House & Home

Flood Abatement 101

Posted November 5, 2012 4:35 p.m. EST

Flood damage can have devastating and fast-acting effects on a structure, making a prompt response critical to address damage and minimize the risk of complications in the future. Knowing what's involved in flood abatement can help you plan ahead if you live in an area where flooding is a risk or you've just received a flood warning, and if you're dealing with it right now, know that time is of the essence.

As floodwater enters a home, it saturates a variety of materials, carrying moisture deep inside structural components. It's not just water that penetrates; whatever is suspended in the floodwaters, including chemicals, salt, biological hazards, and silt, comes along for the ride. These can cause secondary problems that need to be considered along with the water damage.

Water damages materials in several ways. Strong storm surges and currents can displace structural components, rip away siding, and cause immediate physical damage. As the water penetrates it can also cause warping and separation, as well as breakdown of materials like mortar and plaster. Once it settles, it becomes a breeding ground for mold, which can become a health hazard in addition to a structural one. If the water also carries toxic chemicals or salt, the structural damage can be even worse, and water contaminated with sewage and other biohazards may present a health risk.

The first step with flood abatement is to act fast, ideally within 24 hours after the floodwaters have receded. Before entering a home damaged by flooding, it is important to turn off gas and electricity supplies and to have the home inspected by an expert like an insurance representative, building inspector, first responder, or technician from a flood damage mitigation firm. The next step is removing as many porous materials like rugs, furniture, drapes, and mattresses as possible. These can be cleaned and dried separately or discarded if they are too damaged to salvage.

With the house empty, a freshwater flush can be used if necessary to remove silt and other unwanted material. Then, the water needs to be extracted with vacuum systems to get as much of it out as possible. Once the home is reasonably dry, heaters and fans can be used to circulate air through the house to promote even drying deep inside the structure. In the areas that were hit by Hurricane Sandy, like New York City and Baltimore, concrete contractors have their work cut out for them. Specialized equipment is required for this, especially with materials like brick and concrete, making it advisable to contact a flood abatement specialist for help with the process.

If you have to do it on your own, be aware that a surface can look dry while water is still contained underneath. Humidity sensors are available to help detect the amount of water in the air, and dehumidifiers can help pull water from the air to reduce moisture levels. You may need to cut out sections of walls, floors, or ceilings to remove damaged components and determine that the interior of the structure is dry; remember to use a stud finder to make sure you don't cut into structural supports when you do this.

After the house is totally dry, you can assess electrical systems for any damage and check on the structure to determine what kinds of repairs may be needed. You may need to replace insulation and some structural components. Repainting and plastering may be required, and these must be conducted over totally dry surfaces, because any trapped moisture can contribute to the growth of mold which will be hard to eliminate when it is embedded under a layer of paint.

As you go through the flood abatement process, make sure to document with numerous photographs. These will be very important when you make an insurance claim to assist with the costs, or if you need to apply for emergency funds released by government agencies to help homeowners with flood damage. You may also find them useful in the event you sell your home and the buyers ask about past flooding history and request records on abatement procedures. Also keep copies of all your records including bills for materials, labor, and other costs associated with the mitigation, like bills for temporary housing if your home is unsafe to inhabit during the restoration.

There are some steps you can take to mitigate flood damage before it happens, including following building best practices in your areas like elevating your home, using coated and treated materials to resist water, and moving porous materials to high ground when a flood warning is issued to reduce the risk of damage. If you have a two story home, for example, consider moving furniture, rugs, and other soft furnishings upstairs for the duration of foul weather. Insurance agents and contractors are good sources of information on flood prevention and control.

s.e. smith writes for

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