flooded homes in Houston

What to Do When Your House Floods

  • Written By: Rebecca Bridges
  • Edited By: Kelly Bedrich

  • When floods happen — whether flooding from a hurricane, flooding from rain, or flooding from a plumbing accident — there’s always the big “What now?” This article will tell you what to do when your house floods.

    The First 24 Hours After Your House Floods – Protecting Property

    The first 24-48 hours after your house floods are the most important.

    • Avoid additional risks. If the house flood was serious enough to leave your home, be sure it’s safe to stay when you return. Check for any visible structure damage to your home such as cracks, warping or a loosened foundation. And make sure to contact your local utility company to confirm it’s safe to enter the home.
    • Take pictures. Before making any repairs, fully document the damage with photos and/or with a video walk through. Use a tape measure in the pictures to document the height of the water, before you start ripping out wet wallboard.
    • Protect your health. The water in your home may be contaminated by sewage or household chemicals. Wash using an anti-bacterial soap when you leave the home, and use hot water to wash your clothes. Use disinfectant on your shoes too.
    • Call your insurance company. If it’s water from a household plumbing discharge, it may be covered by your homeowners or renters insurance. And if you have flood insurance for a natural disaster, get in touch with them. The sooner you get in the queue (especially if it’s a large-scale flooding event) the faster you will get an adjuster to your home.
    • Find out if you’re in a disaster area. If flooding is wide-spread, your area may be officially declared a disaster area. This may give you access to additional resources to fix your home after a flood.
    • Empty the fridge: If your power has been knocked out, don’t open your refrigerator or freezer unless you are wearing a filter mask, preferably with some Vicks vapor rub or lavender oil inside. Food spoils quickly. (You’ll thank us for this one!)
    • Remove water. Check with your insurer to get the ok to remove water from your home after the flood. (If it’s a covered event, they may even send out a flood water remediation company.) If you are DIY, use a sump pump or wet vac from the local hardware store.
    • Air it out. To promote drying, open all doors and windows (when you are present; close when you leave for security). Open interior doors, especially closets. Open kitchen cabinet and bathroom vanity doors. Remove drawers empty any standing water and stack them to dry.
    • Mitigate mold. According to FEMA, mold can develop within 24-48 hours of a flood. If an item has been wet for over 48 hours, you may not be able to salvage it. Photograph all flood-soaked items that you are discarding.
    • Protect your papers If you have wet books, papers or photos, put them into plastic bags, remove them from the home and get them into a freezer if you don’t have time to deal with them in the first 48 hours. This will keep them from mildew and mold. When you have time, follow these tips for salvaging photos from a flood.

    Want more information on how to restore your flood soaked photographs, books and documents? This video from the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation shows how.

    TIP: How much drywall to remove after a flood? If the water level was less than 2 1/2 feet, the wall material should be removed to a height of 4 feet to facilitate installation of a full sheet of drywall. If the water level was greater than 2 1/2 feet, the wall material should be removed to a height of 8 feet or the ceiling junction, whichever is higher.

    Source: FEMA Initial Restoration of Flooded Buildings
    Remove flood-damaged wall material to the level of a full sheet of drywall.

    How to Remove Water from your Flooded Home

    It’s important to remove water from your home as quickly as possible if you want to salvage things from your flooded home. This will help to mitigate mold damage. Here are 6 ways to remove water.

    How to Remove Water from Your Flooded Home

    1. Pump out the water.

      A sump pump is a submersible pump that removes water through a hose or pipe. Pump the water out through an open door or put the hose down your washing machine outlet

    2. Remove soaked materials.

      Remove wet rugs and furniture from the home to reduce inside moisture levels and avoid mold and mildew. Remove wet walls and especially wet insulation. Don’t forget to look for wet insulation under floors as well.

    3. Use a wet/dry vac.

      These special shop vacs are made to remove water from carpets and flooring. If upholstered furniture or mattresses were soaked, best to discard those as you may not be able to remove water from deep inside resulting in mold.

    4. Remove moisture.

      You will want to remove moisture from your home, using a dehumidifier. This works best if it’s a contained area in your home rather than a whole house project.

    5. Move air naturally.

      If humidity isn’t high and the threat of rain has passed, open the windows and doors to get air flow.

