What you need to do to repair and rebuild.
The effects of climate change means that flooding is becoming more common in the UK. Major storms, such as Storm Dennis which recently wreaked havoc across the country, will become a much more regular occurrence, and those living in flood-prone areas will bear the brunt of the damage.
Flooding can be an expensive and emotionally devastating event for homeowners – the average household insurance flood claim is £31,000, while the consequences of flooding mean those affected can be forced out of their homes for weeks and months at a time. And when it is finally time to return, there’s a massive clean-up job to be done, which can take over a year.
Cleaning up after a flood can seem like a mammoth task, but breaking the process down into smaller steps can help it feel more manageable. Here’s how to do it.
- Before you begin
- Contact your insurance company for advice on how to proceed – they may be able to help you with any specialist repairs you’ll need, or require specific documentation (photos or videos, for example) of damage.
- Only return to your property if it’s safe to do so, and don’t use any gas or electrical equipment until it’s been checked by an electrician. You may also need to have your heating and water systems checked before use, too.
- Make sure you’re well kitted out with protective clothing, including gloves and thick-soled wellington boots, as there could be sharp debris strewn about. Rodents and insects may also have found their way into your home, as well as sewage mixed in with the flood water.
- Stay healthy – wash your hands thoroughly and regularly throughout the clean-up process. Don’t eat food that’s touched floodwater and if your electricity is off, don’t eat food from a fridge after four hours or from a freezer after 24 hours. If you notice a change in the colour, taste or smell of your tap water, stop using it and phone your water company.
- Check the weather forecast. There is no point in cleaning up if more rain and floods are on the way.
- Get rid of floodwater
Before you start cleaning, you’ll need to get rid of as much floodwater and silt as possible. Your local fire brigade may be able to assist you with this, or you can rent a pump and generator from a DIY supplier. Make sure you put the generator outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Once most of the water is gone, use a dehumidifier. Eradicating damp is the most important step of repairing your home. Turn your heating on gradually (if safe to do so – have it checked first) to help dry things out further. Your insurance company may well organise dehumidifiers, but check to see whether they will refund the electricity running costs, as these can be high. Take an electricity meter reading before setting them up.
Bear in mind that some building materials, such as plaster, will take a long time to dry out. Other materials, such as wood and insulation, may need to be replaced entirely. Keep an eye on floorboards, walls, and door frames in the months following the clean-up, as some problems will only make themselves known over time.
Keep doors and windows open during clean-up. Airflow will help the drying process along and get rid of any unpleasant odours from floodwater or cleaning materials.
- Get rid of carpet and warped flooring
Carpets are generally unsalvageable after a flood, so they’ll need to be pulled up and disposed of – doing this will also help aerate and dry out your subfloor. Wood or laminate floors that have warped will also need to be pulled up – depending on the material these can be recycled, though.
- Set up a dry zone for salvageable items
Keep or recycle as much as you can from your home. Set up an area in an unaffected part of your home – or outside – where everything in good enough shape to keep can dry thoroughly. Use an approved furniture cleaner and a clean cloth to wipe down each piece, then set them in your designated zone to dry before putting them back once the clean-up is complete. Delicate items such as books and photographs can be salvaged by professionals – preserve them in resealable bags and freeze them to be cleaned later.
- Dispose of damaged furniture and items beyond repair
Not everything can be saved after a flood. Most upholstered furniture, mattresses, divan bed frames and soft furnishings such as pillows and cushions will need to be disposed of due to the risk of mould or mildew. Some wooden furniture may be salvageable – it depends how long it was stood in floodwater. If it’s been structurally weakened, it will need to be discarded. Any electrical items that came into contact with water will need to be replaced, although some kitchen appliances such as washing machines or dishwashers may be alright if the floodwater did not rise above a certain level. Again, have these items checked by a professional before you try to use them.
- Clean walls and hard surfaces
Wash down walls and other hard surfaces with soap and hot water several times until clean. It’s also a good idea to wipe these surfaces down with a disinfectant, particularly in the kitchen. Then leave to dry completely before attempting to decorate to prevent mould in future.
- Wash clothing and other fabrics
Clothing, bedding, curtains and soft toys should be washed at 60°C or above to destroy pathogenic bacteria.
- Get help
- The Environment Agency has specially trained Flood Support Officers across the country who provide information and advice during and after floods. Call Floodline (a 24-hour service) on 0345 988 1188 to find out if they’re active in your area.
- The National Flood Forum has many helpful community groups.
- You may also be able to get financial aid for flood recovery from your local council. Find contact details here.
- Flooding can be an extremely upsetting and stressful experience. Public Health England has a useful guide on mental health and wellbeing following a flood.
- So long as your home qualifies, then FloodRe, the nationwide insurance scheme for homes at high risk of flooding, will ensure you find cover for your property.
- Ensure any contractors you hire are qualified and check reviews online. Beware cowboys that can swarm into communities that have experienced flooding disasters!
- Prepare your home for future floods
If your home has been flooded before, it’s statistically more likely to flood again. You can help to mitigate some of the stress and heartache of flooding by taking measures to guard your property against future occurrences such as, using floor tiles, solid wood kitchens, and installing electrical plugs up higher. A useful guide is available here.
The bottom line
A flooded home is a terribly upsetting, stressful and expensive event, but the unfortunate reality of climate change means that it will only become a more common occurrence. Take the time to learn what you should do in the event of a flood, as well as what you can do now to mitigate any damage in the future.
To read more, check out our comprehensive guide to making your home or business more resilient to flooding.
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