installed. Make your cut in the seam as it will be much easier to do.)
Careful with electric receptacles and switches and be aware that there are electric wires behind most walls. Most of them are at and above the level of wall receptacles. For safety it is a good idea to turn the power off to the room you are working in as well as the one on the other side of the wall.
If your flood level went higher you will have to remove more drywall and insulation. Remember to do this in two foot increments to gain maximum use from the minimum amount of drywall. In worst case scenarios you may be removing the ceiling as well. Be aware of insulation that is above most one story house ceilings, as it will fall on you along with any other items that might be stored (or left behind) in attic spaces.
E. Cabinets; most bath and kitchen cabinets and bookshelves are wood or engineered wood products, if they got wet they will most likely need to be removed as well. Upper cabinets may not have actual water damage but it is very unlikely you will ever match them so make sure your insurance company covers their replacement as well.
If you have not already done so, gather up as many fans as possible and get them running on high speed. If for some lucky reason your air conditioning system is operational, turn it on and set it low. A/C systems are great dehumidifiers! If your A/C system was flooded, be sure to have it checked by a licensed A/C professional before turning it on.
By now you are well on the way to recovery but you need to be sure the house is well dried out before starting repairs. Unless your “do it yourself” skill level is adequate you may want to engage a professional contractor at this point.
Watch out for "fly by night" contractors as they come out in droves following a flood. Some construction trades in Texas have to be licensed by the state while others do not. Electricians, plumbers and A/C companies have to be licensed. Do not let a “handyman” or other unlicensed person perform any work in these areas. Roofers, insulators, drywall and siding repairmen do not have to be licensed. Be sure to hire professionals with a good local history and references to work in these areas.
Some items of home repair will need to be permitted by the city you live in or near. Check with your city building official’s office to see if a permit is required for any of the work you plan to do. Typically roofing and work involving licensed trades people may need a building permit.
A word about insurance adjusters: Typically adjusters work for the insurance companies – not you. Most adjusters and reputable insurance companies will treat you fairly and provide you with enough money to cover your repairs including cleanup or “demolition” costs – within the limits of your policy. If you feel like you are not being treated fairly consider engaging the services of a public adjuster.
A public adjuster (PA) is a properly licensed property claims adjuster but they work for you. A PA will assess the damages to your property and the limits of your policy and work for you to gain the maximum possible from your insurance policy. Normally they take a commission or a percentage of whatever you get. If you get nothing they get nothing. This could vary so be sure to understand their payment requirements but they may be a very helpful service provider.
Posted: Oct 12, 2021
Posted by: Ed Fryday, ACI, CMI® | TREC License: #6932
Space City Inspections, LLC