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What to do if floodwaters get into your home

Whether a small amount of water has lapped into your house, or you've had a full-on flood, you'll need to take precautions to ensure the damp doesn't turn into bigger problems, such as mold. And if water gets into your kitchen, food safety can be a real concern. Here are some typical homeowner problems after a flood, and what to do:

How do I dry out my house?

If you had to leave your home, as soon as you're allowed back in and it's safe to turn on the electricity (an electrician will have to make this determination), turn the air conditioning on to start the movement of cool, dry air throughout the house. If the AC isn't on, don't open the doors and windows hoping to get some air through the house. The humidity outside may be higher than inside, and all the wet outside air goes inside, making a bad situation worse.

If the house is truly soaked, you may need professional equipment: high-velocity air movers and dehumidifiers. Your home AC and household fans don't have the power to do the job.

What about mold?

The big post-flooding headache is mold, which thrives in warmth and moisture. Washing surfaces with a bleach solution or painting over mold with primers and shellacs such as Kilz will hide mold, but physical removal is the only real solution. That means cutting out drywall, removing soaked insulation and sanding wood studs.

Vinyl wall covering should be removed. It acts as a vapor barrier so the wall behind it can't dry.

Some homeowners cover everything with plastic after a storm. If furniture and household items are wet under that plastic, you're creating a mini greenhouse where you'll grow a bumper crop of mold. Dry the items before you wrap them in plastic.

Here are some other tips after flooding:

• Remove soaked carpets and pads. Insurers will regard them as unsalvageable if they've been soaked in water from a storm. (Homeowners insurance does not cover damage from rising water; separate flood coverage is required.)

• If you have hard-surface floors (wood or tile), a wet vacuum can help suck up the water.

• If water penetrates the roof, ceilings may collapse, insulation is soaked, water soaks walls and drips down through air-conditioning vents.

I have a septic tank, and the plumbing is sluggish. What do I do?

You should conserve water as much as possible; the less water used the less sewage the septic tank must process. Minimize use of your washing machine. Go to a laundromat. Renting a portable toilet for a temporary period may be another option.

Do not have the septic tank pumped. Exceptionally high water tables might crush a septic tank that was pumped dry. If the fundamental problem is high ground water, pumping the tank does nothing to solve that problem.

If you cannot use your plumbing without sewage being exposed, consider moving to a new location until conditions improve.

Do not have the septic tank and drainfield repaired until the ground has dried. Often systems are completely functional when unsaturated conditions return. Any repair must be permitted and inspected by your county health department.

For more information, contact your local health department or visit www.doh.state.fl.us or www.FloridaDisaster.org.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Department of Agriculture; Clemson University Cooperative Extension; Hillsborough Health Department; Times files

What to do if floodwaters get into your home 06/25/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 10:47am]
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