What Should You Do If Your Business Is Flooded?
Your business is flooded — now what?
For many business owners, the risk of flooding seems like a distant threat, especially if your building doesn’t border water. However, floods can occur in any place that experiences rainfall — planning for rising water levels is a vital part of any company’s disaster preparedness plan.
When the unexpected happens, it’s crucial to have a strong plan of action. In this article, we will discuss the immediate and long-term steps to take after a flood has damaged your business. We will also explore some preventative maintenance and construction solutions that will keep your building safe against future flooding.
Types of Water
Not all floods are the same. One of the key differences is in the type of water, which will influence the level of cleaning and repair your business needs. Water is divided into three broad categories, each with varying degrees of danger and contamination.
- Category 1: Category one water is the least damaging or hazardous — it comes from a sanitary water source such as rainwater or a broken water pipe. This type of water poses little to no risk to human or environmental health.
- Category 2: This water has significant physical, biological or chemical contamination. Also called “gray water,” this category can cause discomfort or even illness if a person consumes it or is otherwise exposed. If your flood has category two water, expect contamination from broken or leaking septic lines.
- Category 3: Water from this category is also called “black water,” and it is the most dangerous of all three types. Flooding from ground surface water, seawater, rivers, streams and sewage contains category three water. Blackwater will have silt and debris, along with toxigenic and pathogenic agents.
After the category of water, the next significant factor influencing damage is the type of flood.
Types of Flooding
There are many kinds of flooding, but most fall into one of three major categories — fluvial, pluvial and coastal floods.
1. Fluvial Flooding
Fluvial flooding occurs when a river overflows its banks. These types of floods could have many causes, but common sources include excessive rainfall, ice jams or snowmelt. These riverine floods can lead to widespread damage, producing overflow that pours into smaller rivers downstream and spreading the flooding.
Fluvial floods come in two primary types — overbank flooding and flash flooding. When a river rises over its banks, the resulting flood is classified as overbank. Flash flooding is marked by high-velocity and high-intensity rushes of water. Because of the force of the flood and the debris caught up in the torrent, fluvial floods are destructive and hazardous.
2. Pluvial Flooding
Pluvial flooding is the surface water floods often caused by heavy, continuous rainfall. These types of floods are independent of a body of water and can happen in any urban area, even those at high elevations.
These floods are categorized into one of two groups — those caused by flooded drainage systems and those caused by run-off from nearby hills. Hillsides that have recently endured forest fires are common sources of pluvial floods — they cannot absorb rainfall, leading to torrents of downhill-flowing water.
3. Coastal Flooding
Coastal floods, or surge floods, happen in regions that border the coasts of an ocean, sea or other large body of water. Typically, these floods occur because of severe weather — heavy storms produce extreme tidal conditions, creating a perfect scenario for flooding.
Surge or coastal floods are ranked as minor, moderate or major depending on the amount of beach erosion and structural damage.
Immediate Action Steps
Your immediate action steps depend on the type of flood you’ve experienced — hurricanes and major coastal floods will require different actions than pluvial torrents. Regardless of the kind of flooding, do not attempt to access your business until water levels have significantly receded.
Once the water recedes enough for you to access your business, the first step is to assess the damage and file any insurance claims. Keep these general tips in mind as you approach your building:
- Wear the right clothing: Make sure you are equipped with the proper clothing. When entering a recently flooded area or building, always wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes, eye protection and rubber gloves. Flood water is not clean water — assume anything that has been touched by the water is contaminated.
- Assess from the outside: Look for any electrical or structural damage from outside the building. If anything looks amiss, delay entering until an expert can examine the structure. Especially in flood situations, electrical damage and gas leaks can be incredibly hazardous.
- Check any electrical systems: Before entering your business for the first time after the flood, make sure all gas and electric services are shut down. Let a certified electrician check your property for grounded lines or other hazardous conditions before you reconnect any systems.
- Watch for mold and wildlife: Mold might have settled into your building during the flood. If you notice any signs of fungus, wear a respirator that can filter out spores. Especially if the flood happens during summer months, keep an eye out for any unwanted wildlife such as snakes or fire ants.
Once you’ve made these initial observations and taken necessary precautions, it’s time to move into the documenting and repair process. Here are immediate steps to take after your business has experienced flooding.
1. File Flood Insurance Claims
If the building appears structurally sound, the next step is to scrutinize the structure and note any damages for insurance claims.
Don’t wait for an insurance adjuster to arrive before beginning the cleaning and salvaging process. Take photos of your business to use as inventory and start cleaning out any washed-in debris or silt — this will help you and the adjuster ascertain the damage. Keep any damaged stock, materials or objects as proof of loss.
If you don’t have flood insurance, one option is to check if the government has declared your flood a federal disaster. This is often the case in the instances of hurricanes. If your area qualifies, you can apply for federal assistance online.
2. Remove Water and Ventilate
Remove remaining flood water using any method you can access — pumps and wet-dry vacuums work the best. If an electrician has approved your electrical system, begin drying your space using fans and dehumidifiers. Avoid using electric space heaters to dry your business. Small heaters are most often ineffective, and larger, fuel-fired heaters produce moisture, which adds to your problem.
3. Clean the Finishes
After you’ve removed any remaining water, the next step is cleaning your business. A thorough cleaning is crucial in reducing the chance of mold, mildew and other damage.
