Once floodwaters recede, it is time for the cleanup. However, the biggest hurdle for a homeowner is, "Where do I begin?"
Linda Sharp, owner of the Houston PuroClean branch, has her plate full after Hurricane Harvey. She’s booked for months with clients who need help decontaminating and drying out their homes.
The key, according to Sharp, is to take it step-by-step. Before you start anything, take pictures! Detailed photos will help you with your insurance claim.
Start with your floors, and remove the carpet/pad.
“It’s going to be heavy and it’s going to be wet,” Sharp said, “Cut it up into manageable pieces and get it out of the house as soon as you can.”
If you have laminate floors, you also need to remove them.
“Most homeowners, if you have a prying tool, you can put it under [your floor] and pop it out," she said.
You also need to remove the hardwood floors, but leave that to the professionals. Most tile can be saved, unless it is contaminated.
“Save contaminated tile for the professionals," Sharp said. "Contaminated tile will happen mostly in bathrooms, when contamination is coming up from the sewer line and overflowing onto the floor.”
Once your floors are removed, you are ready to move to the walls.
“They need to remove the drywall two feet above the water line.” Sharp said.
She said it’s best to create a "buffer zone" above where the water settled in your home. This is to remove all pollutants brought in by flood water.
“This water is contaminated,” Sharp said, “You need to get all of the contaminated material out of your home as quickly as possible.”
Per EPA guidelines, this includes any porous surfaces: rockwalls, stacked stone fireplaces, built ins, etc.
The only materials you can save are hard, nonporous surfaces like metal and glass. Sharp suggested to disinfect those pieces with traditional cleaners you can find at the grocery stores.
We asked Sharp what a homeowner should do immediately after a kitchen has flooded.
“Empty everything out of your cabinets. Get everything out of your refrigerator," she said. "Open it up, let the water drain and if you have a bottom drawer [of your oven], empty that out as well.”
There is some good news: most of your kitchenware can be saved. All of your dishes, glassware, pots and pans can be washed in hot, soapy water. Sharp said there is one exception - cast iron. That has to be thrown out.
Now to the cabinets. “Often, cabinets have wood doors, but particle board frames. This is porous and needs to go,” Sharp said.
Sharp walked us through a home where the drywall and particle board was so saturated, the crews didn’t even need to cut it. It was so soggy, they could just pull it off.
Sharp’s team also had to remove the backsplash.
“We’ll be pulling out all of the insulation, so we can open up the wall cavity and dry it out,” Sharp said.
Any appliances that has sat in water for a period of time also has to go.
“A good rule of thumb, if it’s been in the water, it should be gone,” Sharp suggested.
Unfortunately, most furniture is porous. That means it has to go onto the curb, because if you keep it in your home, it poses a health risk.
“You do not want to keep this contaminated material in your house. It is dangerous to people… and that is per the EPA guidelines," she said.
If you have a precious piece that you are insistent on saving, it is possible, but it will be expensive.
“If you want to try to save it, get it out of the house, isolate it, and call a professional furniture restorer," Sharp said.
The most important thing, according to Sharp, is to act fast.
“Don’t wait for an adjuster to get there," she said. "If power goes out, its hot and humid, you are going to have microbial growth, you’re going to have pathogens, you’re going to have mold. It’s going to happen.”
Despite a lot of rumors that you need to wait for a claims adjuster, it could actually make the problem worse and more expensive. Once mold arrives, it requires a certified mold inspection and takes much longer to clean.
Sharp insisted that her most important tip was: “The sooner you get this material out, the safer it's going to be.”