If you have been through the trauma of having your house flood, whether it is from a storm or a plumbing leak there are some important steps you must take to stand the best chance of salvaging everything you can and having insurance cover the rest.
Living in Florida for almost 30 years I can’t count how many friends and family members have been through house floods and all have come out the other side. As long as you and your loved ones are safe it’s all just a bad day. Stuff comes and goes and it’s time to start leaning on your insurance company after all those years of premiums you’ve been paying without a claim.
In this post, I’ll be focusing on storm flooding more so than a serious plumbing leak, but a lot of the same things apply to both scenarios. Once everyone is safe and the flood waters begin to recede it’s time to snap into action. So, here are eight things you need to do (in this order) immediately if your house floods.
1. Assess the Structure
If your house has been subject to storm surge or intense flooding the water may have caused structural damage to the home that has made it unsafe. Water is a serious force of nature and can wash away whole homes in some cases. Walls can get displaced, foundations can shift, and the structure may be unsafe. Be sure things are safe before entering the house again. If your unsure as a structural engineer or general contractor.
2. Wear Protective Gear
When your house floods, whether it is seawater, rainwater, or water from your pipes chances are you have no idea what is in that water. There can dangerous chemicals, marine life like sharks, alligators, snakes, snapping turtles. There may be downed electrical lines, sharp objects, fecal matter (yuck!), and all kinds of thing you really don’t want to be wading around in. Put on wadding boots, and rubber gloves when handling anything in the home and make sure sure you are protected.
3. Turn off the Power
If you have standing water in your house there is a good chance that some of your electrical lines are submerged in that water so turning off the power to the whole house is important. You can’t just turn off individual lights. You need to go to your home’s main breaker or fuse panel and turn off the main disconnect. This should be the largest breaker and is likely a 100, 150, or 200 AMP breaker. I know it will be miserable without power, but leave it off as long as there is standing water in the home.
4. Document Everything
Before you start doing any work in your house you NEED to document everything inside and out. If you want to help your insurance company do their job, take pictures of everything, showing where the water went to and didn’t go. I recommend doing a video walk through while explaining the items damaged and the timeline of the flood that way you can always go back and grab screen shots of the video if you need it. Also gather any receipts for furnishings you have in the house (if you still have those) and document the furnishings and any other valuables that were involved in the flood.
5. Call Your Insurer
Once you have all everything documented call that insurance company right away and send them your documentation so they can start processing your claim. Ask them what you can do and make sure you are clear on your coverage. Ask how they handle reimbursing you for hotels or travel related to being displaced. Ask if you can begin cleaning out the damaged things in the building. Every insurer has a different process you need to follow and it’s imperative you follow their rules so they can give you the money to make you whole again.
6. Remove the Water
The sooner you get rid of that standing water in your house the better chance you have of drastically cutting down on the damage the water can cause. Mold can set in within 24-48 hours of submersion so if possible get that standing water out immediately. FEMA has a great brochure about dealing with flood recopvery specifically pertaining to preventing mold you can view here. Use whatever methods you can get your hands. A sump pump for larger amounts of water if you have access, a bucket to start bailing works, a wet/dry vac for smaller areas works great, and even a mop and towels will do. Water weighs about 7 lbs per gallon for a make sure you can carry whatever size container you are filling.
7. Remove Furniture and Carpets
In almost all house floods, carpets and carpet pads are a loss and need to be removed. Tear out the wet stuff and get it outside. Couches and other soft goods like drapes, curtains, rugs, pillows, bedding, blankets all need to be removed because they are easily contaminated and hard to dry quickly enough. They should be removed from the house immediately.
8. Get Airflow & Dehumidify
Once the bulk water and the furnishings are out of the house you need to get the windows open (as long as it’s drier outside than inside) and turn on as many fans and dehumidifiers as possible. Fans alone won’t cut it. Turn on the AC or heat and run it constantly until the humidity levels of the house get back down to healthy levels in the house which are between 30% and 50%. You need to get those moisture levels down quickly to avoid mold taking hold. I would throw everything you can at it, running multiple dehumidifiers and fans constantly, hanging desiccants like DampRid in affected rooms. It takes time to get all that moisture out from inside the walls and subfloors, but keep at it.
I know house floods can be extraordinarily stressful, but remember it’s just stuff. If you do these eight things you will be well on your way to the healing that time brings. These steps won’t take the hurt away, but my hope is that they can help you avoid the analysis paralysis that often comes with painful and overwhelming situations like this.
Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Just focus on one step at a time and do the next right step not worrying about the step after that until you’ve completed the one before. I’m always here for you if you need additional help.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.