How to Clean Up Your Home After a Natural Disaster
It’s a worst-case scenario. You’ve taken all the right steps to prepare your family and your home for a natural disaster. You’ve created an emergency plan. You’ve heeded the warnings of local authorities. You’ve cleaned the gutters, trimmed back the hedges, put sandbags around your property — whatever’s necessary to protect your home. Still, nature’s fury unleashes.
As uncommon as we’d like to hope this scenario is, the data proves that it’s something that should be on all our minds. In 2017 alone, the U.S. experienced 16 separate climate disasters that did more than a billion (yes, billion) dollars in damage each. And a recent Esurance survey found that 36 percent of respondents have lived through at least three severe weather events in the past five years alone.
Once the danger subsides and the skies clear, it’s time to start picking up the pieces. Once the local authorities give you the go ahead, it’s time to go home, assess the damage and start the cleanup process. Here are a few steps that’ll make you feel at home again after a natural disaster.
Make Sure Your Property Is Safe to Enter
Weather events like hurricanes, hail, earthquakes, tornadoes, and even heavy storms can bring down power lines and create any number of hazards. That’s why it’s essential to wait until your local authorities give you the all-clear to venture back into your neighborhood.
When you’re able to head back home, carefully inspect your property for any loose power lines, gas leaks or major structural damage. If you smell gas, spot residual flood waters or find major cracks in the exterior of your house, don’t go in.
Document Damage and Call Your Insurance Company
Once you know it’s safe to enter your home, assess the damage and take photos of any affected areas. This isn’t limited to structural damage — you’ll want to document damage to all of your personal possessions as well.
Next, get on the phone with your home insurance provider. If a natural disaster strikes your area, they’ll likely be expecting your call. Give your claim rep the details on what was damaged, and ask them if you need to snap any more photos or further document your losses. Getting the claim process underway immediately will help you begin the process of rehabbing your home and recovering your belongings.
Decide What’s Salvageable
Take stock of all your damaged items and decide whether you can clean, dry out or repair each one, or if the damage is too great to salvage them. Then, prioritize what you fix first. For example, if your family photos, essential records (like birth certificates and passports) or other valuables sustained water damage, you’ll want to get them dried out and cleaned up before moving on to more easily replaceable items.
Think about what’s most important to you, whether for sentimental or financial reasons, and try to salvage those items first.
Stop Mold Before It Starts
From hurricanes to heavy rainstorms, many weather events can leave standing water in your home. If your possessions are left sopping wet (or even damp) for long, mold becomes a very real concern. The best way to prevent mold is to assess everything that has water damage and decide what you can dry out quickly and what you can’t. Things like mattresses, couches, carpets, books, and pillows all take time to dry out, which creates a breeding ground for mold spores. If any of these items are waterlogged, get them out of your home as soon as possible.
Be sure to work quickly. You’ll want to clean up or remove any wet or damp items within 24-48 hours of the initial damage. Open your windows and set up fans and dehumidifiers. Immediately wash any wet fabrics in hot water (or freeze them if a washing machine isn’t available), and use dish detergent to clean all flooring, countertops, and furniture that may have been affected. If you do spot mold, disinfect it with a mixture of bleach and water, according to the instructions on the bleach bottle.
Prevent Further Damage
If a natural disaster has left your home with a leaky ceiling, a cracked foundation or a tree threatening to fall on your roof — really any damage that could cause further problems if not repaired immediately — call a professional to repair them as soon as possible. Then be sure to communicate the necessary repairs to your insurer, and save the receipts.
Cleaning up and repairing your home after a natural disaster can be an arduous and emotional process. But taking these steps in the first 48 hours after a major event may help you feel a little less overwhelmed.