What To Do in the First 24 Hours After a Flood
St. Louis is once again suffering from some of the worst flooding since 1993. What should you do in the first 24 hours after a flood to not only secure your home, but also position yourself in a favorable light with your insurance company? Below are some great tips from HouseLogic and the National Association of Realtors:
Avoid Additional Risks
If you were affected enough that you had to evacuate your residence be sure things are safe when you return home. FEMA warns that you should check for any visible structural damage, such as warping, loosened or cracked foundation elements, cracks, and holes before entering the home and contact utility companies if you suspect damage to water, gas, electric, and sewer lines. Dr. Maurice Ramirez, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Disaster Preparedness says to turn off all water and electrical sources in the home. Even if the power seems to be off, it’s still a good idea to go to the fuse box and turn off the main, along with all of the other individual fuse connections. This way, if the power is reactivated, you’re not at risk for mixing standing water and electricity.
Take Lots of Pictures
Your initial reaction will be to jump in and start cleaning up right away … Don’t! Start documenting how things are by taking photos and videos before any work or repairs get started. Remember you want to document how you found the situation for the insurance company (which is not your best friend). Jumping in and fixing things beforehand can decrease the extent of your coverage. Be sure to store your videos/pictures on the cloud somewhere for storage and easier sharing in the future.
Protect Your Health
Even though the water coming out of your tap looks clear, it could contain sewage or chemical contaminants. FEMA recommends boiling water until you are assured by authorities that the water supply is secure and drinkable. Dr. Ramirez recommends wearing hip or waist-high waterproof boots along with rubber gloves when handling any items.
Call Your Insurance Company
The article in Houselogic, written by Gwen Moran recommends you should notify your insurer soon as possible after the flood, it’s a good idea to keep your insurance company and local agent’s phone number in your always-ready emergency bag. (Note that the NFIP works through private insurance companies, so you contact your insurer just as you would for any other type of claim). In cases where a flood has affected a region or community, your agent may be busy handling his or her own flood issues. In that case, contact the insurance company’s headquarters.
Since groundwater flood damage typically isn’t covered by conventional homeowners insurance policies, you’ll need to work with your insurer to determine the cause of the flood and the extent of your coverage.
Advise your insurance representative of the state of your home and any repairs you intend to do immediately. Be sure to follow the insurance company’s direction about whether or not to wait for an adjuster to inspect the property before making repairs, says Ramirez. Document the damage and conversations at every stage of the process.
What can you expect in terms of time to get back to normal? It could be as little as one week if the claim and clean up is minimal to five to six months if you’re working with an insurance adjustor and contractor to complete extensive repairs.
Find Out if You Are In a Disaster Area
Either FEMA or your insurance company should have this type of information. If your area as been declared a “disaster area” by the authorities you can typically access more resources to help protect and re-mediate damages to your home.
Did you know a cubic foot of water weighs 10 pounds? Be careful carrying buckets of water up and down stairs. You can pick up a wet vac for around $40-$150 which can speed up the process. There are also many water disaster restoration companies in the area that can give you a bid on the project. Make sure you get a green light from your insurance company before you start removing the water. Remember the Golden Rule – “He who has the gold makes the rules” and that would be the insurance companies!
Mitigate Mold Damage
Did you know that mold can develop within 24-48 hours after a flood? You want to remove wet contents, bedding, carpeting, etc, ASAP. Again, always take pictures of any and all flood soaked items. Rugs, for example, may be dried and then cleaned professionally, which could cost $100 to $500 or more, depending on the size and number. Large pieces of furniture that are saturated will likely be difficult to dry effectively, and should often be discarded.
Mold growth can be controlled on surfaces by cleaning with a non-ammonia detergent or pine oil cleaner and disinfecting with a 10% bleach solution. (Caution: Never mix ammonia and bleach products, as the resulting fumes can be highly toxic.) Always test this solution on a small area of the item or area you’re cleaning to be sure it doesn’t cause staining or fading.
Take photographs before removing wet wall boards and baseboards because insurers will want to see the height of any water damage to walls. Carefully poke holes at floor level in the drywall to allow water trapped behind it to escape. Check your local area for mold mitigation companies.
Secure Your Property
Your goal is to secure your home to prevent additional damages. That means you’ll need some tarp to protect the roof if it’s been damaged, board up any broken windows, and again take pictures of everything you do to prove that you’ve done everything that there is to do to protect your property. Save the pictures for the insurance company preferably digitally. If your home is inhabitable please stay away until the situation is stabilized. You are more valuable than your property.