Putting the Pieces Back Together after a Flood
By Ted Ricasa
Of all the possible disasters that can damage a home, floods are the least predictable in terms of the damage that they may cause. Some homeowners are able to salvage their homes even if they have to dispose of some furniture, appliances, and items such as carpeting and curtains. Other homeowners find themselves faced with tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs. Even then, mold may still develop behind walls and in other places where water damage cannot easily be seen.
Unfortunately, many people do not realize that their homeowner’s insurance will not cover flood damage until it’s too late. While some of these homeowners may qualify for disaster relief assistance or a bank loan, these sources of cash often fall short of the actual costs of making a badly damaged home safe, sanitary, and functional once again.
Have you been displaced from your home due to flood damage? Is your home now structurally compromised, overtaken by mold, or otherwise unsafe to occupy? If so, it is important that you understand your rights and options as the owner of a flood-damaged home.
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Why is contamination such a risk with flood water?
Flood water generally contains mud, bacteria, sewage, and chemical toxins. This is because flood water often causes the disruption of water purification sewage disposal systems, as well as the overflow of toxic waste sites and chemical spillage.
Although the water that is absorbed by porous materials may dry, the contaminants left behind will continue to pose serious health threats. That’s why it is a good idea to dispose of porous materials such as carpeting, rugs, mattresses, upholstered furniture, and vinyl flooring, especially if they have been underwater for 24 hours or longer. Salvageable items and fixtures, such as those made of glass, porcelain, plastic, and concrete, should be cleaned, disinfected, and dried as quickly as possible.
How will a flood affect my electrical appliances and systems?
First and most importantly, do not enter your home if the ground is still wet unless you are certain that the power has been turned off at the mains. The power to your home should not be turned on, even after the flood water has subsided, until a qualified electrician inspects your home and declares that it is safe to do so.
Flooding not only causes water damage, but also increases the risk of fire through:
- Improper generator use or maintenance
- Leaking above-ground gas lines, containers, and tanks
- Attempts to use electrical appliances that have been exposed to water
- Electrically charged water
- Improper use of alternative heating devices, or use of such devices near combustible materials
Do not touch a circuit breaker if you are standing in water or have wet hands. When it is safe to turn off the power to the panel containing the main breaker, manipulate the lever to the “off” position using a tool insulated by plastic or rubber. If in doubt, contact an electrician to shut off your power.
If there is a wire on the ground, assume that it is electrically charged no matter what type of wire it is. Do not attempt to restore power or use any electronic devices or appliances until your home has air dried and you have received the approval of an electrician.
Electronics such as televisions, DVD players, washing machines, and dishwashers should be professionally cleaned before used again. The sediments and toxins from the flood water are difficult even for professionals to remove. In some cases, these devices are simply not salvageable.
Ultimately, you will probably have to replace any of the following if they were submerged by flood water:
- Circuit breakers
- Wiring systems
- Light fixtures
- Light switches
- Electric heaters
- Ceiling fans
Once the power has been turned off, how can I be sure it is safe to enter my home?
Some structural damage to your home may be apparent, while other damage may require closer inspection. You can inspect your home for certain types of damage, including:
- Severe wood rot in the end grain of lumber structures
- Distortion and warping of structures such as floor boards
- Termite damage, as termites are particularly enticed by wet wood
- Visible undermining of the foundation of the home, such as the erosion of the ground at the base of the structure
- Wet wallboard, plaster, paneling, and insulation
- Roof damage, such as missing shingles, cracks, holes, and defective flashing
While your visual inspection may turn up some obvious damage, you will want to enlist the services of professionals to perform more thorough inspections of these structures, as well as of:
- Air ducts
- Air conditioning and heating systems
- Sewage systems
- Electrical systems
- Walls and ceilings
While time is of the essence in drying out a flooded home for many reasons – including prevention of mold and preservation of as many personal items as possible, not to mention the home itself – your safety and the safety of your family is important above all else. It is better to err on the side of safety and consult with professionals before entering your home than to risk your health and possibly even your life by entering an unsafe structure.
Should I have my home tested for mold?
