What To Do if Your House Is Flooded

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If your home is flooded, you need to take quick action to minimize the amount of damage to your property. Contact your flood insurance provider immediately to initiate the claims process and to schedule an adjuster to come to your home to assess the damage. Check for hazards, such as live electrical lines or structural damage, before you enter your home, and take photos or videos of all the damage before you remove any water. Keep in mind that flood damage that results from inclement weather isn't covered under a traditional homeowner's policy, so damage won’t be covered be unless you have an additional flood insurance policy.

What Should You Do in Case of a Flood?

If your house or apartment is flooded, the first step you need to take is to make sure the scene poses no additional safety hazards.

  • Turn off the water line—if that is the source of the flooding—to prevent further damage.
  • Disconnect electrical appliances and switch off all electrical fuses, even if the power is already out, to eliminate the risk of electrocution.
  • Alert your utility providers if you suspect any damage to your gas, water, electricity, or sewage lines, as those will require professional attention.
  • Check your home for any structural damage caused by the flooding, such as a warped floor or a sagging ceiling.

If you rent, rather than own, your home, much of the repair responsibility will fall on your landlord or the apartment building's management company. However, in addition to immediately alerting your landlord or superintendent, you still should follow the above steps in order to minimize safety hazards and damage to the home and your property. Be aware that your renters insurance policy won't cover flooding—unless the flooding is the result of a leaking or burst pipe. To insure your property against other types of flooding, you'll need to purchase a policy from the National Flood Insurance Program, just as a homeowner would.

Document the Water Damage

Once the scene is safe, and before you remove any water or other debris, take photographs and/or shoot video footage of all flooded areas and the damage the water has caused. This evidence will be used to support your flood insurance claim. One important fact you must note is the source of the water. Flood water is categorized into three types, each of which poses a different risk to you or anyone else who carries out repairs or maintenance to address the problem.

The Three Types of Flood Water

  • Clean Water: Natural water, such as rain or tap water, that poses no additional health risks.
  • Gray Water: Water that may contain additional chemicals, such as discharge from a washing machine.
  • Black Water: Sewage or groundwater from nearby sources that may pose extreme health risks.

Even if the water appears clean, it might contain chemicals or bacteria that could be hazardous to your health. Wear waders or rain boots, rubber gloves and any other available protective equipment to avoid unnecessary contact with your skin.

Contact Your Insurance Company

We recommend initiating your flood insurance claim as early as possible to minimize claim delays and to help get repairs completed sooner. This is especially important if your damage is the result of regional flooding, in which case hundreds of other homes could be affected, and your insurance company will quickly become inundated with claims. If you are experiencing regional flooding, find out if the government has officially declared your region a "disaster area." If they have, you should have access to FEMA resources to help clean up your home and even to pay for some of the damage. The agency may also open emergency centers at which you can file claims with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and possibly meet with representatives of companies and other agencies, too.

Your insurance agent will be able to advise you on your coverage, including any you have through the NFIP, what steps you should take immediately, and whether an adjuster is being dispatched to evaluate the scope of the damage. They may also put you in contact with reputable specialists who can remove the water or perform other repairs and maintenance.

How To Clean Up Flood Water

Once you've documented the damage and initiated your claim, you can begin the cleaning process. Depending on the scope and source of the flooding, you may be able to manage the clean-up yourself, or you may need to hire a professional.

  • Open windows: Unless it leads to further flooding, open as many windows as you can to increase air circulation.
  • Remove water: Prolonged contact with water can cause additional damage, such as the swelling of wooden floorboards, so try to remove standing water as quickly as possible with a shop vacuum or water pump.
  • Scrub carpet: Use carpet cleaner to thoroughly scrub salvageable rugs and carpet, then dry them as quickly as possible. However, if the flood water is contaminated with sewage, dispose of all carpeting.
  • Clean furniture: Consult a professional to clean your upholstered furniture, and throw out any soaked mattresses.
  • Remove floorboards: If you have wooden floors, remove a floorboard every few feet so that swelling doesn't cause your floor to buckle. Your adjuster will tell you if any additional floorboards, tile, or vinyl needs to be removed in order to allow the subfloor to dry. Allow wooden floors to gradually dry so that the wood doesn't crack.
  • Sanitize all surfaces: After you've scrubbed hard surfaces, sanitize them with diluted chlorine bleach.

As you clean, you may discover additional risks that you overlooked during your original assessment, and new damage could occur as you move furniture from flooded areas. Always check for the following hazards when cleaning:

  • Structural damage: Beware of any area that could collapse and cause injury.
  • Live electric lines: Always turn off your electricity breaker before entering flooded areas, and do not turn it back on until a professional has inspected it for damage.
  • Gas line damage: Turn off your gas line and call a professional to conduct an inspection.
  • Chemical or bacterial contaminants: Treat the water as if it is polluted by chemicals or sewage. Wear protective gear, such as rubber boots, rubber gloves and goggles.
  • Wildlife: Keep your eye out for insects, snakes, or other animals that may have entered your home with the flood water. Wear mosquito repellent.
  • Mold: Wear a mask or respirator that will filter out any mold spores.

What Does Flood Insurance Cover?

Your standard homeowners insurance policy does not cover flood damage, unless flooding occurred due to a covered peril. Instead, most homeowners purchase flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), though you may have purchased this through your homeowners insurer. The NFIP offers two different policies, one insuring your actual house and the other insuring your personal property.

The NFIP policy insuring your house covers:

  • Your physical home, including its floors, walls and foundation
  • Your home's built-in systems (electric, sewage, water heater, HVAC)
  • Your home's built-in appliances (fridge, oven)
  • Permanently installed carpet
  • Cabinets and permanent shelving
  • Detached garages
  • Water removal

The NFIP policy insuring your personal property covers:

  • Clothing
  • Electronics
  • Furniture
  • Movable appliances (washer and dryer, window A/C units, microwave)
  • Area rugs and other carpeting

What's Not Covered by My Flood Insurance?

Your policy will exclude certain property, such as cars (damage to which would be covered under a comprehensive auto insurance policy). Also, flood insurance policies typically include dollar limits for certain categories of property, such as artwork and furs, so evaluate your policy to determine the extent of your coverage. For example, if your policy has a $2,500 limit on valuables such as artwork, and you're an art collector, you won't receive any reimbursement for additional pieces lost beyond that amount, unless you added a rider to cover the additional value of your art collection

A standard policy also won't cover these items:

  • Financial assets, such as cash or paper bonds
  • Swimming pools
  • Fences
  • Hot tubs
  • Porches
  • Walkways
  • Firepits
  • Trees and other garden plants

Additionally, flood coverage is limited for any spaces below ground level. While your foundation is covered, carpeting, bookshelves, furniture, and most personal property won't be covered if they're stored in your basement.

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