Guidance and Recommendations for House Gutting Following Flooding
DRAFT edits in progress
NOTE: This document does not include guidance on mold remediation or rebuilding.
First priority are the residents. Anything they say goes. They are the final decision makers on everything. We have had success with a counselor or social worker working with gutting teams to support the residents/families.
General guidelines (if you don’t have a strong personal relationship with the residents):
Talk through with residents if there is something in particular they are looking for. Photos are often washed out (except Polaroids) - but we were able to find things such as wedding rings, safes, diplomas, and insurance documents. Even photos that are damaged but have visible faces can be important to keep. Keep an eye out for any and all paperwork, mail, and jewelry boxes. CDs can sometimes be restored. Tupperware bins often float and may contain important documents. Again, if a resident wants to keep something and you think it’s a gonner keep it.
Third priority is everything else - saving what can be saved and leaving the house in the best state you can depending on flood levels and time elapsed.
Inspect all structures before entering - pay attention to floor stability and anything overhead (ceiling/roof that seems unstable). When in doubt stay out and seek a professional opinion.
When entering structures everyone should wear:
Hydrate more than you think you need to when working. Encourage teams to take water breaks at least every 90 minutes. Keep an eye out for crew members who may be overexerting themselves and suggest lighter duties.
Keep the floor clean - never leave boards with nails on the floor - that’s a recipe for a puncture wound.
Be aware that you may find guns and/or ammunition in homes. Discuss with residents in advance and make a plan with everyone on site about appropriate disposal.
First Aid Kits
Cover every cut/scratch to prevent infection. Recommended first aid kit supplies for this work:
The following tools are recommended for a group of about 10 people. If you just get the tools in italics you can still make it happen. Organizations doing multiple houses will want to secure as many as possible from the list below.
Trash Before you start, figure out what to do with the trash. Some parishes may require trash to be bagged (black contractor bags work best) - others may allow piles (after Katrina they had to be separated by appliances, chemicals/cleaners/paint/hazmat, and everything else). Make sure the trash pile is not on top of a water meter.
Group supplies. Make sure everyone has a mask, gloves, boots, and plenty of water.
Identify available bathrooms. Make a plan with the group for breaks/lunch/water.
Make a safety plan and locate first aid kit.
Make a storage plan with the resident for things they want to keep. This can be as simple as placing things on the lawn and then returning them to the house at the end of the day.
Step 1 - Communicate with residents. If they are renting either agree to end after Step 5 or communicate with the landlord about the property. Clarify what they need, what you can offer, timeline/schedule, contact information, if they would like to be present, and any personal items they may be looking for.
Step 2 - Scout/Inspect the house. Ideally this would happen the day before so the team can be prepared with the proper tools and estimate the time needed to complete the job. This can happen day-of when you first arrive too.
Step 3 - Communicate. Again. If the residents are there introduce the team, explain the plan, remind them that you are only doing what they are comfortable with (they can tell you what to do, stop the process at any time, slow down, etc.)
If you are working with volunteers brief the group on the plan. Remind them to be respectful of the resident and their items - have them imagine what it would be like to have a crew full of strangers going through every item in their home. Let them know that this is the first step in a long process toward recovery.
Step 4 - Turn off all utilities. Water and gas should be turned off outside the house. If electricity is on in the neighborhood flip the main breaker.
Step 5 - Contents. The first things that should be removed are personal items and furniture - basically anything that would fall out if the house was flipped upside down. This may involve some mud depending on flood water quality and speed. Be sure to open closets and cabinets. This step can take a full day (or more) for a fully flooded house. Some residents will want to inspect everything for salvageable items as they are removed - it is important to honor this process and not rush it.
Step 6 - Appliances & Fixtures. Use caution when removing appliances that may have water or gas hook-ups. Always use the local shut-off valves (even though you already turned off all utilities). Hot water heaters can be heavy and difficult to move, but make sure to drain them outside of the house. If the house has been without power for more than 2 weeks use caution when opening the fridge. After Katrina we duct taped fridge doors shut (often securing with a truck strap) and did not attempt to open. If damaged, ceiling fans and overhead light fixtures should be removed with a screwdriver (not pried off the ceiling). Be careful when removing thermostats, as these typically have a little vial of mercury in them which could easily break. Tubs and toilets can be very hard to remove and sometimes may be salvageable - best to leave them for professional plumbers.
Step 7 - Baseboards/Molding/Interior doors/Cabinets/Carpets. Thinking through how these components were installed can help you remove them with minimal damage/effort.
Step 8 - Drywall. If the walls are constructed of something else (like plaster or bargeboard) seek professional guidance. If the flood waters were below the ceiling some drywall may be salvageable. This can be done by cutting or scoring a straight, horizontal line and removing just the drywall below. Make sure the line is above any mold. Mold often grows on the back of drywall so remove a piece above the waterline to check. Hitting drywall with a sledgehammer is very inefficient. Your goal should be to remove the largest pieces possible, which can easily be done by getting a crowbar behind the drywall next to a stud and pulling towards you to “loosen” the drywall around the nails. Any exposed termite damage should be reported to the homeowner - roaches or other bugs should not be.
Step 9 - Nails. Following drywall removal there will be many many nails in the studs. Removing these can assist with mold remediation and rebuilding.
Step 10 - Communicate with the residents. At the end of every day explain what was accomplished, what is still left to be done, if there are plans to return and answer any questions. This is also a good time to ask if they have friends or family who may also need assistance.
Step 11 - Debrief with your group. This is especially useful if working with non-local volunteers. Thank them for helping in the first step (and a very important one) of a long recovery process for the residents, and make them feel good about what they’ve accomplished. Give them actionable items for when they return home that will help continue the recovery efforts from afar (organizations to support, talking about their experiences with others, etc.)