Mother Nature, in all of her glory, is one of the greatest threats to our homes. As one of the biggest investments an individual can make, factoring in uncontrollable issues that can occur is a key step toward maintaining a healthy indoor environment. Otherwise, you could be blindsided not only by lost belongings and the high cost of dealing with a damaged home but also by the impact of indoor contaminants opportunistic moving in. One such event that can devastate a home is mold after a hurricane.
Hurricanes, or tropical cyclones, are some of the most powerful storms in the world. Over the years, we’ve seen the catastrophic effect these rotating powerhouses can have and the loss of life and property they leave behind in their wake. Hurricane Katrina alone took the lives of over 1,800 people, left millions homeless, and caused more than $160 billion in damage.¹
For those living in areas that are prone to these storms or have the potential to get hit by one, it’s crucial to have a plan in place for prevention, pre-storm defensive steps, and aftermath strategies. These will help with saving money from damages, but also ensure indoor contaminants like mold have fewer opportunities to move into the home.
Mold after a hurricane and the adverse health effects exposure can cause is a situation no one wants to be burdened with. To avoid this scenario, here’s a guide to get you started.
How to Prevent Mold After A Hurricane
The best offense is a good defense. When it comes to preventing mold after a hurricane, the ultimate step should be focusing on preventing water damage.
How Does Water Damage from a Hurricane Occur?
Depending on location, how slow they move, and other weather conditions they interact with, they can cause significant devastation to homes.
In order to be classified as a “hurricane,” these tropical storms must have a windspeed of up to 75 mph but have been known to reach up to 254 mph.²’³ This is a huge contributor to water damage in homes. Precipitation is also a main issue, as most storms produce widespread rainfall of 6 to 12 inches or more.
A few major issues leading to water damage from a hurricane include:
Storm surges: High winds and pressure changes result in pushing water ashore and causing widespread flooding.
Wind gusts: This can rip structural aspects off of the home.
Fallen trees: High winds can tear trees from the ground, resulting in structural damage to the home.
Blowing debris: High winds can toss projectiles at a home, resulting in structural damage.
Flooding: Heavy rain can cause widespread flooding of the area, nearby bodies of water, and sewage systems.
One or all of these factors can result in damage to the home, opening the door for moisture to come in. And with moisture comes a host of indoor contaminant issues.
Why Prevent Water Damage From a Hurricane?
For starters, water damage from a hurricane can cause significant structural issues within a home and ruined belongings. This can lead to costly repairs down the road and money spent replacing what was lost.
On the other hand, water damage is also an enormous contributor to indoor mold growth. This fungus among us needs two main components to transition into a living colony in a home.⁴ These two elements are:
A majority of the elements inside of the home offer edible options, including belongings and structural components of the building.⁵’⁶ That leaves moisture as the main issue. Water damage from a hurricane introduces the perfect opportunity for mold to begin growing in an indoor environment. This fungus only needs 24-48 hours to begin growing, so a water-logged house essentially creates dream conditions for this indoor contaminant to move in.
And, where there’s mold, there are often bacteria as they grow in similar conditions. As soon as these microorganisms take root, the quality of the indoor space begins to decrease, and the health of those exposed can be negatively impacted.
The Health Impact
Much more research is needed to better understand how indoor contaminants like mold and bacteria affect the health of those exposed. Some species of mold also create toxic byproducts called mycotoxins, further contaminating that indoor space.⁷
The key thing to remember is that the particles in question are tiny. Measured in a unit called micron, mold spores, mycotoxins, and bacteria are all small enough to be inhaled, absorbed, and ingested into the body.⁸ Some are small enough to zip through the lungs and straight into the bloodstream.
A few studies over the years have attempted to determine how exposure to homes with water damage from hurricanes affects the health of those living inside, but it’s a tricky subject to nail down.⁹’¹⁰ Factors such as genetics, species of mold, presence of bacteria, presence of mycotoxins, immune system status, previous exposures, and volume of exposure all play a role. ¹¹’¹²’¹³’¹⁴’¹⁵’¹⁶
While one individual may have a chronic headache, another living in a toxic environment may develop over 30 symptoms and an autoimmune condition. Aspergillus, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome are among a few potential related disorders.
A few common symptoms of exposure include:
- Runny nose
- Muscle and joint pain
- Hair loss
- Hormone imbalances
- Digestive issues
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Respiratory issues
- Chronic fatigue
- Brain fog
At the end of the day, you never know how you or a loved one will respond to exposure. Creating a solid plan to avoid water damage and mold after a hurricane can add another level of protection to your indoor space and ensure it remains a healthy environment for you and your family. And that’s on top of saving money from restoring and remediating the property.
