Webinar & guide: How to clean up flooded homes

Can homes flooded in hurricane disasters be saved? This webinar and guide teaches homeowners and public housing agencies how to clean up flooded homes safely


In a recent webinar on how to clean up flooded homes that 300 people, mostly from regions affected by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, attended, Jonathan Wilson of National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) provided the good news:

Yes, you can save those houses,” he told Florida and Texas homeowners, housing and community development agency representatives, municipal employees and builders and designers focused on recovering flood damaged housing.

Wilson supported recovery efforts in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and said he was brought in to answer the question, could homes flooded above six feet with mold up to the ceiling be saved and made healthy and livable again? In partnership with Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise), NCHH created the illustrated step-by-step Field Guide for Clean-Up of Flooded Homes for do-it-yourselfers and contractors to prevent mold-related health problems and save storm-damaged homes.

Why ‘How to Clean up Flooded Homes’ Resources are Needed

Enterprise, the Florida Housing Coalition, NCHH, and NeighborWorks America brought in Armand Magnelli from Livable Housing, Inc., to deliver the two-hour “How to Restore Your Flooded Home: Addressing Mold & other Health-Related Hazards” to share best practices and post-flood mold remediation techniques to make damaged homes safe and habitable. The webinar highlighted the dangers of mold, the six main points of exposure from inspection to moving back in and the stages, including best practices, products and tools needed to safely complete remediation work.

Because current rebuilding estimates make Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma “unofficially the third and fourth costliest hurricanes in U.S. history,” according to Enterprise, hundreds of thousands of residents are “displaced, without power and at risk of serious health issues if damp conditions and mold are left untreated.”

Many residents need to know how to clean up flooded homes because the clock is ticking.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Transitional Sheltering Assistance program was recently extended for Hurricane Harvey survivors. And in Florida, where FEMA has approved hundreds of millions in assistance to numerous counties, local official cautioned weeks ago that home inspections related to federal aid often accomplished in a week to 10 days might now take up to a month, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Funding may not be available, or may not reach disaster displaced people in time, and the urgency to rehouse is great. Magnelli opened the webinar with a poll, and about half of attending respondents indicated they were doing the mold remediation work themselves. Magnelli couldn’t stress enough how dangerous mold is before he walked through the safety issues and key steps in cleaning it up.

Living in a building during reconstruction is of special concern, he said.

Mold can cause serious health problems for young children, seniors and anyone with respiratory illnesses and weak immune systems. According to Laurie Schoeman, the program director for Enterprise’s National Resilience Initiative, the “aha moment” came when attendees learned about measuring the air quality of an impacted home, that the level of mold spores can go up and down in the phases after flooding disaster.

Who Should Watch the Webinar and Use the Guide

The webinar and guide in how to clean up flooded homes is designed for:

  • Community-based organizations
  • Contractors
  • Housing owners
  • Technical assistance providers
  • Code enforcement officials
  • Volunteer housing managers
  • Finance partners involved in clean-up and risk mitigation

The field guide was developed out of hurricane recovery response and draws from the recovery and rebuilding experience after Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Irene and Rita.

Cleaning up after a flood or extreme weather event is a labor-intensive and hazardous process, according to the webinar notes. While the basic concepts of the field guide will not change, said Schoeman, Enterprise and NHCC are currently working on updates on equipment requirements and mold data and will add more robust information to the remediation process section.

Why Housing Agencies are on the Frontlines of Disasters

In particular, housing agencies face numerous challenges during recovery efforts after an event like Hurricane Harvey, Schoeman told Gov1.

For starters, there are the tight budgets that have gotten even tighter. In July, the approved 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Senate Appropriations bill cut $88 million from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods Program, according to Vermontbiz, affecting public housing agency budgets.

They are really strapped,” said Schoeman.

Enterprise regularly engages with public housing agencies and partnering organizations on resilience and emergency response issues to help them mitigate exposures by shaving costs and improving efficiency, she said. The goal is to address communities in recovery and complacency in at-risk communities. Continuity of operations is an integral part of operations and maintenance routines, and creating emergency preparedness programs improves community resilience.

“When a climate event hits, it’s catastrophic.”

Second, a lot of agencies didn’t have emergency plans for certain housing, Schoeman added, citing the example of the seniors sitting up to their waists in water at the La Vita Bella Nursing Home in Dickinson, Texas, which went viral on social media and alerted local rescuers of the dire situation.

Enterprise provides community development corporations (CDCs) with funding and technical support. It’s the CDCs, housing agencies and partners that bring the recovery support to the facilities, buildings and residents who need it, said Schoeman.

We really feel like these housing organizations are fire houses of sorts,” she said.

Schoeman shared the webinar and webinar notes, below.

