(09/02/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — If your home was damaged by Hurricane Laura, you’re understandably eager to restore your home and life as soon as possible. So many things depend on it.
“However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that damaged homes and the cleanup and repair process can pose many health hazards, ranging from injury to invisible poisons like lead-based paint dust,” said LSU AgCenter housing specialist Claudette Hanks Reichel. “Always put people before property to make sure that family and worker health isn’t damaged.”
Reichel offers the following 10 tips, which are adapted from the free “Rebuilding Healthy Homes — Guide to Post-Disaster Restoration for a Safe and Healthy Home” guide and mobile app available at www.hud.gov/healthyhomes.
1. Remind yourself often to put people before property. Make health and safety your top priority.
2. Wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including protective clothing and a NIOSH-approved respirator, if possible, every time you set foot in a damaged or moldy building. If you can’t find N-95 (minimum rating) or P-100 (better) masks due to the coronavirus pandemic, at least use KN-95 masks and take extra precautions to reduce exposures. Best yet, order a half-face respirator with P-100 cartridges, which are still available to the public.
3. Assess structural stability and hidden hazards before you enter. A professional inspection may be needed.
4. Prepare a plan (supplies and methods), make a map (disposal and cleanup site layout), and review insurance policies and disaster assistance resources.
5. Act fast to dry out your home to prevent and remove mold. The LSU AgCenter has a two-page publication, “Mold Removal Guidelines for Your Flooded Home,” online at https://bit.ly/lsuagmoldremoval.
6. Always remove wet insulation and foam padding, even if surfaces look dry and clean.
7. Assume lead-based paint and asbestos is in homes built before 1978 (unless verified not present). Be mindful that disturbing such materials increases the hazard. Hire only EPA Lead-safe Certified contractors to repair pre-1978 homes.
8. Control dust, capture debris and contain contaminants with wet methods, drop cloths, debris bags, HEPA vacuums and workers trained in safe work practices.
9. Check credentials and hire only licensed or registered and insured contractors. In Louisiana, search for licensed residential contractors, mold remediation contractors and registered home improvement contractors at www.lslbc.louisiana.gov.
10. Restore for “more than before.” Install hazard-resistant materials, connectors and building systems. Include energy-saving and healthy home improvements.
More information is in the “Rebuilding Healthy Homes” guide, a comprehensive manual with detailed how-to’s and answers to common questions about home damage and hazard assessment, disposal, cleanup, repairs and restoration with a special focus on ensuring your home ends up a healthy place to live. It was published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Reichel is its primary author.
For a brief set of guidelines, see the LSU AgCenter’s “Storm Damage Cleanup Highlights,” a four-page fact sheet available online at https://bit.ly/lsuagstormcleanup.
A home damaged by Hurricane Laura near Holmwood in southwest Louisiana. Photo by Bruce Schultz