Home safety tips to consider after a flood
Last updated: September 2021
Some flooding situations are so severe that they may require you to evacuate your home. If a flood hits your home and you're forced to evacuate, knowing how to safely return home after it passes may help minimize stress. Learn how to safely re-enter your home and begin cleanup after a flood with these safety tips.
Check for hazards before re-entering your home
After local authorities have given the OK to travel back to your home, you should first complete a careful inspection of the exterior of your property to identify potential hazards. Here are tips from the American Red Cross to keep in mind:
- Look for downed power lines: Do not touch downed power lines around your home. You should also avoid walking through nearby puddles or standing water to avoid the risk of electrocution.
- Check for structural damage: The Red Cross says you should visually inspect the exterior of your home for foundation cracks, roof damage or missing beams. If you see this kind of damage, call a professional to inspect the integrity of the structure before entering your home.
- Inspect exterior utility lines: Check any exterior gas lines for cracks or leaks. If you suspect a gas leak, leave the property immediately and call the fire department.
- Beware of wildlife: Snakes, insects and other animals may be present in your home after a flood, so use caution.
A building inspector can help you check the structure too, the Red Cross says. If you arrive at your home and see colored tape or signs on any doors or windows, it may indicate an inspector has placed it to indicate a damaged area. In this case, don't enter the home and call local authorities for guidance.
Assess the home's utilities and appliances
Next, you'll want to assess your utilities and appliances inside the home, says the Red Cross. Be sure not to turn on any light switches while completing your inspection, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is because they could spark a fire if there is a gas leak or electrical problem. The Red Cross shares these tips for inspecting utilities and appliances inside your home:
- Natural gas lines: If you smell natural gas inside your home or hear a hissing sound, that may indicate a broken gas line, says the Red Cross. Leave the property immediately and move far away from the structure. Then, call the fire department once you're at a safe distance.
- Electrical system: If you didn't turn off your home's electricity before you evacuated, you may need to now — especially if you see or smell damaged wiring (the smell of hot insulation may indicate an electrical problem). However, if there is any standing water near the electrical box (or if you or your clothes are wet), do not touch the system and call a professional for help instead.
- Appliances: If any gas- or electric-powered appliances were damaged or flooded, avoid use until they've been inspected by a professional.
Wear protective gear during cleanup
When you start cleaning up your property, the CDC says it's important to use safety gear to help protect yourself. Consider wearing these items:
- Hard hat
- Respirator mask (with an N95 rating or higher)
- Thick work gloves
- Waterproof, steel-toed boots
- Rubber gloves and rubber boots (if there is sewage involved in cleanup)
Health risks to consider
Floodwaters have their own hazards, says the CDC. Understanding the risk of bacteria and sharp debris that can come with exposure to floodwater may help you stay safe during post-flood cleanup.
- Mold: Mold and mildew can develop on damp surfaces in as little as 24 hours, says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Dry out your home as soon as possible by using fans, opening windows and using dehumidifiers. It would also be a good idea to remove wet materials (such as drywall, wood or ceiling tiles) from the home, says FEMA.
- Food and water: Throw away food that has come into contact with floodwater, says the CDC. Your home's water supply can also become contaminated with sewage or chemicals after a flood. Be sure to check local reports and follow boiling or disinfection instructions from local authorities before using or drinking the water, says the CDC.
- Injuries and infections: Floodwater can be contaminated with sewage and industrial waste, says the CDC. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly clean any existing small wounds, especially if they came into contact with floodwater. Floodwater can also carry sharp objects that can cut you. If you become injured or sick during cleanup, consult with a medical professional as soon as possible.
Check your flood insurance policy
Keep in mind that homeowners insurance doesn't typically cover floods. However, a separate flood insurance policy helps pay for repairs to your home or replace your belongings after a flood. Being prepared by purchasing flood insurance before a flood happens is important, because it typically takes 30 days for the policy to go into effect.
If you do have a flood insurance policy, here are a few steps you can take as you get ready to file a claim:
- Separate flood-damaged property and set it aside for an insurance adjuster to inspect.
- Create an inventory of damaged belongings by taking photos and making a list.
When it comes to post-flood cleanup, it's important to put safety first to help protect yourself and your family. Remember that in addition to these safety hazards, there could be additional hazards at your home after a flood strikes. Be sure to consult with an industry professional or local authorities if you're ever unsure of whether it's safe to enter your home after a flood.