What to Do if Your House Floods

flooded house with water reaching the second floor which is a safety hazard

Blog written by Guardline.

A flooded house can be one of the most damaging events in your life as a homeowner. It's hard to think of "just a little bit of water" causing as much damage as it does, but it still manages to cause that damage, in spades. What is the best way to deal with it if your house floods, however? And how can technology such as wireless driveway alarms make flooding events in your home much easier to deal with?

What Happens When Your Home Floods

When your home has flooded, it isn't just a matter of replacing the floor that's been damaged. You have an entire force of nature to contend with. According to FEMA, just one inch of water can cause $25,000 of damage in a home flood. It isn't only your floor and walls you need to repair, but:

  • Any waterlogged appliances (especially ones that have insulation, such as dishwashers) will need to be replaced
  • Waterlogged insulation in your walls will need replacement
  • Your electrical and gas systems will need to be turned off, if at all safely possible
  • Remove any waterlogged carpets and rugs within 48 hours after the floodwaters recede
  • Any upholstered furniture (including mattresses) that has been contaminated by floodwater will need to be replaced
  • Make sure to stay alert for signs of mold and mildew in your home, even after you repair or replace items that were destroyed

Water from flooding is not clean water, nor is it safe to handle. It's full of dirt, noxious chemicals, and other contaminants that make it unsafe to drink, and possibly even unsafe to touch. These contaminants are spread everywhere the water goes: whether it's just a couple of inches deep or whether the water line goes all the way up to the ceiling, you need to treat everything the water touched as possibly contaminated.

How Do Floods Happen In Homes?

There are a few ways flooded houses can happen: it isn't just adverse weather events, but plumbing failures and mishaps with appliances that can flood your home. According to the National Weather Service, however, most household flooding is related to weather conditions. This can include:

  • Flash flooding from a severe rainstorm
  • River flooding
  • Storm surges during hurricanes and tropical storms
  • Dam breakage and levee failure
  • Ice and debris jams in frozen rivers
  • Flooding from large amounts of melted snow

Is It Safe to Stay in a Flooded House?

In general, it is definitely not a safe idea to stay in a flooded house. Flooding can lead to major structural deficiencies in your home, making it unsafe to stay. Even just an inch of water can cause total devastation in your home. A flooded house can also make it difficult for would-be rescuers to reach you. However, you should consider whether it's safe to leave your flooded house. In the event of a hurricane or a flash flood, it may not be safe to leave. Take a moment to think about your surroundings before you make your ultimate run for it. Some questions you should ask yourself before you evacuate are:

  • What are the surroundings outside your house like? Is there an active weather emergency, or is the flooding localized to your property?
  • Have there been any evacuation orders from FEMA or a local emergency management authority?
  • Can you safely turn off the electricity supply to your home?
  • Can you get out of your home without walking or driving through the floodwaters?

How to Check If Your House Is in a Flood Zone

There are multiple types of flood zone in the United States. If you're covered under the Federal Emergency Management Association's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), you already know that your home is in an area which is prone to flooding. (You can also visit the NFIP at https://www.floodsmart.gov/ or call 1-877-336-2627 for service.) FEMA also has a Flood Map Service Center, which allows you to enter any address and view the types of flooding the house is most likely to be prone to. This can include hurricanes, dam failures, rainstorms, and flash flooding.

These maps can be quite difficult to interpret, however, and figuring out whether your home is required to have flood insurance is as much of an art as it is a science. If your property is marked with an A or a V on FEMA maps, you live in an area that is at high risk from flooding, and you should definitely create a flood preparedness plan. Areas marked with a B, a C, or an X are at lower (but still existent) risk of flooding.  Note that if you live in a zone with high risk of flooding, and you have a federally backed mortgage, you are legally required to purchase flood insurance. A lot of homeowner's insurance policies don't cover damage from a flooded house, so it's crucial to get this insurance sorted out before the start of the storm.

Things to Do If Your House Floods

The first thing you should do if your house floods is to turn off the gas and electrical supply to your home, if you can safely do so. If it's impossible to reach your electrical and gas supply, you can leave them running, but flood rescuers should be aware of this fact as they approach. Electrified water can be deadly to touch, and from a great distance! You definitely don't want to go into flood water that contains electrical lines, for similar reasons.

