What Salt Water Does to Houses
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many people have flood damage on their minds. Hurricanes come with an extra complication that makes flood damage potentially more dangerous, more expensive, and more difficult to manage: salt. As these huge weather systems move across the landscape, they pick up waterPosted — Updated
When electrical components have been exposed to salt, the metal can corrode, which can lead to shorts and other problems. In the best case scenario, an electronic device might just be broken, failing to turn on at all. In others, it might expose people to the risk of electrical shock because of the corrosion. When a home has been flooded with salty or brackish water, the electrical systems need to be flushed with freshwater and then inspected to determine if any or all of the wiring needs to be replaced. That includes the wiring in the walls, the electrical box, and of course any appliances and electronic devices that may have been left in the home.
If you've ever been to the beach, you might have noticed a strange layer of what looks like furry material on pilings and wooden structures facing the ocean. This is the result of what is known as delignification, where saltwater penetration of wood leads to the formation of fuzzy salt crystals on the surface and slowly pulls out lignin, part of the cell wall of the wood. Over time, it can cause structural damage as the salt eats into the wood. In a one-time flooding event, delignification isn't a significant concern, but it is advisable to use a freshwater flush anyway to prevent salt crystals from forming because they look unsightly.
When a home is damaged by saltwater, it needs a professional assessment. It may be salvageable if it hasn't incurred major damage from storm surge, debris, or fire, but first it may need to be flushed with clean water, pumped, and dried. Once dry, the house can be inspected to determine which, if any, repairs are needed to restore it.
If the thought of salt damage has you depressed, you might want to know that there are some ways to prevent salt damage before it happens. Use specially coated and treated materials in the construction of homes in flood zones and hurricane-prone regions. These can resist water penetration and make the chance of damage lower, as well as reducing the extent of damage when it does occur. Many regional building codes actually specify flood-resistant materials for just this reason, so be sure to discuss this with a contractor whether you're involved in new construction, remodeling, or repair of a damaged structure.