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BUILDING DAMAGE ASSESSMENT & REPAIR
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How to Restore the Utility Systems: electrical, water, fuels, after an earthquake, fire, flood, hurricane, or similar disaster. Earthquake, hurricane, flood or storm & wind damage to buildings: action & repair priorities: If your building has been flooded, this article provides an easy to understand guide for flood damage assessment, setting priorities of action, safety, and we provide special information about avoiding or minimizing damage while getting the electricity, plumbing, and heating or air conditioning systems working again.
Adapted and expanded from Repairing your Flooded Home, American Red Cross & FEMA & from additional expert sources. NOTICE: neither the ARC nor FEMA have yet approved the additions & expansions we have made to the original document.
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Step 5: How to turn electricity, heat, water back on in a building after flooding, storm, or shut-down
First Check for Leaky Water or Fuel Pipes
The rest of your work will be much easier if you have heat, electricity, clean water, and sewage disposal. However, it may take some time for a repair professional to come. Therefore, you should go to Step 6 and do all the cleaning you can do while you wait for one or more of these utility systems to be restored.
Check the Condition of & Rrestore Gas and Oil Fired Heating Systems & Appliances after Flooding or other Disaster
If your furnace, water heater, stove, or other gas or oil appliances were flooded to the level of the burners, turn off the valve on the pipe to the appliance. If they were hot when flooded, parts may have cracked. Flood insurance and federal disaster assistance programs will help replace flooded gas and oil appliances. If you want to keep a gas or oil appliance, have it cleaned professionally.
If your building will be unheated for a few days, either because the systems are not ready for safe operation or because electrical power has not been restored, and the temperature will fall below freezing, you should winterize your building and its mechanical systems (water supply system, pipes, drains, heating equipment, pumps, etc) so they will not freeze and break.
For a complete guide to protecting a building from freeze damage see WINTERIZE - HEAT OFF Procedure. Or you can take the following simplified steps to protect your water and sewer system from damage due to freezing temperatures:
Electrical System Restoration after flooding, wetting by fire extinguishment, hurricane or storm - how to get electricity back on in your building
[Click to enlarge any image]
Many local codes require that a licensed electrician do the work, or that a municipal inspector check the system before you can turn the power back on. The electrical system should be tackled in two parts: the main breaker or fuse box and the circuits.
If the main box got wet, it should be checked and cleaned by an electrician before you turn the power back on. You should have the electrician move your main box above flood level for future protection.
See CORROSION in ELECTRICAL PANELS for information about the hazards of and visual clues of water damage to electrical panels. See ELECTRIC PANEL MOISTURE for details about how water gets into electrical panels.
Meanwhile, if you are comfortable working with electrical fixtures and wiring, you can clean the flooded circuits. Otherwise call an electrician.
The sketch at left is from ELECTRIC PANEL MOISTURE - see that article for details about moisture or water entry into electrical systems.
Typical suburban homes have an underground service lateral from a ground mounted transformer to a meter box on the house near eye level and a raceway (conduit) descending to a short distance above grade with a 90 deg. elbow and a raceway through the rim joist to a main panel in the basement.
Others have a similar arrangement with the meter and service panel on either side of an attached garage wall.
Typical urban services have overhead service drops to a service mast head high on the wall or above the roof.
[Click any drawing or photo for an enlarged, more-detailed version.]
Drawing: City of Bloomington, MN Inspections Department
See these articles on using simple electrical test equipment to check building circuits:
Electrical Safety Tips
Look at the entire electrical circuit and all connected devices (electrical switches, receptacles, light fixtures, etc) for sparks or the pungent smell of an electrical short
Watch out: if there are any signs of smoking or heating, if the fuse blows, or if a breaker goes off, turn the power off and call an electrician.
4. If there are no signs of problems, turn the power off again. Plug a lamp or small appliance in an outlet on the circuit you just tested, or turn on a light switch. Be sure that the appliance you are using to test each outlet is working properly. 5. Turn the power back on and check the fuse or breaker. 6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for each outlet and wall switch to check for shorts or problems. 7. Bathroom and outdoor circuits often have a ground fault circuit interrupter at the breaker box or at a wall outlet. These are very sensitive and may keep tripping the circuit off, so you may have to be extremely thorough in cleaning and drying these circuits.
