14 Minute Read
Like many recent hurricane victims, you may have found yourself coming back home to an unwelcome guest—flood damage. Perhaps you live in a high-risk flood zone and this is all too familiar territory, or maybe you evacuated just to be safe, never expecting to deal with any actual loss. But now that you know your house flooded, how do you start the recovery process while trying to file your claim? And what about rebuilding? Can you do it in a way that will protect your home from flooding again?
Here are some helpful tips to support you as you navigate the days ahead—from documenting damage and tackling cleanup safely to taking preventative measures.
Keep that chin up. We at Ramsey Solutions know the road ahead may be a long one, but we are so grateful that you are safe—and you are home.
Tips for Filing a Claim
Make the Necessary Calls:
- Call FEMA: Alert FEMA of your situation by calling them at 1.800.621.3362. They may have free help available to you. (See Helpful Resources section below.)
- Call Your Insurance Agent: If you have flood insurance, now is the time to call your local insurance agent. They will begin the claims process and schedule an appointment for an adjuster to come to your home. Make sure to ask the adjuster’s name before they arrive.
- Video: Use your phone or a video camera to do a video walkthrough, documenting damage both inside and outside of the house.
- Photos: Don’t skimp on the pictures—take a bunch and make sure you get close-up, detailed shots of the damaged items before you remove them from your home.
- Flooring: If larger items like carpet or flooring are damaged, cut a piece out and set it aside to show the adjuster when they come.
- Keep Records: Make copies of all the paperwork you give to your adjuster or insurance agent. Use your phone to take pictures of the paperwork if you can’t make a photocopy. Keep a record of all contact with the insurance company with dates, times and details of what you discussed.
Meet With the Adjuster:
- Ask for their identification when they arrive.
- Be prepared to request an advance or partial payment if needed
- Be ready with your policy number, insurance information and records related to any damaged belongings or property.
- Request your adjuster’s email address and make sure any communication is handled by email so that you have a written record.
- Do not begin any repairs without written (or emailed) approval from the adjuster.
Good to Know: If you have a large claim, you can hire a public adjuster (an independent adjuster) who will work on your behalf to mediate the claim. Watch out for potentially high fees as some states have no caps on what public adjusters can charge.
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Keep in Mind That the Adjuster Will:
- Take measurements and photos, noting any direct flood damage.
- Provide you with a flood certification number.
- Give you a suggested Proof of Loss, based on their assessment
Good to Know: The adjuster will not approve or deny your claim, or be able to tell you if your claim has been approved.
Submit Your Proof of Loss:
- Review your claim before filing—making sure there are no mistakes.
- Sign and submit the Proof of Loss within 60 days after the damage—the sooner the better.(1) Private insurance companies may require a shorter timeline.
- File for additional payment if repair work will be costlier than expected.
- If you discover additional damage, you can add to your claim after you’ve filed. Contact your insurance agent.
- Keep track of where your claim is in the process.
Good to Know: Keep in mind that you don’t have to accept the adjuster’s initial estimate of the damage. If you believe the estimate does not cover your loss, file a claim for additional damages.
Watch Out For:
- Robocalls: During Hurricane Harvey, many flood victims received automated calls by scammers saying their flood insurance had lapsed and had to be paid right away to ensure their coverage stayed in place. But, according to FEMA, your insurance company will not use this method of communication to warn you of a possible or imminent lapse in coverage. Instead, they will give you ample warning via postal mail—30, 60 or even 90 days before your policy expires.(2)
- Scammers: Watch out for contractors who offer low bids or ask for large amounts of money up front.
Recovering from a Flood
Take Extreme Caution on Re-Entry
- Follow the advice of the local authorities before you attempt to re-enter your neighborhood or home.
- Do not enter the home if damaged power or gas lines are visible.
- If your house looks crooked or if it appears the foundation has shifted, do not attempt to go inside.
- Before going into a room, check the ceiling and floors for signs of buckling or sagging—water may have weakened them to the point of collapsing.
