Iced flooded electrical meter (C) Daniel FriedmanHow to Turn Electricity, Heat, Water Back On after Flood, Earthquake Storm Damage
Flood Damage Repair Guide FEMA/ARC expanded Step 5
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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.[1] NOTICE: neither the ARC nor FEMA have yet approved the additions & expansions we have made to the original document.

Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved.

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

  1. Check for leaky fuel pipes by smelling for gas. A chemical that has a disagreeable, distinctive odor is added to natural gas and propane to tell you if there is a leak. If you have any doubts, have a professional check for you. Do not use open flames.
  2. Make sure the valve that leads to each appliance is closed.
  3. If you find any pipes that moved or any area that smells like gas, brush soapy water on each pipe connection. The pressure in the pipes will make bubbles appear where there is a leak.
  4. If you find a leak, turn off the gas. Unscrew the pipe connection, clean the joint, and apply pipe joint compound or pipe tape (available at hardware stores) on the threads. Screw the pieces back together tightly.
  5. Turn on the gas and check the connection again with soapy water. If you have a leak, or if you are not sure your system is safe, turn off the gas and call a professional immediately.

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.

  • Gas and oil fuel supply systems (tanks, valves, piping, controls, filters) will need to be inspected & restored before trying to turn on heating equipment. Detailed procedures for each fuel type and system at HEATING EQUIPMENT, FLOOD DAMAGE REPAIR
  • For detailed help on inspecting, cleaning, and restoring heating equipment itself ( air conditioners, heating boilers (hot water or steam), furnaces (warm air)) to operation, see HEATING EQUIPMENT, FLOOD DAMAGE REPAIR - home page for that topic.

How to Protect the Building from Freeze or Frost Damage after a Flood, Storm, or other Disaster

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:

  1. Shut off the main water valve. (It is usually found at the water meter.)
  2. Turn on all the faucets in the house, both the hot and the cold taps. Leave them on and let them run.
  3. Turn off the hot water heater and if your building uses a water softener, turn that equipment off too. Open the water heater tank drain valve at the bottom of the water heater to drain it. You may want to connect a hose to the faucet so you can control where the water goes. Be careful; the water may be very hot.

    Watch out: The original ARC/FEMA advice fdor this step sounds easier than it is. Just opening a bottom drain on a water heater will almost never be enough to actually cause the water heater tank to drain, as no air is entering the tank.

    For detailed water heater winterizing help see WATER HEATER DRAIN PROCEDUREand also WATER HEATER AIR INLET
    For detailed help winterizing a water softener see WINTERIZE WATER SOFTENER
  4. Flush the toilets to empty their water tanks and use a sponge or rag to be sure that the toilet tanks are completely empty.
  5. Wait for the lowest faucet on the house to stop running. (This will usually be a faucet in the basement or crawl space)

    Check all faucets and toilets. If they have stopped running or are empty, your water system might be drained.

    Watch out: unless your building was constructed and plumbed specifically to make winterizing easy, you cannot assume that all of the building pipes have been drained of water. Water will remain in any water supply pipes that do not all, in every section, slope continually downwards to the lowest drain valve. Water will also remain in drain traps, toilet tanks, and inside of some faucets and valves themselves. WINTERIZE A BUILDING describes how to address these additional freeze points.
  6. Pour some propyleneglycol based antifreeze in all sink, tub, and floor drains and in the toilet bowls. (This type of antifreeze is available through recreational vehicle and mobile home dealers. Do not use regular automotive antifreeze.) These drains have traps that keep water in them.
  7. You can turn the main water valve back on after the building is heated. But check for leaks before beginning repairs and certainly before bringing new materials such as drywall, trim, supplies, into the building.

    Watch out: When you turn water back on make a complete inspection of all plumbing supply and drain piping for leaks before you start your repairs. If you see (wet spots, drips, new water stains) or hear a water leak (hissing, dripping) shut the water supply back off immediately and perform the necessary demolition to expose and permit repair of the leaky supply or drain pipe.


Electrical System Restoration after flooding, wetting by fire extinguishment, hurricane or storm - how to get electricity back on in your building

Electrical service components, City of Bloomington MN Inspections Dept, R HankeyCheck with your building or electrical inspector to see how much work you can do on your wiring.

[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

How to clean a flooded or wet electrical circuit - 4 steps

  1. Check the switch at the main breaker or fuse box to make sure that the power is still off. Take out the fuses or switch off the breakers to the circuits you will be working on.
  2. As noted at the end of Step 2, everything should be unplugged and all light bulbs should be removed. The switches and outlets should be out of the wall. Check the switches and outlets and their boxes for mud and dirt which can cause a short or overheating. Hose or wash any mud out of the boxes.
  3. If you see a lot of mud, dirt, or salt water corrosion in the switches or outlets, replace them. If you want to keep the switches and outlets that were flooded, rinse them thoroughly in a pail of water. Let them dry for at least 24 hours.
  4. Check the condition of the wire that goes to each switch and each outlet. Replace any fabric- covered wire. Plastic covered wire does not need to be removed unless it has been flooded with salt water.

    Aluminum wiring may be severely corroded by salt water, so all aluminum wiring that has been flooded by salt water should be replaced before proceeding. 5. After everything has dried out, check to make sure the fuses are still out or the breakers are still switched off. Then re-install the switches and outlets or install new ones. If your main box was not flooded or if it has been cleaned and checked by an electrician, you can test each circuit once it is cleaned.

