Tips for Rebuilding a Flooded Home

Hello, Midwesterners, and anyone else who is looking at the prospect of rebuilding a flooded home. I will outline the process of rebuilding a flooded home in this article, and I will direct you to resources for information, building materials, and contractors. It would be lying to say that the process of rebuilding a flooded home is an easy one; rebuilding a flooded home is an extremely labor and time intensive process. With patience, planning, and the right tools, rebuilding a flooded home can be a manageable project. Here is what you need to know to plan your rebuilding project if your house has been flooded. I will tackle the details of flooded home clean up in another article. This article is limited to an overview of the process of rebuilding.

Flooding in Des Plains, IL, April 2013. Photo by CAD1976/Flickr.

Cleanup is the first phase of rebuilding a flooded home. However, and this is a big "however", you can't start the clean-up process until you have turned off the power, water, and gas, and inspected the structure of the home. Don't enter a house that had been flooded until you have verified with the power company that the electricity to the house has been shut off at the transformer. The transformer is generally located on the telephone pole/power line outside of the house. It is not possible to gauge whether or not the power has been shut off by looking at your house's electrical meter. For your safety, contact your local power company. To prevent explosions and fires, be sure that the valve to the gas line into your house has been closed. Also, shut off the main water supply to the house before entering the house. Next, a thorough exterior inspection is in order. Check the foundation, walls, and roof for signs of collapse, bloating, or cracks. If your house appears to be structurally sound, put on some rubber boots, a ventilator mask, and some heavy rubber gloves before carefully entering.

After you've walked through your house, you're going to call your home insurance company to file a claim. Document every call and piece of paperwork well that involve your insurance company. Be patient, be persistent, and call a lawyer if things get ugly. I will be publishing an article on interacting with home insurance companies after a flood, so stay tuned.

Flood cleanup is the next step of rebuilding a flooded home. Beware that flood waters can, and usually do, contain sewage, fertilizers, and sediment. What you are cleaning up is potentially toxic, and also probably covered in silt, sand, or dirt. Since mold grows quickly in flooded houses, you also can expect high levels of mold spores to be in the air. This is why you need to wear: nitrile gloves under leather construction gloves (or heavy rubber gloves), rubber boots, a hard hat and a ventilator. Assume that your house is full of bacteria and mold. Then follow protocol for cleaning up a flood damaged home. The construction experts from the North Dakota State University Extension Service have published excellent videos on the process of flood remediation. I recommend watching their videos before starting your flood cleanup process.

You will need to strip down and dry out almost every part of your house that was covered in water. Most likely, that will mean that the basement and the first floor will be your areas of focus when rebuilding. It is possible, though, that moisture has also saturated the first floor ceiling and therefore the floor of the second floor. Here are the things that generally will have to be replaced in a basement that was submerged in flood water: The water heater, electrical outlets and wiring, HVAC elements like furnaces and boilers, HVAC ducts (these can sometimes be cleaned, but sometimes need to be replaced entirely), large appliances like washing machines and dryers, upholstered and wooden furniture, drywall and wall insulation, flooring, possibly the sub-floor, and the ceiling tiles and the ceiling insulation. You will be stripping your basement to the bare sub-floor and to the wall studs, because all of the insulation and flooring will trap moisture and will eventually mold and rot, compromising the structure of your home, as well as your health and safety.

If your first floor was immersed, any electrical outlets or wiring below the water line will have to be removed and rebuilt. It's critical to the structure of your house to remove the flooring on the first floor. The flooring and sub-floor are most likely saturated with water, and are soaking and weakening the floor joists. Like the basement, you will need to remove the drywall and insulation from the walls. Here are the things on the first floor that will need to be removed, the space beneath them allowed to dry thoroughly, and then be rebuilt: Cabinetry, wood and particleboard shelving, upholstered and wooden furniture, drapery, large appliances like ovens and dishwashers that were submerged, and possible wall studs and floor joists that have begun to rot.

Between cleaning out a flooded house (including removing all damaged parts of the house, like plaster and flooring) and rebuilding a flooded house, the operative thing is to let the house dry out thoroughly. You are stripping your house down to the beams in order to remove all moisture traps. Open up the windows and run some strong fans to keep the air in the house moving. You will need to check the moisture level with a meter to determine when your house has dried out enough to start rebuilding.

Right now, Des Plaines, IL electricians and other types of contractors in the Midwest are busy getting called out to help in the regions that were flooded. You might be having a hard time getting a skilled and licensed contractor to work for you right now. Unfortunately, sometimes unskilled and unlicensed "contractors" prey on disaster victims. It is fairly common, and was rampant after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Because a flood compromises the structure of your house as well as your house's basic systems, it is imperative that you only employ the services of licensed, qualified contractors. Check with the Better Business Bureau before doing business with a contractor, and always verify that his license is valid. Online reviews sites can be helpful, as well as online contractor referral services. Not to toot my own horn, but offers free quotes from qualified contractors of all kinds, nationwide, and they are pre-screened and often reviewed by previous clients.

You might also find connecting with other homeowners and contractors who have experienced rebuilding flooded homes in the past. Online home improvement forums, especially, can be a lifeline during a rebuilding process. Best of luck with your project. I know that it is hard to face such a huge loss. I'm rooting for you.

Chaya Kurtz writes for

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