Have A Flooded House? (Here Are Your Next Steps)


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A flood can cause thousands of dollars’ worth of property damage, endanger lives, and, at worst, leave you homeless. If you live in an area that’s prone to flooding, don’t panic. You just need to know your options and how to recover if your home floods.

You may not be able to divert the disaster, but you can be prepared to take the right steps forward. Follow this guide to learn how to protect your home and bounce back if a flood hits your home.

picture of protecting against risk

First, Protect Yourself From Additional Risk and Hazards Before Entering Your Home

 

The danger lingers after a flood passes, and the water level goes down. First, keep in mind that the flood may return, despite other indications.

Secondly, the water may have compromised the structural integrity of your home, which means it may not be safe to go back inside. With a flood comes dangerous debris, contaminated water, and displaced wildlife, so approach the situation with caution.

Check with local authorities

If you stayed in your home during the flood, contact emergency services to verify that it’s safe to stay after the flood is over. If the flood returns or left behind potential health hazards in your home, it may make your home unsafe for you and your family.

If you evacuated before the flood hit, confirm with emergency services that the threat has passed and that you can return to your local area. If the authorities say don’t go back yet, listen to them. They’re checking out the scene, so you don’t have to put yourself or your family in danger.

Contact the electrical company and/or contractors

After the immediate threat is gone and the authorities declare your area safe, contact your utility company to turn off your electricity, gas, and water. Then, perform a safety inspection of your home yourself or contact a contractor to do it for you. 

The point of the safety inspection is to verify that the flood has not compromised your water, gas, sewer, or electrical connections. If these utilities are turned on before performing the safety inspection, there’s a higher risk of experiencing an otherwise preventable accident.

Avoid entering your flooded home unless you’re sure the main power is shut off. Even if the power is out, it’s best to turn the power off from your fuse box before investigating the potential damage in your home. Leaving the power off ensures that if the power comes back on, you won’t be stuck in water with exposed wiring and live electrical connections. Keep your gas and water off until you verify that there aren’t any leaks.

If you choose to use a contractor for your home’s safety inspection, get someone who is appropriately licensed and who has the experience, tools, and skillset to handle your situation. Choosing to do the inspection yourself, or having an unqualified person do it, could lead to significant damage going unnoticed. Neglected problems will worsen the condition of your home both now and in the future.

Ensure the home is structurally sound

Don’t underestimate the power of a flood. They can hit your home hard enough to ruin its structure and make it unsound. Aside from that, water damage to the walls, floor, ceiling, foundation, and more can turn your property into an accident waiting to happen.

It’s best to have a professional check your property for visible structural damage. Tell-tale signs that a building may be structurally unsafe are:

  • Groaning and creaking sounds that weren’t there before
  • Leaning home instead of upright structure
  • Warped, broken, or loosened elements

Use a bright flashlight to carry out your inspection and catch any details that seem out of place.
If the home is uninhabitable, leave. Find somewhere you can stay until your home is safe again. Even if it appears safe, it’s best to stay elsewhere until the house is clean and dried out. 

If you have nowhere else to go, do your best to keep you and your family safe by first cleaning the home and lighting it—preferably not with electricity—to avoid trip and fall accidents.

picture of home inspection after a flood

What To Inspect and Test When Entering Your Home After a Flood

 

It’s your job as the owner of a property to make sure it doesn’t take further damage after a flood. You can do this by securing your home with boards over broken doors and windows, a tarp over damaged portions of the roof, and other safety measures.

Before you start, you first must inspect the property to determine its safety and the extent of the property damage. To be able to do this effectively, you need to know what you’re looking for and how to look for it.

Overall home inspection

Only go into your home after a qualified electrician verifies the main power is off and says it’s safe to go inside.

Once you enter your home, some of the damage may be obvious, while you’ll have to look a little harder for other issues. To ensure you’re getting a thorough inspection, have it done by a professional. 