Prioritize washing the wall finishes, woodwork and floors of your business first. Take care not to scrape or sand any surfaces with lead-based paint. For the best and safest results, use a phosphate-free cleaner and wash from the top of a surface to the bottom.
4. Examine Carpets and Furnishings
If your business was furnished, first move all furniture and carpeting outside to either discard or to clean and dry.
Since flood water often contains contaminants, you should almost always replace damaged rugs, carpets and carpet pads within 48 hours after the water has subsided. Strive to dry out the subfloor as quickly and thoroughly as possible — installing new carpet over damp floors is a perfect recipe for mildew.
Consider discarding all upholstered furniture that has been damaged by flood water. The fabric will absorb the water as well as its various contaminants, which often includes infectious organisms such as intestinal bacteria. Furniture made from solid wood, plastic or metal may be cleaned and possibly restored — move any non-upholstered furniture outside and use a hose to wash away any mud or debris. After cleaning or sanitizing the furniture, set it in full, direct sunlight. Allow it to dry completely before bringing back inside.
5. Remove or Sanitize Food and Water
Until your public health department or local water company declares your water source safe and uncontaminated, don’t assume any water is safe to drink. Purify the water that you use to cook and drink, as well as the water you use for cleaning.
Discard any flood-damaged utensils, and thoroughly wash ceramic or metal containers. Clear out any food unless it is stored in metal cans — you may be able to salvage canned goods after cleaning and disinfecting the cans.
After you have taken immediate steps to correct the flood damage, you can move into the long-term planning phase of flood restoration.
Depending on the extent of damage, your business might be recovering for several months. Work with your insurance provider to determine the level of reconstruction and industrial repair your building needs.
1. Replace Flooring
After a significant flood, examine the flooring of your business. First, check the subfloors — OSB subfloors or submerged plywood typically swells and separates. To keep your floors from buckling, replace any affected sections with new materials. Make sure you allow the subfloors to dry out completely before repairing them — if not, you risk mold and rot.
Wood floors have a high chance of buckling when water damaged. To prevent this, if your business has wooden floors, remove a board every few feet — this will relieve pressure and help your floors remain level.
2. Open the Walls
Even if your walls don’t appear damaged, open them to prevent odor, mold and later structural decay.
To drain uninsulated walls, tear away baseboards and cut or drill holes into the wallboards. Dispose of wet drywall, but any paneling that appears to be undamaged can be set aside and reinstalled after drying. Examine the insulation — if you find any wet, fibrous insulation, discard it immediately.
Clean away silt, mud and debris with a disinfectant solution to kill any fungi or mold, and speed up the drying process with dehumidifiers and fans. Until the walls have completely dried, leave them open — if they don’t dry thoroughly, they might develop damp. The walls may take up to a month to completely dry.
If your building’s masonry has been damaged, work with a professional service to rebuild and restore your walls and foundation.
3. Prevent Mold and Mildew
In the weeks and months after the flood, it’s vital you aggressively control mold and mildew growth in your building. As soon as power is available, keep heat, air conditioning or a dehumidifier continuously running to reduce moisture. Turn on electric lights in closets and other small rooms and leave doors open — this helps air circulate and speeds the drying process.
If you notice mildew or mold on any furniture or objects, take them outside to clean. This will keep disturbed spores from spreading around your building. Once outside, use a vacuum or damp paper towels and soap to wipe away any visible mold. If possible, let the items dry in direct sunlight before taking them back inside your business.
Preventative Maintenance and Construction
The best way to protect your business against flood damage is to act preventatively. While no solution is as effective as high elevation, here are some steps you can take to protect your business from future flooding.
Whether your floors need to withstand small spills or torrential floods, waterproof flooring is an essential component of a durable workplace. Work with an experienced contractor to find the highest-quality, water-resistant materials for your company’s floors, such as epoxy — it will go a long way towards increasing the flood-durability of your business.
Many floods come in conjunction with rain, and lots of it. Protect your business from leaks with a roof that meets the needs of your company — while commercial roofing balances aesthetic appeal with functionality, industrial roofing primarily revolves around practical durability. A professional contractor can help you determine the best material for your roof. Some options include rubber, asphalt, metal or liquid-applied solutions.
3. Sealing and Waterproofing
Water can slip into the smallest cracks and gaps in a building. Keep your business water-tight using waterproof materials and techniques. One effective solution is joint sealants, which create a waterproof barrier between your business and the elements. Joint sealants can be applied to existing as well as new surfaces, which makes them an attractive option for flood preventative maintenance. Again, for the best results, consult with an experienced team to waterproof your business.
As you recover from flood damage, select replacement materials that are designed to withstand flooding, including removable wainscoting, rigid foam insulation and ceramic tile. This will further extend the lifespan of your building, especially when dealing with floods.
A Team You Can Trust
Floods can occur anywhere and without warning. When the unexpected happens, you need an expert team you can trust.
At Houck, we are dedicated to providing the highest-quality restoration and maintenance services in the mid-Atlantic region. We will give your business the personalized craftsmanship it deserves — our skilled technicians provide a wide range of creative solutions customized to the needs of your company. Our team is committed to the highest standards of safety, quality and performance, and we won’t rest until you are completely satisfied with our work.
For the toughest jobs, contact Houck online or call us at 717-657-3302.