Wisdom from a Previous Flood Victim

First, I should make the public announcement nothing on this page is meant to be taken as truth (except for the Bible quotes), and/or relied on to make decisions. These items are simply my experience and beliefs which I am sharing. You should not take any action discussed based on what I say or write. Again, these items are my opinion only. It is a shame I have to write such an opening paragraph, but we live in a very litigious world. As with life, all decisions you make are your own.

Because we were flooded last year, we know the anxiety, turmoil, emotions and the sense of “what should I do now” racing through the minds of people who have been flooded. We have been through our flood, and want to offer help to others, in a way many others cannot, simply because others have not been through the process.

This is only the beginning. I looked up “traumatic” and found 44 synonyms. Every one of those words is appropriate. HOWEVER, you CAN make it. This is a one day, one hour, one minute, step by step necessity which will eventually reach and end. The good Lord will give you strength when you are positive you cannot go farther. I recommend you simply ask Him for help. You can, and will move ahead.

This is an emotional and, indeed, traumatic time in your life. We know. We have been there. Following are some items to consider, and we offer them based on our personal experience. There are also links listed which will provide additional information.

One item before we start: Houston Mayor Turner made the statement several times during a TV interview the substance of which went something like this:
“We cannot do flood prevention on the cheap. It is going to cost money. If we don’t do it right, now, we will pay for it later.” The same could be said for flood restoration.

Let’s Get Started

  1. If you have Flood Insurance, contact FEMA first.  www.FEMA.gov 
    1. They may/may not require the following documentation: 
      1. Social Security number
      2. Address of the location where the damage occurred (pre-disaster address)
      3. Current mailing address
      4. Current telephone number
      5. Insurance information
      6. Total household annual income
      7. Routing and account number for your checking or savings account (this allows FEMA to directly transfer disaster assistance funds into your bank account).
      8. A description of your disaster-caused damage and losses
    2. For more complete information on how to file your claim, go to https://www.fema.gov/nfip-file-your-claim or https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/6659 .
    3. The MAIN THING is to receive the FEMA CLAIM NUMBER. 
  2. In addition, contacted your homeowners insurance company to simply to let them know about the loss. They may be of some service later, but don’t count on it.
  3. Contact the insurance company through whom you have the flood insurance. They will normally want the FEMA claim number.

After this it will take about three days for FEMA to contact you and tell you who your insurance inspector/adjuster will be. That person will then contact you to set an appointment to view your home.  HINT: If at all possible you may want to have yourself and your contractor at the meeting with the adjuster. Taking notes could be very helpful as it is difficult to remember everything said.

TAKE PICTURES OF ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING!!!

I suggest you start at one corner of the house and take pictures of how the house looks now. Taking pictures in sequence around each room may help you later with your claim because it shows where items were located. Open every lower cabinet door and take pictures; drawers if they were flooded; anything on the floor which was wet, including shoes in closets, etc… If clothes became wet, take a picture. You might be reimbursed for contents (if you had flood insurance). It is important to take pictures of the high water marks inside and outside your house. Drapes/curtains which were damaged should also be photographed.  Taking hundreds of pictures at the beginning as well as during the entire process will prove invaluable later.  

Tear-down Process

You will need to contact an organization(s) to start the deconstruction, remediation, and reconstruction process. Even if you have only a couple inches of water in your house, there is a process which will occur. My suggestion is to consider using a remediation specialist in lieu of a handyman or contractor not knowledgeable or certified for such work. Check with the Better Business Bureau in the area for comments regarding a contractor.

The insurance adjuster will decide what he/she believes would be appropriate as to the height at which the wallboard should be cut. Many articles I have read indicate the wallboard should be cut not less than two feet above the high water mark inside your house; however, the adjuster makes the decision. As an aside, you can always negotiate with your contractor, for an additional fee, if you desire the wallboard to be cut higher.

This paragraph is suggesting actions if you believe it will be necessary to cut the wallboard at a height of four feet or more. Before the remediation contractor arrives, it would be helpful to have everything out of your lower kitchen cabinets. We simply pulled the drawers out and stacked them somewhere – covered with plastic as there is going to be a large amount of dust coming soon. Pots, pans, under-sink items, gadgets on low shelves, recipes, warranties, items on the pantry floor, etc. were pulled from the lower cabinets.

Don’t forget cabinets in the half-bath, master bathroom, guest rooms, office, utility room, laundry room, etc.  Also, you may have to take all clothing in the affected closets out of the closet in order for the wallboard to be cut, or to diminish the dust in the air from the cutting. For this, and other packing, we used at least 75 (probably 125) cardboard boxes of different sizes plus eight clothing wardrobes. You can purchase ½ height wardrobes for shirts/blouses that take less room to stow.

You should plan on having everything ripped out from floor level up the wall for four feet. In the kitchen this means: all lower cabinets and counters may have to be removed; counter tops can be reused; cabinets are trash. The island will normally be completely gone. All the cut wallboard is trash. Dishwasher, oven(s), stove top, trash compactor; perhaps refrigerator are removed; you may be able to use them again.  All carpets, and possibly the wood floors are ripped out. Because of the dirty water we had all of our oriental carpets professionally cleaned. (FEMA will pay for that action in the contents part of your insurance.)

Then large commercial, noisy fans will be brought in to dry out the house. They should also bring in commercial dehumidifiers. (I also had two of my own dehumidifies and four personal fans running) My house was completely stripped of all carpets and all wallboard (including in the garage) within an eight hour period of time with the trash removed from the house. You could see from one end of the house to the other through the wall studs.

