A Guide to Flooding Prevention and Recovery - Part 4: After a Flood

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Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Before a Flood

Part 3: During a Flood

Part 4: After a Flood

Adapted with the permission of The Regional Municipality of Halton.


After a flood

What to do first

  • Call your insurance company as soon as possible. Report any damage caused by the flooding. They will also advise you on how to proceed based on individual coverage.
  • After calling insurance, you may want to call in professionals such as a damage restoration company to have the area cleaned properly

Initial safety precautions

Flooding can affect your safety and your health. Take precautions to prevent illness and injury.

  • If you had to evacuate your home, stay tuned to your local radio or television station or dial 211 to find out when it is safe to return home. You can also visit your municipal or county website for updates.
  • When you do return home, go with someone else and carry a cellphone.
  • Don’t drive or walk through flood waters.
  • Stay away from downed powerlines.
  • Assume that everything touched by flood waters is contaminated.
  • Keep children and pets away from flooded areas and contaminated items.

Before re-entering your home after a flood

If it is safe to do so, turn off the electricity at the main breaker or fuse box that is on the outside of your house using a dry piece of wood. If you cannot, do not enter the space and contact your hydro company for assistance.

  • Check for foundation and structural damage. Check that all porch roofs and overhangs are supported.
  • If you are unsure about the safety of your home, do not go inside. Contact a building inspector or structural engineer for advice.
  • Do not attempt to reconnect the electricity, natural gas, telephone or TV cable yourself. Call your service provider for assistance.

General health considerations

Wear appropriate personal protective equipment, wash hands frequently with soap and clean water and protect open sores with waterproof coverings.

Disease-causing bacteria, viruses and other germs found in sewage can cause gastrointestinal illness. Ingestion occurs from eating contaminated foods, drinking contaminated water or accidentally touching your mouth with contaminated hands. Common symptoms of gastrointestinal illness include vomiting and diarrhea.

Skin contact with contaminated flood water can cause skin rashes and infection in open sores.

Clean-up

Before starting your clean-up, it’s important to document all damage and retain records from the clean-up (like receipts for expenses). Start by contacting your insurance representative as soon as possible and carefully review these tips from the Insurance Bureau of Canada (PDF).

How to locate flood damage restoration companies

Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification

Better Business Bureau Central Ontario Search for “fire and water damage” in the accredited business directory.

Yellow Pages Directory Search for “flood damage” after you enter your municipality.

Ontario College of Trades Find out the qualifications and standings of trade professionals who are members of the College.

Before you clean up

Flood waters can contain sewage, chemicals and debris like broken glass. Wear clothing that covers your skin along with appropriate personal protective equipment including:

  • Hard hat
  • Gloves
  • Masks
  • Protective eyewear
  • Rubber boots (puncture-proof and waterproof are best)

If it is safe to do so, turn off the electricity at the main breaker or fuse box using a dry piece of wood. If you cannot, do not enter the space and contact your hydro company for assistance.

  • Do not use electrical appliances that are wet or may have been affected by flood water until a qualified electrician has inspected them.
  • Do not use anything requiring water in your home (e.g., toilets, showers, washing machine and sinks) until the flood water from your house has been removed.
  • Cleaning up a home that has experienced extensive water damage or has been flooded with sewage-contaminated waters may require a qualified flood damage restoration company.
  • Dust created during clean-up activities can become airborne. Close off the flooded areas during clean-up and repair to prevent dust spreading to other rooms in the house.
  • Use of cleaners and disinfectants can release vapours. Keep rooms well ventilated. Wear protective clothing such as gloves and masks and keep children away from the area when using these cleaning solutions.

First steps

Take measures to prevent further damage to your home and belongings:

  • Remove standing water. Remove standing water with pumps or pails, a wet/dry vacuum and rags and/or towels. If the water in your basement is deep, contact a professional damage restoration company to help drain the water slowly to prevent structural damage.
  • Make decisions about what to keep and what to throw away. Remove as much as you can out of the rooms that were flooded as quickly as possible to help prevent water damage and mould. Some belongings, especially those that are contaminated with sewage, or those that cannot be quickly dried and effectively cleaned, may not be salvageable.
  • Remove soaked and dirty building materials and debris, including wet insulation and drywall.
  • Quickly and thoroughly dry and dehumidify your home. Ventilating the area with outdoor air and fans will help. A dehumidifier will work to remove moisture from the home.

If mould has already started to grow, refer to the section Cleaning up Mould. Never use a disinfectant, like bleach, to clean mould.

Surface cleaning

  • Clean and disinfect surfaces as soon as possible to prevent the growth of bacteria, viruses and mould
  • If mould has already started to grow, read the section Cleaning Up Mould and note that you should never use disinfectants, like bleach, to clean up mould. Otherwise, follow the directions below for cleaning.
  • Clean non-porous surfaces (i.e. glass/plastic/metal) and belongings using an unscented detergent and water solution and a cleaning brush. After cleaning with detergent, the next sept is to disinfect using a disinfectant, such as a bleach and water solution and carefully follow the directions for use on the product label. Be sure to wear appropriate personal protective equipment and ventilate the area.
  • Items that are wet may need to be thrown out if they are porous (e.g., unsealed wood/drywall) or unable to be cleaned.
  • If the affected area is extensive, consult with a professional cleaning company for cleaning

To prepare a mild bleach and water solution, mix 1 tsp. bleach in 3 cups water. Check to make sure the bleach is not expired!

DANGER! Never mix different cleaning products together! Check product labels before use

What to do with household items

Items that have been contaminated by sewage or that have been wet for a long time should be thrown out.

Carpets and upholstered furniture that can be salvaged may need to be professionally cleaned and dried. If these items are sewage-soaked, they should be thrown out.