How Do You Protect Your Home From a Hurricane?
There are several ways to go about protecting your home and preventing mold after a hurricane. The more you can accomplish beforehand, the more prepared your home will be to avoid catastrophe.
Addressing Structural Aspects to Avoid Mold After a Hurricane
Whether building a new house, renovating a property, or making upgrades, there are quite a few options homeowners can make to safeguard their homes from the effects of a powerful hurricane. It may seem like a high cost, but the more money invested and steps you can knock out, the better prepared your home will be to avoid water damage from a hurricane and any unwanted indoor contaminants.
A good idea is to go zone by zone through a home and figure out what you can do to protect each area. You should also check out your local area, including flood information, and determine the risk level for your home.
It’s important to note that for homes in states prone to hurricanes, make sure to check with local and state building codes and regulations for any new renovations and installations. For example, Florida specifies the wind speeds new buildings must be able to withstand. This will offer a baseline guide for any decisions you make regarding your home.
That being said, here are some steps you can take to safeguard your home from water damage and mold after a hurricane:
1. Reinforce Doors
There are several ways to protect doors from the heavy winds and rain associated with hurricanes.
- Use powerful door hinges and bolts: This will add a layer of protection from wind and debris, making sure the door stays closed and water does not get in. Make sure that they are at the top and bottom of the door.
- Upgrade to an impact-resistant option: These are engineered to withstand heavy winds, rain, and projectiles tossed around during the storm. For glass doors, in particular, this is a huge area to focus on.
- Install a Storm Door: These are secondary, outer doors placed in front of the main exterior doors to better protect your main entrance. Think of them as an extra layer buffering your home from anything being tossed around. They’ll take the brunt of the hail and debris that can damage your exterior door or knock it open.
- Opt for storm shutters: These can be deployed to act as a barrier between the weather events outside and the openings into the home.
- Raise the thresholds of any exterior doors: This will give them a bit more protection against any rising water levels outside of the home due to hurricane conditions.
- Add flood shields: This will add a layer of protection against water coming in and help protect against mold after a hurricane.
2. Bolster Windows
- Install high-impact windows: These are made with heavy-duty frames and safety glass, making them a great option for safeguarding a home from damage due to a storm as well as mold after a hurricane.
- Opt for storm shutters: These can be used in lieu of high-impact windows or as an added layer of defense against wind, hail, and blowing debris.
- Ensure that windows are installed properly: One of the main issues leading to water damage, in general, is improperly installed windows. Checking to make sure that your windows are in tip-top shape and resolving any issues helps ensure outside moisture doesn’t make its way inside.
- Add flood shields: This will add a layer of protection against water coming in and help protect against mold after a hurricane.
3. Protect the Garage
- Install a drainage system: Like the shower drain, these systems will divert any water that made its way into the garage, right back out. The sooner water can be removed from the environment, the better. If this system isn’t already in place, it should absolutely be added.
- Invest in a wind-resistant or impact-resistant door: These are engineered to improve the maximum wind speed the door can withstand as well as any flying debris. Make sure to check the impact rating to see exactly how much it can hold.
4. Assess Landscaping
- Make sure that landscape grading slopes down and away from the home in all directions: This helps divert water away from the home so that it doesn’t pool near the foundation.
- Elevate low areas or improve the surrounding space by adding layers of topsoil: This helps to redirect water more efficiently so that it doesn’t pool around the foundation.
- Ensure that trees and plants are far enough away from the home: This makes sure that roots will not crack the foundation. 15–20 feet is ideal, but take a look at the growth characteristics of each specific plant.
5. Secure the Roof
- Opt for a roofing material that can withstand hurricane-force winds and damage: Metal roofing, for instance, can withstand 140 mph on average and does not absorb moisture so that rainwater can run right off. They’re also better at withstanding damage from hail and debris.
- Install hurricane ties: These are used for deck or roof framing to secure rafters, trusses, or joists to the wood framework to protect the roof from high winds that can lift the surface away from the home.
- Include a sealed roof deck: This is a secondary water barrier that is meant to stay in place in case the roof blows off the home.
- Limit roof overhangs: These are prone to wind damage, causing widespread roof and structural failure. Limiting this area to under 20 inches will help your home resist hurricane-force elements.
