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Returning home after a flood

Flood waters can carry dangerous debris and micro-organisms, and also cause mould to grow, all of which can damage your home and belongings.

The intent of this guide is to inform you on how to safely return home following a flood. Additional measures and steps may need to be taken, depending on your specific situation. Always follow the recommendations and guidance of your local authorities and experts.

Returning home after a flood can be an overwhelming and emotional experience. If you or someone you know needs support, please refer to the provincial, territorial and national mental health resources outlined on the Government of Canada’s website.

Filing a water-damage claim following a flood

Learn more about the coverage that your property insurance may provide in the event your home is damaged by flood-related water damage caused by overland water, sewer backups or excess groundwater.

We advise that you file a claim as soon as possible if your home experiences flood-related water damage.

We also recommend that you reach out to a reputable restoration company as soon as possible to complete any emergency repairs, rather than waiting for your insurer to assign a company. The remediation company will either take care of the cleaning or ensure your property is safe so you can proceed with cleaning yourself.

If you have any questions about your insurance policy or the process of cleaning your home following a flood, please contact your Acera Insurance advisor.

As with all claims, please document the damage to your property and belongings following flood-related water damage, as well as keep any receipts associated with cleaning and additional living expenses.

Before you return home after a flood

Only return home once local authorities have advised it is safe to do so.

Several risks can remain even after flood waters recede. Do not enter your property following a flood if:

  • There are buckled walls or floors.
  • Any part of your home has collapsed.
  • Your home has shifted off its foundation.
  • The main power switch was not turned off prior to flooding (only re-enter once a qualified electrician has determined it is safe to do so).

Also be aware that there may be holes in your floors, broken glass and other dangerous debris around your property.

Preparing for your return home after a flood

Flood waters can carry raw sewage, chemicals and debris, and can also quickly cause mould to grow.

Before returning home, make sure to gather the necessary supplies to keep yourself healthy while assessing and cleaning damage to your property following a flood:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Thick work gloves
  • Waterproof boots
  • Masks (consider a N95 respirator mask)
  • Eye protection, such as goggles
  • Pails, mops, squeegees
  • Shovels
  • Plastic garbage bags
  • Mild cleaning supplies
  • Bleach
  • First-aid kit
  • Flashlights
  • Tools
  • Plenty of bottled drinking water

Additional tools and equipment you may need include:

  • Extension cords
  • Submersible pumps
  • Wet/dry shop vacuums
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Fans
  • Heaters
  • Carbon monoxide sensor
  • Generators (only use outdoors and never connect to your home’s electrical system)

Ensure all cords — including extension cords — are out of the water when working with electrical equipment.

Cleaning your home and yard after a flood

If you decide to clean your home yourself after a flood, make sure to take necessary precautions to protect your health and wellbeing.

Remember, water and electricity do not mix. Make sure your power is off and that professionals inspect all electrical equipment, such as:

  • Outlets
  • Switch boxes
  • Fuses
  • Breaker panels
  • Furnace or other heating systems
  • Water heater
  • Appliances

Draining flood water in your home

Any remaining flood water in your home should be removed slowly and drained in stages. The Government of Canada recommends draining any remaining water by roughly one-third of the volume each day. This is because the ground will likely still be saturated and draining water too quickly could cause the walls or floors in your home to buckle.

To remove excess floodwater from your home, it is recommended that you:

  • Follow all instructions from your local authorities regarding where to pump the flood water and any pumping restrictions.
  • Use pails or pumps to remove standing water.
  • Once standing water is removed, use a wet/dry shop vacuum to soak up the rest.

Household items to discard after a flood

It can be challenging to properly dry and clean materials that have been in contact with flood water. This is because flood water is often contaminated with sewage and chemicals, and can also cause mould to grow rapidly.

The Government of Canada recommends that you discard any materials that have come into contact with flood water, including:

  • Insulation and drywall
  • Carpets
  • Particleboard furniture
  • Mattresses and box springs
  • Stuffed toys
  • Paper and cardboard materials
  • Pillows and cushions
  • Furniture coverings

All sheet flooring covers (i.e., vinyl, linoleum) that have been soaked by flood water should be removed and discarded.

It’s also recommended that you remove and discard drywall, wood panelling and insulation at least 50 centimetres above flood levels (do not only remove the water-damaged section).