If you insist on inspecting the home yourself after a flood, look out for the following:

  • Distorted or warped floorboards, stairs, and other wood structures
  • Severe wood rot in lumber structures
  • Termite and other pest infestation
  • Damage to the building’s foundation
  • Damage to the roof, such as holes, missing shingles, and other miscellaneous pieces
  • Wet plaster, wallboard, paneling, and insulation

These are all visible damages from the flood. But what about underlying problems?

For those, you need a licensed professional who will inspect the following:

  • Sewage connections
  • Water connections
  • Walls and ceilings
  • Air ducts, air conditioning, and heating systems
  • Electrical systems

While the inspection is underway, take photos or record videos. This evidence is essential for when you have to file an insurance claim. Be sure to keep a record of the measures you’ve taken to prevent further damage to your home, like if you’ve boarded the windows.

Electrical systems

We can’t stress enough the importance of being careful with electrical connections in a home that’s still drying out after a flood. If your home still has power when everything is soaked, not only is there a danger of you getting electrocuted, but there’s also a fire hazard.

There are a couple of basic rules when it comes to electricity after a flood. Do not touch the fuse box or circuit breaker if your hands are wet or you’re standing in water.

Do not try restoring power or using any electronic appliances in the house until the property is completely dry. Drying will take days, and once your home is dried out, you’ll need an electrician’s approval before you can do any further work.

If you have any electronics in the house that were affected by the flood, have a professional clean and dry them before you see if they still work. Electrical devices and components like those listed below aren’t usually salvageable after submersion, and you’ll need to replace them.

  • Heaters
  • Fans
  • Circuit breakers
  • Fuses
  • Wiring systems
  • Outlets
  • Light fixtures and switches
  • Thermostats
  • Computers

Should I have my home tested for mold?

To be on the safe side, you can have a professional test your home for mold. You could save money by doing your mold detection yourself, but we don’t advise it since mold can become a big problem, and fast.

Mold isn’t hard to spot once you know what to look for. If you notice any of the following, you likely have a mold problem:

  • Textured growth on your wall, floor, or ceiling. The growth may be green, black, or another color
  • Discoloration on your walls or ceilings
  • A musty, earthy odor around the house
  • Experiencing allergic reactions, such as a runny nose, difficulty breathing, and irritated eyes

You can avoid a mold problem by air drying your home as quickly as possible and getting rid of water-logged furniture and items. Even if that doesn’t prevent a mold problem, it’ll minimize its severity and lower the cost of fixing it. The fewer expenses you have, the better.

picture of a flood insurance agent

Contact Your Insurance Company for Flooded Home Coverage

 

You need to start the process of recovering your home as soon as the floodwater drops to safe levels. The most crucial step in the recovery process is properly filing a flood damage claim. But this is only possible if you have flood insurance before the flood. Regular homeowners insurance doesn’t cover these types of damages.

What is covered by homeowners insurance?

Homeowners insurance financially protects your home and personal belongings against accidents like fire and theft. Your coverage depends on the insurance company and the specific type of policy you have. Generally, homeowners insurance covers:

  • Your home and other structures on your property
  • Personal belongings within your property
  • Liability for damage to someone else’s property or injuries

Typical homeowners insurance will help pay to repair or replace your home and belongings after a fire, lightning, windstorm, or hail. But home insurance doesn’t cover damage to a home caused by earthquakes and floods.

Even if your homeowners insurance covers water damage, that’s different from flood damage, and homeowners insurance won’t cut it.

What is covered by flood insurance?

If you live in an area prone to flooding, get flood insurance before a disaster strikes. It takes some of the stress out of flood recovery, rather than leaving you financially devastated by the event.

Flood insurance is usually a policy that you have to buy separately from homeowners insurance. Without flood insurance, all of the repairs to your home will come out of your pocket. The amount of coverage flood insurance provides depends on your policy, so understand all of the terms before you choose one, and ask questions.

Some policies only protect your home, while others protect only your personal belongings. Other policies cover both. Make sure you know which one you’re getting.