6. Safeguard Basements and Crawlspaces
- Seal basements and use a spray-on encapsulant on crawl spaces: These are the lowest levels of the homes, so they need a bit more effort to help prevent flooding. Sealing them can help prevent outside moisture from coming in and mold after a hurricane. That being said, there are a few key points to consider with this. Poly-encapsulation systems are not recommended as they can trap mold, mildew, and bacteria. For concrete or masonry-based product basement or crawlspace wall systems, a good quality spray on moisture inhibitor is best. For wooden structural and semi-structural members, a good quality, zero VOC, and permeable mold inhibiting coating is highly recommended for protection against microbial surface adhesion.
- Consider flood vents in the crawlspace: In some states, flood vents are mandatory by code and for proper flood coverage by insurance companies, depending on the area and proximity to a flood zone. The NFIP Regulations and Building Codes require that any residential building constructed in Flood Zone Type A have the lowest floor, including basements, elevated to or above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). Enclosed areas (enclosures) are permitted under elevated buildings provided that they meet certain use restrictions and construction requirements such as the installation of flood vents to allow for the automatic entry and exit of flood waters. This wet floodproofing technique is required for residential buildings. Flood vents may be of a solid (non-vented) variety to allow more aggressive humidity control countermeasures (such as a suspended dehumidification system).
- Install a backwater valve or floor drain plugs: This device will help prevent backed-up sewage and water from entering the home.
- Install a sump pump or french drain: These will help direct any pooled water away from the home so that it doesn’t continue to build up and cause mold after a hurricane. If possible, get a battery-operated backup pump as well, so that it can still be used in the event of power loss.
7. Secure the HVAC
- Outfit the system with metal tie-down straps: These tools secure the system to the ground so that strong winds can’t rip it away.
- Install a protection cage: This will help secure the system so that strong winds don’t pick it up and help protect it from damage.
8. Assess the Gutter Situation
- Make sure that they’re installed properly and that downspouts point away from the home: Opting for downspout extensions is a great way to add another layer of protection so that mold after a hurricane does not occur.
9. Increase Siding Resistance
- Choose a siding that is better equipped to handle heavy winds and storms: Siding options vary depending on each unique situation but typically, vinyl is a great material option.
- Replace hard landscaping materials like gravel and rocks with softer materials such as mulch or dirt.
- Elevate the home if you’re in an area prone to flooding or storm surges. This is incredibly costly but can save you money down the line from recurring water damage and mold after a hurricane.
- Move appliances and utilities to higher-level floors and above Base Flood Elevation (BFE) in case of flooding. This is safer and can prevent them from getting water damage or becoming contaminated with mold and bacteria.
- Using mold-resistant materials in the home. Opting for things like mold-resistant paint and caulk is a great way to prevent mold after a flood occurs in your home.
- Opt for flood damage-resistant and moisture-resistant building materials. These materials are designed to sustain little or no damage after 72 hours of water exposure and can be successfully cleaned to render them free of harmful pollutants. Check out this guideline by FEMA for more information.
- Anchor the fuel tank to the ground to help prevent any damage.
- Take extra precautions to anchor down any outside additions such as aluminum carports, storage buildings, or dog houses.
When in doubt, contact a qualified professional to come out and assess the home to see what protections you can install and which are best suited for your unique needs.
Keeping Up With Home Maintenance to Avoid Mold After a Hurricane
Staying on top of home maintenance will help lessen the load of tasks you need to complete before this major storm rolls through. The more set up your house is now, the better prepared it will be for unexpected events and avoiding issues such as mold after a hurricane.
Home maintenance steps include:
- Checking that gutters are maintained properly
- Resealing any caulk on schedule
- Having pumping systems checked to avoid issues
- Inspect pipes for any wear and tear
- Ensuring sump pumps and french drains are operating correctly
- Inspecting the roof and repairing any issues ASAP that pop up
Home maintenance isn’t always at the top of our priority list, but it can work wonders for safeguarding a home against water damage and preventing mold after a hurricane.
How Do You Protect Your Home From Mold Before A Hurricane Hits?
Taking action before a storm hits is one of the top ways to prevent mold after a hurricane. It can help protect your home from water damage in the first place as well as reduce the opportunity for mold to grow.
Steps you should take include:
- Install and activate sump pumps or french drains. These will help direct any pooled water away from the home so that it doesn’t continue to build up and cause mold after a hurricane. If possible, get a battery-operated backup pump as well, so that it can still be used in the event of power loss.
- Check out the siding of the home: If there are any cracks or structural issues, get these repaired as soon as possible.
- Close and lock all doors and windows: This will keep the house locked down during the high winds from the storm.
