How to Cut Losses from Flood & Water Damage

Knowing what to do before and after a flood can reduce property losses and ensure personal safety.
Keeping your head in an emergency situation may not only save the lives of you and your family, it may even save the belongings your've worked so hard to accumulate. Here's a step by step process to protect you and yours.

Before a flood
When your neighborhood/area is under a flood watch, take the following steps to ensure you're ready to move out should the situation escalate into something more serious. Once the flood watch has escalated into a flood warning, pay close attention to the weather updates. A battery-powered radio is your best bet as your power source may be interrupted.

While you may have to evacuate fast, there are some things to do prior to leaving that may alleviate some property damage. Remember, although your home may flood, often the water level will remain below three feet, so the idea is to elevate your belongings above this level.

Here are some steps to take while you're waiting to evacuate:

After a Flood
Once the waters have receded and it's safe to return home, there are several safety steps to be taken prior to you entering your home.

Cleaning Up
Once inside, move about your home slowly. Have sufficient lighting to watch for loose floor boards, sagging ceiling plaster, and floors and walls that are out of alignment. At first the clean-up job may appear hopeless but don't let the sight of your damaged property cause you to immediately throw things away. Often times, many things can be salvaged if restoration steps are undertaken right away.

The following steps will help alleviate further damage while you await the insurance adjuster and start you on the road to recovery.

The Drying Process

The Cleaning Process
Wooden floors, woodwork, and doors should be washed down with a mild nonsudsing detergent. it's preferable to do this before your home completely dries out to prevent staining.

Wait until walls are completely dry before trying to clean them as wet plaster and wet drywall are soft to the touch. To combat odors, after cleaning, rinse basement floors and walls using one pint of household bleach per five gallons of water. For small enclosed spaces, use dry lump charchoal in open containers to absorb substances from the air.

If weather permits, all wooden furniture should be taken outside but kept away from direct sunlight. A garage or carport is an excellent work area. Remove as many of the drawers and other movable parts as possible. If drawers are swollen shut, don't try to force or pry them open from the front. Instead, remove the back and push out the drawers from the back. Clean out any mud and debris and store where the pieces can dry out slowly.

Furniture with casters or metal caps on the legs should be elevated (use pieces of wood or aluminum foil) to avoid staining. Unfortunately, pianos and pool tables soldom survive submergence.

Upholstered furniture and mattresses soaked with flood wateres are usually damaged beyond repair. However, professional advice should be sought just in case the item can be repaired.

All laundry items should be quickly seperated to prevent colors from fading. These items should be brushed and shaken to remove all surface dirt. Then, rinse them in lukewarm water and dried in the sunlight. Utilize professional laundries if possible.

If the items are "dry clean only," allow them to dry slowly, away from direct heat. Shake, brush and vacuum loose dirt from the articles before sending them to the cleaners.

Another item you may have to contend with is mildew. As sun and air will retard mold growth, items affected by mildew should be treated outside. First of all, the loose mold should be brushed and vacuumed off all the affected items. If mildew remains, sponge lightly with thick soap suds using as little water as possible. Wipe with a clean, damp cloth. Then, wipe the fabric with a cloth wrung out in a solution of one cup rubbing alcohol to one cup water.

Scour all utensils and, if necessary, use fine steel wool on unpolished surfaces. Aluminum may be brightened by using vinegar, cream of tartar, and hot water.

The safest procedure is to discard all food exposed to flood water except that sealed in metal cans. Mark or group cans to keep contents identifiable. After removing labels, wash cans in soap and water, then immerse in a solution of water and bleach for at least two minutes. Replenish solution regularly.

Appliances, Motors, and Furnaces
It is usually advisable to have motors, pumps, washing machines, televisions, radios and other household equipment inspected and reconditioned by an experienced electrician. Refridgerators, stoves and ovens should be thoroughly cleaned and deodorized using one teaspoon of baking soda to one quart of water.

If a freezer or frozen food locker is available, store saturated books there for "freeze drying." This will dry the books with minimal damage and prevent mildew. If unable to "freeze dry," stand the books on end with leaves separated. Sprinkle cornstarch or talcum powder between the leaves. After drying for a period of time, close the books and stack them to press the leaves. Brush off the excess cornstarch or talcum and just before the pages are completely dry, apply a little heat between the pages.

The Rest of the Story
While no short booklet can tell you how to cope with every situation that might arise as a result of flood and water damage, this booklet is offered as a means of protecting your property and reducing your loss. The steps outlined here are not to be taken without competent advice and care commensurate with the action suggested, to avoid further injury to self and property.

If in doubt, use the information contained here as a starting point, but consult an expert.

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