If you choose a flood insurance policy that strictly provides building property coverage, the physical structure of your home and components, like central air, heating systems, plumbing, electrical systems, and so on, will all be covered.

If you choose a personal contents coverage policy, you’ll get protection for only the clothes, appliances, furniture, and other valuables within your home.

Once you know what your flood insurance does cover, it’s also important to know what it won’t cover. For instance, a basic flood insurance policy won’t cover:

  • Money, jewelry, stock certificates, and similar valuables in your home
  • Avoidable moisture or mold damage
  • Decks, landscaping, wells, fences, patios, pools, septic systems, and related outdoor properties
  • Temporary housing and other living expenses while the house is uninhabitable due to the flood
  • Cars, motorbikes, and other vehicles

Also, in most cases, flood insurance won’t cover flood damage to below-ground spaces, like the basement and crawl spaces.

To avoid any unpleasant surprises, be sure to verify exactly what your homeowners and flood insurance policies cover before signing up.

Want to learn more about the buying a cheap flood insurance policy? Check out my article The Truth About Buying the Cheapest Flood Insurance!

Tips for filing a claim

The sooner you file a claim for insurance, the sooner you can get compensation and hit the road to recovery. But it’s not just about how quickly you file your claim. For instance, if you file a claim incorrectly, your claim could be delayed or even rejected.

To avoid as many insurance obstacles as possible, use the following tips when filing your flood insurance claim.

Take Pictures

Before doing any repairs to your home, take photos and video of the full extent of damage to your property. Digital pictures and videos are the most useful. If you record the damage after cleaning up or making repairs, you might not get as much compensation as you should.

Start a Claim

Now that you have your evidence of flood damage, you can file your claim with your flood insurance company. It’s best to notify them as soon as you can after the flood.

You can contact your insurance company either through your insurance agent or contact the company directly on your own. Depending on the company, you may be able to file a claim online or by phone. After a flood, take all these little conveniences you can get.

Also, when reporting your loss to your insurer, be sure to ask if advance payments are possible to help cover your ongoing costs.

Prepare for your inspection

After receiving your claim, the insurance company will arrange for an insurance adjuster to inspect the flood damage to your home and verify your claim.

If you’ve cleaned up your home before the adjuster arrives, that’s okay. As long as you have a photo or video evidence of the damage, you can still be compensated for the damage.

Work with your adjuster

After confirming the damage, talk with the adjuster about your policy coverage and when you can get compensation. Also, obtain a replacement or repair estimate for what you’ve lost. You and the adjuster must agree on what needs to be repaired or replaced before you can get any insurance money.

To ensure the adjuster doesn’t give you a low estimate, be present at the location while the adjuster inspects your property. You can also bring along someone with more knowledge than you may have so they can provide a second estimate.

Once the inspection is done, ask the adjuster for instructions on what to do next to facilitate your claim.

Document your loss and receive payment

If there are no complications, you’ll receive your compensation and can begin fully repairing your home and recovering your losses.

Should you contact an attorney?

There’s usually no reason to hire an attorney when filing a flood insurance claim. However, if you feel your insurer isn’t handling your case fairly, you may need an attorney to protect your interests and assets.

For example, your insurer may be offering you less compensation than you’re entitled to, or the claim process may be taking too long. It may also be a case where your insurance company has unfairly or improperly denied your claim. If this happens, you may need an attorney to explain the situation and advise you on what steps to take to get your compensation.

Depending on the situation, your attorney may recommend filing a lawsuit against the flood insurance company. Better yet, the case may be resolved outside the court, saving you money and time that you’ll need to repair your home.

picture of cleaning up after a flooded home

Clean Up the Flood Mess in Your House

 

Cleaning up your house after a flood is a crucial step towards restoring it and making it look and feel like a home again. It’ll be cheaper to clean it yourself, but if the damage and mess are extensive, you may need to hire a professional.

Decide if you should hire a flood remediation contractor

If the flood was serious and the damage was extensive, you will need a flood remediation contractor. These contractors specialize in restoring homes after flood damage, and they can help clean and repair your home, making it safe for you to live in again.