    6. Move air mechanically.

      Rent or buy fans to move the air through. If your HVAC system got wet, do not use it until it’s been checked out by a professional!

    TIP: Water is heavy—a cubic foot weight 10 lbs.—so be careful not to injure yourself with buckets or wet vacs full of water.

    Working with an Insurance Adjuster After Your House Floods

    If you have insurance coverage for your home flood, here are some 6 tips to working with an insurance adjuster.

    1. Make friends. Get to know your insurance adjuster. A personal and cordial relationship will help your claim.
    2. Get it in writing. If you need to start removing wet materials before an adjuster is on site, work with them on the phone to come to an agreement on what can or can not be demolished or removed. Document everything via text or email.
    3. Consider an advocate. Consider hiring a public adjuster to work on your behalf. The public adjuster will help to make sure you get what you are entitled to on your property loss
    4. Detail your contents. Make detailed lists of the contents in each room. Consider using an excel spreadsheet with a tab for each room.
    5. Monitor official news. Keep track of what local officials are saying, if the flood was from natural causes. If you are restricted from entering your home, make a note of that. Delayed access to your property could increase damages. Adjusters need to take into account things outside your control.
    6. Be prepared. Be prepared for your insurance adjuster to provide a low initial estimate. Having an experienced contractor on your side can help. Speaking of which…

    TIP: Get a notebook to use for all your flood related information. Keep notes of all conversations with insurance adjusters. Include the date and time of the phone call and the name of the person you spoke with.

    Take notes of all your conversations with the insurance company.

    Hiring a Contractor after a Flood

    If your area has been declared a natural disaster, there will be door knockers flooding into your neighborhood from all over the country. These are typically fly-by-night contractors looking to score a quick buck. But they may not still be in the area for any post-construction warranty issues.

    Here are 9 things you should do when you hire a contractor to fix your flooded home.

    1. Shop around. Shop around and get multiple quotes. If one of the prices is significantly higher or lower, make sure that each contractor is evaluating the project with the same assumptions.
    2. Do your homework. Research contractors and check reviews.
    3. Verify license and insurance. Make sure your contractor is licensed and insured. Confirm the insurance coverage is valid.
    4. Find out how often they work insurance claims. Most insurance companies use an estimating tool called Exactomate. This tool includes the typical cost and dimensions of material. If your contractor uses the same tool, it increases the likelihood that your contractor and insurance adjuster will agree on the costs. A contractor that’s familiar with insurance adjusters can also help them identify missing items, and increase the value of your settlement offer.
    5. Get everything – especially estimates and contracts – in writing. Set expectations upfront, and have regular meetings with your contractor. Document agreements and discussions.
    6. Confirm building permits. Your contractor is responsible for pulling any required permits. Confirm that this has been done.
    7. Never pay in full. Get an agreement to pay in stages rather than up front. Make sure you make out any checks to the company name, rather an an individual.
    8. Ask for a receipt. Get a “paid in full” receipt when the project is over, to avoid any future lien claims.
    9. Hold on to documents, even after work stops. Keep a copy of your contract in case you have to reference it in the future, or if any questions arise after the work is complete.

    TIP: Set up a Dropbox to store all pictures, insurance claim forms, and other documents. You’ll be able to easily share the information with your adjuster, and you can access it from any computer or even your phone.

    How Quickly Can I Start Reconstruction After a Flood?

    Don’t start construction too quickly after a flood. Failure to allow for adequate drying prior to reconstruction can trap moisture in your home. This can cause structural damage and potential health programs in the future, according to FEMA.

    Moisture readings in your home need to be at 15%, or preferably 10% before reconstruction begins. Take moisture readings throughout the rebuild process to avoid issues with trapped moisture.

    Exterior rooms with excellent ventilation can take 2 to 4 weeks to completely dry. Interior rooms, closets and areas with limited ventilation can take 4 to 6 weeks to dry. Use fans to speed the drying process.

    Dealing with Mold after a Flood

    Failure to completely clean up your home after a house flood can create perfect conditions for mold to grow, which can lead to illness.

