5 Steps to Dry Out your Sandy-Damaged Home

The devastation we’ve witnessed up and down the East Coast has, if anything, convinced us more than ever of the inherent value of historic homes. If the home you have lovingly restored has been damaged or destroyed, be encouraged: organizations up and down the coast are gathering experts to provide the advice and assistance you need to bring your home back to life.



flooded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005

Downtown New Orleans, flooded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (photo courtesy of Thinkstock.com).



If your historic home–or a loved one’s home–has sustained significant Sandy-related flood damage, please read on.



Once you and your loved ones are safe, look to your home: first, dry it out. 


1. Before you begin, document the damage: Taking specific notes, photograph the wounds your home has sustained. To get assistance from your insurance company, you’ll need to provide your agent with this detailed information. Recording which pieces were damaged, how, and to what extent will also help you make informed choices when you rebuild. If you find wreckage on your property that doesn’t belong to you, the National Trust for Historic Preservation suggests that you don’t throw it away, but photograph it and set it aside. It may belong to a neighbor who will need it to repair his or her own historic home.


2. Wash away mud and debris from your home’s interior and exterior with fresh, clean water: Besides the fact that dried silt and mud would wreck further damage your home’s historic materials, the storm has also doused your home with infected water, whether from burst sewage tanks or polluted ground water. Investigate what kind of disinfectants you can use on your home’s particular materials, then clean it thoroughly, inside and out. According to the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, you can use Clorox (diluted with lots of water) to clean mildew and mold from wood surfaces. Remember also to wipe out enclosed spaces like electrical boxes.


3. Protect your collections: If you’re one of the many Victorian homes enthusiasts who has decorated a historic home with treasured antiques, you will need to recover, clean, dry, and protect your collections with as much care as you do the structure that houses them. To avoid damaging your antiques, use a natural disinfectant to clean your treasures, such as a solution of 5% vinegar and water (You may want to consult an antiques expert before cleaning your specific pieces.). For more information about homemade, natural disinfectants, read this article from National Geographic.


4. Stop your roof from leaking: If your roof even leaks slightly, water can continue to damage your home, enabling rot and rust to take hold. The good news is that you don’t have to repair or replace your roof entirely right away; we recommend using EPDM membrane–composed of the same material that makes up a car’s inner tube–to patch any holes for up to five years, if necessary. Use a batten strip to screw an 1/8-inch thick EPDM membrane straight into your roof’s sheeting. You can purchase EPDM membrane from Firestone Building Products, Carlisle Syntec Systems, or Proachem Corporation.


5. Ventilate your flooded basement: You may be tempted to pump water from your basement right away, but beware–the water trapped inside your basement will have put pressure on your home’s structure. If the pressure inside your basement is higher than outside–especially if your basement sits lower in the earth than the groundwater level–pumping the water from your basement may cause those structures to collapse. Instead of pumping immediately, open all doors and windows to your basement to let as much of the water evaporate as possible. Then, ask local authorities what kind of disinfectant local law will allow you to pour into the standing water. Consult a local contractor who specializes in historic buildings to learn how to empty your basement.


For more information about drying your historic home, and to read specific instructions for these steps, visit these websites:


The National Trust for Historic Preservation has compiled a list of resources for homeowners dealing with flood damage The Trust’s 15-page article entitled “Treatment of Flood Damaged Older and Historic Buildings” was referenced in writing this article, and provides plenty of specific information and advice.


The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources offers tips for drying out an historic home from a restoration specialist.


The Preservation Trades Network‘s post-Katrina guide to repairing a flood-damaged home contains information about historic foundations, roofing, and ventilation that is tailored towards New Orleans-style homes, but is also relevant for historic New England homes.


To consult a trusted team of contractors who specialize in restoring historic homes, contact the Oak Grove Restoration Company.


For federal government assistance, visit the FEMA website.



by Elaine K. Phillips




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