Cleaning up after a flood is a daunting endeavor, as our fellow South Carolinians are experiencing. One should approach the task with safety first. If the foundation, exterior walls and/or roof appear to be compromised or there is more than two feet of sediment deposited in or around the building, have the structure reviewed by a professional before entering. Architects and engineers trained in safety evaluation are deployed by the South Carolina Guard after a disaster and can determine if your building is safe to enter. Turn off all your utilities, even if there is no power in the neighborhood.
Flood waters can be full of bacteria and other contaminants. Make sure your tetanus shot is up to date and wear protective clothing, boots, and gloves when cleaning out after a flood. Shovel out as much mud as possible before cleaning with a disinfectant such as household bleach. Snakes and other wildlife may also be in the building, so proceed with caution.
Dry the structure and your belongings as quickly as possible to help prevent additional damage from mold and mildew growth. Cross ventilation is the most effective way to promote drying; open all doors and windows. If you have a generator, fans and dehumidifiers can supplement the drying. Remove all water soaked carpets and pads, upholstered furniture, mattresses, and pillows. These items contain bacteria from the flood waters and are a health hazard. They also slow down the overall drying of the structure. Mattresses and pillows should be thrown away. Upholstered furniture should be cleaned by a professional.
Wood floors and subfloors usually need to be replaced, if they cannot be dried. Tile floors installed on a wood subfloor may also need to be replaced because the subfloor cannot dry out.
Drywall and paneling will need to be cut away a foot above the high water mark if the building was flooded for longer than two hours. If the wall contains insulation, it should be removed. This allows the interior of the wall to dry. The wood studs should be completely dry before new insulation and drywall is installed; this might take up to six weeks.
Even if the water did not reach the ceiling, the ceiling may be compromised. The extreme humidity from the flood can cause the drywall ceiling to swell and detach from the ceiling joists. Minimally, the ceiling would need to be renailed and refinished; replacement may be necessary. The attic insulation should also be checked to make sure it is dry.
Solid wood doors and cabinets should be watched for swelling and cracking. Wood veneered doors and cabinets constructed of plywood or particle board will delaminate and deteriorate and will need to be replaced.
The mechanical and electrical systems need to be thoroughly checked by a qualified professional. Air ducts may need to be professionally cleaned and disinfected if they were not underwater or replaced if they were flooded. Appliances often have motors located near the floor and can be easily damaged by the flood waters. They should be checked by a qualified appliance repair person prior to using and reconnecting to power and gas.
If you were not effected by the recent floods, now is the time to review your flood insurance policy to be prepared for the next flood or hurricane.