- Deploy any window and door protections: This can include storm shutters, storm doors, or any other protective measure you have. In lieu of this, consider placing temporary protection such as plywood along the surfaces.
- Clean out the gutters and make sure that they’re ready for the oncoming watery event. This will help properly divert as much water as possible from the home. Addi
- Check the flashings along the roofline. If they’re bent, rusted, cracked, or not in great condition in any way, quickly repair them.
- Assess sealings around doors and windows: If you notice any cracks or gaps, reseal these as soon as possible so that moisture doesn’t get in. Also, check any other openings such as vents and exterior lighting.
- Create a list of professionals to contact to help handle the situation properly: This can include a qualified remediation team, a qualified mold inspector, professionals who can repair anything in the home, insurance companies, and contractors for major construction damage. Everyone you'll need to handle the water damage and mold after a hurricane should be on this list.
- Elevate appliances and utilities: This will not only help you save money, but also help your home continue to function properly after a large storm. The use of utilities can help you dry out your space faster, which is key to avoiding mold after a hurricane.
- Make sure you have a generator ready and that it’s in working order: With hurricanes often comes a loss of power, which can interfere with the sump pump’s ability to drain water.
- Take a close look at the roof for any issues: This is a major line of defense during hurricanes, so ensure that there are no holes, loose shingles, or any other issues that can allow for water damage.
- Move as many nonporous items as possible to a higher elevation: These take longer to properly dry out and are much more difficult to decontaminate if mold after a hurricane occurs in your home.
- Double-check the property for any cracks in the foundation: If you find any, make sure to resolve them as soon as possible before the oncoming inclement weather so that moisture doesn’t sneak inside.
- Ensure that the flood drain plug or backwater valve is in good condition and is working properly: This will help prevent water or sewage from backing up into a home.
- Create an after-hurricane tool kit: This should include everything you’ll need to quickly and effectively dry out the space, which is crucial in helping prevent mold after a hurricane. The kit should include a shop vac equipped for wet vacuuming, botanical cleaning products, a mop, microfiber towels, and a dehumidifier.
- Deploy flood barriers around the property: These are designed to prevent water from entering a home, which can help avoid mold after a hurricane. Pay special attention to any openings such as doors and garages.
- Install braces and/or horizontal beams along the garage door: These will help protect the door from strong winds and debris.
- Inventory trees for any issues: Remove dead branches or other hazards that can get tossed around during a storm.
- Check the soffits along the home and make sure that they’re installed correctly with enough fasteners: If they’re not, they can be ripped away and create an opening for moisture to get inside the home. Resolve any issues that you find before the storm comes through.
- Bring in all outdoor furniture and belongings: These can get whipped around by the wind and cause structural damage to a home.
- Secure any items outside: This can include fencing, sports equipment, decking porches, and anything that could be blown around during the storm.
- Create an inventory of belongings for the home and take pictures: This will be incredibly beneficial for working with the insurance company.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a great foundation to get started on to ensure you’re doing everything you can to protect your home and prevent mold after a hurricane.
Are You Covered For Mold After A Hurricane?
Even with all of the steps above, water damage from particularly devastating storms can still affect your home. Making sure that you’re covered can help you feel confident that you’ll have the funds necessary to handle the water damage and deal with mold after a hurricane if it occurs to you.
Considering that one inch of rain can cause $25,000 of damage to a home, and that’s not even including remediation, it’s crucial to have the coverage you need and deserve. Otherwise, you could be staring at a giant bill and have to make a decision on whether or not you can afford the cost of making your home a safe environment once again.
As we saw with Hurricane Katrina, far too many individuals were forced to completely abandon their homes due to the massive amount of funding required to deal with the damage.
Looking to Insurance
Having the correct insurance for hurricanes and mold is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
A key point to remember is that standard homeowners' and renters' insurance typically does not cover hurricane damage. Oftentimes, you need to purchase additional flooding and wind protection for assistance. That way, you’re covered for any unexpected events including mold after a hurricane.
Coverage for mold is also not standard in homeowners' and renters' insurance, so this should be another additional layer of protection added to any policy. It may be covered by flood insurance, but double-check to be sure. Also, pay attention to how much coverage is offered. Usually, the amount is around $10,000, which does not always cover the hefty price tag of remediation. That can leave you with a huge bill to decontaminate the space. Weaving in other policies like property damage, flood damage, loss of use, and personal damage can help mitigate what could be an expensive remediation treatment.
Even with all this protection, it’s important to look at what exactly those policies cover, the amount that you’ll receive for damages, deductibles required, and any specific exclusions prohibiting coverage. While this may seem like a lot of work or extra money, having extensive coverage can help you as a policyholder focus on rebuilding instead of fretting about the high cost or potentially cutting corners that will not resolve the toxic indoor environment.