A couple items and tidbits of information I heard might be useful.  It is recommended by various groups that you not try to clean the flooded part of your house yourself. Others say the exact opposite. I have no idea of the correct answer. Mold can start forming 24-48 hours after being exposed to moisture (water). If you do not have the correct cleaning items you may do more harm than good if you try to clean the area.  Here are two good sites to visit regarding mold removal and debris removal: https://www.cdc.gov/mold/pdfs/Homeowners_and_Renters_Guide.pdf and https://www.cdc.gov/mold/cleanup.htm. One professional mold remediation person said the best way to treat mold is with vinegar. Vinegar penetrates the outer spore shell and destroys the spore itself. 

When working with any area affected by flood waters it is recommended you use appropriate waterproof gloves, eye protection and a mask. If anyone has an open wound, or sustains any type of open wound during the work, it is recommended they be very careful when cleaning flooded items, and especially not walk in any of the flood water. Good first aid and protection practices should then be observed.

When the baseboard and wallboard is removed removal of the insulation is important. The insulation can be wet, and moisture sometimes weeps up the insulation. In one area the moisture wicked up 14 inches above the high water mark, and our place was completely gutted within 20 hours of being flooded. If any item is wet, take a picture, and then, if appropriate, wash it; dry it out, or somehow try to eliminate the moisture. Especially effective for any clothing. All carpeting should be removed if wet.

We found the legs of some wooden furniture is not affected by flood waters. This is particularly true of solid wood legs of chairs, tables, etc. We had antiques not affected by the water while our newer china cabinet and bookcases were affected at the base. NOTE: Furniture needing replacement can be claimed on your FEMA insurance. However, remember there is depreciation taken due to the age of the item being replaced. FEMA does not normally pay full replacement cost. As to the wooden legs of furniture which have been discolored, but not otherwise damaged, you can probably have a furniture refinisher restore the item to like new condition. It has been my experience you may, or may not, receive compensation from FEMA for such professional work.

Working with Contractors

Initially, make certain you have a qualified organization. Perhaps check with: Better Business Bureau; Angie’s List; Greater Houston Builder’s Association; etc.

You have the choice of waiting for FEMA to pay you before proceeding with restoration, or you can agree with the contractor to pay them yourself, and wait for FEMA to repay you. If you pay, it is normal to provide a percentage up front (perhaps 1/3rd) in order for the project to begin rapidly. If you wait for FEMA money, it may take a couple months of your house deteriorating before being paid, and before work begins.

Even before FEMA approves the project, you can work with the contractor separately to add or alter certain things. We had those alterations written into the agreement we signed with the contractor (not FEMA). For instance, we knew how much it cost for new carpeting the same as we had before the flood. The FEMA estimate was greater than what we knew to be the cost. Thus, we received the difference instead of the contractor. Same with appliances. At the same time we also paid more for upgrades or modifications.

One of us was at the house every day a contractor was there. Many, many times we observed something that was not correct, and were able to have the contractor correct the process.  You may have one major contractor, but that company may have many subcontractors. Some being better than others. At one point, I prohibited a person from returning to the house.

I always carried a camera; a small, powerful flashlight; a small, sharp knife, and a Sharpie fine line pen with me every day at the house. Be prepared for the unexpected, because the unexpected will happen!

Claims

You will have the opportunity to make two different types of claims. One is structure and one is contents.

The structure claim includes most everything that is attached to or part of the house structure. Thus, a built in dishwasher or trash compactor is considered part of the structure claim. Washing machine and dryer are part of the contents claim.

You will receive an email for the contents with an Excel spreadsheet to complete. On that spreadsheet, you list everything lost or damaged along with pictures (extremely important), description, replacement cost, etc. This is quite tedious, but essential to receive you due compensation.

Once submitted it will be reviewed by claims personnel. They contacted us several times to discuss items. An important point to remember is that you can submit supplemental claims later. Thus, if you overlooked certain items you can submit another contents claim sheet. I did that twice.

You can also submit supplemental claim sheet on the structure. I’m about to submit a claim even though it has been over 16 months since the flood.

Another important item: If you do not believe your insurance adjuster is treating you fairly you can ask for a new adjuster. You need to substantiate your reasons – so use that Sharpie pen to keep notes.

The grieving you are experiencing now is normal. It isn’t pleasant, but it is normal. Treasured possessions are ruined. Memories are wet and lost. Pictures and documents are wet, and maybe not be usable. We are filled with sadness and despair. Psalm 40: 1-2: I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.

Give yourself permission to talk to your family and others about your feelings, and how you hurt inside. Allow your children to express themselves as to their emotions and what they think. Above all, give thanks to the Lord each day for what has been accomplished. Thank him for the blessing of being alive. Receive offers of help with gratitude knowing others believe in you, and want you and your loved ones to be whole again. 

Other Helpful Links & Information

Restoration: http://www.alliedoutdoorsolutions.com/

Community Services: www.harrisrecovery.org

Debris Management & Permitting: 1-713-274-3880

Muck Out & Clean Up:  www.crisiscleanup.org

Recovery Info & Mental Health: www.houstonrecovers.org

Volunteer Info: http://volunteerhouston.org/

United Way Disaster Assistance: https://www.unitedwayhouston.org/flood/after-the-storm

Texas Workforce Commission Unemployment Assistance: http://www.twc.state.tx.us/jobseekers/unemployment-benefits-services