Your Home After a Hurricane: Leak Checks and Drying Out

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Your home held up in the hurricane, but it still has some leaks. What now?

Water intrusion can be very serious, working to deteriorate your home, or build up mold that can eat it away over time.

During a hurricane is never the time to worry about leaks or water damage, so even if you see a leak while sheltered, stay put and worry about safety until you’re certain the storm has passed.

Small Leaks
The first thing to remember is that it’s very difficult to completely block water from entering your home under hurricane forces; in many cases you’re trying to minimize the damage.

The water hazards during a hurricane are completely different than those of normal rain, so water inside after a hurricane doesn’t mean your home has a leak that will continue in normal rain conditions. Hurricane winds drive wind in forcefully and horizontally, so water can enter in from various angles.

That also means the wind can drive the water through your home and away from the leak point, which makes it hard to know where the leak is coming from.

If you can pinpoint where a small leak is coming from, check our retrofitting guides for next steps to keeping the water out next time.

A wet-dry vacuum is a quick way to mop up water, but electricity may also be out after a storm. Alternatively, sweep up water pools that are too big for normal towels into a dust pan, and dump them into a bucket. Then, you’ll take fewer trips to dump the water.

If you can take carpets outside, do so to prevent mold. It might help to open the windows and doors, but the muggy weather after a hurricane may not bring in the ideal fresh air.

Fans can help circulate air, and small generators can run dehumidifiers if you don’t have electricity. Make sure to keep cords out of water.

Be sure to take care of standing water in your yard, too. If you can’t immediately drain it, take measures to keep it from attracting mosquitoes.

Dealing with Heavy Flooding
If your home is flooded, make sure you turn off the electricity. If you have electric appliances that were flooded, turn of the gas, too, so you can clean the pilot and burners.

If the ceiling has a sag from water damage, stay away from it. Do not walk below sagging ceilings or on sagging floors.

After you’ve drained the home with a pump, get rid of any other traces of water, and the mud, before it dries (including places like vents and ducts). Replace electrical outlets.

Walls may be retaining water, so have a professional check your walls to be sure they have dried.

If you’re draining your basement, drain top floors first. And when you do drain the basement, do so with a pump, very slowly, doing only small amounts at a time. If the pressure inside shifts too quickly, pressure from the outside can push hard enough on the walls to bend or displace them. For more details on the best way to avoid damage to your walls when you drain a basement, read the Red Cross guide to home repairs after flooding.

Circulate air as much as possible with fans, dehumidifiers, open doors (including to cabinets), and water-absorbing materials. Chemical dehumidifiers or clay cat litter are common household materials that can help. Help air circulation in your floor by removing plastic or insulation.

The entire drying process may take several weeks.

Some pieces of the home may be permanently damaged. Wallboard on walls and ceilings will probably need replaced if damaged by flooding. Plaster should hold up, but will dry slowly, and could separate from the walls and need replaced, too. Insulation will probably need to be discarded, unless it is styrofoam or fiberglass (but muddy fiberglass should be pitched.)

Drying Household Items
Removing the backs of wooden furniture pieces or opening their doors may help them air out. Fabric pieces will need professional cleaning.

Some water-damaged appliances may need professional cleaning; a warning label should caution you if so. Large appliances can be disassembled and cleaned, including refrigerators, although some may need to be replaced, so ask a professional. Blow dryers or displacement sprays can help dry out any motors, but be sure to oil them.

Test run appliances before you put them back to use.

Always take extra care with food and food items in the kitchen after hurricane flooding or electrical loss.

If you’re having trouble, hire a professional to help.

For more information on what to do after a hurricane, click here.