Aside from ridding your home of floodwater and debris, the contractor can also help with water damage restoration, mold removal services, mold damage restoration, drying of surfaces, and more. Some flood remediation contractors even help with filing and facilitating claims with insurance companies.

A flood remediation contractor is an asset when it comes to cleaning and restoring your flood-damaged home, as they offer resources you probably don’t have.

Superior Equipment

If you were to clean your flooded home yourself, you’d probably have a mop, broom, and bucket, and it would take forever get the job done. A flood remediation contractor has professional, industrial-grade equipment to get the job done faster and more effectively.

You could buy this equipment to do the job yourself, but that’s more expensive and less practical than hiring a flood remediation contractor who already has the training and expertise.

Specially Trained Manpower

Getting floodwater out of a house, as well as the stains and messes it leaves behind, is a time-consuming process. A contractor can bring as many workers as needed to get the job done fast. These people are trained for this type of work, and it’s best to let them do their job while you focus on other things.

Safety

A flood remediation contractor knows how to work around structural damage safely and has the safety equipment to do the job with minimal risk.

Floodwater can contain toxic materials, bacteria, and other harmful microbes or debris. Stepping into that kind of environment can be detrimental to your health, but a flood remediation contractor has the protective gear to prevent injuries and other hazards.

Less Work For You

You already have enough of a burden to deal with after your home gets flooded. You don’t need to add cleaning the floodwater, drying your home, and making repairs by yourself to the list.

By hiring a flood remediation contractor, you get a professional who will do the dirty work on your behalf and deliver better results than you could achieve alone.

Wear personal protective equipment to avoid contamination

If you choose to make your own home repairs or if you’re at the site while the contractor works, you must protect yourself from debris, dirt, and disease-carrying organisms. The best way to protect yourself is by wearing the proper protective gear.

The best personal protective equipment for avoiding contamination is:

  • Non-vented goggles: These protect your eyes against fumes, dust, flying debris, splashing water, and more.
  • Long, chemical-resistant gloves: These heavy-duty gloves shield your hands against cuts while you move debris and clean. It will also prevent exposing your skin to dirty water and bacteria.
  • Disposable protective clothing: Disposable clothing comes in the form of protective waterproof coveralls that you can throw away after use.
  • Charcoal-impregnated filters: These are respirators that will prevent you from inhaling harmful elements or offensive odors. The right type of respirator for your situation depends on the kind of clean up you need to do. For instance, a NIOSH-approved 100-rated N, R, or P respirator is best when cleaning a large room with lots of mold or dust.

Watch out for potential hazards

Floodwater poses risks, not just to your home but also to your health. Floodwater contains dirt to disease-carrying pathogens and may contain:

  • Livestock or human waste
  • Decomposing animals
  • Chemical, biological, or radiological waste in the form of hazardous household, medical, or industrial materials
  • Waste materials containing arsenic, chromium, mercury, and other carcinogenic compounds
  • Materials like lumber, vehicle parts, broken glass, rusted metal, and other debris that can cause injury
  • Rodents, snakes, alligators, and other wildlife
  • Loaded natural gas or propane tanks
  • Other contaminants that can lead to illness, injury, or death

Exposure to the above can lead to health complications, such as:

  • Cuts, gashes, and other injuries that may become infected
  • Gastrointestinal illness
  • Skin rash
  • Tetanus
  • Leptospirosis

Downed power lines or submerged power outlets are another danger to be aware of, both in and around your home after a flood. To minimize the risk of an electrical accident:

  • Avoid roads with downed power lines
  • Avoid going near overhead power lines during cleanup
  • Call the power company to report fallen power lines
  • Shut off the electrical power in your home from the main breakers

Clean up the damage

If you decide to save money by cleaning up your flooded home yourself, make wearing protective gear a priority. After you suit up for the job, you can begin restoring your house by:

