Get some tips on flood cleanup including: avoiding mold, addressing damage to appliances, and use of wells and septic systems.Q. My home was flooded in the recent storms. I’ve seen conflicting information and been given differing advice as to what I need to do for the cleanup to prevent future mold problems. Can you provide some guidance?
The main issues is to remove and dispose of any absorbent building materials or possessions as quickly as possible and to dry out and clean all non-porous surfaces that have gotten wet. Your local health and/or building departments should be able to provide some guidance base on local conditions. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a Flood Cleanup Factsheet that will provide some guidance as well. Agencies like FEMA or the Red Cross also provide guidance.
Q. If my heating system ended up partially submerged after my basement flooded, do I need to replace it?
According to the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA), in many cases heating, cooling and electrical appliances – or at least certain components – may need to be replaced, rather than repaired, when exposed to flooding. Anytime the gas or electric components or controls are submerged, immediate damage or latent effects are likely.
GAMA advises against do-it-yourself repairs, since the typical homeowner is not able to determine whether flood damage has occurred in many cases. Potential damage to controls on oil, gas and electric equipment present an increased safety risk. Exposure to flood water or other water that seeps into a home, and the dirt and other possible contaminants that might be in it, can led to the corrosion of controls and other components, the malfunction of safety sensors, a build-up of dirt/debris in gas lines, valves or burners, and a short circuit in electric components.
Even though appliances exposed to flooding may appear to be operational, the eventual movement of dirt through a gas line or valve, or slow corrosion of electric components over time, can render control and safety devices inoperative and create a risk of an explosion or fire.
On other hand, if only the base of the equipment cabinet has been was submerged, the primary components may be intact and only a cleaning of the cabinet will be needed. So before a contractor advises replacement – implying that you might get it eventually paid for by insurance – make sure it was submerged and damaged. Basic homeowners insurance will not cover flood damage.
Q. If my well head cap was not submerged by floodwater is it likely safe to drink?
Any water system that directly or indirectly may have been contaminated by flood water or other contaminants should be tested before use to be safe. Certainly direct contact with flood water through an unsealed well head would be a concern for bacteria. Many other contaminants can find their way into the water source as well.
Contact your local health department or a private lab to have the well water sampled and tested. If the health department or lab issues sterile bottles for you to collect samples, follow all instructions carefully. Even if no problems are identified after an initial test, retest at regular intervals, particularly if it is reported other wells have been contaminated. .
Note that well disinfection will not provide protection from pesticides, heavy metals and other types of non-biological contamination. If such contamination is suspected, due to the nearness of these contaminant sources, special treatment will be required.
Q. I was told I should not use my septic system for weeks after my yard was flooded. This doesn’t make sense to me since the wastewater is already contaminated? Do I really have to not use it?
Contamination of your system from the flood water may or may not be a problem, but contamination from your system to the surrounding area becomes an issue. If the yard is or was flooded, that means that the soil has been saturated. If the soil is saturated, that means your septic drainfield is saturated and new wastewater flowing from the septic tank can’t be absorbed properly and may become an additional source of pollution. It can also lead to a backup in your home.
The only way to prevent this backup is to relieve pressure on the system by using it less. In addition, as long as the drainfield is below water or saturated, the wastewater will not be treated properly. If there is any question about the use of your system, it would be best to have it looked at by a qualified inspector/contractor.
Remember, these tips are only general guidelines. Since each situation is different, contact a professional if you have questions about a specific issue. More home safety and maintenance information is available online at www.housemaster.com.
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