The devastating major flood damage seen in Houston and other areas of Texas is appalling. Many people are no doubt anxious to return to their homes and begin cleanup. However, homeowners must be aware that the hazards from this event do not go away when the water drains out of their home. There are significant health and safety risks, both immediate and long-term, associated with river or ocean flooding.
All work relating to major flood damage of this type should ideally be done by trained professionals. This is to ensure that cleanup is done effectively and safely. However, it’s clear that in a disaster of this magnitude, there simply aren’t enough of us. Most of the work will inevitably be done by untrained homeowners, volunteers and casual labor.
The issues involved with the major flood damage in Texas are much too complex to be covered in detail here. Please don’t assume that our recommendations listed here even begin to come close to discussing everything you need to know to keep yourselves and others safe! See the links below for more information.
Keeping this in mind, here are some specific suggestions from Indoor Environmental Technologies (IET):
- There are a host of safety and health issues potentially associated with remediating major flood damage, some of which may not be immediately obvious: poisonous insects or reptiles, wild animals, chemical contamination in the water, structural collapse, electrical risks, respiratory or skin irritation, etc. Review the documents at the links below for more information.
- Water of this type may be highly contaminated biologically and creates significant health risks from these contaminants even after the water drains away. See the Liberty Mutual link below for more detailed information.
- The silt carried in the water is so fine that it often penetrates wall cavities and remains in place when the water drains away. This silt should be removed, which requires removing finish materials over the cavities.
- The issues involved with water damage restoration in general, as opposed to specifically addressing major flood damage, are covered in most detail in ANSI/IICRC S500-2015 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration.
- Beyond the actual structural issues, the biggest concern should be decontamination by removing damaged unrestorable materials and sanitizing salvageable materials. Drying out the building is less critical, especially initially. Do not attempt to dry out contaminated assemblies or porous materials!
- Since the water may contain pathogenic organisms, great care should be taken to protect skin, especially on hands and feet, from cuts or punctures. If a cut or penetration does occur it should be considered an extreme safety issue. It should be addressed as a medical emergency, not a first aid issue!
- Remove all porous materials (drywall, insulation, carpet, cushion, etc.) directly contacted by liquid water to at least 18” above the line reached by wicking water. A moisture meter may be useful in determining where this line is. It will generally be well above the “flood line” left by debris on the surface. The more quickly such materials are removed, the better, as the longer they stay in place the greater the risk of additional contamination resulting from mold growth.
IET has produced an article about methods for effectively decontaminating a building that has had sewage back up. The principles it describes for effectively decontaminating a structure also apply to major flood damage remediation. The article is aimed at professionals, but others may find it useful. It attempts to point out some aspects of the work which we have often seen performed ineffectively, even by professionals.
Please keep in mind, as discussed above, that this article assumes a certain level of basic knowledge about the issue. See Sewage Remediation Suggestions for Effective Cleaning.
Below are links to information provided by a wide variety of organizations on how to do this work more safely and effectively: