Stay Safe, Take Precautions, and Follow the Law
It’s every homeowner’s nightmare: a flooded basement. A basement with standing water means risk to life, health, and property, and it must be cleaned up immediately. But before you put on your rubber boots, thick gloves, and face mask to assess the damage and start the cleanup, there are a few things you should know:
Electrocution is a real risk, even in shallow water! Do not walk into standing water in your home with live electricity. Call a licensed electrician before wading into standing water to ensure your safety before proceeding.
Toxins in the air such as certain strains of mold can grow and spread very quickly, thus making the air in your home unsafe for people and pets. Open windows to allow fresh air to circulate in the wet area. Consider the use of a combination of dehumidifiers, fans, and air purifiers as soon as your qualified electrician says it is safe to use electricity again in your home.
Know your insurance coverage and document the damage. Flood insurance and homeowner’s insurance are separate lines of coverage, so contact your insurance agent to learn the details of your coverage and to request an insurance adjuster to assess the damage and assist with your claim. It is important to document the damage with photos or videos of the flood water as soon as it is safe to do so, and also to document the cleanup effort. Be sure to ask early in the process what your insurance company will require you to document about the loss to be eligible for payout.
Remember to apply for permits as soon as possible. Under many circumstances, Uncle Sam requires you to apply for a permit when cleaning up after a flood. The fines and court costs can be steep for failing to comply, so be sure to make a call to your local zoning office to learn what the standards are and how to get an application. They can also elaborate on the difference between allowable emergency repairs (generally speaking, what you must do to prevent loss of life or building collapse) that can be made immediately while waiting for a permit.
Consider the source: rain water (or water from broken pipes) vs. sewage pose separate challenges and dangers. While both are clearly stressful and destructive, the additional contaminants in sewage increase the risk to health and severity of damage to property. Also, the methods of preventing future losses will vary greatly depending on whether rain water seeped in through basement walls, for example, or whether sewage backed up through pipes from the public sewer. Consult a qualified, licensed home contractor who specializes in the type of damage you’re facing to get a clear understanding of your options for managing this situation and preventing future losses.
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