Prevent Further Damage To Your Flooded Home And Your Health

Claudette Reichel  |  9/7/2005 2:15:43 AM

A flood-damaged home requires special attention to avoid a population explosion of molds, other fungi, algae and bacteria, LSU AgCenter housing specialist Dr. Claudette Reichel says.

"Wetness and high humidity spur the growth of these organisms within one or two days, so it’s essential to act as fast as you can after a flood," Reichel said, noting the number of flooded homes along the Gulf Coast as a result of the recent hurricane.

"Mold or fungi are bad for the house and bad for the occupants," she explained. "Mold spores are an allergen, and some types of molds produce hazardous mycotoxins that can lead to a wide range of health effects."

Decay-causing fungi grow in wood that stays wet for an extended period, causing it to lose strength.

"In a nutshell, a wet house is soon an unhealthy house and eventually a rotting house," Reichel said. "To make matters even worse, such secondary damage may be excluded from coverage on your flood and homeowners insurance."

If your home was flooded, it should be cleaned and dried quickly and thoroughly to prevent mildew and future damage by wood rot, Reichel stressed.

"Since flood water may be contaminated with sewage or other biological pollutants, you may want to disinfect, too," she advised.

On the other hand, areas wet from clean rainwater – from a leaking roof, for instance – may not need to be disinfected, according to the expert. But all wet areas should be allowed to dry thoroughly before being covered or enclosed.

"A professional water damage restoration contractor with special drying equipment is the best and safest way to go," Reichel advised. "Yet, after a flood, many homeowners don’t have that option."

If doing it yourself, for safety, wear protective clothing on legs, arms, feet and hands while cleaning up debris. And wear rubber gloves while handling flood-damaged items, Reichel said.

Also keep in mind that buildings constructed before 1978 may have lead-based paint and that sanding or scraping this paint creates a serious health hazard. Call 1-800-LEADFYI to get more information about lead-based paint before disturbing it.

"Disinfectants should be chosen and used carefully, since they can pose a hazard, too," Reichel said. "And remember that commercial disinfecting cleaners need to be diluted as directed to be effective."

Bleach solutions (such as one cup liquid chlorine laundry bleach to a gallon of water) are effective and economical general purpose disinfectants, but can damage finishes, colors and metals, Reichel said.

In addition, she cautioned to never mix bleach with products containing ammonia or acids, because such a mixture can produce toxic fumes.

Reichel also offers these tips:

  • Begin your cleanup efforts after a flood by removing wet carpets, carpet pads and rugs within 24 hours. Disinfect the slab. You may be able to clean the carpets and rugs, but you should replace carpet pads.
  • Remove vinyl flooring over wood subfloors if there appears to be water bubbles between the vinyl and subfloor immediately after the flood has receded. Disinfect the subfloor. Drying may take several weeks. A buckled subfloor may flatten out on drying; be patient.
  • For wood floors, carefully remove a board every few feet to reduce buckling. Leave open until the flooring is dry.
  • Check exterior walls for wet insulation. Remove all wet insulation, even if it means cutting into wallboard. Flush out the insides of the walls and spray a disinfecting solution to kill fungi that have begun to grow. Allow wet areas to dry thoroughly before installing new insulation. This may take several weeks. If possible, air condition and use a dehumidifier to speed the drying.
    Fiberglass or cellulose insulation should be replaced with new material. Saturated fiberglass or cellulose insulation will hold water, even if the wall looks dry, and that eventually causes wood rot and mold problems. Using insulating foam-board (extruded polystyrene) cut to fit will eliminate the need to replace insulation in the next flood.
  • Check the attic; remove all wet insulation. Let everything dry before replacing the insulation.
  • Paneled walls may be saved by prying the paneling loose at the bottom. Remove any wet insulation. Then wash and disinfect the wall cavity. Keep the bottom of the paneling propped away from the sill until everything is dry.
  • Remove vinyl wallpaper to allow sheetrock or paneling to dry. Removing baseboards will help too. Refinish interior walls with latex paint or paper wallpaper, not vinyl, to allow the walls to continue to dry to the inside.
  • Keep in mind a shellac-based sealer may be needed over water stains before painting walls.
  • Open closet and cabinet doors. Remove drawers for drying and to let air circulate. With care in drying, these may be reused, depending on the materials.

Additional information on flood recovery, preparing for disasters and a variety of other topics can be found by visiting www.lsuagcenter.com.

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