This fact sheet highlights key guidelines to help you safely and effectively clean and restore your storm-damaged home and contents. For additional helpful information, visit our website at www.LSUAgCenter.com/disasterinfo. For detailed guidance, see the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Rebuild Healthy Homes: Guide to Post-disaster Restoration for a Safe and Healthy Home,” a free online manual at www.hud.gov/healthyhomes and a free mobile app from Apple and Android app stores.
For instructions on water safety and purifying water, follow guidance from your community water supplier or department of health.
After a flood, it is important to take every precaution to ensure the safety of your well water. First, it is necessary to inspect and clean the well and pump before using them. You may want to have your water well contractor check the well before using it.
Have the water sampled and tested. The water IS NOT safe for drinking until lab results show no indication of total coliform bacteria. You can discuss the final lab results with the lab or local public health unit. It is important to remember that disinfection or boiling water will not remove chemicals that may have contaminated your well during a flood.
Never enter a building that might have structural damage. Look for signs, such as cracks, sagging rooflines, leaning, and foundation shifts. Make sure electrical and gas supplies are disconnected and inspect for chemical contamination and biohazards. Be alert to possible invasion by snakes, fire ants and other creatures.
Warning! If your home was built before 1978, it may contain lead-based paint or asbestos containing materials. Disturbing lead and asbestos materials during cleanup and restoration can create very serious and long-term health hazards. Even tiny amounts of lead dust can cause irreversible damage to children’s developing brains and hearing. It can also harm adults. Asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer.
Do not gut walls or remove damaged materials before learning about lead- and asbestos-safe work practices, or before getting a hazard assessment by a qualified professional. Refer to the “Rebuild Healthy Homes” guide, www.epa.gov/lead and www.epa.gov/asbestos for more information and to find qualified professionals.
Also, hire only EPA lead-safe-certified firms to repair and restore a pre-1978 home. All contractors who do any work that could disturb paint in pre-1978 homes are required by law to be certified.
A flood-damaged building requires special attention to avoid or correct a mold population explosion. Molds produce spores that float and spread easily through the air, forming new mold growths called colonies when they find the right conditions — moisture, nutrients and a place to grow.
Mold problems can result in damage to materials and health. The longer mold is allowed to grow, the greater the risk and the harder it is to remedy. As soon as the floodwaters recede and it is safe to return, don’t delay cleanup and dry out.
People are mainly exposed to mold by breathing spores or fragments but can also be exposed through skin contact. Wearing gloves, goggles, and a respirator that can filter mold spores (rated N95 or better) is strongly recommended. Note that a dust mask is NOT the same, and does not provide adequate protection.
Although there is wide variation in how people are affected by mold, long-term or high exposure is unhealthy for anyone. Exposure to mold can trigger allergic reactions and asthma attacks and may suppress the immune system or have other effects. Some types of mold can produce mycotoxins in certain conditions, which can be present in live and dead spores and fragments in the air. “Black mold” is a misleading term because many types are black and many species of mold can produce toxins
Mold testing is not usually needed and is rarely useful. Some insurance companies and legal services may require sampling as a form of documentation. Professional mold remediation contractors may test before and after cleanup to provide evidence of the cleanup’s effectiveness. Otherwise, if you see or smell mold, you have mold and should remove it as soon as possible.
A properly trained mold remediation contractor with specialized equipment can provide the safest and most effective result. In Louisiana, find licensed mold remediation contractors at www.lslbc.louisiana.gov.
If you need to clean mold, follow these steps and refer to EPA guidelines online at www.epa.gov/mold to do it as safely and effectively as you can.
1. Wear protective gear: Always wear a respirator NIOSH rated N95 or higher when inside a moldy space. During cleanup, also wear gloves and goggles. Go outside frequently to breathe fresh air. Some types of respirators have valves to make it easier to breathe. A properly fitted N100 half-face or full-face respirator with filter cartridges provides greater protection and comfort than the mask types.
2. Isolate work area and ventilate to outdoors: Disturbing mold colonies during cleanup can cause a huge release of spores into the air, so seal off the moldy areas from the rest of the house. Open windows and don’t run the central air system during cleanup. Tape plastic over air grilles, and drape plastic in the stairwell if the second story is dry and clean. If power is on, put a box fan in a window to blow outward and exhaust mold-filled air to the outdoors.
3. Remove moldy porous materials: Moldy or sewage-contaminated porous materials should be removed and put in plastic bags, if possible, and then thrown away. To reduce the release and spread of mold spores, it is helpful to cover moldy material with plastic sheeting before removing it. IMPORTANT: Use lead-safe work practices in pre-1978 homes.
