Making flood-damaged homes habitable

Date posted: August 29, 2011

For immediate release

Media contact: Dr. Sarah Kirby, 919-515-9154 (office), 919-795-9038 (cell) or sarah_kirby@ncsu.edu

When it comes to cleaning a flood-damaged home, safety comes first. North Carolina Cooperative Extension offers these tips:

  • Before beginning any cleanup effort, be sure the power or gas is turned off or that electrical and gas systems have been evaluated and are operating properly. Wear gloves and boots. Frequently wash hands and any other body parts exposed to wet materials in clean, soapy water. Apply an antiseptic such as hydrogen peroxide to the inevitable cuts and scratches.
  • Carpet, sheetrock or wall board, upholstered furniture, mattresses, curtains, bedding and some types of insulation that have been submerged in water probably can’t be saved. Remove them from the home as soon as possible. Keep a piece of any discarded carpet for insurance purposes.
  • Different types of flood-damaged insulation should be treated differently. It might be possible to hose off and salvage Styrofoam insulation. Fiberglass batt and cellulose — loose or blown-in — insulation should be replaced.
  • Everything will dry more quickly and be easier to clean if you can reduce the humidity in the home. If humidity is lower outside than inside, open doors and windows. Close them at night and any other times humidity is higher outdoors.
  • Open closet and cabinet doors and remove drawers, but don’t force stuck drawers. You might speed drying by opening a cabinet’s back to enhance air circulation.
  • If you have power and they are available, use fans or dehumidifiers to help dry out the house. Do not use a central air conditioning system or the furnace blower if the ducts were under water. There will be sediment in the ducts that could contain contaminants, which will be blown into the house.
  • Desiccants (materials that absorb moisture) may be useful, especially in enclosed areas such as closets.
  • A shop heater might also help speed drying, but be careful. Wood dried too quickly will warp.
  • Solid wood furniture usually can be repaired and cleaned, but furniture made of wood veneer products often separates and warps. Wood alcohol or turpentine applied with a cotton ball may remove white mildew spots on wood. Don’t leave wood furniture in direct sun. It will warp as it dries. Try to dry furniture slowly.
  • Hollow wood doors usually have cardboard spacers in the middle that lose their shape when wet. These doors usually fall apart if they get too wet. They will probably have to be replaced.
  • Scrub surfaces with hot water and a heavy-duty cleaner, then disinfect with a solution of a quarter cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water or a product that is labeled a disinfectant. Don’t mix cleaning products. Combining the chemicals in the products can give off toxic fumes.
  • Photos, books and important papers can be frozen and cleaned later. Wash off mud, then put these articles in plastic bags and store in a frost-free freezer to protect them from mildew and further damage until you have time to thaw and clean them.
  • Be patient. While elements of a home such as wallboard and insulation that have been damaged by flood waters probably can’t be saved, the house’s structural elements (the wood studs and sills) should be fine if they are dried thoroughly. However, thorough drying and cleaning of a home is likely to take weeks or longer.

For more information about cleaning up after a flood, contact your county center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension, or visit the Web site http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/disaster/ . For research-based recommendations regarding mold, please see the Extension Disaster Education Network’s fact sheet at http://eden.lsu.edu/Topics/HumanHealth/Mold/Pages/default.aspx.

– Dee Shore, 919-513-3117 or 919-604-3164 –

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