Food, medication, cosmetics and other personal products (i.e., shampoo, soap) that have been exposed to flood water should be discarded.

Remember to take inventory and pictures before throwing away any items for insurance purposes.

Household items that may be cleaned after a flood

You may be able to clean and keep some items around your home after a flood.

As a general rule of thumb, you may salvage:

  • Items that didn’t touch flood water.
  • Items that didn’t absorb flood water.
  • Fabrics that can be washed with bleach and hot water, and then dried on high heat.

For example:

  • High-quality wood furniture can be rinsed, then sanitized with a bleach solution if it was in contact with flood water for a brief period and there is no swelling. Remove drawers and open any doors to help with the drying process. Be aware that drying wood furniture too quickly can cause it to warp or split.
  • Linens, bedding and clothing can be washed in a hot cycle with bleach and then dried on a high setting.
Caring for paper items after a flood

To prevent mould growth, store any valuable papers (i.e., legal, financial, marriage certificates, birth certificates), books and photographs that may be water damaged in a freezer.

You can find tips online to try and salvage these items afterwards.

You may also want to consult with a lawyer if you must retain flood-damaged documents, or just keep a copy of the information.

How to clean your home after a flood

A general rule of thumb for cleaning your home after a flood is to thoroughly clean all surfaces and not just those that came in contact with flood water. This is because the excess moisture in your home could cause mould to grow.

  • Keep your home well-ventilated and use a dehumidifier to help it dry out.
  • Move wet, damp and dirty carpets, furniture and appliances outside. If salvageable, clean off all mud and soil first. Next, wash with warm water and a mild detergent or soap. Then sanitize with a mild bleach solution (one tablespoon of bleach in four litres of water). Dry fully.
  • To wash floors, remove all items and furniture, and then start removing any mud or soil. Next, wash with warm water and mild detergent or soap, and then sanitize with a mild bleach solution. Dry fully.
  • To clean walls, start by removing wet drywall and insulation (again, the Government of Canada recommends removing and discarding drywall, wood panelling and insulation at least 50 centimetres above flood levels). Wash all remaining drywall with warm water and soap, and then sanitize with a mild bleach solution. Also, clean all walls in your house to prevent mould growth from the excess moisture. Dry fully.
  • Ceilings also need to be checked and cleaned even if they are above the flood line. This is because walls absorb moisture, which can damage ceiling materials. If your ceilings are not damaged, clean with warm water and mild detergent or soap before sanitizing with a mild bleach solution. Dry fully.
  • Non-porous dishes, utensils and cookery that may have come into contact with flood water can be thoroughly washed and sanitized. To sanitize, you can use boiling water or wash with a mild bleach solution (one part chlorine bleach to four parts water). Dry fully.

How to clean your yard after a flood

The harmful chemicals, debris and micro-organisms that flood waters carry can linger in your yard after the water has receded.

Sunlight and wind can help dry out your lawns and soil, which helps remove micro-organisms in time; however, you may choose to err on the side of caution and either:

  • Resod or reseed your lawn where it was flooded.
  • Add new soil on top of any soil that was flooded.
  • Cover any flooded areas of your lawn or soil with stone, asphalt, brick or another paving material.

As for gardens, the fruit and vegetables will be unsafe to eat and should be thrown away. Before replanting your garden, regularly use a rotary tiller to bring underlying soil to the surface and expose it to sunlight.

Outdoor play structures, toys and equipment should be assessed for any damage and repaired, if necessary, before cleaning and sanitizing.

Safe food and water handling after a flood

It’s not just contaminated flood water that can make food unsafe to eat; loss of power that leads to unsafe temperatures can also cause spoilage.

A few standard rules when it comes to safe food and water consumption after a flood include:

  • Throwing out any food that has been exposed to flood waters, including damaged packaged food and dented or bulging canned goods.
  • Throwing away the contents in your fridge or freezer if you have lost power.
  • Not drinking tap water until local officials have said it’s safe to do so.
  • Not drinking water from a damaged well or cistern — contact your local authorities and follow their instructions.
  • When in doubt, throw it out.

Be sure to document all damaged and discarded food as your property coverage may include coverage for food spoilage. Learn more here.

Additional resources

  • Flood insurance 101 | Learn about the common coverages that offer protection in the event of flood-related water damage.
  • How to file an insurance claim | We’re here to support you. Learn how to report a claim and find answers to commonly asked claims questions.