A basement flood is one of a homeowner’s worst nightmares. At the Basement Health Association, we often talk about prevention when it comes to basement flooding. But what if it is too late to talk about waterproofing applications or those waterproofing systems fail in a serious disaster? The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) put together information packet about things to know and what to do if your home floods.
Be Careful Going Inside the First Time
If the door sticks and has to be forced open, it is probably swollen. If it only sticks at the bottom, it can be forced open. If it sticks at the top, your ceiling may be ready to fall. You can force the door open, but wait outside the doorway for a minute where you will be protected if something falls.
If the door won’t open easily, it may be easier for you to enter your home through a window. Look carefully at the ceiling before you go in to be sure it is not ready to fall. Do not smoke or use candles, gas lanterns, or other open flames in your home. Air out your home completely—there may be explosive gas.
Flood and Mud Clean-Up
The mud left behind by floodwaters contains most of the health hazards you will face. It is very important to get rid of the mud as soon as possible. This is a lot easier if it is done before the mud dries out.
Shovel out as much mud as possible. Check your water system for leaks from pipes that may have moved . Even if your water supply is not safe to drink, it can be used for cleaning the home. If you have water, hose the home down, inside and out. If you have an attachment that sprays soap, wash and then rinse the walls and floors. Hose the furniture and other major items that got muddy.
Heating and air conditioning ducts that got flooded will have mud left in them. If you don’t clean them out, your system will be blowing foul, dusty air that contains the same health hazards you are trying to get rid of. To clean the ducts, remove the vents or registers. If possible, remove some sections of the ducts in the basement or crawlspace to give you access to all areas. Then thoroughly hose out all the ducts.
While you hose the walls, thoroughly hose out the electrical outlet, switch boxes, and light sockets that you opened up.
After you hose out the duct work to remove the mud, wash it with a disinfectant or sanitizer. If your ducts are in a slab or are otherwise inaccessible, have them cleaned by a professional.
Don’t let the water sit on the floor for long, especially if your floor has particle board or other wood product that tends to fall apart when wet. Use a mop, “wet vac,” or squeegee.
Potential Structural Damage
You need to find out whether there is any structural damage to your home. (You will probably need professional help in making this decision. See the Basement Health Pros search engine to find a structural repair contractor in your area.)
Is there evidence of broken or cracked basement or foundation walls? Are there broken pilings, shifted stairs, or slanted floors or walls? Any of these things could mean that the foundation, floors, or walls will have to be totally rebuilt. Repair safety hazards such as broken pilings or an undermined foundation before you proceed any further. Get professional help for any task you cannot confidently do yourself.
You will need a building permit to repair structural damage. Talk to your local building department before you start reconstruction or sign any repair contracts. If the damage to your home’s structure exceeds 50 percent of the market value of your home, most local building codes will require you to elevate it above flood levels. Some may not allow you to rebuild at all.
Use a Dehumidifier
Everything will dry more quickly and clean more easily if you can reduce the humidity in the home. You can use heavy duty drying equipment and a high powered dehumidifier to reduce the humidity levels in your home. You will need to properly dry out everything before you start repairing. If you don’t dry things out properly, you will have a mold problem in the future.