Renter’s Dealing With Flooding
For renters, insurance is a huge part of dealing with mold after a hurricane (and flooding in general), but the lease and local laws are also parts of the puzzle. Take a deep dive into what actions your landlord must take based on the lease agreement, what your insurance actually covers, and your local laws. That way, you can have a plan in place for what to expect should a water damage event occur in your home.
Purchasing additional flood insurance is absolutely a good idea. This will offer assistance with any belongings ruined due to hurricane damage. Most renter's insurance covers wind damage, but double-check just to make sure because this coverage is sometimes excluded in high-risk areas.
It may also be worth it to discuss it with the landlord before any event happens so that you can have peace of mind that they have your health and wellness at heart. If you know their plan will not resolve the problem or deal with potential contamination, it may be time to consider a new location.
Unfortunately, protection for renters dealing with hurricane damage and mold is nowhere near where it should be. Getting this out of the way early on can help ensure that you’re covered should any issue pop up in the future. Otherwise, you could be looking at limited coverage and assistance for both ruined belongings and mold after a flood.
How Do You Avoid Mold After a Hurricane Hits?
Remember that mold can grow in as little as 24 hours. Having a plan in place to quickly and effectively dry out, clean, and repair your indoor environment is crucial for eliminating opportunities for contaminants like mold and bacteria.
Throughout each step of the process, take the time to document everything. This will help tremendously with insurance companies.
Steps to take to address water damage from a hurricane include:
- Determine where the water intrusion is coming from
- Put on protective gear, including clothing, gloves, and a respirator
- Pump out any standing water
- Use a shop vacuum to remove any remaining water
- Toss out any porous items
- Mop, clean, and dry the area thoroughly
- Turn on the dehumidifier
- Contact a qualified mold inspector to come in and assess the home
- Get in touch with your insurance company and start filing your claim
- Contact any required professionals to begin resolving any structural issues so that the moisture intrusion cannot occur again
For more information on these steps, check out this blog post. From there, any necessary repairs can begin to be made and belongings replaced.
If any contamination is found in the home during the mold inspection, the best option is to call in a qualified remediation company to come in and decontaminate the space as soon as possible. The longer the mold is present in the building, the more particles it will release into the air, contaminating that indoor space. Keep in mind that the team should address the source that led to the water damage in the first place, remove the actively growing sources, and eliminate contamination in the space including mycotoxins and bacteria.
Deep cleaning to remove contamination should also be performed on all belongings in the building.
A few other considerations for maintaining a safe environment include:
- Replacing any porous structural items like insulation that were affected by the water damage
- Thoroughly decontaminating all semi-porous items such as wood
- Having a professional assess appliances such as water heaters for issues
- Hiring a professional decontamination team to come out and thoroughly clean the entire space
Removing contamination can be tricky, especially once microorganisms like mold put down roots. Calling in the big guns can help you save time and ensure you’re living in a healthy environment.
For renters, it’s a little more tricky to handle as you do not own the home and are subject to the property owner’s decisions.
Steps you should take include:
- Document any and all damage
- Get in touch with the landlord to alert them to the problem
- Contact the insurance company
- Begin drying out the space as much as possible and cleaning all surfaces
- Determine if a mold inspector will be coming by
- Ensure any repairs are completed ASAP
- Determine how the space will be properly decontaminated
From there, it’s up to the landlord to ensure that it’s once again a safe indoor environment and that any mold after a hurricane is handled.
If you’re concerned with how an event was handled, consult with a "toxic tort" attorney in your area who can advise you of your rights. Unfortunately, the rights vary from state to state, so you’ll need someone who is knowledgeable and able to handle specific regulations in your area. With these in hand, you can start down the right path to make sure you have safe housing.
Dealing with a home impacted by major events like hurricanes can be overwhelming, exhausting, and disheartening. Not to mention, stressful! Just remember that you will get through this dark time and there will be brighter, less stormy days ahead.
Creating an action plan for avoiding mold after flooding and preventing water damage in the first place can help give you peace of mind that your indoor environment will remain a safe space for you and your family. And if water damage does occur, knowing what steps you need to take to handle the situation is one less thing to worry about in a situation that often comes with a million and one questions.
When in doubt, reach out to an expert to answer any concerns you may have. With how much time we spend in these indoor environments and the massive investment they are, you can never be too over-the-top when it comes to protection.
Health beings at home.™
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