After the Storm: 5 Steps to Take Once Disaster Strikes Your Home

After a major disaster strikes your home, there are several steps you need to take to make sure it’s safe to return. Here are some tips for re-entering and repairing your home.

Look for external damage

Check foundations, roofs and chimneys for cracks or other signs of damage. Stuck doors and sagging ceilings can be indicators of structural weakness. Contact a building inspector if you spot anything concerning. Never enter a building if you suspect a gas leak; instead call 911 immediately. Don’t light candles, cigarettes or operate any electrical switches until your utility company has checked for a leak — even if you don’t smell gas.

Make sure Your Home is Safe after Disaster

After a disaster, contact building inspectors and utility companies to make sure your home is safe to re-enter.

Proceed with caution

Wear waterproof boots and gloves. Wash your hands often, and get medical attention immediately for dirty cuts or deep puncture wounds sustained during cleaning process. Consider wearing a mask over your mouth and nose to avoid inhaling any toxic fumes. Make sure a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector is functioning. Avoid fallen electrical wires and turn off power at its main source, especially if there is standing water inside your home. If pipes are damaged, turn off the main water valve. Contact your utility companies to address these issues.

Clean up

Open windows and doors to air things out and speed drying. Fans and dehumidifiers will also help this process. Unplug all appliances, and check heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Have these items inspected by a professional before resuming use. Get rid of any items that can’t be washed and disinfected, including mattresses, carpeting, upholstery, linens, toys and stuffed animals, cosmetics, books and other paper products. Discard of drywall and insulation that’s been contaminated by sewage or floodwater. Clean all hard surfaces with soap and water, then disinfect with bleach. Don’t eat food that smells bad, looks bad or has touched floodwater. When in doubt, throw out.

Take inventory

Even though it’s a little too late for insurance purposes, knowing what was ruined will help your household recover more quickly. Make a list of what must be replaced, then prioritize. Knowing what you need most will also help you take better advantage of any assistance programs you may qualify for.

This step is actually best done pre-disaster — you’ll have a better chance of receiving a payout from your insurance company. So take a weekend now to catalog your stuff. Make a list of your major property in a notebook, take photos and note key information about each item on backs or check out a website such as Know Your Stuff, which offers free home inventory software.

Avoid getting scammed

Once you’ve done all you can do on your own, you might need to hire a contractor to help with more extensive repairs.

  • Look for red flags. Contractors who appear out of the blue or try to pressure you into signing a contract immediately might not be on the up-and-up. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Get multiple estimates to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
  • Get referrals and check references. Visit other work sites, if possible, to get a sense of quality. Check for any complaints with the Better Business Bureau. Make sure the contractor is registered with your state board of contractors and your local building inspection office. Ask for proof that the contractor is insured and bonded.
  • Never pay in full up front, especially if the contractor demands cash payment.
  • Put in writing the scope of the project, the time needed, the complete cost and a payment plan.

For the 5 steps to take after natural disaster recommended by the VA, check out: 5 Steps for VA Borrowers After Disaster.

Photo courtesy USACEpublicaffairs