Waterworks: How to Clean Up after a Flood
The media has displayed spectacular images of flood waters and the damage they wreak. While it's easy to sympathize with people who lost homes and businesses to the deluge, that sympathy might be tinged with a bit of head-shaking. Why would people live in known flood plains? But everyone is susceptible to water damage. Floods are the number-one natural disaster in the United States, according to FloodSmart.gov, and they can—and do—happen everywhere. Knowing how to clean up after a flood, be it from heavy rains, burst pipes, or clogged drains, can get your business up and running again quickly and safely.
A little water on the floor is one thing, but a massive spill—think gallons of liquid from an overturned storage pallet or a beverage tap left on—is another. A wet/dry vacuum will be very useful in this situation. Take care to plug the unit in far away from any pooled liquid. If you're concerned that your outlets have been compromised, use towels, mops, and buckets.
Burst Pipes or Failed Freezers
Because the water from burst pipes or failed freezers has come from a clean source, it is Category I Water, according to the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), and does not pose any health hazards. However, water from this type of flooding can quickly degrade to Category 2 or 3 as it sits and picks up contaminants, making it more dangerous to handle.
Cleaning up this type of flood should begin as soon you shut off the water. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) states that after just a few hours, standing water can damage insulation and gypsum boards on the walls and ceiling beyond repair. Remove water with a wet/dry vacuum, as long as the outlets were not compromised. Remove and assess all soaked materials. Throw away porous materials like cardboard, as they will inevitably grow mold. You may be able to save carpets in the case of a Category 1 flood. The Carpet Buyers Handbook suggests removing and discarding the padding, elevating the carpet, and using fans and dehumidifiers to dry out the environment. The organization stresses that you have only 12 hours to completely dry the carpet, or mold and bacteria may grow.
Natural and Man-Made Disasters
Caused by hurricanes and fast-melting snows, these types of floods make national headlines. The IICRC labels water from these kinds of floods as Category 3—it should be considered highly dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list diarrheal diseases, wound infections, and chemical hazards as possible threats. Knowing how to clean up after a flood like this is vital.
Because of sewage contamination, cleaning up after this kind of infiltration can be hazardous. The IICRC suggests wearing protective clothing, gloves, goggles, and an organic vapor respirator. The AIA urges getting a tetanus shot, as well. After drying the space, the IICRC recommends decontaminating with a biocide.
If water sits for a day or two, there will be mold. Even if you don't see it, mold will grow inside the wall and ceiling cavities. Removing mold can be daunting task, and if a large area is contaminated, you may be better off leaving cleanup to mold-remediation professionals.
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Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines.
Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.
She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.