What to Do If Your House Gets Flooded

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Whether caused by a flooding river, a burst water pipe, tidal influences, or a storm, water can cause extensive damage to your home, contents and other assets. Each year, floods cost Australians around $400 million, with the main cause being the flooding of rivers and drainage systems, exceptionally heavy rains, and storm surges caused by tropical cyclones.

If you’re not sure about the history of flooding in your local area, contact your local council and ask about your neighbourhood. This will not only give you an idea of the risk of flooding, but will help you better prepare according to seasons, storm events and other identifiable risks.

The best thing you can do to reduce the extent of damage arising from flooding, before it occurs, is to have your home waterproofed. Without it, concrete structures can become cracked and leave the contents of your home exposed to water. To prevent this type of damage, ensure that your home has adequately installed waterproofing systems.

What happens if your house does flood?

If you are in your home when flood waters rise, call triple zero (000) or your local state emergency service.

If the flood was serious enough for you to leave your home, be sure to stay safe upon returning. Not only must you be careful on the roads on your way home, you must check for any visible structural damage, such as loosened foundation elements, cracked walls, warping, and holes, before you enter your home. If you suspect there is damage to water, gas, electric or sewer lines, contact your utility companies and notify them of the issue.

1. Safety first

The first thing you should do is go to your fuse box and turn off the main, plus all of the individual fuse connections. You should do this even if the power isn’t operational, so that you’re not at risk should you be standing in water when the power is turned back on.

Keep children and pets away.

2. Take pictures

Before attempting any sort of clean up, fully document any damage by taking photos or a video, to provide to your insurer. Your images should capture both structural and content damage, with the focus being on damage valued at $100 plus. These photos don’t need to be professional – your phone camera will do – but they should be clear and in focus.

3. Dress appropriately

If your home still has water in it, you should protect your health by wearing the appropriate clothing. Ideally you should wear waist-high waterproof boots, eye protection and rubber gloves. Any clothes you do wear, as well as any clothes soiled by the flood water, will need to be disinfected.

Make sure to also cover any open cuts, scratches, grazes and wounds with waterproof dressings.

4. Call your insurance company

Having scoped out the major damage, call your insurance company and notify them of the flood. You will need to work with your insurer to determine the cause of the flood and the extent of your coverage. Inform your insurer of your immediate plans to rectify damage, as you may need to wait for an adjuster before doing any major work.

5. Remove the wet

It’s important to start clearing out and drying your home as soon as the water has receded. Drying out can take weeks, and complete restoration may take months, so the sooner you start the sooner your home can get back to normal.

To avoid trapping moisture inside the home, remove anything that is wet. Flood water (especially sewage overflow) can contain harmful bacteria and viruses, so it’s important to:

  • Throw out any food that has come into contact with flood water (even sealed, canned and bottled goods).
  • Wash hands before eating, drinking or smoking.
  • Bury any faecal matter quickly.
  • Make sure the sewer line is working before starting a dishwasher or washing machine.

Tackle one room at a time, making sure you are working in a well-ventilated area. Sweep out any remaining water as you go and check for blocked drains in the shower and sinks. Look for any trapped mud in less obvious places – under shower trays, benches, baths and bottom shelves. Remove the skirting or plinth covering from flooded rooms and hose out the mud.

Mold can develop within 24-48 hours of a flood, so as well as removing wet contents, you should try to remove wet carpets and bedding too. If an item has been wet for less than 48 hours, it may be salvageable.

Mold growth can be controlled on surfaces by cleaning with a non-ammonia detergent and a 10% bleach solution. Make sure your detergent is ammonia free, as mixing these two products can be highly toxic. It’s a good idea to test a small area first to check for staining or fading.

Hard surfaces, including floors, walls, benches, sinks, cutlery and crockery can be cleaned with hot soapy water or by wiping with a chlorine bleach solution. If care instructions allow, clothing, linen and blankets should be cleaned in hot water or dry cleaned. Inner spring mattresses are difficult to treat and should be thrown away.

Soft furnishings, such as cushions, sofas and other mattresses should be air dried in the sun and sprayed thoroughly with a disinfectant solution. Soft toys should be thrown away.

A good disinfectant recipe that won’t break the bank is a dessert spoon (12ml) of liquid pool chlorine or ¼ cup of household bleach to 10L of water.

6. Salvage photographs

Rescuing photographs from flood damage takes time that you don’t have when the extent of the damage is severe. If you can’t work on properly drying out photos straight away, stack wet photographs between pieces of wax paper and seal them in a ziploc bag. If possible, freeze the photos to slow down mould damage. Once you have the time to air them properly, you can defrost the photos, separate them, and lay the images face up on kitchen towel.

7. Start drying

Having removed everything that’s wet, you can now start drying your home. You’ll need to be patient here, as drying your home will takes a number of steps:

  • Firstly, drain away any water lying under the house. It may be necessary to dig a pit and pump out any water that collects. If you can’t access under the house, you may need to cut a hole in floor to reach it or you’ll risk decay.
  • On dry days, keep all windows and doors open and on wet days leave windows ajar. It’s important you get plenty of air to your home for at least the next four weeks.
  • If you have heaters, turn them on in as many rooms as possible, leaving the windows open. Do not use more than one heater in a room as too much heat can cause warping and may crack wood.

Your drying techniques need to be thorough, as mould or mildew can develop if not completely dried.

Be patient

Recovering from a flood takes time. Clean up is a long and arduous process and can tire you quickly. It’s essential for your health that you take moments of pause from the cleanup and seek help where you can. If you’re having difficulty coping with the results of flood damage, contact the Red Cross today.