- If you hear a hissing noise or smell natural gas or propane, get out and call your local fire department.
- Do not turn power on or off, especially when standing in water.
- Even if you’ve lost power, do not attempt to go into a flooded basement unless the home’s electrical meter has been removed from its socket by a qualified technician.
Protect Yourself From Potential Hazards
- Assume all flood water is contaminated, unless otherwise noted by authorities.
- Be on the lookout for floating or hidden debris such as glass or chemicals as well as animals like poisonous snakes.
- Avoid contact with contaminated water by wearing the proper protective clothing or equipment (waders, rubber or plastic boots, gloves, etc.).
- Keep your hands clean by washing them with soap and clean, running or bottled water.
- If your house is contaminated with mold, you may need additional protective equipment like goggles and respirators.
Tackle Cleanup Safely
- Ventilate the Area: Open all doors, windows, cabinets and drawers for adequate airflow. If the house was closed due to flooding for more than 48 hours, do this before you begin any cleanup.
- Pause on Using the Power: Don’t connect a generator or anything else to the home’s electrical system unless it has been deemed safe to use by a licensed electrician.
- Mitigate the Damage: If there are immediate steps you can safely take to keep additional floodwater from entering the home, such as laying a tarp or boarding up a window, go ahead and take them—but make sure to snap pictures first. If at all possible, wait until the claims adjuster has assessed all the damage to make any extensive repairs.
- Be Patient With the Basement: Rather than pumping all the water out of your basement at once, remove about a third of it per day. Removing it too quickly could cause the floors to buckle and the walls to collapse.
- Remove Excess Water: Remove any standing water (outside of your basement) as quickly as you can. If an electrician has given you the green light to use your home’s electricity, use fans (unless mold has already begun to grow) and a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture.
- Toss the Food: Throw out any unsealed food, as well as any food that was exposed to floodwaters. Contaminated food is not worth the risk. Toss it!
- Remove any drywall or insulation (unless it’s closed-cell foam) that came into contact with floodwater, and clean the framing thoroughly—drying it as quickly as possible.
- Rip out all carpets and padding that came into contact with floodwater. Hardwood or laminate flooring may be salvageable and only need to be removed temporarily. Make sure to save a sample of any ruined flooring to show your claims adjuster.
- Upholstered furniture or window coverings should be tossed unless you hire a restoration company that can disinfect and deep clean them. Save a swatch of any affected fabric to show your claims adjuster.
- Permanently scrap items that came into contact with floodwater that cannot be adequately sanitized.
- Eliminate the Mold: Follow the EPA’s guidelines for any mold cleanup.
- Sanitize Everything: Scrub and disinfect flooring, appliances and kitchen surfaces with detergent. Be careful not to mix cleaning products—harmful fumes could develop.
- Examine Appliances: Have your appliances examined by a qualified technician before trying to salvage them.
- Replace Outlets: Have a licensed electrician replace all outlets or switches that were submerged.
Rebuild the Right Way
- Work With a Contractor You Can Trust:
- Check the Reviews: Think you found a great contractor to do the repairs? Do your homework, because the first person to show up may not be the best person. Ask for multiple references and online reviews.
- Ensure They Have the Right Experience: Make sure the contractor you hire is experienced in the type of repair or new construction work you need.
- Protect Yourself: Don’t be fooled by an out-of-town opportunist looking to capitalize on your loss. At the very least, make sure to use reputable licensed and bonded contractors to keep your rebuild or renovation from being a nightmare.
- Ask for Recommendations: Can’t find a local contractor you can trust? Ask your insurance agent or your claims adjuster for recommendations.
- Get Multiple Estimates: Think the price your contractor quoted is too high? Get additional estimates from other local contractors if necessary, and consult your claims adjuster or insurance agent before you sign any contracts.
- Refuse to Settle:
- When it comes to work on your home, don’t accept shoddy workmanship or low-quality replacements for custom work on your house
- Hold Onto Those Receipts:
- Even the cost for temporary repairs should be included in the total settlement, so hold onto all your receipts—no matter how small!
