It must be high on the list of nightmare scenarios for any homeowner to find their beloved property deluged with filthy, destructive water, simply impossible to stop or redirect. There are very few more damaging entities we can face in terms of causing massive, often irreparable damage to our properties, and an added unwelcome truth is, if left for any length of time before being cleaned, the situation will undoubtedly be exacerbated many times over and lead to irretrievable loss. In common with any situation involving blood cleanup, the key is to act fast and seek professional help as soon as possible.
Cleaning up after a flood
This process is no joke, it is a serious, messy, and often dangerous task that should be performed by emergency cleanup experts like the team here at Aftercare. There is nothing to say you cannot, theoretically, perform some of these steps yourself, but we want to be very clear we don’t recommend it. This article is a mixture of things you can do to smooth the process along, ways to assist your cleanup crew, and steps to take before and after to minimize the terrible effects of rampant floodwater.
Before any cleanup team dons their protective gear and starts the process of salvaging a property, it is essential to plan what steps will be taken and make preparations, especially those pertaining to safety. You simply cannot risk entering an unsafe location unprotected, so this step is very much dependent on the exact situation and how badly flooded and damaged everything is. Assess the situation from a safe distance, and decide what equipment is required and what each step will be. Your priorities should be:
- Turn off electricity and gas
- Check the structural integrity of the building, examining walls, floors, and windows
- Determine whether the foundations have cracked or been undermined
- Gather protective clothing. Rubber boots, gloves, and safety goggles should be the non-negotiable, bare minimum. Ideally, you will also have face masks for dealing with tainted water
- Put together a basic first aid kit for minor injuries
- Have a supply of fresh water nearby and cleaning products like antibacterial soap
Record the damage in maximum detail
Before you do anything else, take as many photographs and videos of the property as you can. Insurance companies will vary in what evidence they require, but it cannot hurt to protect yourself and meticulously record any and all damage down to the most minute details. Pay particular attention to:
- Structural damage (walls, roof, foundation, etc)
- Stains and chipped paint indicating wider potentially hidden issues
- General damage
- Large items of furniture
You should also keep a record of any expenses you incur during the whole process, from protective clothing to electrician’s fees and everything in between. Do not discard damaged items as you retrieve them, put them to one side and record them separately for now.
Contact the insurance company
The wheels of insurance claims often turn slowly, so better get them in motion as quickly as possible. Contact your insurance company and start your claim, providing them with a comprehensive list of everything you’ve lost and all the footage and photographs you took.
Assemble a cleanup crew
This is the phase where we strongly recommend you engage the services of a professional, experienced team like the one at Aftercare. Cleaning up after a flood can be an awful process that smells terrible and is generally unpleasant in every way, especially if sewage has leaked into the property. Do yourself a favor and make the speedy, efficient services of a trusted cleanup crew part of your expenses.
Start the drying process
When cleaning up after a flood, it is crucial to dry things out as fast as possible before mold and mildew have the chance to appear and grow. This generally occurs within two days of a property becoming sodden, so it is important to give the place the best chance of drying out.
- Open all doors and windows
- Use fans, dehumidifiers, and heaters
Depending on the severity of the flooding, it may be too soon to try and employ fans and other electrical equipment, but at the very least get the doors and windows open and get some fresh air flowing through.
Start the pumps
If your property has a basement, it will almost certainly contain residual water, even if the floods have subsided. Nothing can be done until the water is gone, so plug the pumps into a safe, external supply and put them to work. If you can’t get your hands on a pump, or it is a painfully slow process, use pails to help speed things along.
- Use a vacuum with a wet/dry function once the vast majority of the water is gone.
Remove all water-damaged materials
This applies to anything and everything soaked and contaminated inside the property, none of which can be assessed for damage and viability until removed and cleaned. Make piles as you work and add items to them accordingly:
- Irretrievable junk
- Damaged but potentially salvageable
- Ruined but too sentimentally valuable to throw away right now
Be as honest and ruthless as you can, if it is gone already, no amount of teeth-gnashing and deliberating will bring it back. Cleaning up after a flood is very upsetting and distasteful but cannot be avoided and can actually be a cathartic process. Try to view each removed item as moving you one step closer to regaining some sense of normality and keep powering forwards.
- Be mindful of the nature of the contamination. Objects exposed to sewage are unlikely to be salvageable and must be disposed of according to local regulations
- Place wax paper between the layers of any sodden paperwork or books and put them into plastic freezer bags, and freeze them until you have the time to deal with them properly
Use a shovel to remove mud, silt, and debris
If solids contained in the water have started to dry, this should give them some consistency and make them easier to shovel. However, if areas have been drying for a longer period, and have hardened virtually rock solid, you may need to use a hosepipe to loosen them up again.