    Mold can be unpleasant–even dangerous, for some people. Mold can cause severe allergy symptoms as well as lead to asthma, which is particularly dangerous for children and the elderly.

    What is Mold?

    Mold is a category of fungus. Molds produce tiny cells called mold spores that float and easily spread through the air. These spores act like seeds for mold, and when they find the right moist conditions, mold will spread to multiple places in your home.

    How to Clean Mold from a Flooded Home

    You will need to perform mold remediation to control the mold in your home after a flood. This can be performed by a professional mold remediation company, or do-it-yourself.

    Commercially available mold remediation products are available online or through your local hardware store. These products will kill existing mold, and prevent mold growth. These will need to be applied to walls, floors, and ceilings.

    To control the spread of mold, seal off impacted areas if you can, using plastic and duct tape to separate areas where you are working.

    Protect yourself when working in a flooded home with mold. Use protective equipment including rubber gloves eye goggles, and a medium- or high-efficiency filter mask.

    Be sure to turn off your central HVAC unit to avoid mold being pulled in to your HVAC system and further spread around the home. Change your HVAC filter often throughout the cleaning process.

    Will Mold in my Home Make Me Sick?

    Mold in your home can definitely make you sick. Mold after a flood can cause respiratory issues especially among the elderly and children.

    Mold exposure is usually through breathing mold spores. You can also be exposed through the skin, by touching moldy surfaces.

    The most common health problems caused by mold are allergic reactions.

    Dealing with Mold Allergies after a Flood

    Mold is one of the most common allergans. The risk of allergic reactions to mold is very high after a flood.

    Common symptoms of a mold allergy include nasal and sinus congestion, coughing, wheezing/breathing difficulties, sore throat, skin and eye irritation, and sinus and upper respiratory infections.

    Limit the amount of time you spend in a moldy home, and take steps to reduce moisture in the flooded home as quickly as possible. Wear a protective mask when working in the home, and use a sinus flush, such as a neti pot, when you leave the home. If you must remain in your home after a flood, consider using air purifiers to remove mold spores.

    Electrical Safety Before and After Your Home Floods

    If flooding is expected, unplug all unnecessary electronic devices and monitor the situation. If emergency officials instruct you to turn off your electricity during a hurricane, you will need to turn it off at the circuit breaker.

    If your house floods, you will need to identify if water entered the electrical sockets in your home. If so, there may be damage to the electrical systems. Contact a professional electrician before using the power in your home or business.

    Damage to the wiring, even inside walls where you can’t see it, can pose a fire danger. A licensed electrician will tell you when it’s safe to call your electrical utility provider to have your power switched back on.

    For more information on how to handle your utilities in a flood, read our hurricane preparedness resources.

    Natural Gas Appliances After a flood

    All appliances that run on natural gas have gas valves and controls that are easily damaged by flood water.

    Once water gets inside these valves and controls, they will begin to corrode. You may not be able to see this damage happening, and it can happen even if the outside of the appliance is sparkling clean. At the very least, this corrosion damage will make your appliance unreliable.

    On the other hand, some severely damaged units have been known to explode or catch fire. This is why it’s important to have a professional check every single appliance that was in contact with any flood water in your home.

    You can find additional information on how to handle natural gas appliances after a flood in this article on NaturalGasPlans.com.

    Keep Your Pets Safe During a Flood or Natural Disaster

    This article wouldn’t be complete without addressing our furry friends. Houston Dog Mom, a local dog blog, has some great tips on how to keep your pets safe during a flood or natural distaster. They cover storm readiness, how to make a “go-bag” for your pet, stormwater safety, and how to make a first aid kit for your pet. Visit their site for more information.


    Initial Restoration for Flooded Buildings (FEMA)

    Water Damage: 8 Ways to Dry Out and Move On

    Mold: Important Questions, Objective Answers.

    Tips for hiring a Contractor after Harvey

    Port St. Joe Strong (All 32456 Info Sharing Group)

    About Rebecca Bridges

    Rebecca Bridges has worked in deregulated energy markets since 2001. As chief marketing officer for ElectricityPlans, she focuses on helping consumers save on their electricity bills and find the best electricity plans. Outside of work, Rebecca uses her marketing experience to support dog rescue and can often be found hiking or biking local trails.

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