Flood Damage Assessments Need to Focus on Hidden Damage and Long-Term Hazards
FEMA has issued a warning to people returning to their homes after massive floods inundated parts of Arkansas. Inspections will generally find visible damage, but there are many hidden issues that may be harmful or fatal to humans and pets and require more intense scrutiny. An immediate danger to people coming back to a flooded property is electricity. Sometimes wires, still energized with power lie underwater and can jolt anyone who gets too close. No one should ever a property until it has been deemed safe by civil authorities.
Once inside, inspectors can make notations about visible damage to wall surfaces, flooring, doors, and other materials and appliances. Behind visible damage often lies more serious issues such as weakened beams, joists, and staircases. Another hidden but very serious form of damage is mold. Without detection and proper repair mold can cause long-term health problems and further deterioration to the structure of the home or commercial property affected.
There are cases of homes and buildings damaged in a flood being repaired and certified safe only to find later that major structural damage went undetected.
Foundation Damage is possible from floods. What happens in many cases is that sitting water pushes against the walls, usually in basements, and the force actually causes a separation, weakening the foundation. This is serious in a single family home, but in the case of a multi-unit multi-story rental building or condominium it can be devastating. Water that gets under the foundation can erode the soil and cause a “sinking” which can translate to subsequent damage above in floors, beams, and walls.
It is important to detect structural damage early after a flood because failure to do so may result in more expensive repairs in the future. People sometimes discover something is wrong months or years after a flood when a door won’t close or a window won’t open. This is possibly due to a floor that is no longer level or a wall that is no longer vertical.
Insurance companies are often in a hurry to inspect and settle with property owners, but until you have a clearance that you are completely confident it may now be wise to accept a final settlement. The individual best educated and trained to find all the damage from a flood is a structural engineer with special training in construction principals and practices as well as damage from natural disasters.
Justin Hall, P.E. is experienced inspecting damage and has prepared reports and expert witness testimony for several years. He can be reached at (501) 240-9213
Flood Damage Assessments