The next steps when you face a flooded house are:

  • Put on protective gear (such as rain boots)
  • Evacuate from the house, if it's safe to do so
  • Call for help
  • Document the damages as well as you can
  • Make a claim with your homeowner's insurance, but be prepared for your claim to be denied at first
  • Keep all of your plumbing receipts, if the root cause of the flood in your home was related to plumbing

The Best Ways to Prepare for a Flood

Paradoxically enough, the best way to prepare for a flood is to think like a person who's already had a flood in their house. If you live in an area that's prone to flooding, you can prepare ahead of time and improve your responses when the flood water inevitably comes. The first step is to have an evacuation plan ready: you should know where your family will meet in the event of a flood, and where the nearest high ground is.

You will also want to have an emergency kit handy in your home: this will contain first aid items, a supply of cash, a battery-powered weather radio, handheld flashlights, and any medications you and your family need. Consider installing a wireless alarm system in your driveway, as this will give you the quickest updates about when the floodwaters have progressed and receded. Other tools that are useful during a house flood are:

  • A sturdy walking stick to test the depth of the water you're walking through
  • A small, portable fire extinguisher
  • A manual can opener and food
  • Toiletries (including moist wipes and hand sanitizer)
  • Copies of vital documents such as your birth certificate, your Social Security card, and the deed to your home
  • Clean, safe drinking water in plastic containers

You should also be aware of the regulations surrounding flood insurance in your area. You may be required to purchase flood insurance if you have a federally-backed mortgage in an area prone to flooding. Even if you aren't, your homeowner's insurance may not cover damage from floods. It's definitely better to have an idea of what your insurance does (and doesn't) cover before an emergency happens. Even if you don't live in an area that's prone to flooding problems, you may end up having to deal with a sewage backup or a leaking water heater, which can each cause their own set of problems on top of a flooded house.

There are also a few ways you can reduce or even prevent damage from flooding in your home:

  • Seal cracks in your house's foundation with hydraulic cement or masonry caulk
  • Install check valves in your sewer and septic lines, to prevent sewage lines from backing up in the event of a flood
  • Invest in a battery-powered sump pump if you live in an area that is very prone to floods
  • Grade your lawn away from the house, so water always flows away instead of toward the basement
  • Use flood-resistant drywall and insulation in your home
  • Point your downspouts well away from your home's foundation
  • Elevate high-risk appliances, such as your air conditioner and your water heater, above potential flood lines
  • Keep your gutters and sewage drains clear of obstructions, so water can easily flow out of them

Dealing With the Aftermath of A Flooded House

Water is a force of nature, and whether it comes out of the sky or out of a leaking appliance, we need to have proper respect for it. Home remediation experts can help you rebuild your home after a flood. Most importantly, they are experts in repairing damaged items and knowing when something is better off being completely discarded and replaced. Just look at the epidemic of "Katrina refrigerators" that swelled up in New Orleans in after Hurricane Katrina in 2005: the food inside them had been completely spoiled, but their owners still needed to wait for hazardous material experts to dispose of their fridges for them.

If your home has flooded, no matter the reason, you may face a similar set of items to discard: all the food in your refrigerator will have spoiled, for instance, and the process of drying out the walls and floors can take up to 72 hours. You also have to be vigilant about the growth of mold and mildew in a flooded home, as the humid conditions that crop up after flooding are ideal for mold to grow in.

One of the most important things to do if your house has flooded is to document everything you can. Your insurance company will need this documentation of the damages to your home, and if the flooding was bad enough to drive you away from your home, you may be able to be compensated for hotel fees. But you will never know whether you can be compensated if you don't make the report  to your insurance company in the first place!

Your next step after the floodwaters recede is to get back on to your property as soon as it's safe to do so. You may need to bring in flood remediation experts or hazardous materials specialists to help you salvage the parts of your flooded house. With their help, you can rebuild your house and make it a home once again.

If Your House Is Flooded

There are a few ways to protect your home after a flood. The first step when you have a flooded house is to wear an N95 respirator and long, tight-fitting gloves. You can also keep your home safe even when you aren't home by having Guardine home security If you need to bail the water with buckets, keep in mind that one gallon of water weighs seven pounds, so you need to keep that in mind.

If you have a HVAC system, you need to have it inspected before you turn it on! If it's safe to turn on, you can save a lot of issues by turning it on as soon as possible. But this should be one of the first things you do. If you have a sump pump, you should also turn that on as soon as possible. If you have a gas-powered fan, you should not turn this on on an enclosed space, or within 20 feet of any door.

You should also move valuables to higher level floors if at all possible. If it isn't raining, open windows to allow air through through your home. (If it is raining, obviously keep the windows shut.) If you have sandbags, you may want to move them to strategic places as well.

Final Thoughts

In short, a flood is obviously devastating, but it isn't the end of the world! Keep our security tips in mind and you'll have peace of mind even during a flood.
Contributing Writer: Elizabeth Miller

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