Hurricane cleanup is your top priority after making sure your family is safe. While it will take time to contact your insurance company and get an adjuster to visit your home, you need to start the cleanup process as soon as it's safe.
Our checklist will help you work through many competing priorities, and we've tried to include links to other online resources to help you. As you deal with your home and damage to your house, it's best to recognize that full recovery is months and even years away. Your goal is to restore your home to what you had before, and that will take reliable resources unless you're able to handle repairs yourself. Use local, licensed contractors, preferably ones where you already have a relationship, as they're committed to serving your community for years to come.
Cleanup Step #1: Safe Access to Your Home
Each homeowner faces a different set of problems, with houses on the same street experiencing very different types of damage. The amount of damage your home has sustained, will determine how many of these cleanup tasks are required:
- Make sure there aren't any live wires down around your home. Call the utility company to handle removal with the proper equipment.
- Don't enter your house if it's flooded. You need to get electricity and gas turned off, in order to work safely in your home. It's best to check with local officials to confirm that it's safe to return to your house to begin cleanup.
- Keep children and pets away from your home until cleanup is done.
- Don't use portable generators inside your home or garage, or anywhere that people are sleeping.
- Unplug expensive and sensitive appliances while power is out, as power can come on and go off several times until fully restored. Keep your refrigerator and electronics unplugged until power is stable, i.e. wait a half day.
- Use goggles, gloves, workboots, a mask and long clothing to protect yourself when working around water due to the potential for mold.
Cleanup Step #2: Map Out a Recovery Plan
According to Jennifer Truesdale, Charles Gordon Insurance Group “… you are responsible for implementing temporary solutions to prevent further damage to your property. For example, if a downed tree has left a hole in your roof, you need to cover the hole as quickly and safely as possible, to prevent further damage.”
- Begin documenting damage with photos, inside and outside your home.
- Start a list of items lost to the storm, and continue adding things as you get rid of debris and water logged items that can't be made reusable.
- Find your homeowners insurance policy or call to get a copy from your agent. Knowing what's covered and what's not, will help you set priorities.
|4 states (Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and New York) have told insurance companies they cannot apply hurricane deductibles to damage from Hurricane Sandy.|
Hurricane deductibles are common in many homeowners' policies in coastal areas, and normally apply to damage from things like fallen trees and wind-borne debris. They're calculated as a percentage of your home's coverage, and can go as high as 5% ($20,000 for coverage of $400,000) under some policies.
While overwhelming, you'll feel better with your own list of all the cleanup and repair projects needed to restore your home. Your list should cover:
- Temporary living accommodations, which might be needed while some repairs are done.
- Cleanup of exterior and inside debris (refer to getting rid of “water” below).
- Exterior home repairs from the roof, to the siding, windows, doors, down to the foundation.
- Exterior landscaping including decks, patios, sidewalks, driveways and more.
- Removal of water damaged building materials, i.e. drywall and insulation.
- Mold remediation may be needed where there are large amounts of mold.
- Interior damage which needs to be repaired.
- Appliances and home furnishings that need to be professionally cleaned or replaced.
Cleanup Step #3: Make Your Home Watertight
Covering up a hole in your roof is easy to identify. You'll want to inspect the attic to make sure there aren't other water leaks from missing or damaged shingles. Check your siding and focus on the seams where different materials meet, i.e. are there new cracks between any windows and adjacent siding. Continue down to the foundation and also make sure that rainwater will still flow away from your home.
Cleanup Step #4: Get Rid of Water in Your Home
Water is the immediate challenge during cleanup. Mold can start to grow within 2 days where there's food and water. You need to get rid of the water as fast as possible and then dry everything out to prevent more mold, which can grow when moisture levels approach 20%. Mold isn't just where you see it — mold spores affect the air in your home, and especially people with asthma, allergies or other breathing problems.
Some items that sat in water can be cleaned and disinfected, and for these you should check manufacturer instructions online. Cleanup for many items means getting rid of them, when they can't be cleaned and disinfected. These include mattresses, carpeting and other padded furnishings. Building materials like drywall and insulation must also be disposed of, although you typically only cut away several feet at the bottom of walls. Cosmetics and food that can't be cooked, should also be disposed of.
Cleanup Step #5: Clear Disaster Debris
You cannot bury or burn debris from the storm because of the side effects of smoke and fire, and potential soil contamination. Each community will handle disposal of storm debris differently depending on the quantity and types (building rubble, soil and sediment, trees and shrubs, personal property, etc) and available waste management options.
Be patient as cleanup will generate huge volumes of debris making normal methods of disposal inadequate. Your community will look for ways to recycle as much as possible, to avoid overloading existing facilities.
More resources to help your cleanup …
- EPA booklet, Flood Cleanup and the Air in Your Home.
- EPA guidelines for recovering after flooding, including use of appliances, contact with flood water, mold, drinking water and food, wells and septic systems.
- For cleanup of pesticides, call the National Pesticide Information Center, 800-858-7378 or check this list for more pesticide contacts.
- FEMA's Disaster Survivor Assistance website with 100s of useful links.