Checklist: What to Do After a Flood

For many Ohio homes, flooding is a regular occurrence. However, as flooding becomes increasingly common in the Cleveland and Toledo regions, all homeowners should take flood preparation steps to mitigate damage from overflowing rivers and heavy rainstorms.

Sometimes, flooding is inevitable. Earlier this year, the Cuyahoga River reached its seventh-highest historical river level, causing 100-year flooding throughout the Cleveland area. Many homeowners were faced with the confusing situation of not knowing what to do first.

As building professionals, we understand the problems that can occur when your home floods. Your initial response can have a significant impact on the amount of long term damage you’ll have.

What should you do after a flood? This checklist breaks down the most important steps to take immediately after a flood.

» Download printable PDF

1. Only Go Home After It’s Safe

Flooding includes a wide range of circumstances, and homeowners can face anything from a few inches of water in a basement to a flash flooding event where water levels reach the roof.

Remember that water can be unpredictable during a flood, rising quickly, washing out bridges, and creating hazards from utility lines or gas tanks.

Return home only when it’s safe to do so, and listen to the authorities about what you should do and where you should go.

2. Prepare for the Shock, Destruction, and Unpleasant Surprises

Even for the homeowners in Toledo who have chronic flooding, seeing water in your home can be shocking. It can be even more of a shock for homeowners who aren’t used to their living room turning into a lake. Mentally prepare yourself for this and for the devastating mess that can be left behind when flooding recedes.

Also, prepare yourself for unpleasant surprises. Flooding could bring creepy crawlies into your home. Sewage could have flowed backward through your plumbing. And floodwaters could be contaminated with toxic chemicals, turning everything that’s saturated into a danger zone.

3. Deal With Utility Issues First

Flooding is more than just a water problem. When combined with your home utilities, there’s the potential for a very dangerous situation to develop.

All homeowners should be cautious of potential dangers. A gas leak is an obvious risk for an explosion. However, during a flood, utility problems are not always immediate. Even when the outside of a gas furnace or water heater seems dry, the interior controls could have become corroded by moisture.

If there could be a problem, don’t troubleshoot it yourself; get help immediately.

4. Don’t Enter a Flooded House If the Electricity Is Connected

Remember that water conducts electricity. If there’s a live circuit within floodwaters, you could electrocute yourself by just touching the water.

Don’t make any assumptions about the status of your electrical circuitry. Even if there’s no power at your home, you still can’t assume that there won’t be electrical current flowing into floodwaters. A brown-out situation could mean there’s low-level or variable power still running through the lines. Even if there’s a complete power outage, a homeowner who hooked up a generator incorrectly could be accidentally back-feeding electricity into the lines.

The only way to be certain there’s no electric current entering your house is to have the electric meter box removed by a professional electrician or your electric company.

5. Stop the Ongoing Flow of Floodwaters

After it’s safe to do so, assess the water problems in your house, and identify which areas were hardest hit. Immediately address any ongoing flooding.

For example, if there is water still seeping through a broken pipe, turn off the main water line. If water is entering your home from a flooded street, look for ways to divert that water to a storm drain so it doesn’t cause more damage to your house.

Any flooding you’re able to stop now is less cleanup you’ll face later.

6. Get the Water out of Your House

When it comes to standing water, speed is critical to reducing property damage. The longer water is present, the more damage you could see to wooden beams, drywall, or other absorbent materials. Plus, acting quickly can help you minimize mold growth which can start to grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours.

A sump pump can do the bulk of the work for you, removing more than 2,000 gallons of water per hour. If you have a home flood but don’t have a sump pump, a wet/dry vacuum may be your next best bet. Keep in mind that it could be slow going. With a 12-gallon wet/dry vac, you’d need to empty 167 buckets of water to achieve the equivalent of one hour of a sump pump running.

Also, be cautious about electrocution risks. A sump pump with a battery backup is designed to work safely in wet conditions. However, running appliances or a generator in wet conditions could add danger to the situation.

7. Disinfect and Dehumidify

There are two primary reasons you’ll want to disinfect any surface that came in contact with floodwaters. First, you don’t know what was in the floodwater, and the CDC cautions that contaminated floodwater can cause GI illnesses, rashes or other health problems. You also want to stop the incubation of mold spores before they start to grow.

Simultaneously, the dehumidification process will reduce the moisture in the air and start to draw out the moisture from saturated surfaces.

Remember that even if only the basement or crawl space is flooded, any dampness at the ground level will circulate throughout your house as air moves. Dehumidifying your lower level may help you prevent moisture damage in the upper stories of your home.

8. Look for Structural Problems

After a flood, considering structural issues is a two-step process.

First, identify any problems that were created by the flooding such as damaged floors, walls or structural elements. This could be warped boards, cracked concrete, sagging floors, or foundation damage. Also, look for damage to household infrastructure such as a furnace or HVAC unit.

Second, troubleshoot ways you can reinforce your home to protect it from another flood event. A smart cleanup process involves thinking ahead. For example, as you’re implementing a drainage solution to pull existing floodwaters away from your foundation, you could also be doing the legwork for a more permanent flood mitigation plan.

Need help from a pro? Get a free inspection from Ohio Basement Systems, Northern Ohio’s basement waterproofing and foundation repair experts.