Tips for Cleaning Up Your Home After a Flood

how to clean up after a floodIn the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we bring you timely tips on cleanup after a flood.  Even if you are lucky enough to never experience something as serious and damaging as a hurricane, basic post-flood know-how is an essential  survival tool for homeowners and renters alike.

Safe Drinking Water

Since the average human needs a minimum of 3 gallons of water per day for both drinking and hygiene, our first priority should be to make certain you have enough water on hand (experts like those at NFS recommend storing a 3-day supply for each person and pet per household). This is an excellent reminder to all of us to include plenty of water in our emergency supply kits. But aside from such kits, we have other precautions to take, such as:

Safe Shelter

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warns all of us to be cautious upon entering our homes after a flood. We should only re-enter after flooding has stopped and floodwater has receded or is at least no longer rising.  Once inside, we should:

  • Check for broken or leaking gas pipes
  • Inspect all electrical appliances, outlets, and circuitry. If not submerged (and as long as we don’t have to step into water to do so), shut off circuit-breakers connected to any flooded circuits.
  • Check furnace. Submerged furnaces are dangerous, and just as with flooded electric systems, can be shock and/or fire hazards.
  • If we smell burning insulation or see frayed wires or sparks, we should stay away from that area and should call an electrician to handle the problem. But if we smell severe burning or gas leaks, best to call the local utility company and/or  fire department.
  • Clean up standing water in the home. These pools of filth harbor bacteria which can cause allergic reactions, illness and disease, especially if sewage has become mixed into the floodwater. A wet/dry shop vac can be an excellent tool to suck away water quickly—which is doubly important given that the longer standing water is in your home, the more damage it can cause. For flooded basements, NFS recommends that we “pump out the water at the rate of one-third of the water per day to reduce the potential for structural damage.”
  • Because of the extreme danger of water-borne illness, wear gloves, waterproof boots, and other protective clothing when cleaning up. Children should not be allowed to play in the standing water, and in no circumstances should anyone drink it.

Safe Food

There is no guarantee, even in the case of canned items, that food contaminated by flood water can be safe. We are best off throwing away any food items that may have come into direct contact with that water. We can buy waterproof containers and pack canned items into them, storing them high in our homes, in cases of such emergency.

Safe Stuff

  • Drying items can take a long time, especially if humid weather persists after a storm. While drying, these items may become more contaminated as mirco-organisms can continue to breed. We may have to consider throwing away beloved items if they could make us sick.
  • Important documents can be scanned before they are shredded and saved to a computer hard drive. Again, this is a good reminder to make copies of passports, deeds, birth certificates, etc. and store them in another location, like a safe deposit box. Tax filed can be scanned and saved to disk.

Our hearts and best wishes go out to all the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Contact the Red Cross to donate to the recovery effort.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/che.

Anna Marie Erwert writes from both the renter and new buyer perspective, having (finally) achieved both statuses. She focuses on national real estate trends, specializing in the San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific Northwest. Follow Anna on Twitter: @AnnaMarieErwert