How to test a cleaned, dried electrical circuit - 3 steps

  1. Make sure nothing is plugged in and no wall switches are turned on.
  2. Install the fuse or turn the breaker to “ON.” Install the main fuse or turn on the main breaker. Some fuse boxes have a main switch—a handle on the outside of the box that is easier to use than taking out and replacing the main fuses.
  3. If the fuse blows or the breaker clicks back to “off,” you have a short somewhere. Recheck your cleaning and installation work. If the fuse or breaker are okay, wait 15 minutes and then walk around the home to find something plugged in that you missed. Leave the offending circuit off until you have traced the whole circuit to find the short or defect. However you should be able to leave other circuits in operation provided they pass this simple test.

See these articles on using simple electrical test equipment to check building circuits:

Electrical Safety Tips

  • Use only the electrically operated tools you need, one at a time, to avoid overloading a few working circuits.
  • If appliances or motors have gotten wet, have them taken apart, cleaned, and dried. before plugging them back in again. Don't waste time trying to use a refrigerator or freezer or other insulated appliance that was submerged by floodwaters. The sewage pathogens in rising floodwaters leave the appliance unsanitary, and replacing its insulation is usually not practicable.
  • Make sure all appliances are properly grounded. This is most important if there was damage to the wiring from the flood or during the cleaning.
  • Mud or dirt in a grounded outlet or adapter may prevent the grounding system from working, and you could be electrocuted. If you are unsure of whether your electrical system is properly grounded, call an electrician.
  • When in doubt, call an electrician. Electrocution is a major killer in floods. Important It is very important that your utility systems and appliances be turned back on the correct way. A leaky gas pipe, an ungrounded electrical appliance, or contaminated water is a serious safety and health hazard.
  • If you are not comfortable working on your utilities or appliances, call a professional.

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.

Advice for Restoring the Building Water Supply After a Disaster

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.

  1. Fill a large pot with water from the tap.
  2. Strain the water through cheesecloth, a sheet, or other clean, porous material to remove as many solids as you can.
  3. Bring the water to a rumbling boil and let it boil for at least 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the water back and forth between two clean pots. This will help it cool and will also add air to the water to make it taste better.
  5. Let the water cool. After it is cool, add 16 drops of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Let the water stand a half hour. If it gives off a slight chlorine smell and looks clear, it’s OK to use. If you do not smell the chlorine or if the water is still cloudy, add another 16 drops of liquid chlorine bleach and let it stand another half hour. If you smell chlorine, it’s okay to use. If you have treated it again and it still does not smell like chlorine, don’t use it for drinking or cooking.

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.

How to Restore Private Water Well Service after a Flood, Storm, or other Disaster

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

  1. Open your faucets to pump the water out of your well. Let them run for at least 15 minutes or until you lose pressure.
  2. Pour one quart of liquid chlorine bleach in the well and leave it for at least four hours. Do not use any water during this time.
    Watch out: this EPA/ARC advice is incorrect in that the amount of bleach (one quart) is arbitrary. For a more accurate way to figure out how much bleach to use you need to know or estimate the amount of water that is in your well when it is at rest (the static head). From the article we cite above, here are more accurate details:

    Pour Clorox™ Bleach (or an equivalent brand of household bleach) or hypochlorite granules down into the well. Some people use swimming pool chlorine tablets which have the advantage that they sink to and sterilize water at the well bottom, and the disadvantage that it takes longer to flush out the chlorine.

    How much bleach to use when shocking a well: Health department officials can give more precise guidance about the amount of disinfectant needed based on the depth of the well. Common guidelines:

    Well depth 100' - 3 cups Clorox or 2 oz. of granules.

    Well depth 200' - 6 cups Clorox or 4 oz. of granules.

    Well depth 300' - 9 cups Clorox or 6 oz. of granules.

    Well depth 400' - 12 cups Clorox or 9 oz. of granules.

    Well depth 500' - 1 gallon Clorox or 12 oz. of granules.

    NOTE to be accurate in reaching the necessary concentration of chlorine in your well, treat the "depths" listed above as if they were the height of the actual column of water in your well (assuming a standard casing which is 1.5 gallons per foot of height). So if your well is 400 feet deep, but if 100 feet of it is air, your water depth is actually 300 ft. More about measuring the actual depth of a well is at DEPTH of a WELL, HOW TO MEASURE
  3. Open all the faucets and let them run until you smell chlorine at each faucet.
  4. Turn off the faucets and let the water sit in the pipes for two to four hours. Do not use any water during this time.
  5. Flush out the system by running the taps until you can no longer taste or smell the chlorine. Water Heater. Check your water heater. If floodwaters got into the gas burner, electrical parts, or insulation, it should be replaced. If you want to save it, have it cleaned and restarted by a professional. Be sure to flush clean water through it before you wash dishes or clothes with hot water.

Restoring Sewage System Operation for Wastewater Disposal after a Flood, Storm, or other Disaster

Water erupting from flooded sewer, Poughkeepsie NY (C) Daniel FriedmanPublic 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 recommends:

Flush floor drains and sump pits with detergent and water and scrub them to remove greasy dirt and grime. Clean footing drains outside the foundation if necessary. [8]

How to Restore Electrical Appliances to Use after a Fire, Flood, or similar Disaster

CMHC provides this summary statement about flooded appliances:

Do not use flooded appliances, electrical outlets, switch boxes or fuse/breaker panels until they have been checked by your local utility.[8]

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.

Suggested citation for this web page

Step 5. RESTORE UTILITIES AFTER FLOODING at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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