Home Rescue: What Comes First

Home flooded
The first priorities are safety, assessing your home, and stopping further damage.
  • Check outside to determine whether it's safe to enter.
    • If standing water is next to the exterior walls, don't go inside. You can't see what you need to in order to determine whether it's safe to enter or if the structure is sound.
    • If it's dry, walk around the exterior. Look for loose power lines and signs and smells indicating gas leaks. Check foundations for cracks, damage, or missing sections; porch and overhang supports; gaps between steps and the house; obvious structural damage; and soil scoured out from around or beneath the structure. Think safety first. When in doubt, stay out.
  • Shut off utilities.
    • Shut off electricity to your residence at the main panel. Even if power is out in the area, shut off the power at your home to prevent electrocution if the power is restored unexpectedly. Precautions will need to be taken for personal safety and to prevent more property damage, before the power is turned on at the residence.
    • Turn off the gas if a leak is suspected. Leave the door open and go to a safe location to call in the report.
  • Check inside. Caution is a must.
    • Try to open the doors. If the bottom sticks, it may just be warped. If it sticks at the top, the ceiling may be sagging and/or ready to drop. Waterlogged ceilings are extremely heavy and collapses can cause serious injury.
    • If it's safe to enter, water can be drained gradually from sagging areas. Use a tool (a broomstick with a finishing nail will work) and puncture the sagging area at the edge to allow it to drain (Poking a hole in the center may cause the area to collapse). Do not stand under the sag; under a doorway would be best. Once it's drained, repeat the process, gradually poking holes a little closer to the center each time, until it's completely drained.
  • Rescue valuables.
    • Locate valuables like money, jewelry, important papers, photos, and family heirlooms. Wash mud off before they dry and set aside to move to a safe place. Photos, books, and other items that are easily damaged when wet, can be frozen until they can be thawed and cleaned. Don't stop and clean everything at this point. More detailed sorting will come later. This is the time to rescue valuables while staying focused on taking the proper steps in order to save as much as possible in the long run.
    • For information on restoring and preserving family valuables, or locating conservator services, visit the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works website.
  • Ventilate the inside.
    • If the weather permits, open doors and windows to get air circulating through the interior.
  • Patch holes.
    • Cover holes in roofs, walls, windows, doors, etc. with boards or tarps to prevent rain from causing more water damage.
  • Repair sagging floors / roof sections.
    • Weak or sagging areas in floors, ceilings, or roofs may need bracing. It's best to use a contractor if unfamiliar with how to shore up a structure.
  • Remove debris.
    • Tree limbs and trash that has landed on or floated into the structure need to be cleared out.
  • Check for broken / leaking water pipes.
    • Check pipes and drains. If there are broken or leaking pipes, shut off the water. Be sure to check floor drains. If the pipes are okay, tap water can be used for hosing down and cleaning, but not for drinking or cooking until it's declared safe. Contact the local health department for information about testing and decontaminating wells.
  • Hose down the interior and exterior.
    • Mucking out the interior is easier before it dries. Make sure you have shut off the electricity. Unplug all appliances and lamps. Remove light bulbs, cover plates to wall switches, and outlets that have gotten wet. If local codes don't allow disconnecting the wiring, leave wires connected and pull them out of their boxes. (If codes permit, it's best to replace flooded outlets and switches.) Shovel out as much mud as possible. Check the water system for pipes that may have shifted. Hose down everything inside and out including furniture and ducts. If it got muddy, hose it down.
  • Drain the basement with care.
    • During floods, water saturating the ground outside the home pushes against the outside of the basement walls. Water in the flooded basement pushes against the inside, equalizing the pressure. If basement is drained too quickly, pressure from water in the ground outside may cause the basements walls and floor to buckle or collapse.
    • Once floodwaters are no longer present on the ground around your home and after verifying that the electricity is off, pumping out the basement can begin.
      • Pump the level down 2 to 3 feet and mark the level. Wait overnight.
      • If the water level in the basement has risen, it's too early to continue pumping. Wait another day and check the level again.
      • When the water level doesn't come up overnight, pump the water level down another 2 to 3 feet.
      • Continue the process until all the water has been removed.