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Flood Cleanup a Multistep Process

If your home was flooded, you’ll want to salvage as much as possible as soon as floodwaters recede.

“However, you need to proceed cautiously,” says Ken Hellevang, North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer and flood expert. “Make sure you can work in the home safely, and do not rush to rebuild until your home has dried out.”

Before you start to clean, you should:

  • Call your insurance agent. If your insurance covers the damage, your agent will tell you when an adjuster will contact you.
  • List the damage and take photos or videotape as you clean. You'll need complete records for insurance claims, applications for disaster assistance and income tax deductions.
  • Check with governmental officials for procedures and documentation required for possible financial assistance.

To make sure your home is safe for you to work in, here are some basic safety tips:

  • Turn off electricity to your home. Stand on a dry spot or dry wooden block or plastic crate. Use a dry wooden stick or plastic pipe to pull the fuse box handle to off. Pull out the main fuses and unscrew each circuit fuse. On a breaker box, use the stick to turn off the main breaker switch and each circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to your electric box, call an electrician or your power company. Even if the power company has turned off electricity to your area, make sure your house’s power is disconnected so it won’t come back on without warning.
  • Turn off gas. If you suspect a leak or smell gas, get out of your home immediately and leave the door open. If the gas meter is outside, use pliers or a wrench to turn the valve a quarter turn so the valve is perpendicular to the pipe. Also contact your gas supplier.
  • Make sure your drinking water is safe. Listen for announcements about the local water supply. Private water wells need to be tested and disinfected after floodwaters recede if floodwaters have been near the well. Water that might be contaminated should be boiled at least 10 minutes.
  • Remove water from the basement slowly. If your basement is full or nearly full of water, pump out just 2 or 3 feet of water each day. If you drain the basement too quickly, the pressure outside the walls will be greater than the pressure inside, causing the walls and floor to crack and collapse.

Once your home is safe to work in, you can begin the cleanup process. Here is some advice to help you get started:

  • Remove contaminated mud. Shovel out as much mud as possible, then use a garden sprayer or hose to wash away mud from hard surfaces. Start cleaning walls at the bottom or where the damage is the worst. Remember to hose out heating ducts, disconnecting the furnace first.
  • Clean and disinfect. Scrub surfaces with hot water and a heavy-duty cleaner. Then disinfect with a solution of 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water or a product that is labeled as a disinfectant to kill germs. Do not use laundry bleaches on materials that will be damaged or might fade. Thoroughly disinfect areas where small children play. Don't mix cleaning products because a combination of chemicals can give off toxic fumes.
  • Dry ceilings and walls. Remove and throw away flood-soaked wallboard. Plaster and paneling often can be saved, but air must be circulated in the wall cavities to dry the studs and sills. Treat the three kinds of insulation differently: Styrofoam might just need to be hosed off. Fiberglass batts should be thrown out if they are muddy, but they may be reused if dried thoroughly. Loose or blown-in cellulose should be replaced because it holds water for a long time and can lose its antifungal and fire retardant abilities.
  • Prevent mold growth. Drying must be completed within 48 to 72 hours to minimize mold growth. Take furniture, rugs, bedding and clothing outside to dry as soon as possible. Open at least two windows to ventilate the home with dry outdoor air or use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to remove moisture. Use fans to circulate air in the house. Wear a protective mask to prevent breathing mold spores.
  • Clean and dry carpets and rugs as quickly as possible. If sewage-contaminated floodwaters covered your carpeting, discard it for health safety reasons. Also discard the carpet if it was wet for about two days because mold growth will have occurred and can’t be removed.
  • Remove a hardwood floor board every few feet to reduce buckling caused by swelling. Clean and dry wood before attempting repairs. With wood subflooring, the floor covering (vinyl, linoleum, carpet) must be removed so the subflooring can dry thoroughly, which may take weeks. Open windows and doors to remove moisture from the house.

For more information, view a video at www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/home/cleaning-up-your-home-after-flooding-video or go to www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood or www.extension.org/Floods.

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