What To Do If Your House Took Water

Now that some of the floodwaters are receding and the recovery stage is beginning for the flood victims among us, there are lots of folks struck by the enormity of the task they’re going to face in repairing their homes.

And a large number of those people are anything but veterans of flooding. It’s been reported that only one in eight homeowners in East Baton Rouge Parish, for example, even have flood insurance. That might sound irresponsible, but there is a reason for it – most of the uninsured didn’t buy flood insurance because they don’t live in a flood zone. This event covered a lot more territory than the flood maps did.

Now that the water is receding or might have gone completely, the clock is ticking. You’ve got to get to work on that house and reclaim it from Mother Nature. Here are some pointers we’ve collected from the experts.

– Don’t jump the gun. The authorities will tell you when it’s safe to go back, and in a lot of cases they’ll have someone guarding neighborhoods that have been flooded to keep people from going into them and doing mischief. Don’t make a bigger problem for them by returning to a flooded house.

– Come heavy. You’re going to need a lot of stuff to get this work going, including these items…

  • Large plastic bins – these are at a premium right now; you might want to get them from Amazon rather than hunting for them in local stores. Pay extra for the express delivery.
  • Big black garbage bags
  • Cordless drill and cordless reciprocal saw – and have several batteries charged for them.
  • Hammers, screwdrivers, pry bars, garden rakes, push brooms, cleaning brushes
  • Sharpie markers
  • Cleaners, including bleach, gloves
  • Pump sprayer like the one you use for your yard
  • Three days of clothes, and since it’s August you’re going to want t-shirts and shorts.
  • Toilet paper, baby wipes and paper towels
  • An ice chest full of bottled water and soft drinks, and half a pantry full of comfort food. Don’t bother trying to eat healthy; you can go on a diet when you’re done.

– Wear a mask. The air inside your house, if it took water, won’t be great. You’ll be spending a larger chunk of time in there than your health would want, and you’ll be breathing in a lot of stuff you probably don’t even want to think about. So do yourself a favor and put something over your nose and mouth while you’re working in there. If you can’t find one of those medical masks, which ought to be easy to get at Lowe’s or Home Depot, then a bandanna will do. Just filter the air you breathe some kind of way. Obviously, you can mitigate the bad air by opening all the doors and windows.

– Be a shutterbug. Between your insurance company and FEMA, you’re going to need to prove the damage to your property in order to pull a decent reimbursement check. So get out that phone and crank up the camera app, and shoot pictures of every inch of your place. Photograph everything. Take pics of the waterline where the flooding was worst, the debris line, all your furniture, the inside of your fridge, inside the cabinets and closets, you name it.

Be smart – and tough – with the insurance adjustors. Even if you don’t have flood insurance, this might apply to you – as the word is FEMA will write checks up to $32,000 for uninsured homeowners who have been flooded. In both cases, though, you can expect to be put through the ringer. A veteran insurance adjustor of our acquaintance offers this advice…

Before you call your insurance agent, understand this – it is your responsibility to stop any more damage from happening. Tree through the roof, you gotta remove it and tarp the hole. if you had flood water in your wall, cut drain holes to release the water in a timely fashion.

Now onto the part they won’t tell you about. the adjuster will come out and decide how much it will cost to fix. This fact is negated if you have receipts. Get someone to clean up and make repairs first. They cannot deny the fact that you paid for it already and must compensate you for your losses. If it costs $1,500 to remove debris from your yard then that is what you will get back. If the adjuster comes first, he can only allot $750 without quotes from contractors, and an adjuster cannot promise that the contractor will get the contract, so technically he has no business asking for estimates in the first place.

Damaged belongings or “contents” will be reimbursed by paying the value less depreciation. and invaluable objects are only as valuable as you determine not the adjuster. Stand firm because it it illegal for them to call you a liar.

You do not have to use any of the contractors that your agent recommends, and they do not have to be licensed. If you ask your adjuster if something is covered under your policy, and his answer is anything other than “I do not know” then get rid of him. You can tell your agent to remove an adjuster from your case at any time and adjusters are not allowed to give definitive answers to such questions.  If he says yes you are covered or no you are not, he is not educated enough to do his job.

If you don’t like the results of your adjuster’s findings, you can request a new adjustment as many times as you need until you are satisfied. and always always get your own quotes first, this is your leverage. its actually more beneficial to you to go ahead and pay to have all damage assessed, documented, and repaired before the adjuster comes out. If you paid $15,000 for repairs, they they have to pay you $15,000. If you allow the adjuster to throw an estimate out then that is what you will have to work with. $15,000 Less average depreciation is $10,000. If you produce $15,000 in invoices and also have $4,000 in damaged contents then you’ll get $17,000+. See the difference.

