What it’s like to recover from a natural disaster. Hint: It sucks balls. Part II: Aftermath & Advice

It’s safe to say we were not prepared for what we found when the water was gone. I’ll mostly let the pictures below do the talking, but it was devastating to say the least. We walked around, taking as many pictures as we could to document everything. I was finally able to get into the garage and look at the car and the bikes, too. Later in this post I’ll discuss what decisions we made during demolition and remediation.

But first – depressing photos (with captions)! NOTE: everything you see as how it it settled after the water. We didn’t touch anything. It was a goddamn mess.

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The first thing we saw when the front door opened.

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Entryway, looking toward the dining room.

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The living room – yes there is still about 4″ of muck water in the sunken living room. Had to pump it out. YUMMY.

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Dining room

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You can tell which way the water mostly flowed.

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Dining room, again.

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We lost so many books (and DVDs)

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This used to be our coat closet now it’s a mold storage unit

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Now the fridge is a 400 pound smell-box. Plus the 1970’s cupboards were falling apart. Note the mold.

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Utility room – the washing machine floated and tipped.

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My poor car.

Even though our lives were in ruins, we had to act fast. As you can see there was already fucktons of mold everywhere.

So here’s where the advice comes in. We’ve learned A LOT about remediation since this happened, so I’m here to share it with you should fate ever decide to drop this steaming pile of donkey shit on you as well. Here’s a quick list of bullet points to start you off, then I’ll get into more detail about our situation specifically.

DRYWALL
Many people in my neighborhood made the mistake of only removing the first 5 or so feet of drywall from the floor up. This was a huge mistake. You’ll hear the general rule of thumb is to take it out to ~3 feet above the water line. This works well if water depth was only a few inches, and if the water came and went relatively quickly. But you’ll remember the water was in our homes for two weeks. Drywall, and whatever moisture barrier/backing board you have on the outside of the studs will soak it up. and up. and up. Initially, we took it up to around 6-7 feet but in the end ended up taking out all the walls floor-to-ceiling on the entire first floor and garage.

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Drywall and insulation removed in the living room before we decided to remove it all.

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Demo in the downstairs bathroom.

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Demo in the hallway & kitchen.

In addition, we removed all the gypsum board that was originally put on the outside of the studs during the house’s construction because it too had been soaked and compromised with mold. Some folks in the neighborhood thought that it was OK to leave it and it would “dry out” so they left it – which again is a huge mistake. In a later post I’ll get into what further complications this caused during out rebuild.

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After we decided to take out everything.

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Everything removed in the dining room.

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The kitchen is a blank slate.

My advice is to err on the side of caution when tearing out your drywall. It’s all dependent on how much water was in your house and how long it was there. Don’t be afraid to play it safe and rip it all out. Yes, this will initially cost more to replace and rebuild but the peace of mind is worth it. Also, it’s much easier to replace full boards of drywall from floor to ceiling than it is to try to patch the bottom 4 feet. It takes really good drywall skills to create a nice smooth wall.

STUD CARE
Once the drywall is removed you’ll start to notice how your studs have been affected. Remember, water gets everywhere – even inside the walls. Our studs were surprisingly in OK shape. There was evidence of some mold, but thankfully there was hardly any wood rot. We were pleasantly surprised – and relieved.

Assuming you don’t need to replace any studs, you definitely need to treat them. We painstakingly used a small wire brush to brush clean every single stud that was exposed. This helped get any residual mold or flood gunk off. This was a vital first step, as after we finished that we painted the bottom 1/3 of each stud (higher in some areas like the kitchen) with Zinsser mold killing primer. This kills any remaining mold that didn’t get brushed away, and also seals and protects the wood before you seal it up inside the wall again. Hopefully, should it encounter any water again, it will help protect the stud from further water damage. Make sure you don’t skip this step.

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Picture from a little further along – but to show how we treated the studs and sills with the Zinsser.

MOLD REMEDIATION
Finally, before you put up any new drywall, or seal up anything, make sure you get a qualified mold remediation specialist to come examine the house, take mold and wood moisture readings, and perform any treatments. We had two separate treatments at different intervals. The first was a treatment from a local Servpro that took moisture readings after we’d let the house dry out for about three weeks. He checked the studs and sills and gave us the all clear. He then sprayed every exposed stud and sill with a chemical compound that kills mold, treats the wood, and protects it from further infection. A month or so later, we decided to have another treatment – one that becomes aerosol and filters through your HVAC system and kills anything that has been transported in the time you’ve been back working at the house. This was a chlorine dioxide treatment. It’s been roughly 6 months since then and there’s been no sign of mold.

Mold is the biggest concern you need to worry about after a flood. It can be anywhere, and grow in places you weren’t expecting. Make sure you rip out everything in the walls – drywall, insulation, moisture barriers, etc. If you aren’t careful and do not remediate properly, it will come back – and it will be sealed up in your walls growing and there won’t be anything you can do about it except rip it out again.

While this post is pretty short I must stress that these various tasks took months. There is nothing short lived about recovering from a flood.

In my next post I will talk about all the steps we had to go through and all the flaming hoops we had to jump through for FEMA, the SBA, the city, county, banks, and God knows what else to get things rolling on repairs.

 

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2 thoughts on “What it’s like to recover from a natural disaster. Hint: It sucks balls. Part II: Aftermath & Advice

  1. Perhaps you’ll address this in a future post, but how long did you have to live elsewhere? I’m assuming it wasn’t safe to live upstairs while downstairs was covered in mold and muck? What a nightmare.

    • Hi Cindy, we ended up renting an apartment for a little over 6 months. This allowed plenty of time for the house to be sanitized, and to have a few things done to make it safe to live. We moved back in with no walls downstairs, but we had running water, and bathrooms upstairs.

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