4. Clean and disinfect: Surface mold can be effectively cleaned from non-porous materials, such as hard plastic, glass and metal. Concrete and solid wood can also be cleaned because mold cannot penetrate solid wood and grows only on the surface. Cleaning should remove — and not just kill — the mold because invisible dead spores and any toxins they may contain can still cause health problems.
You may choose to use a disinfectant to kill any mold missed by the cleaning. If there was sewage contamination, disinfection is a must. Disinfectants also pose health and safety risks, so always read and follow label directions and warnings. Handle disinfectants carefully, wear rubber gloves and never mix bleach with ammonia or acids. Many disinfectants, including bleach, can kill molds but do not prevent regrowth of new colonies.
5. Consider borate treatment: While wood framing is exposed is a valuable opportunity to apply a borate treatment for adding resistance to termites, decay and mold. The type of borate solution that can penetrate wood over time is more expensive but offers greater protection. Other products such as latex zinc and fungicide coatings may also help inhibit mold growth during drying. Do NOT use sealants or coatings that can hamper drying.
6. Flush the air: After cleaning and disinfecting, air out the building. Place fans in windows and aim them outside to pull mold spores to the outdoors.
7. Speed dry: Quickly dry all wet materials, including the concrete slab. Close windows and use a combination of dehumidifiers, fans and air conditioning or heat, if possible, to maintain 30 to 50 percent relative humidity to pull moisture out of materials without over-drying them. If you can’t get dehumidifiers, run air conditioners and portable electric heaters at the same time to lower relative humidity. Do not overcool the space because that can cause condensation, worsening the problem. If there is no power, keep windows open.
8. Remain on mold alert: Continue looking for signs of moisture or new mold growth. New mold can form in as little as two to three days if materials stay wet. Wood and other materials that may look dry can still be wet enough to support new growth. If mold returns, repeat cleaning and, if possible, use speed drying equipment and moisture meters. Regrowth may signal that the material was not dry enough or should be removed.
9. Do not restore until all materials are dry: Check wood moisture content with a reliable moisture meter. Wait until wood moisture content drops to less than 16 percent before replacing insulation and wallboard. Never rebuild when any wood exceeds the 19 percent moisture content level, the danger zone for wood-decaying fungi. Do NOT use vinyl wallpaper, oil-based paint or other interior finishes that block drying to the inside. Walls finished with gypsum wallboard and latex paint allow continued drying, especially when air conditioning in warm weather.
10. Restore for a flood-hardy home: If possible, wet flood proof your home so it can withstand a flood with less damage, expense and work. Choose decorative concrete floor finishes, removable interlocking solid vinyl tiles, ceramic tile with water-resistant mortar, removable room-size rugs or other flood-hardy flooring, and elevate equipment and electrical wiring when feasible. Consider creating a drainable, dryable wall by insulating with rigid, closed-cell foam boards cut to fit or closed-cell spray foam to fill 60 percent of the wall cavity. Finish with paperless drywall, leaving gaps behind the molding. After a flood, you can then remove moldings, flush out the wall cavity, drain and quickly dry it, avoiding the need to gut and replace materials.
Pressed wood pieces and cabinets tend to disintegrate in water and may collapse when moved. Veneered furniture may not be worth the cost and effort of repair unless it is very valuable to you. Printed vinyl surfaces and low-pressure laminates tend to come unglued and may not be repairable.
Furniture made with solid wood and plywood may be restorable. Before you start, consider whether you have the time, equipment and skill to produce good results.
White spots or a cloudy haze may develop on damp furniture with shellac or lacquer finishes.
Submerged upholstery and mattresses should be discarded. If you wish to restore valuable upholstered furniture, do not attempt to dry and restore padding. Because of risk of contamination it should always be replaced.
Professional restoration of upholstered furniture is safest and may provide best results. Investigate restoration and replacement cost with value of each piece. It’s often better to buy new articles rather than pay for extensive repairs.
To attempt restoration of upholstered furniture yourself:
Cleaning and drying water-soaked floors is difficult. In the aftermath of a flood, contamination by mud, silt, sewage and mold compounds the problem. Surfaces exposed to rising flood water or sewage should be both cleaned and disinfected. Moldy carpet and paper-backed flooring should be replaced.
It’s best to replace flooded carpets and get professional cleaners to restore valuable rugs and hard floorings, but with either professional or do-it-yourself restoration, begin cleanup as soon as it’s safe to enter your home.
Replace all electrical wiring, light fixtures, appliances and equipment exposed to saltwater. Also replace those with water trapped in insulation or inaccessible cavities. Some fixtures, wiring and appliances exposed to freshwater, such as laundry equipment, dishwashers with replaceable insulation and microwave ovens, may be salvageable. However, they should be inspected by a service professional before use. Unplug, clean and dry appliances, but do not use them before servicing. Unbroken plumbing fixtures can be cleaned in place.