Webinar Quick Tips

  • Inactive mold is a hazard, particularly with asthma development and respiratory infections and allergic rhinitis, but cleaning is standard with borate-type treatment products and half-face, negative air respirators with a HEPA filter.
  • If sewage, which is hazardous, is or was present in stormwater, clean-up will also require bleach, and in standing water, waders.
  • Unexpected animal residues, like pigeon nests, are incredibly toxic.
  • Open cuts raise exposure to all contaminants present in flood and storm damaged buildings.
  • Know that moisture is the ultimate enemy: “We have to get the buildings dry before we close them in or apply finishes,” within 24-28 hours., Magnelli stressed.
  • The basic steps of how to clean up flooded homes are: protection protocols, thorough cleaning, scrubbing down, drying the building out, treating with borate to reduce mold growth potential, more thorough drying and increasing sustainability in reconstruction where possible.
  • Fogging or spraying throughout a flood damaged building is not recommended.
  • Inspectors should have no connection to those doing the remediation work, which may be mandated by law in some places, such as the state of Louisiana.

Webinar Notes: Here’s Five Things to Know About How to Clean Up Flooded Homes

Ensure you’re taking all precautions necessary and addressing every issue in the cleanup process.

#1 There are major health risks. These are the top causes of health problems you’ll need to keep in mind when you’re working in flooded homes:

  • Structural problems – this includes shifted foundations and rotted floorboards. DO NOT enter the building if the foundation has been pushed, and test for the latter by hitting floorboards with the end of a two-by-four.
  • Mold – too small to be seen with the naked eye, mold spores floating in the air cause issues for allergy-sufferers: anything from a stuffy nose to a life-threatening asthma attack.
  • Lead dust – caused by lead paint drying and flaking, symptoms are typically nonexistent.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) – do not use fuel-burning equipment, including portable generators, inside flood-damaged homes; CO poisoning can cause sudden illness and death.
  • Cuts and punctures – broken glass and boards and exposed nails are additional hazards present in contaminated floodwaters.
  • Electric shock – turn off the electricity at the breaker before starting work; any electrical device that has been flooded is a danger.

#2 It’s important to create an agreement with any mold remediation professional. Per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Centers for Disease Control, hire a professional if mold covers an area of 100 square feet or a 10-by-10-foot space. Then, make sure you have an agreement that you will hold the payment until the work passes an inspection. The inspection should show there is no visible mold, no mold odors and that air tested after the work was done has a safe level of indoor air quality.

#3 Passing inspection is two-tiered. First, there’s the Basic Safety Inspection where you check for structural damage, have your electrical and natural gas system inspected, etc. Next, there’s the Flood/Storm Damage Inspection where you check for mold and water damage, take inventory of what can be salvaged, etc.

#4 Protective equipment is a must. Some steps in the cleanup process require head-to-toe protection – lungs, eyes, ears, feet, head and hands – everything from goggles to work boots with steel shank, toe and insole. The minimum you’ll find for any level is a cap, safety glasses and an N95 or N100 respirator.

#5 There are eight stages in the cleanup process:

  • Pre-work Inspection: Open the doors and windows for 30 minutes before you start working in the home to reduce odor levels and allow for dilution of airborne contaminants. In this step, you’ll also need to complete a Basic Safety Inspection and a Flood/Storm Damage Inspection.
  • Before work begins: In this stage you purchase or rent your tools and supplies, plan for trash removal, make sure you have a working bathroom, etc.
  • Site preparation: This is when you set up a safety and cleanup area, put on your personal protection equipment, lay a plywood path, and so on.
  • Clean-out: Here you’ll complete tasks such as removing furniture and appliances, remove wall-to-wall carpet and clean out closets and kitchen cabinets.
  • Gut tear-out procedure: As the name implies, this is where you get into the more heavy-duty portion of the process – tearing down drywall or plaster ceilings and walls, removing layers from the floor, tearing out cabinets, and so on.
  • Pre-construction cleaning and treatment: In this stage you’ll be preparing the space for constructiondry brushing and vacuuming all surfaces, disinfecting all hard surfaces, drying out the building, etc.
  • Selective tear out and preparation before restoration: There are a few more tasks to complete before restoration begins, such as ventilating the attic, opening the crawl space, and disposing of insulation.
  • Restore possessions: Finally, you’ll need to take care of what you salvaged by sponging off wood furnishings, disposing of or thoroughly washing clothing and textiles, and damp-wiping china, glass, jewelry, porcelain and metal possessions.

Enterprise Community Partners, headquartered in Columbia, Md., and its partners are working to develop a similar webcast to be delivered in Spanish for Puerto Rico attendees following the Hurricane Irma disaster. Through offices in 11 metropolitan areas, Enterprise partners with affordable multifamily property owners, government agencies and community development corporations to support resilience at the building, neighborhood, city and state levels, offering a range of products, services and grants. For example, Enterprise is an intermediary under the Section 4 Capacity Building for Affordable Housing and Community Development program, funded by the HUD and is currently administering rolling hurricane recovery grants.

Andrea Fox is Editor of Gov1.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.