Flood Damage Restoration: What to Do After Your Home Floods

By: Sandy John

Flooding is the most common cause of weather-related property damage in the United States, with $8.7 billion in property damage claims paid by the federal flood insurance program in 2017 alone. Aside from weather, your home can suffer flood damage after a pipe burst or a sewer backup.

No matter what caused the water damage, restoring your property can be expensive and time-consuming. Let’s look at what you should do if your home is flooded to restore your property and steps you can take to prevent flood damage in the future.

Steps to take immediately after a flood

If your home is damaged in a weather-related flooding event, you may have evacuated and won’t be able to return to your property until local emergency management authorities say it’s safe to enter the area. When you do go home, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Red Cross suggest these steps.

  • Make sure the gas and electric service are turned off before entering.
  • Check the ceiling for sags, which could indicate water in the attic. If the ceiling is sagging, carefully poke holes in the sheetrock near the edge of the sagging area, so water can drain out.
  • Remove valuable items, including those you think you can salvage.
  • Cover up any holes where more water could enter the structure. Use tarps, plastic sheeting, or boards to cover holes in the roof, ceiling, or windows.
  • Hose out the mud. Mud carried in by rising flood waters can be full of contaminants, and it’s best to get it out of your house before it dries out. Shovel out as much mud as you can. Make sure the electricity is off and all appliances are unplugged, then rinse out the house.

Post-flood safety issues

Use care when dealing with flood water. Water that comes into your home as a result of a general flood or a sewer backup can be contaminated with sewage, which could cause infectious diseases and diarrheal diseases. Bacteria in the water could cause wounds or rashes to become infected. Toxins could also be present in the water.

In a flood, materials in your home soak up water, and the presence of that moisture can promote the growth of dangerous molds. That’s why it’s important to thoroughly dry out your home and remove items and materials that could grow mold, such as wallboard.

FEMA recommends throwing out certain items that come in contact with flood waters. These include:

  • Mattresses and pillows
  • Large carpets and carpet padding
  • Upholstered furniture
  • Paper products, including books
  • Food
  • Cosmetics
  • Medical supplies
  • Baby toys and stuffed animals

Water and electricity are a dangerous combination, so be careful to avoid electrical hazards.

  • If water is in contact with electrical outlets or appliances, the water can be energized and could shock you.
  • Never try to turn off a breaker box if you must stand in water to do so. Ask the electric utility to turn the power off at the meter.
  • If electrical appliances—such as water heaters or washing machines—have been in contact with flood water, they should be checked by a professional to determine if they are still useable.

Does insurance cover floods?

As you secure your home and start the drying process, it’s time to call your insurance agent, make a flood claim, and find out what is covered. What damage is covered will depend on the source of the water damage and the insurance coverage you have.

  • Your homeowner’s policy may cover the damage if it was caused by a broken water pipe, wind, or a storm. Depending on your policy, it might also cover flooding that results from a sewer backup or the failure of a sump pump. However, general flooding—defined as “a general and temporary condition where two or more acres of normally dry land or two or more properties are inundated by water or mudflow”—is not covered by homeowners insurance. Many things can cause a flood, including a hurricane, heavy rain that accumulates rapidly, a clogged drainage system, or a broken levee.
  • Flood insurance is available through the National Flood Insurance Program, with policies sold by private insurance companies. These policies are underwritten by the federal government and cover structural damage caused by occurrences such as rising rivers, snowmelt, and other floods. If you live in a designated flood zone, your mortgage lender might require you to purchase such a structural damage policy. You can also buy a policy to cover your personal possessions in the event of flood damage.
  • Your auto policy will cover a flooded car if you have comprehensive coverage, as long as the damage results from something such as rising waters or a hailstorm that broke the windshield and allowed water to enter the car. If you left the windows open and rain got in, you’re not covered.

