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St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

After the flood, some expert advice on how to dry the flooded area

By JUDY STARK, Times Staff Writer
Published September 11, 2004


Thanks to Hurricane Frances, many of us have a new understanding of what "heavy rain" and "storm surge" mean. If you were canoeing through Shore Acres in St. Petersburg or through South Tampa last Monday, you're familiar with another term: "flooding."

As soon as you're allowed back in the house and it's safe to turn the electricity on, "Turn the air conditioning on," said Michael Smith, customer service manager for Servpro, a restoration franchise with three branches in Pinellas County. That will start the movement of cool, dry air throughout the house to begin the drying-out.

What if you have no power? Should you open the doors and windows to get some air movement?

No, says Pete Duncanson, a mitigation specialist with Servicemaster, another national restoration service. "The humidity outside is probably higher than inside your house. All that wet air from outside goes inside. You're just creating another problem."

Your home air conditioning will help, and so will a box fan. "The more air movement and the more dehumidification you can provide, the better off you are," Duncanson said. "Let 'em run."

But if your house is truly soaked, you may need professional drying equipment such as high-velocity air movers and several large dehumidifiers. Your home AC and household fans just don't have the power to do the job. Remove soaked carpets and pads. Insurers will regard them as unsalvageable if they've been soaked in water from a storm. Homeowners insurance does not cover damage from rising water; separate flood coverage is required. Visit www.floodsmart.gov the Web site of the National Flood Insurance Program, for details.

If you have hard-surface floors (wood or tile), a wet vacuum can help suck up the water.

A hurricane's heavy rains may also cause damage from above. If water penetrates the roof, ceilings may collapse, insulation is soaked, water soaks walls and drips down through air conditioning vents. That's what Smith saw after Hurricane Charley in Port Charlotte.

The big post-flooding headache is mold, which thrives in warmth and moisture. Washing surfaces with a bleach solution or painting over mold with shellacs such as Kilz "will hide mold, but the only real solution is physical removal," Duncanson said. "There is no miracle cure, no product you can just spray on that will kill mold forever." That means cutting out drywall, removing soaked insulation, sanding wood studs.

Drywall can be dried, he said, and will be harder than the original, but speed is of the essence. If it remains wet for any length of time, mold can start to grow behind the walls. Drywall should be cut in 2-foot increments to eliminate waste from a new sheet of 4- by 8-foot drywall.

Vinyl wall covering should be removed. It acts as a vapor barrier so the wall behind it can't dry.

Some homeowners cover everything with plastic after a storm. If furniture and household items are wet under that plastic, you're creating a mini greenhouse where you'll grow a bumper crop of mold. Dry the items before you wrap them in plastic.

Copyright 2003 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved

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