Caring for your home after a flood

By Sydney Johnson - Contributing columnist
Sydney Johnson -

Hurricane Florence has caused devastating effects across the southeast. According to the National Weather Service, Florence dropped about 8.04 trillion gallons of rain across North Carolina. With the rainfall plus rising creeks and rivers, many are experiencing major flood damages to their home. Here are some tips of what you can do to ensure your home is safe if you endured a disaster.

If the power goes out, what can I keep? Processed, hard cheeses, and canned/jar cheeses are all safe to consume if they are held above 41 degrees for over two hours. All meats, eggs, dairy (except butter or margarine), and soft cheeses must be discarded. Fresh fruits that have been cut should be discarded, but all other fruits – fruit juices, canned fruits, dried fruits, whole fruits- are safe to consume. Cooked vegetables also should be discarded if held above 41 degrees for over two hours. Place a thermometer in your fridge and freezer to make sure it is returning to the proper temperature. Use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to check foods (cooking and storage temperatures) to make sure they are safe to consume. Unsafe foods may not appear or smell to be spoiled. The only way to be sure it is okay is to check with a digital thermometer. A closed fridge will keep food below 41 degrees Fahrenheit for only about 4 hours after power loss, while a cold freezer can keep food below 41 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 48 hours if full and kept cold.

What do I do if I had water damage in my home? The major health risks when working on water damaged homes include mold, lead dust, carbon monoxide, cuts and punctures, and electric shocks.

Mold can cause people with mold allergies to begin feeling the common allergy symptoms such as stuffy nose, sinus problems, and shortness of breath. You should get medical help if you have breathing difficulties, wheezing, sore throat, flu-like aches and pains, and or fatigue for long periods of time due to mold in the home. Prevent mold by removing wet contents immediately.

Lead — Many homes built before 1978 have paint that contains lead. As the paint dries and flakes, it can be a danger to people during clean up. Demolition and renovation can make large amounts of dust that can be breathed in, get on the cleaning crews clothes, hands, or food. By the time a person shows symptoms, the lead poisoning has already happened. Lead poisoning often shows no symptoms at all. Signs and symptoms in adults may include pain, numbness or tingling of the hands and feet , high blood pressure, muscle weakness, headache, abdominal pain, and memory loss.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. Burning fuels, such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal, produce CO. No fuel burning equipment, including portable generators, should be used inside flood damaged homes.

Cuts and Punctures — Broken glass, boards, exposed nails and other hazards are common in flood and storm damaged homes. Floodwaters may contain germs or viruses that can enter the skin through cuts and scrapes. Be sure to wear protective equipment to prevent serious injuries. Take special care to protect hands and feet. Check that you and your workers have current tetanus shots (within the last 10 years) before working in flooded areas. If a cut or puncture occurs, wash the cut immediately and treat with an antiseptic ointment such as Betadine or Povidine Iodine Cream.

Electric shocks can kill. There is a danger of electrical shock from any electrical device that has been flooded. Rubber boots and gloves do not always protect from electric shock. Turn off the electricity at the breaker before starting work if you do not know the condition of the wiring behind walls

Be sure to wear a protective mask that covers your nose and mouth, safety googles or glasses, and protective clothing such as boots, gloves, and a hat when working on a damaged home.

If dealing with flood-damaged carpets and rugs, recommendations for cleaning or replacing depend on the length of time the carpet or rugs were saturated.

Clean water may include broken water supply lines, tub or sink overflows with no containments or rainwater. “Gray water” or unsanitary water may include discharge from dishwashers or washing machines, punctured waterbeds or broken aquariums. “Black water” contains pathogenic agents and is extremely unsanitary. It includes flooding from seawater, rivers or streams. “Gray water” that remains untreated for longer than 48 hours may change to the “black water” category as microorganisms multiplies. If water damage is from a clean water source and was identified within 48 hours, then cleaning the carpet yourself is an option. If water damage is from a gray or black water source, call a professional.

Other suggestions during home recovery. If your home has suffered damage, call your insurance agent to file a claim. Check your structural damage before entering a home to avoid being trapped in a building collapse. Take photos of any floodwater in your home, and damage to personal property. Make a list of damaged or lost items and include their purchase date and value with receipts (if you have them), and place with the inventory you took prior to the flood. Some damaged items may require disposal, so keep photographs of these items. Keep power off until an electrician has inspected your system for safety. Wear gloves and boots to clean and disinfect. Wet items should be cleaned with a pine-oil cleanser and bleach, completely dried, and monitored for several days for any fungal growth and odors.

What can you do yourself and when to hire a professional? In emergencies and special situations, residents and volunteers may do mold clean-up work that would normally be done by trained mold remediation professionals. No matter who does the mold clean-up work, be sure to wear the necessary personal protective equipment and follow the work practices and procedures described in this guide for a safe and effective mold clean-up. People with asthma, mold allergies or other respiratory conditions, people with weakened immune systems, children and pregnant women should not do this work and must remain out of these homes until the work is complete. They are especially vulnerable to the hazards found in flooded homes.

Trained Mold Remediation Professionals: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that trained mold remediation professionals do the mold clean up if mold growth covers more than 100 square feet, or a 10 foot by 10 foot area. Here are tips for hiring mold remediation professionals: Do not hire contractors who recommend fogging or spraying as the way to clean up. Moldy materials must be removed from the building. If possible, get quotes from more than one company. Ask each contractor to give references on similar jobs and check to see if the references were satisfied with the jobs done. Require each contractor to give a written estimate that includes a detailed scope of work, a detailed plan for how you and other residents, your belongings and the workers themselves will be protected during the work, an agreement that you will hold the final payment until the work passes an inspection by a professional (the inspection should show there was no visible mold, no mold odors and that air tested after the work was done has a safe level of indoor air quality). To get the most protection for the work, ask the contractor to give proof that the contractor has commercial general liability, contractual liability and pollution (mold) liability insurance. Use a highly qualified person for the final inspection and testing. In some states, that person must not work for the mold remediation contractor and must give a written report of the inspection findings. This report lets you know that it is safe to rebuild. You should also save this report and show it to prospective buyers when you sell or rent your home.

For more information on creating a healthy home, please visit the Field Guide for Clean-up of Flooded Homes at We also have other disaster resources from NCSU at

Sydney Johnson Johnson

By Sydney Johnson

Contributing columnist

Sydney Johnson is an Area Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached by calling the Sampson County center at 910-592-7161.

Sydney Johnson is an Area Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached by calling the Sampson County center at 910-592-7161.