  • Making a list of all the damaged structures and items you notice
  • Taking pictures and record video of the damage, preferably before and during cleaning
  • Removing wet and contaminated items from your home. The ones you can salvage can be put out to dry while you should dispose of the unsalvageable ones
  • Shoveling out the mud and debris. If possible, you can use a high-powered hose to get rid of the dirt
  • Leaving all the doors and windows open to increase air circulation and dry the home inside
  • Using fans, dehumidifiers, and shop vacs to dry out flooded rooms. This will speed up drying and reduce the risk of mold developing
  • Cleaning windows and hard surfaces and disinfecting them

After you finish the job, you can begin inspecting the house for mold or get an expert to do it for you.

picture of a man repairing flood damage

Repair the Flood Damage

 
 

Fixing the flood damage to a home isn’t a one-day task. If the project looks like something beyond your capabilities, consider hiring a home improvement contractor.

Decide if you should hire a home improvement contractor

All the expenses you have to cope with after a flood may make you hesitant to spend more money on a home improvement contractor. But it can be a worthwhile investment if you pick one with the qualifications and expertise to get the job done. For example, the right contractor can address the damage quickly and reduce the risk of loss and restoration costs.

Don’t be cheap

If you use the cheapest contractor that you can find, you’ll probably end up with an unlicensed one who will do more harm than good. Hire a certified contractor to do the job right the first time.

Check referrals and reviews

An easy way to get an idea of a contractor’s competence is to hear what other clients have to say about his work. The more positive reviews a contractor has, the more likely they’ll be able to deliver the quality of work you desire.

Ask questions

Before hiring, ask the contractor about their experience with jobs like yours. They should be able to tell you how exactly they’re going to get your job done and give you a realistic timeframe for its completion.

Shop around

Don’t limit yourself to one option. Shop around and compare as many highly rated home improvement contractors as you can find. This will give you an idea of who is the most competent to do your job within your budget.

Consider flood-proofing options

After restoring your home, start looking at ways to prevent a reoccurrence. At the very least, you should put flood-proofing measures in place to minimize damages if you experience another flood.

Flood-proofing involves making non-structural and structural changes to your property to prevent or minimize flood damage. For instance, you can have sandbags in place to keep out the water or move your possessions to a higher floor in the house and out of reach of floodwaters.

There are generally two types of flood-proofing—dry flood-proofing and wet flood-proofing.

Dry flood-proofing

Dry flood-proofing involves making a building watertight by putting measures in place that will stop floodwaters from getting in. Some standard dry flood-proofing techniques include:

  • Sealing structures to keep floodwaters out
  • Installing a sewage water backstop
  • Changing the landscape of your property to put your home above floodwater levels

Wet flood-proofing

Wet flood-proofing prevents floodwater damage by allowing floodwaters to pass beneath the building, instead of through it. Wet flood-proofing elevates the structure and uses flood-resistant materials to design the building’s base.

picture of fema logo

Look Into Government Assistance Programs

 

If the compensation from your insurance isn’t enough to help restore your property, you can get additional financial assistance from government assistance programs. For example, the FEMA Individual Assistance Program provides flood victims with direct services and financial aid. But first, you have to be eligible for the program.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen, a qualified alien, or a non-citizen national
  • Your identity must be verifiable by FEMA
  • Your expenses and needs must be the result of a declared disaster
  • Your insurance, or other accessible disaster assistance, must be insufficient to meet your disaster-caused needs

Even if you don’t meet the above conditions, there are other forms of aid that you can access. These include:

  • Disaster Legal Services (DLS)
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
  • Voluntary Agency Assistance
  • Emergency Assistance (food, shelter, etc.)
  • Other short-term, non-monetary emergency disaster relief programs.

Final Thoughts

A flood can be a destructive force to your home, but you can recover from the damages it causes more quickly if you stick to this guide.

Take measures to minimize your suffering, whether that means hiring a contractor, getting financial assistance, or filing an insurance claim early on to get compensation. Taking the proper routes to recovery can save you time and money and keep your home and family safe.

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