- This step removes the bulk of nasty material and allows you to make a more accurate assessment of the situation and the extent of any damage the floods have wrought
Have your utilities checked by an official
There are some steps you simply cannot perform solo, and this is one of them. Contact your gas and electricity providers and schedule an inspection. You will have plenty to occupy you while waiting for them to arrive but must not turn on the gas or electricity again until they give you the all-clear.
This will depend largely on the extent of the flooding and whether it was sustained/powerful enough to fundamentally damage the structure. If in doubt, call in experts and have them make a full inspection and report.
A huge issue when drying out any property after flooding is how much moisture has penetrated the walls and any porous insulation therein. Use a moisture meter if you have one, and identify just how wet the walls and finishes are. Wall cavities can become the perfect environment for mold to thrive and spread if left unattended. If your walls have been breached by water, you have no choice but to remove the insulation from the inside and discard it. If it is left to fester, exponentially bigger problems are guaranteed in the future, problems posing a real threat to the health and safety of those dwelling in the property.
- Salvage solid wood trims and features to be disinfected, refinished, or replaced later
- The capillary action of water creeping upwards in wall materials like plaster and wood is very strong. You may need to remove sections of the wall much higher than the original water line to be certain of success
- Be conservative about what you keep, discarding anything you are not completely sure about. Hopefully, your insurance company will cover all the costs you incur, so there is no sense in risking further contamination from the word go.
The key to mold prevention is speed, and the faster you can get all the sodden materials out and fully dry your property, the less likely you are to have serious issues moving forwards.
To prevent mildew from forming, it is essential to disinfect and scrub floors/woodwork no longer than two days after the flood waters have subsided. Use the hottest water you can (be wary of warping wood with excess heat) with an ammonia-free disinfectant. Cover every area, especially corners, and crevices, ensuring they are silt/mud free and disinfected thoroughly to prevent unwanted growth.
Dry everything fully
The process of rebuilding your life inside the property cannot begin until this happens, and you must prepare yourself to accept it may take weeks or even months, depending on the severity of the flooding. Applying continuously circulated heat and air to the scene is the fastest way to aid the natural drying process we started earlier by opening the doors and windows. Dehumidifiers are another excellent way to reduce moisture in the atmosphere and prevent it from forming on objects again as condensation once the temperature drops.
Disinfecting and Deodorizing
Reaching this phase of the process of cleaning up after a flood is significant in that it marks the end of the ’emergency’ period. Timing is key when cleaning out and drying the structure itself, but once it is done you can at least breathe a little more easily. It is now time to turn your attention to the items you removed and put into piles right at the beginning of this nightmarish task. The goal is the long-term restoration of your beloved possessions and the transformation of your property back into a functional home or business once again.
Essentially, we have to think of everything as being contaminated in one way or another, so disinfectant and elbow grease is going to be required in huge quantities. Clean everything from top to bottom and utilize odor-neutralizing sprays, powders, and fresheners as you work.
Unpleasant odors are the final insult added to all the inconvenience and heartache you’ve already endured. Floodwater is notoriously filthy and is almost guaranteed to leave behind nasty smells and residues. All you can do is systematically work your way through the pile of belongings and ensure they are totally dry and neutral smelling before returning them to your home. This process may be rough emotionally, so take a deep breath and plow through it mercilessly. If items are beyond salvage, say your goodbyes and be rid of them once and for all, ready to build again and find exciting new replacements.
Although preventing water from entering your property is among the most difficult things to do, there are some steps you can take to help and mitigate the worst of the damage.
- Identify the areas of your home most susceptible to flooding
- Install water barriers
- Replace carpets with waterproof flooring
- Use water-resistant materials on walls
- Install valves that prevent water from backing up into your drains
- Raise electrical system components and valuable appliances to elevated levels
- Review and renew your flood insurance policy frequently
Remember, you don’t have to suffer alone, look to your local community for help if possible and offer yours when you can. Disaster has a way of bringing people closer together and the chances are if your property is flooded, theirs is too. There are expert teams of professionals standing by to help you with almost every step of this journey and there is no shame whatsoever in seeking their assistance. In fact, it will take the burden off your shoulders and allow you to work through your belongings and grieve their loss that much sooner.
Every step you take in this process, every surface you clean, every sheaf of papers you retrieve from the freezer and lay in the glorious sunshine, bring you one step closer to reclaiming your life. Slowly but surely, you will transition that scene of devastation and despair into one of pride, hope, renewed strength, and determination. Good luck.
Aftercare are among the most respected professional cleanup companies in the industry, and we always place the satisfaction of our customers top of the list. If you have issues with flooding or would like to discuss any of our other comprehensive cleaning services, please do not hesitate to get in touch today. We are happy to assist you in any way we can and give honest, open advice and guidance regarding your exact predicament.