Do your due diligence and don’t depend on the mafiosos to be charitable.”

Additionally, another tip…

If you don’t have flood insurance call your home owner insurance company and file a non-record claim.

They will tell you you have no flood coverage. But they will send you a declaration page that you can file with FEMA for damage coverage.

– Now, to work. Start with the walls. The first thing you’ll need to do, after you’ve pulled all the debris out onto the lawn for the sun to dry, is to take out that cordless drill and make holes every 12 inches or so in the baseboard. Doing this will allow the water which has seeped into the walls to leak out onto the floor. The faster you can do this, the better. Next, get the Sharpie pen out, and mark the walls a foot above the waterline – because everything below your mark is going to need to be ripped out.

– X marks the spot. The other thing you’re going to do with the Sharpie is to make big “X’s” on things which took more than a couple of inches of water. That includes furniture, appliances, cabinet bases and the like. Says veteran flood survivor Dana Bennett

YOU DO NOT WANT TO KEEP ANY REFRIGERATOR, DISHWASHER, STOVE, WASHER/DRYER, THAT TOOK MORE THAN JUST A COUPLE OF INCHES OF WATER–THROW IT OUT, it is not worth your family’s health.  There were all sorts of nasty things in the flood waters, and anything that the flood waters touched beyond SOLID WOOD (NOT PLYWOOD OR CABINETS) is JUNK!

– Bin and bag everything. Clothing, valuables, dishes and so forth may or may not be saved. You can sort through all of them later and figure that out. Put what you can in the bins that you have, put the rest in your bags. The time will come to junk what needs to be junked.

– Creative destruction. Now that the house is empty and your stuff is in the yard or under the carport, it’s time for the pry bar and the circular saw to go to work. Make sure the power is off, and if it isn’t then turn off the main breaker, and then get that saw going at the line you make with the Sharpie. You’re going to take out all the sheetrock and insulation below that line (frankly, we recommend pulling the insulation out completely), you’re going to unscrew the electrical outlet covers, and all of the molding and baseboard will need to go. Everything goes, below that line. That includes cabinets, unless they’re made of hard, non-porous wood.

– The floors. Here’s the rule: if your flooring is ceramic or porcelain tile, or if you’ve got stained concrete, you can get by with sweeping it and cleaning it. Anything else is, in most cases, screwed. Hardwood flooring, if it hasn’t buckled, maybe can get by with spot repairs. But if your floors are something else, like laminate or sheet vinyl, it’s got to go.

– Bleach it. What’s left in that house is going to have to get sprayed down. What you need is a mix of one part bleach to one part water, and your pump sprayer has to go to work covering everything. More is better.

Once you’ve done all of that, get out of there. The heat and the bleach will work on the smell, and after a couple of days you can start on rebuilding.

Dana Bennett offers some other tips for your mental health…

  • Give yourself a break.  If it becomes too emotional, take a moment to allow yourself to grieve.  Take breaks every hour or two whether you feel like it or not.  Set your phone to remind you.

  • Let your friends, family, neighbors, even strangers help.  This is a time to be a community, not be alone.

  • Once you have gutted, let licensed contractors do the repair work. There will be lots of repair sharks enter our area.  Unless you know them personally, or research their license, don’t let them touch your house.

  • NEVER pay a contractor up front.  If they aren’t solvent enough to buy materials and then collect when done, you don’t want them working on your house, license or not!!

  • DOCUMENT DOCUMENT DOCUMENT.  Insurance adjusters will be beyond busy.  They need to see proof and progress and receipts.

  • Pray and let the community support you.  It’s okay, we will find “normal” again.

Other things worth considering…

You might consider pre-registering for DSNAP benefits if your income is taking a hit as a result of the flooding…

Formerly called “Disaster Food Stamps,” DSNAP provides assistance to eligible households who do not receive regular Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and who need help buying groceries due to lost income or damages following a disaster. The state must first request that the federal government initiate the program, but can only do so after President Barack Obama issues a major disaster and emergency declaration under the Stafford Act.

The pre-registering process does not guarantee benefits, but is designed to save time, minimize long lines and prevent applicants from coming to registration sites without all necessary personal information.

Affected residents may pre-register here (though the website appeared to be out-of-service as of Monday afternoon) or pre-register by phone beginning Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 1-888-LA-HELP-U daily between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Applicants will need to give their name, social security number, date of birth for each household member, current address and parish of household, monthly income for each household member, and all checking, savings and cash on hand for each household member.

There is also a distress hotline for folks who feel overwhelmed.

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation is setting up a flood relief fund for businesses damaged by the waters.

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