Flood Cleanup Safety Tips

Published: September 6, 2017 - by Bill Wolfe

Categories: For Homeowners, Troubled Heating Systems

flood air conditioning unit

The devastation caused by a flood is terrible. The effects last for months, if not years, and the toll on the flooded area is catastrophic. During the cleanup and recovery, the first rule is DO NOT MAKE A BAD SITUATION WORSE!!!

  • DO NOT attempt to relight ANY combustion equipment that has been flooded. That includes water heaters, furnaces, boilers, pool heaters, gas fireplace inserts, dryers and any other gas or oil-fired equipment. Fire, explosion or other additional property damage can occur. Fresh or salt water makes NO difference. The units MUST be replaced*.
  • DO NOT run gasoline powered pressure washers, pumps or generators in confined spaces and if you are using them, beware of carbon monoxide! Have plenty of ventilation.
  • DO NOT enter any structure until competent authority has inspected it and found it safe to enter. Buildings can move off their foundations, foundations can be compromised and structures can collapse without warning. Gas lines can be leaking, or electric panels may be live.
  • Stay away from any propane tanks, chemical drums or pails that have washed up onto your property. Notify the fire department or hazardous materials people as to where the tank or drum is located, and be aware that they are overwhelmed with calls and may not get to you for several days.
  • Watch out for dangerous wildlife that has been washed out of their usual habitat. Alligators and poisonous snakes are often found in flooded structures. Fire ants will form rafts or balls by clinging together to survive a flood. They will climb up anything vertical to get out of the water, and if that happens to be your leg, the stings are excruciating.
  • NOTHING that absorbs water can be saved. Furniture, carpet, drapes and bedding are destroyed. Wet paneling and sheetrock CAN NOT be dried out. It MUST be removed. DO NOT attempt to turn on your electric service until a licensed electrician has inspected it and found it safe.
  • Flood water is filthy and deadly. It contains sewage, chemicals, petroleum products, dead animals and dangerous debris like lumber, which can be loaded with broken glass, nails and screws. Wear nail-resistant work boots if you are going to be doing cleanup. It is almost inevitable that you will step on a nail or screw or cut yourself on sheet metal, glass or wires. Get a tetanus shot ASAP.

The following are some general flood cleanup guidelines. They are not meant to contradict or conflict with official information, nor are they tailored to any specific situation. This a just an overview.

Once your house is certified safe to enter, pump out the basement, check for any dangerous wildlife and have it removed if you find it. Get a licensed electrician to check out your electric service and repair or replace it. Have a licensed plumber shut off your gas service until it can be repaired. Open windows and doors and remove all furniture, appliances, carpeting and padding, draperies and anything else that can’t be decontaminated. BE AWARE OF CARBON MONOXIDE AND HYDROGEN SULPHIDE! Hydrogen sulphide gas is produced by decaying organic matter. It smells of rotten eggs, but it is very dangerous. It deadens your olfactory nerve, and you no longer smell it. IT WILL KILL YOU! Good ventilation of any space is vital, and make sure the fans aren’t pulling in exhaust from the generator, pump or pressure washer.

Use a squeegee and a wet vacuum cleaner to remove any remaining water and mud from the basement floor. Thicker mud must be mucked out in buckets or a wheelbarrow. Rubber boots, Tyvek suits and gloves are best, since you don’t know what else is in the mud. Tear out and remove all wet sheetrock and paneling. Wooden studs and basement concrete can be decontaminated, but this is best left to professionals.

DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RE-LIGHT YOUR WATER HEATER, FURNACE OR BOILER! In forced air systems, flooded ductwork (metal or flex) MUST be replaced! Be advised that all the legitimate local contractors will be totally overwhelmed. Nationally advertised restoration companies may send extra teams to your area but will be very busy, too. Scam artists follow these disasters like scavenging jackals. Be careful who you deal with. NFPA 54 code specifically states that you CANNOT re-light flooded combustion equipment. It MUST be replaced. It is spelled out in Section G-4.4. Honeywell and other manufacturers say the same thing. Honeywell publication 69-0845, page 5, states that any combustion controls that get wet MUST be replaced. The full NFPA rules were published on ”The Wall” by kcopp (flooded HVAC equipment thread), and Gas Expert Tim McElwain also published the fact that FEMA WILL NOT pay for repairing flooded appliances, only to replace then. That was on the same thread , “flooded HVAC equipment”.