Generally speaking, hiring a professional to test your home for mold is an unnecessary expense at a time when expenses are already piling up. In most cases, you can detect mold simply by using your own eyes and nose, being aware of:
- Discoloration of any sort on your walls or ceilings
- Textured growth of any color (most commonly black or green)
- Musty or earthy smells
- Foul odors
- Worsening of symptoms that might suggest an allergic reaction, such as stuffy nose, watery or irritated eyes, and wheezing
If you are able to dry out your home and remove water-logged items from your quickly enough after a flood, you may be able to avoid mold altogether, or at least control its spread and minimize the damage that it causes.
Will my homeowner’s insurance cover damage caused by a flood?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is almost certainly not. The vast majority of homeowner’s insurance policies distinguish between water damage and flood damage, covering losses caused by the former and not by the latter.
If you live in a high-risk flood hazard area and have a mortgage from a federally backed or insured lender, then the distinction between water damage and flood damage is moot; you already have flood insurance as a condition of your mortgage. If, however, you do not have flood insurance, you will have to consider alternative means of financing the repairs to your home.
Whatever the case, you should call your insurance agent immediately to discuss what is and what is not covered by your insurance policy. Even if your policy does not cover flood damage per se, it may cover other damage sustained by your home during a flood, including theft of personal items and damage caused by electrical fires.
Once again, only flood insurance will cover damage caused by a flood.
Once I can enter my home, what steps should I take?
Once it is safe to enter your home, there are certain things you should do both to salvage your home, if possible, and protect your interests. Please note that young children, elderly people, pregnant women, and people with severe allergies and breathing disorders should stay out of the home until it is completely dry and free from mold and contamination.
After you have contacted your insurance agent, you should:
- Start and maintain a list of damaged items and structures you observe
- Keep a photographic and/or video record of the damage, both before you begin cleaning and during cleaning
- Remove wet and contaminated items from your home – both those items that can possibly be salvaged and those that cannot
- Open whatever doors and windows can be opened to promote air circulation
- Use fans, dehumidifiers, and wet-vacs to dry out affected areas of your home
- Remove mud with a shovel and, if you have clean water available to you, a hose or sprayer
- Clean and disinfect windows and hard surfaces
- Inspect for signs of mold
- Identify which important documents can be salvaged and which will need to be replaced
- Contact your utility company, employer, creditors, and lenders to explain your circumstances and discuss possible relief as you deal with the repercussions of the flood
If you attempt clean-up and repair of your home on your own, be sure that you wear appropriate safety equipment, including rubber gloves, safety glasses, work boots, and an N95 mask (a disposable respirator available at most hardware stores). Remember that you are potentially being exposed to mold, bacteria, dangerous chemical toxins, sewage, and other contaminants.
What are the advantages of selling my home for cash over rebuilding my home?
If you have the money, time, resources, and patience to rebuild your home after a flood, then it may very well be in your best interests to do so. Be aware, however, that the road ahead of you will be long. Even if you have flood insurance, the compensation you receive may not be sufficient to rebuilding your home, paying for professional inspections, and replacing furniture, appliances, electrical systems, and other items lost in the flood.
At Fast Home Help, our professional team of real estate experts wants you to be able to make the best possible decisions regarding your home and your future. We invite you to use the education within this site and, if you wish to work with us further, to contact us today. We can evaluate your circumstances and advise you openly and honestly of your options.
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If you would like to sell your home to us for cash, we may be able to relieve you of your flood-damaged home and get the money into your account within ten days. If you contact us today, we can make an offer today. You’ll be able to move on with your life immediately and avoid:
- Expensive cleaning and repairs
- Having to deal with inspectors and contractors
- Arguments with your insurance agent as to what constitutes flood damage
- Countless hours of inspecting, scrubbing, and drying your home
- Damage caused by mold and termites
- Debt from personal loans taken out to fund repairs
At no point will we pressure you to sell your home to us, but we do want you to be aware of the option. Once the transaction is complete, we will assume all responsibility for the damage to your home. You can simply walk away and put the flood and the devastation it caused in the past.
Ron did an excellent job buying my property...The transaction went smoothly and we closed in 2 weeks, allowing me to cash out and move on with my life sooner than any other way of selling. I highly recommend Ron to my friends, my neighbors and to you! Thanks Ron! - Michael M.