This isn’t a recent story, but one that still lingers years later. Like a demanding toddler wanting a snack, when flooding happens it can be completely disruptive. Read on for a few tips to help you navigate the waters.
Tips for the Homeowner Dealing with Hurricane Damage
Flooding can come from many different sources: plumbing leaks, blocked weeping tiles, overflowing rivers, excessive rain, ice melting rapidly or even a burst pipe in the dead of winter, or in our case, a hurricane. No matter the cause, when water enter the home, the damage is devastating… and getting your home back to functioning expensive and demanding.
I had the unfortunate opportunity to face all of this when Hurricane Irene passed over Cape Cod in 2011. A section of the flat roof was lifted off our top-floor condo during the storm. A temporary repair to the roof held up, until a follow-up nor’easter destroyed it and flooded the condo. Rivaling Hurricane Irene of 2 months prior, millions of homeowners lost power in this Severe Halloween Nor’easter. This rare October snow storm came 2 days after a 9″ snow storm that allowed a few New England Ski areas open for lift served skiing months early in October, 2011. We received a call right after Halloween telling us that a section of the roof had been lost and our property was flooded. The water passed through our condo to the unit below.
Needless to say, rebuilding after water damage takes time. For us, living in Canada added to the complexity of restoring our condo in Cape Cod. I am by no means an insurance expert, but I will share with you some of our insights into the process. We just hope we won’t ever need them again.
Even though we were at the end of hurricane season, restoration for us didn’t begin until the following spring. It can take months for insurance adjusters to release funds, and even longer to line up professionals to begin to rebuild if an entire neighborhood or community is affected. So our restoration wasn’t completed until a year after the storm hit.
The first thing to do is to prepare yourself for a dreary greeting. Hello, construction site! I don’t think there is any way you can truly prepare yourself for how this will feel. I just don’t. Below is what the main living space looked like when we arrived.
We were instantly reminded of how vulnerable we are to the whims of nature.
All the carpet was ripped out of the main living-dining room area, and much of the ceiling and some of the drywall was peeling and leaking.
The furniture had all been removed, the wall-to-wall carpet torn away. Bare concrete flooring and a peeling ceiling surface were not welcoming sights. Weary from the 12-hour drive, we set about the task of making ourselves at home.
Your first move: dry it out now!
The very first step, and I must impress upon you how important it is to act swiftly on this, is to call your local disaster recovery team to remove any soaked carpet or furniture and set up industrial fans to dry the place out. Don’t put this off until tomorrow! Don’t call your best friend to tell her what happened. Do this now!
Turn up the heat or air conditioning, depending on what time of year it is; otherwise open up the windows. Do anything you can to get the moisture out. It is imperative that you take every precaution to protect your home from further deterioration due to mold and excess moisture. Ask your disaster recovery team members if they recommend an antimicrobial wash for any surfaces that are in question.
Fortunately for us, this was done by our condo managers before they called to tell us of the damage.
Contact your insurance company
This brings me to my next point, and this is imperative too: Call your insurance company.
Get the company to send an adjuster as soon as possible to assess the damage. This person will also document that you have taken steps to dry the place out. Work closely with the adjuster. He or she is going to be your best adviser, advocate and friend right now.
Inspect for mold.
Once the insurance adjuster has had a good look at the place, and the fans have completed their task of drying out the moisture, have an inspector take samples from the remaining drywall and ceiling surfaces.
These can be tested at a lab to determine if any black mold spores are present. Black mold growing inside the walls, unbeknownst to the dweller, can continue to grow and lead to no end of health issues.
Wait for the test results to see if mold spores are present. This can take a few days, but you have to wait. There is no point starting reconstruction until you know how much of the remaining drywall needs to come out.
Once you have the green light on the mold situation, you can address reconstruction. By this time you may have heard from the insurance company what amount from your coverage it is prepared to pay out. Look for a good professional you can rely on.
If you are staying at the property, be prepared for life on a construction site. Put up dust barriers between the work zones and living zones. There will be dust and paint fumes for quite some time. Cover the vents in the construction area. If you skip this step, you will circulate all the dust and fumes throughout the property despite attempts to seal them off.
Find a holding zone. We used the guest room to stack up as much of the furniture as we could. Sealing the door kept the dust at bay here too.
One-room living will be the order of the day for a while. Add phone numbers for your favorite takeout restaurants to your speed dial. Be ready for everything to taste like paint and drywall dust.
Lots of them. Be prepared for plenty of negotiations. Anyone who has lived through a renovation has learned that the design decisions, material selections and details to be negotiated are exhausting. Even for a designer.
Consider upgrades carefully. You might not realize just how much that big-box-store light fixture bothered you until you have to hire an electrician to rehang it. Then you realize this is the ideal time to upgrade and update a few things. This can be a very slippery slope, so be prepared for it and know where to draw the line.
For example, this former wet bar was best left behind in the ’80s. We decided to remove the sink and create a storage nook for books. Also, we figured if we had to repair the ceiling, there was no time like the present to bring it into the 21st century and get rid of that stippled surface. And thus it began.
Review your insurance coverage. No doubt you will be looking back at this point, wondering what stopped you from increasing your coverage. When we initially took out our policy, we considered all the furniture and personal belongings and didn’t really think they would add up to very much.
Many things are easy to overlook until you view your home as a construction project. Beyond furniture, you need to consider the cost of new drywall and the fees to install it. Specialties include installation, drywall taping, sanding — and then there is the ceiling. Blueboard requires a different team of specialists to prepare a smooth skim coat of plaster. Then you have to pay for the paint and the painter. Likely there will be some electrical work required too — and the list goes on.
I made several trips to Massachusetts to check in on the progress. Be prepared to travel several times to check paint selections and materials on the site for final approval. Anything can go wrong if you aren’t prepared to follow through on the design details to ensure a great outcome.
If you have had the misfortune of water damage, take heart. Here you can see the end result for us: a relaxed beach home we love even more than before.