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.
- Fill up your gas tank and map out a route to higher ground. Try to
avoid routes that cross streams or that have underpasses.
- Stock your car with a supply of non-perishable food, a first-aid kit,
flashlight, blankets, and dry clothing for all household members. Be sure
to include any special needs of your family - glasses, medications, dietary
- In the event you don't have to evacuate, fill your bathtub(s) and
sink(s) with water to be used for drinking, as water and other utilities
may fail even if your area isn't in immediate danger.
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:
- Move clothing, furniture, and appliances, where possible, to
high shelves or to second stories.
- If you have a basement with a furnace, try to remove the furnace motor
to a higher floor or the attic.
- If you have underground fuel tanks, keep them full during flood season.
If a flood is imminent, and the tanks are not full, fill them up with water
to prevent them from floating to the top and causing foundation damage.
- Lastly, prior to evacuating your home, turn off your fusebox and close the
main gas valves. It may also be a good idea to unplug major appliances
and/or computers as well as any other equipment that my be affected by
a major power surge.
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.
- Be sure to chech with the power and gas company before you go in. Wires
may be down and that could prove to be a hazard. Even if the "all clear" is
given, wear rubber gloves and boots just to be on the safe side.
- Walk around the perimeter of your home and inspect the foundation for
signs of shifting or weakness. If there are signs of shifting, arrange
for temporary support to prevent further damage.
- Don't smoke or use open flames. Escaping gas, which could ignite and/or
cause an explosion, may have collected in pockets of your home.
- Make sure there are no electrical lines lying around.
- When entering your home, if the door won't open, don't force it.
Enter by a window and, if necessary, open the door by removing the
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
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
- If you have a basement, it should be drained and cleaned as soon as
possible. However, don't pump the water out before the surrounding flood
waters have receded (this can cause foundation damage).
- Open all doors, windows and closets, as well as all roof, attic, eaves
and other vents. The more air you can get to circulate, the better. Any
dirt, mud and debris should be promptly washed out.
- Maintain building temperature at 15 degrees higher than the outside
temperature. Be sure to have your heating system thoroughly checked
prior to its use.
- To dry areas between walls, remove the baseboards and drill or punch
holes in the wall about two inches from the floor.
- If you have carpeting, remove as much water as possible with a
water vacuum. Then, loosen diagonal corners and install fans. Although
not the fastest method, it will prevent shrinkage. Note: Carpeting
exposed to saltwater must be thoroughly flushed with fresh water prior
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
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
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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