Flood Damage Calls for Professionals and Professional Equipment

May 2003 brought an unexpected and expensive problem to the band of St. Clair County High School band in Alabama. A flood, the result of unusually heavy rains, damaged or destroyed virtually the entire band department, leaving school officials, band enthusiasts, band members and parents searching for ways to cover the losses.

According to James Maddox, president of the Band Boosters, the extent of the mess caused by the floodwaters surprised school officials as well as parents, teachers and students. The water seriously damaged the flooring of the building, which was not insured against flood damage, making the cleanup and structural repairs a financial burden placed squarely at the feet of the school system.

"Along with the building damage, we lost instruments, uniforms, and sheet music," Maddox said. "We will have to clean or replace all of the carpet and vinyl flooring if we can, and we'll have to paint and redecorate, but the uniforms, instruments, and sheet music are probably lost forever."

Though the school is in a low-lying area, it has never experienced this type of serious flood damage before. This is one of the reasons the school system had no flood insurance, a decision it regrets.

Floods can happen anytime, anywhere, and even in the same place over and over again. Floods have become the leading cause of property damage from natural disasters in the United States, with more homes and offices destroyed or damaged by floods than by fire. Estimates of flood-damage costs have risen to well over $4 billion each year.

For individuals, homeowners' insurance does not cover flood damage, and though federal flood insurance programs will help cover damages, the flood must first be declared a "federal disaster" by the president of the United States. Typically, only 10 percent of floods qualify for this designation. Additionally, uninsured property owners, home owners, schools, and businesses that have previously received federal disaster assistance may not qualify for a second occurrence. In other situations, federal assistance is only a loan...repayable with interest.

With so many property owners not covered by flood insurance, and the possibility of receiving federal help meager at best, implementing a cleanup strategy right after a flood is often the best way to limit damages and property losses.

After the Flood
"Cleaning up after a flood is a daunting job and one that most homeowners should leave to a professional, especially if the flooding is extensive," said Thomas Bogusevic, executive vice president of Tornado Industries, a manufacturer of floor care cleaning and restoration equipment.

Standing water must be removed as quickly as possible, not only to protect the structure and save as many objects in the home or facility as possible, but also to protect human health. "Standing water is a breeding ground for harmful microorganisms that can become airborne and be inhaled," Bogusevic said.

"Floodwaters often contain sewage or even decaying animal carcasses, making infectious disease a serious concern." Even when flooding is just the result of rainwater, the growth of microorganisms can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

Bogusevic advises against pumping any more than three feet of water each day. "When water is removed too quickly, the pressure outside the walls from the waterlogged soil can be greater than the pressure inside, which could make the walls and floor crack and collapse," he said. Once standing water is removed, use air blowers, air conditioners, or dehumidifiers to remove the remaining moisture.

Cleaning water-soaked carpets and floors is a difficult chore in itself, but in the aftermath of a flood, contamination by mud, silt, and mildew can compound the problem. Carpets contaminated by sewage should not be salvaged, but if the carpet is salvageable:

  • Pull up carpets and rugs, allowing them to air dry.
  • Hose carpets down. Using a broom, work a low-sudsing, disinfectant carpet cleaning product deep into the fibers of the carpet.
  • To discourage mildew and odors, rinse with a solution of 2 tablespoons of bleach to 1 gallon of water (do not use this solution on wool carpets).
  • Dry the floor thoroughly before reinstalling the carpet to avoid future mildew problems and shrinkage. Use fans, wet/dry vacuum cleaners, and dehumidifiers to speed the drying.
  • Carpet padding is relatively inexpensive so is often best replaced.
  • Replace sections of subfloors that separate to avoid buckling, and allow all floor areas to dry thoroughly before replacing carpet or tile.
  • In vinyl floors with wood subflooring, remove the floor covering so the subflooring can be replaced. With concrete floors, removal isn't necessary except to hasten drying of the slab.
  • Loose tiles may be replaced individually if the floor hasn't been soaked. If water has seeped under sheet flooring, remove the entire sheet.
  • While cleaning, wash exposed skin frequently in purified water. Wear rubber gloves for extra protection against contamination.

    Wet/Dry Vacuums
    Because the wet/dry vac is vital for flood-damage cleanup and restoration, choosing the right machine makes the job faster and easier and improves the contractors' chances of saving their clients' important belongings.

    The size and capacity of the equipment should be appropriate to the job at hand. Too small a machine will reduce productivity and too large may make the machine too cumbersome to work with, especially in a flood-damage situation.

    Floods make for harsh working conditions. Look for durable machines that are constructed of heavy-duty, rotationally molded polyethylene, which is both light and durable.

    Look for wet/dry vacs that have a float mechanism or automatic shutoff. A float system may not turn off the motor but protects the machine so that water does not enter the motor housing. An electronic shutoff will actually turn off the machine once the water level reaches a certain height in the tank. The filter should be pleated for more efficiency and be easily removable for washing and reuse.

    Mobility is important. Wide-set wheels help stabilize the machine. On larger or jumbo machines a dolly may included with the machine to assist in mobility. The hose should be at least 1.5 inches in diameter.

    Look for a machine with a two-stage bypass vacuum motor in a housing that ensures optimal performance as well as reduced noise. Flood restoration can take time-hours if not days-and the sound of the machine can become bothersome, hindering productivity.

    Beyond the Flood
    The physical devastation that accompanies a flood is enormous. The cleanup work is tough but very lucrative for carpet cleaning and restoration contractors. To be successful at it, contractors must be well trained and educated.

    "Of all the different fields in cleaning, I would say restoration work is one of those most dependent on the skills and training of the individual and the equipment used," said Bogusevic. "Having top-notch equipment is imperative. This can mean the difference between saving the client thousands of dollars and priceless belongings, and allowing the client to lose everything."

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