Public water suppliers usually provide water soon after the flood. If you are unsure of your water supply, only use it to hose your home or for sanitation purposes (flushing the toilet).
Buy bottled water for drinking if you can. Sometimes large water storage tanks called “water buffalos” are brought to communities that need clean water. They are filled with clean drinking water from places outside your area and are towed to your location, often by national guard or U.S. military personnel.
A “boil order” may be issued in your community. If such an order has been issued, do the following:
See DRINKING WATER - EMERGENCY PURIFICATION for a variety of methods to assure that your drinking water is safe and see DRINKING WATER - EMERGENCY SOURCES for a variety of places to find drinking water in an emergency.
Do not cook in pots and pans, or use eating utensils, baby blankets, or any other items that could go in the mouth until they have been washed in water that has been tested and approved by the water supplier or health department.
Private wells should be pumped until the water is clear. You can decide whether water is clear enough to hose the home and do other cleaning work. Check with the local health department for instructions before you drink or cook with your well water. Their instructions will account for minerals and chemicals that occur naturally in your area. The health department should be able to advise you about the best way to have your water tested if necessary.
If there are no specific instructions from the local health department, follow these steps to treat your well and water - or see the detailed procedure at WELL CHLORINATION SHOCKING PROCEDURE
Public sewers should work soon after a flood, but mud and debris might clog them. Flush the toilet before you use it. If it is clogged, check with your local sewer department to see if the problem is in the main line. You may need to clean out the sewer line from your house to the main line.
Our photo (left) illustrates what happens to public sewers during area flooding: the sewer system is itself flooded, resulting in a mix of sewage and floodwaters that erupts to ground level where it can invade buildings and their mechanical systems.
Watch out: Septic systems will not work until the ground water level is below the distribution lines. So be careful about flushing the toilet and pouring things down the drain; they may not have anywhere to go. Until your toilet works, you can line it with a plastic trash can liner and dispose of the bag following local public health recommendations.
CMHC provides this summary statement about flooded appliances:
But there's quite a bit more to it - some appliances that have been wet by floodwaters cannot be safely used - such as refrigerators and freezers whose insulation may be contaminated with sewage-tainted floodwaters.
There’s an unexpected danger of shock with some electrical appliances such as TV sets and radios. Certain internal parts store electricity even when the appliance is unplugged. Check the back for a warning label. Appliances with such labels will need professional cleaning. But first, get a cost estimate to see if they are worth saving.
You’ll need appliances such as the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, and vacuum cleaner to help clean your home and contents. The motors or heating elements can usually be cleaned. If you can’t wait for a professional cleaning job, unplug, disassemble, and hose off the appliances thoroughly (with hot water, if possible). Then clean and disinfect them, but do not use detergents.
Clean and disinfect dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers
only with water that has been declared safe for drinking. Make sure the sewer line is working before starting a dishwasher or washing machine.
You can speed up the drying process for motors and parts by using a blow dryer using a moisture displacement spray. Moisture displacement sprays, such as electronics parts cleaners or WD-40 lubricating and penetrating oil, are available at hardware or automotive parts stores. The sprays can also stop rust and corrosion until the appliance can be disassembled and cleaned. One word of caution: the spray is flammable. Read and follow label instructions and precautions.
Moving parts such as motors and pulleys will need oil or grease. Contacts and electrical switches can be cleaned with a moisture displacement spray or an aerosol contact cleaner available at electronics or auto parts stores. Allow a motor to run for 30 minutes with no load before you use it. For example, run the vacuum cleaner without connecting the belt.
Watch for stripped or damaged wire insulation. Be sure all appliances are properly grounded. This is most important if there was damage to the wiring from the flood or during cleaning. Appliances that must be grounded have a round third prong on their plugs. Review the information on your electrical system in Step 5.
Returning Flooded refrigerators and freezers to service after a disaster is more complicated
They may have foam insulation and sealed components that suffered little water damage. But those appliances hold food, so they should be cleaned completely or if flooded, replacement is usually in order.
Continue reading at Step 6. FLOOD DAMAGED BUILDING CLEAN-UP - separate article - The walls, floors, closets, shelves, contents and any other flooded parts of your home should be thoroughly washed and disinfected.
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