- Make Floodproofing a Priority:
- If you’re rebuilding your home, consider building it at least 2 feet higher than what your area’s zoning requires.
- If you’re repairing an existing home and you have a crawl space, basement or garage below your first floor, you can also look into floodproofing your home by adding flood openings at the base of its structure.
- Another—although potentially much more expensive—option is to have your existing home elevated so that it’s above base flood elevation. You can also relocate it to a higher part of your property.
- Instead of using regular insulation, use closed-cell foam insulation along with flood damage-resistant sheathing and wallboard.
- When choosing flooring for the base level of your home, make sure it’s made of a nonporous material and you use water-resistant sealant or mortar.
- Keep appliances like your AC unit or water heater elevated—up and away from possible flood damage.
Monetary Relief: If you’re a victim of a major national disaster and do not have private flood insurance that pays for temporary displacement expenses, FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program will give you money for shelter, food or medical care as long as you apply within 60 days of the disaster.(3) To apply, go to DisasterAssistance.gov. Make sure to have your insurance information and your bank account information on hand.
Grants: For victims of hurricanes in presidentially declared disaster areas, FEMA is authorized to make grants to homeowners who do not have flood insurance under what is called the Individual Assistance Program. The grants have a $33,000 cap and are intended to provide assistance with housing as well as other serious disaster-related expenses and needs.(4) Historically, however, the grants average around $5,000.(5) Though flood victims do not have to repay the grants, they must meet certain conditions in order to receive one.
Tax Relief: If you are a victim of a disaster in a Presidential Disaster Area, be sure to ask your accountant at tax time if you qualify for tax relief from the IRS.
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Flood Insurance: Are You Covered?
Before Hurricane Harvey even hit, Michael Camp—an insurance Endorsed Local Provider in Texas—was calling his customers in high-risk areas to educate them on what steps they’d need to take next, the importance of getting their claims filed quickly, and what they needed to do to document the damage.
But what if you don’t have flood insurance? Can you get covered if your house previously flooded? And what about the different types of flood insurance? How do you know which one is right for you?
Michael’s advice to Dave’s fans: “Don’t wait for tragedy to strike again. Now is a great time to go through your files, call your agent, and say, ‘You know, I never really looked at my policy. Does it cover this? What can I do to make sure this is covered, and what’s the price difference on adding flood insurance coverage?’”
Related: For more information, see Do I Need Flood Insurance?
In recent months, the entire nation has marveled as residents of cities that fell victim to flooding, and even those outside their borders, opened their homes and their hands to flood victims. Many gave (and continue to give) selflessly of their time and resources—working together to not only support their neighbors, but also to rebuild the cities they love.
We may not be able to stop natural disasters from happening again, but we can reduce our risk of them affecting us by following safety procedures, having a plan in place, and working with an insurance agent to ensure we have adequate coverage. Armed with a plan and resources, we too can be ready to put forth a strong, helping hand.
Related: Before it Floods: Download our free checklist to make sure you're prepared!
Looking for a deeper dive into the information covered above? Here are some resources from trustworthy sources that you may find valuable.
- Volunteer or Request Help at DisasterAssistance.gov
- FEMA Flood Map Service Center (Learn where your community falls within the flood map.)
- FEMA: Frequently Asked Questions About Flood Insurance
Protect and Prepare
Cleanup and Recovery
- Mold Cleanup in Your Home
- OSHA: Flood Cleanup
- Homeowner’s and Renter’s Guide to Mold Cleanup After Disasters
- NFIP Guidelines to Cleaning Up
- How to Salvage Your Valuables After Serious Flooding
- NFIP Guide to Using Flood Damage Resistant Materials for High-Risk Zones
Filing a Claim
- FEMA’s Flood Insurance Claims Handbook
- National Flood Insurance Program Flood Insurance Advocate (Find common questions and requested resources for NFIP policyholders.)
- The NFIP Claims Process
- Tips for Settling Insurance Claims After a Disaster