Drying our tears: Dealing with the aftermath of a flood

Kya deLongchamps offers sympathy and some essential guidelines to those starting out on the challenging journey to a dry home after the floods of this winter.

It’s easy to dismiss the use of the word ‘destroyed’, as sheer catastrophising during the recent flooding.

“Our home is destroyed” has been the heartrending response from shaken, exhausted families, manning pumps, mopping flooring detaching from the slab below, or simply atrophied pale and disbelieving victims amid the sodden chaos.

Well, for those tucked up in insurance, sitting snug and dry 500m above any consideration of what the waterline is doing, think about the word ‘destroyed’ another way. Flooding has something in common with burglary in emotional terms. The lack of control. 

The visceral shock of being confronted by powerful, unbidden forces raging through the home. The well-founded fear of the dirty, sewage-ridden water returning makes the recovery of destroyed confidence extremely difficult.

First things first

The loss of furnishings and personal belongings aside, the damage to the house may or may not be structural — time will tell. In most instances, the envelope of a reasonably built house in moderate flooding of 1m or less will survive, the potentially damaging water pressure being actually relieved by passing through (rather than around) the obstruction of the house.

What lies ahead is a three-month period of controlled drying out. Don’t even consider re-decorating before this period has elapsed. Though largely straightforward, initially this is physically demanding, stressful, dirty work and not for the aged, infirm or anyone with a respiratory illness.

Until standing water is gone and the ESB plus a RECI qualified electrician and/or gas installer (RGI/RGII) give you the all-clear, all fuel sources must be turned off and damaged electrical circuitry disconnected. Any remaining water and/or mud should be pumped and shovelled out in careful stages if sitting against the walls inside or out. One third per day allows the pressure on your walls to release gradually, evenly and safely. 

NEVER punch holes in the exterior walls to release water without specialist supervision and advice. Ensure too that you know the fee being charged for pumps and shovelling out, (even if this is being done by local emergency services).

High pressure hoses are not suitable for clearing mud and debris inside a house —don’t be talked into this by a strange door-to-door caller. Beware of all opportunist carpet-bagger help in general. You may have to rely on petrol fuelled generators for hired dehumidifiers. 

As you remove ruined furnishings, fittings and possessions, find a place to keep them if possible (even in the skip) as your assessor will need to see them. Don’t forget to include insulation materials set under ruined flooring as well as the flooring itself. Hollow voids compromised by water inside doors and double-glazed units may not be immediately obvious.

Getting your home back

Three things work in concert: reducing humidity, raising the temperature to 20-23°C for extended periods and crucially — increased ventilation. 

Gradual drying through natural evaporation is key, so even with the heating restored, don’t whack the thermostat up to 30°C, as this could cause the plaster to crack. Different materials dry out at different rates pulling against each other.

Keep in mind that this was contaminated water and you should be wearing gloves, boots and protective clothing when moving around the house and handling anything touched in the event. Insured or not, make a record of your losses. Take pictures, and ideally, employ a loss assessment specialist, independent of your insurer.

Date the images and make note of any details, such as missing things carried off by the water. If and when further state help arrives, good records will speed your claim. 

If you do employ any trades to get the place dry and straight, keep meticulous accounts and employ reputable VAT registered qualified individuals and firms for significant work.

The walls and any concrete flooring may feel dry, but chances are they are damp inside, and this includes cavity fill, blocks and slabs and any insulation protecting them. If you light a fireplace submerged formerly in water it will steam and potentially crack blocks and brickwork.

Timber-frame walling may need to be torn back to the frame to dry out properly indoors. Consider all surfaces contaminated — scrub walls and affected surfaces with a detergent solution, allowing to dry fully.

Keep the windows, interior and exterior doors open (while home) and unblock vents and air-bricks to get air flowing through the fabric and volumes of the house.

If using a dehumidifier, close the windows and doors in damp weather, or you will simply suck up nature’s bounty. Base units, skirting, panelling and some tiling will have to be removed to let floors and walls ‘breathe’.

Metal elements, including door and window furniture, should be carefully cleaned to remove corroding moisture. Investigating walls, a repair specialist may drill out areas of stud partitions or masonry or put in additional vents to allow the wall and its contents to dry out.

Vigilance

Salt deposits may form on gypsum plaster as the walls dry out (even visible weeks later) — clean this gritty substance off with a soft brush, but don’t repair the plaster until it has stopped sweating out deposits. Unless caused by rising damp, it will stop in time. 

You may find ongoing problems appear, such as a shift of levels in flooring, worrying moulds, or cracks in walls of more than 5mm.

Keep a written and photographic record or any changes you notice and have moisture readings taken in your walls and flooring. You can buy a damp/moisture conductivity meter from about €25 at any good DIY outlet that will work on hard or soft materials to chart your drying out period. 

Look for one with two scales, one for wood and another for masonry. Masonry should read between 0-5% and softwood from 0-18% when fully dried out.

For fuller information go to www.flooding.ie (OPW).

If you have been flooded and are not insured, you may be able to get financial help from the Department of Social Protection’s Humanitarian Assistance Scheme. This means-tested scheme provides emergency financial assistance for essential needs immediately following flooding. www.Welfare.ie

DEFENSIVE ACTION

 Drying our tears: Dealing with the aftermath of a flood

Floodwater can enter your house above and below ground. Future defences should take each of these ingression routes into consideration:

* Through doorways and windows.

* Through airbricks or other ventilation openings.

* Through other gaps and around pipes and cables that pass through walls.

* Through party walls if the property next door is flooded.

* Through cracks in the brickwork.

* Through permeable, weathered or damaged brickwork, blocks, stone and mortar.

* At the damp proof course.

* Toilets, sinks, baths, washing machines and dishwashers (unless tackled with non-return valves on pipes and drains).

Flood-boards or panels of wood or tough plastic, which sit into a dedicated frame are a superb form of defence for windows and doors in moderate flooding of less than 1m. Combined with wrapping the sides of the building vulnerable to flood with 900m of plastic, a sort of exterior tanking, this is at least a head start. 

You can make DIY flood-boards or invest in a commercial product from about €400-€450 for a standard front door, fitted and made-to-measure.


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