Wet drywall and insulation should be removed to allow studding to dry.

Appliances

  • A qualified service technician should verify the safety of any appliance that has been affected by flood water before it is used.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect appliances if you will be keeping them.
  • Appliances that cannot be salvaged should be discarded.

Medicines, cosmetics and other toiletries

Discard these items if they have been in contact with flood water. Prescription and over-the-counter medications can be disposed of at your local pharmacy.

Food safety

If in doubt, throw it out.

Frequently wash your hands with soap and clean water, especially after being in contact with flood water, sewage or items that have been contaminated by either.

The following foods should be considered unsafe and thrown out:

  • Food in boxes, bags, paper and plastic wrap
  • Food and drinks in bottles, plastic containers and jars (the area beneath the lid cannot be properly cleaned and disinfected)
  • Fresh foods such as meats, fruits, vegetables and eggs

Commercially canned food in metal cans without dents, leaks or bulges are considered safe if properly cleaned and disinfected. Clean metal cans by washing them in a strong dish soap solution and then soaking them in a mild bleach and water solution for two minutes to prevent potential contamination when the can is opened.

Thoroughly clean and then disinfect dishes, eating and cooking utensils, and food contact surfaces.

Throw out any eating utensils, cutting boards and other food contact surfaces that cannot be properly cleaned and disinfected.

The Government of Ontario has more details on food and water safety after a flood.

To prepare a mild bleach and water solution, mix 1 tsp. bleach in 3 cups water. Check to make sure the bleach is not expired!

Drinking water safety

Municipal water supplies

Look out for water advisories in your area. Follow instructions given by local authorities. Instructions might be to use boiled water (rolling boil for at least 1 minute) or alternate water supply such as bottled water for cooking or preparing food, making baby formula, washing dishes, cleaning, brushing your teeth, washing your hands, making ice and bathing.

Private wells and septic systems

Your well water supply may be contaminated by flood waters. Use an alternate source of drinking water until you can obtain test results indicating that your well water is safe for drinking.

To test your well water, visit the Well Water Testing page for more information, locations and hours.

If flooding on your property was severe, consider having your septic system inspected by a licensed contractor before using it again.

The Government of Ontario has more details on food and water safety after a flood.

Discarding materials

  • Bag items that are considered regular waste and place at the curb on your regularly scheduled waste collection day.
  • Contaminated boxes, cans, bottles and paper should be placed in garbage. Do not place these items in the Blue Box as they no longer meet recycling standards.
  • Check local requirements for collection of large items, like flooring, including carpet and underpadding, by visiting the websites listed below.

More information about waste collection schedules and requirements in Dufferin County

More information about waste collection schedules and requirements in Wellington County

More information about waste collection schedules and requirements in the City of Guelph.

The following items are not accepted as regular waste:

  • Electronics
  • Household hazardous waste (e.g. solvents, garden chemicals, home cleaning products)
  • Metal and appliances

Cleaning up mould

Mould can grow on wet building materials and belongings in as little as 48 hours. It is important to remove the source of moisture and clean the affected area, discard items that cannot be cleaned and dry remaining items as quickly as possible to prevent or minimize mould growth

Getting rid of mould

The size of the affected area will determine whether you should clean and remove mould from the area yourself or hire a professional:

  • Yourself: small areas no more than one square metre in overall size
  • Professional: large areas greater than one square metre in size, or smaller areas where mould keeps coming back after cleaning

Protect yourself and others when cleaning mould

  • Wear a disposable particulate mask (for example, 3M 8210 or equivalent N95 mask), unvented safety goggles and household rubber gloves.
  • Close off the room from the rest of the house and turn on any exhaust fans that vent to the outside to help prevent contaminating other areas of the house, as well as to provide ventilation.

Never use disinfectants, like bleach, to clean mould. Always use water and dish detergent to clean mould.

Cleaning mould from building materials, furnishings and other items

Washable surfaces, such as tile or glass

  • Wipe or scrub surfaces using a damp cloth and a solution of water and dish detergent.
  • Sponge with a clean damp cloth.
  • Dry quickly and thoroughly.
  • If you have a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) vacuum cleaner, vacuum the cleaned surfaces as well as surrounding surfaces. Do not use a regular vacuum cleaner.

Drywall

  • Wipe the surface of the wall using a damp cloth and a solution of water and unscented detergent.
  • Dry quickly.
  • If you have a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) vacuum cleaner, vacuum the cleaned surface.
  • If you are unable to wipe away the mould, it is best to replace the drywall.

Carpets and upholstered furniture

If these materials were affected by flood water and mould is visible, they will likely need to be professionally cleaned or thrown out.

Any mouldy material or item that cannot be effectively cleaned should be sealed in plastic and thrown out.

Finding a mould removal professional

  • Search Yellow Pages Directory for “mould removal and control”
  • Flood damage restoration companies may also have experience in mould removal

Mould and your health

  • Most types of mould are not a health concern for healthy individuals, but some individuals may experience respiratory symptoms such as asthma, sore throat and allergy-like symptoms.
  • Some people are more vulnerable to the effects of mould than others. This may include children, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system or other medical condition(s), such as asthma, severe allergies or other respiratory conditions.
  • When mould growth occurs, it is recommended to clean up the mould and eliminate the source of the moisture to prevent further mould growth.
  • Indoor air testing for mould is generally not recommended as results can be difficult to interpret.

Indoor air quality

During clean-up and over time, indoor air quality can be affected.

  • Dust created during clean-up activities can become airborne. Close off the flooded areas during clean-up and repair to prevent dust spreading to other rooms in the house.
  • Use of cleaners and disinfectants can release vapours. Keep rooms well ventilated. Wear protective clothing such as gloves and masks and keep children away from the area when using these cleaning solutions.