Common home repairs after a flood

The amount of flood damage in your home will depend on how high the water rose, how long it took to recede, and what items came in contact with the water. Common items that need repair or replacement include:

  • Wallboard. Sheetrock is porous and easily soaks up water and the contaminants that are in the flood water, so it becomes a health hazard. Wallboard also becomes fragile when it gets wet and it easily crumbles. If the water didn’t get too high, you may be able to replace just the bottom 4 feet of wallboard. Otherwise, plan on replacing all the wallboard in a flooded room.
  • Plaster. Once wet, plaster can separate from the lath, and it may be to be replaced.
  • Insulation. Fiberglass batts and blown-in cellulose insulation can stay wet a long time and likely will need to be replaced.
  • Wood. Plywood and laminated wood can separate or warp, so it likely will need replacement. Wood, such as wall studs, may return to its original shape as it dries, and it may be OK if it’s going to be covered by wallboard.
  • Flooring. Carpeting, padding, and plywood substrates will need to be replaced.
  • Electrical appliances. All appliances that came in contact with water need to be inspected by a professional to determine if they are salvageable or need to be replaced. In some cases, cleaning them may cost more than they are worth. The electrical box also needs to be cleaned and inspected by an electrician.

When to call professional flood restoration services

If you’re dealing with flood damage in your house, you want your home back as soon as possible. You may want to do the repairs yourself to speed up the process, but not all flood restoration is a DIY project. In many cases, such as dealing with mold remediation, it makes sense to hire professionals who have the knowledge, experience, and tools to remove the mold safely and completely. Replacing wallboard is a dusty job that requires both muscles and precision to hang sheetrock properly. Only licensed electricians should be handling electrical items that have gotten wet.

Check with your insurer to see if there is a list of preferred contractors you should talk to. If the damage is limited and involved clean water, such as from a burst pipe, you might be able to tackle the project yourself.

Flood damage repair costs

FEMA prepared estimates of the flood loss potential in a 2,500-square-foot home based on the depth of flood water that collects in the house. The estimates for damage to the structure start at $23,635 for one inch of water and rise to $53,355 for 48 inches of water. FEMA also estimated losses of personal property for the same house, assuming it was a one-story home with $50,000 of personal possessions inside. At one inch of water, the loss of personal property is $3,172, while at four feet of water, the loss of personal property is $50,000, or a total loss.

The cost to repair flood damage will depend on several factors, including how much damage was sustained and what kind of water was involved. It will cost less to clean up damage caused by clean water, such as a water heater overflow, compared with damage caused by gray water, which is dirty water such as from a washing machine, or black water, which includes sewage.

Other factors include the size of the flooded area, the types of materials involved, and whether restoration is mostly drying and cleaning or if it’s mostly replacements. For example, simple cleanup will range from about $3.75 per square foot for clean water up to $7 per square foot for black water.

Repairs and replacements will be added on top of that estimate. For instance, replacing and installing drywall could cost up to $10 per square foot, and replacing a ceiling could cost $500 to $1,000, depending on the size of the room.

For a 700-square-foot basement, the costs of cleanup could range from $1,400 to remove and dry the space in a clean-water flood, up to $7,500 if contractors need to remove black water, get rid of mold, and replace carpet and wallboard. Any personal items that need to be replaced would drive the cost up further.

How to limit future damage

The cost of flood damage restoration should make you consider whether you need flood insurance, even if you’ve been skeptical in the past. If you don’t live in an area with a history of flooding, it’s not a bad idea to take sensible steps to prevent flood damage in the future.

Review your insurance policies and make sure you’re covered for any potential flooding. Check flood maps to see what kind of a flood zone you live in. People who live in a high-risk area have a one-in-four chance of at least one incidence of flooding by the time they pay off their 30-year mortgage, according to the National Flood Insurance Program. However, about 20% of flood damage claims come from outside of high-risk flood zones.

You can also take these steps to limit the damage from other flood sources:

  • Make sure the grading around your home slopes away from your house, directing rainwater away from the dwelling.
  • Raise electrical system components and HVAC equipment, so they are less likely to be flooded. HVAC equipment can be installed on a higher floor, or a contractor can build a flood-proof wall around it.
  • Install sewer backflow valves to prevent sewer backup.
  • Inspect your sump pump regularly.

In areas where a home is prone to frequent flooding, it may make sense to raise the structure so that it stands at least three feet above the Base Flood Elevation shown on flood maps. In some cases, you may have to make the difficult decision to rebuild elsewhere, as the current location is too likely to flood again.


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