On August 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas and Louisiana as a Category 4 storm. It idled over land for days, dumping 25 trillion gallons of water and causing $125 billion in damage. To put it in perspective, Houston sank 2 centimeters under the arduous weight of floodwater. If a hurricane can cause an entire city to sink, imagine the damage it can do to a home.
Hurricanes are well known for their high winds (anywhere between 75 mph to upwards of 156 mph), torrential rainfall, and extensive damage to homes, power lines, and trees. Depending on the category of the storm, areas may be evacuated and left uninhabitable for week or months. Power may not be established for weeks or months. Roads may be blocked or swept away under the sheer amounts of rainfall, and water may be undrinkable. In the case of Harvey, not only did the floodwaters contain trash and critters, but 9.5 million gallons of sewage due to damage to several wastewater treatment plants.
Gauging the damage to your home after a hurricane can be overwhelming. Windows may be broken, there may be gas leaks, sharp objects, and power may not be restored. If you are unsure whether it is safe, we encourage you to contact a professional water restoration company to assist in determining the safety of your home and the steps to restore it.
If you are not ready to contact a professional, or in case a professional is not available, there are several steps you can do to help protect your home and belongings. First, if applicable, submit an insurance claim. Most insurance companies have a first come, first serve policy. When submitting these claims, you need to ensure the upmost accuracy. Keep a log of all records, bills, and expenses which occur. Avoid doing any permanent repairs. Once the claim is reviewed, many of those repairs will be covered. For example, you can board up or place plastic over the windows, but do not call a window repair shop until you talk to your insurance company.
2) Log all Personal Items and Valuables
Make a list of damaged personal property. This list needs to include the item, manufacturer, brand name, age, place and date of purchase if possible. Include photos and videos. If you are uncomfortable doing this step, you can contact a local damage assessment company to help you evaluate your loss.
3) Preventing Mold and Further Damage
One of the biggest problems after a hurricane is mold growth. Mold is a fungus which plays an important role in nature. It breaks down dead leaves, plants, and organic materials. Mold attaches itself to organic materials using roots which burrow deep below the surface. What this means is that the mold you see is surface spores. These spores can be released into the air and breathed in.
Besides damaging your home and any organic materials within it, mold is harmful to your health. Some mold can be toxic, others, if inhaled over a period of time, can cause a variety of health effects. Children and the elderly are more susceptible to mold. Likewise, those with autoimmune diseases or those immunocompromised are more likely to have mold related illnesses. Some signs of mold illness are asthma, chronic illness, headaches, fatigue, sore throat, sinus congestion, irritated eyes, joint pain, rashes and confusion.
Mold grows quickly, sometimes within 24 to 48 hours. It thrives in dark, humid/wet areas. Once mold attaches itself, it begins to grow at an alarming rate. That’s why it is important to remove any affected materials as soon as possible. Cleaning mold can be hazardous. Three to five mold spores can be enough to cause an allergic reaction. Vibrations can cause mold to release their spores, so it would be very easy to accidentally knock hundreds of thousands of spores loose from a single patch of mold. Contacting a mold specialist is preferable, but in the case where one may not be available, keeping the mold from spreading should be the first focus.
If you must remove the mold on your own, use protective gear. This should include a mask, goggles, gloves, and clothing you either plan to throw away or wash separately. Try to minimize how far you travel with mold infected items. Set up a containment area using plastic sheeting and tape. This will help contain the spores.
Next, you will want to remove all damp or wet materials. Try to contain them in a bag. With sheetrock, extend the area a bit further from where you see the damage. All carpet and fibrous materials exposed to water should be removed. Wipe down all exposed wood with water and detergent. Wipe down all non-porous materials with bleach or detergent. If removing any furniture, contact your insurance company about whether they will need it for the claim.
Removing mold is a lot more complex than it sounds. If you miss any, it could grow right back. An excellent book detailing the steps in mold removal is The Homeowners Complete Guide to Performing Mold Remediation, by Brian Turner. We recommend you read this book, or another similar one, before undertaking any mold removal job.
If you decide to hire a restoration company to help with the cleanup, there are a few things you should consider. In disaster areas, many of the rules pertaining to restoration and mold remediation are temporarily suspended. This leaves room for companies who may not be qualified to help. Hire a local company if possible. Look for one that has an established reputation. Look for qualifications. Is the company licensed and insured? Will they work with your insurance company? Do they meet the ANSI/IICRC standards? Are they willing to take the time to explain the process, pricing, and timeline? Will they put everything in writing? Watch for companies who recommend you remove the items yourself, paint over them, or won’t tell you what chemicals they are using.
No one wants to deal with the aftermath of a hurricane, but those who are prepared are better equipped to get their lives and homes back in order. Knowing your evacuation route and keeping an emergency pack on hand are useful tips. The pack should include non-perishable items, water, batteries, flashlights, extra clothing, medications, and food. Having a home inventory will lesson the stress of needing to inventory those items after a hurricane. This will also help you file a claim faster.
You can receive immediate, 24-hour assistance by calling 877-960-0491. A restoration professional will answer any questions you may have about storm damage to your home and design a remediation plan specifically for your situation. Their initial inspection and consultation is free.