Louisiana Flooding: Interior demolition and cleaning advice

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Let me preface this so that other licensed, accredited, insured mold abatement contractors don’t get upset with me – a professional is the best person to deal with mold.

But hey I am realisticnot everyone is insured and not everyone can afford to hire a mold abatement contractor, so these are some things that you CAN do that are affordable, reasonably effective and certainly better than nothing.

I received this text question from someone at 2am this morning

My Carpet was wet but there are no water lines. Do I have to remove any sheetrock?

This is my answer:

First pull up the baseboards to see if there’s a water line either from standing water or as a result of water wicking up the porous sheetrock from the wet carpet. If you don’t see a water line and the sheetrock isn’t wet or damp you can leave the sheetrock and treat with mold abatement chemicals, though the most conservative thing to do is:

  • Remove at least 6” of sheetrock and insulation and
  • Treat the exposed 2×4’s with anti-fungal/anti mycotic (Mold Armor, Concrobium or whatever else may be available, the label of which say “KILLS mold”). “Mold stain remover” is NOT sufficient.

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)

  1. Latex disposable gloves
  2. Old clothes that you are willing to throw away, or a water-resistant Tyvek suit (these are hot though)
  3. Eye protection
  4. Rubber boots
  5. N95 paper mask

If you’re just walking into a home to assess the damage it’s ok to walk in in street clothes; don’t roll around, sit on the floor, or touch anything though. Do go ahead and wear an N95 paper mask while you are inside.

Once you leave, either take off these clothes and bag them for later use or rinse down with a hose. If you are going to continue to wear the clothes make sure you sit on a towel or trash bag in your car. You don’t want to cross contaminate anything. If you like you can take off your street clothes and wash outside in a wash tub (etc) in a very sudsy Dawn solution, and rinse. Then wash in a washing machine. This is physical removal; not Mold Death.

If you’re actively working in a flood-damaged house wear clothes that you can remove and throw away or wear a waterproof or water resistant Tyvek suit, rubber boots, mask and gloves. If you have to wear regular clothes to conduct the demolition then either plan to throw away or set up a wash station outside the work zone.

A wash station requires three Rubbermaid totes, wash tubs, ice chests or something to hold water.

  1. The first has water and some sort of cleanser – Liquinox, Alconox, Dawn or OxyClean if nothing else is available, etc.
  2. The second tub should be some sort of mold abatement product (Concrobium, Mold Armor, etc).
  3. The third tub is the plain water rinse. Change out the water in the last 2 containers pretty frequently. Hang to dry to use the next day because this “clean up” business is time-consuming.

Change latex gloves periodically, and immediately if you tear them. You can wear leather or other work gloves over latex gloves too and just change the latex periodically and leave the leather gloves out to dry; don’t bring the gloves back to any clean place where you are staying while all of this is taking place. Again this is to prevent cross-contamination.

REMEMBER TO STAY HYDRATED! This is hot and dirty work and it’s August in Louisiana. Drink water and Gatorade (etc), in the ratio of about 3 waters to 1 Gatorade. Red Bull tastes lovely and may keep you awake but it’s not for hydration so don’t depend on that. It’d be a total bummer to survive an epic flood and then have heat stroke because you got too hot and dehydrated.

WHEN YOU FIRST GO INTO THE HOUSE
Open windows and doors to ventilate. PHOTO-DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. Remove face plates from electrical outlets. Put fans on them to dry them out if there is visible water. Don’t use previously-wet electrical outlets unless you must and unless you’re sure they’re dry. In the long run it’s best to replace the outlets; they’re cheap. Do NOT plug in to an outlet without removing the faceplate and drying.

FLOORING
If you have sealed or glazed (shiny) ceramic tile in your house it’s probably ok to leave it and just clean it. If you have porous or glued-on flooring like carpet, wood, wood laminate, or linoleum you’re going to need to remove it. If you then have bare concrete slab bleach or use JoMax, which is an outdoor mold-killing product, but it’s pretty inexpensive – about $20/gallon at most places.

If your home was built before 1979 there’s a high likelihood that you have asbestos tile floors. Remember those ugly 9×9 tile floors in a variety of unnatural colors from the 60s and 70s? Asbestos. If those are still glued down after the floodwaters recede I’d personally bleach the heck out of them, wet mop, and then when the floor dries, seal with a waterproof polyurethane because the risk of asbestos exposure if you attempt to remove intact asbestos tile is greater than the risk of breathing mold, unless your house was wet and untreated for a long time before anyone could get in to remove anything, in which case there may be a hazardous mold situation. The bleach, by the way, is to remove organics like dirt and bacteria. Mold, while also organic, on asbestos tile or anywhere else, will not be killed by bleach.

Remember to photo-document everything before and after you demo anything. If you don’t have access to a camera that puts a time and date stamp on the picture get a newspaper or make certain there’s a person in every picture with their phone on showing the date. Keep receipts for everything you buy. This helps you with the insurance companies later.

Remember – mold grows on organic substrates (stuff that at least at one time was “living” by the most popular definition). So mold won’t grow on glass or metal or plastic. But you say, Kim there’s mold on my glass stuff! That’s because there is DIRT on your glass stuff; it’s growing on the DIRT. Remove the DIRT.

SHEETROCK & INSULATION
If it’s wet it must go. The End. Industry standard is to remove 18-20” above the highest water line. If this will result in a cut that’s close to 48” wide then go ahead and cut out 48” because that’s the width of a piece of sheetrock and there’ll be less taping and floating. Remove at least as much wall insulation as sheetrock. Remember that most insulation contains fiberglass. Wear a mask; if used properly an N95 paper mask (~$2 from most anywhere) will keep you from breathing in those fibers. Wear gloves and long sleeves though because fiberglass itches like crazy when it enters your skin and it pretty much enters your skin if it contacts your skin. Use the masks with the plastic breathing vent because they’re a heck of a lot easier to breathe through.

“STUFF”
How important is it to you? After a flood some things can be salvaged; some cannot. If it’s porous (fabric, stuffed, paper, particle board/MDF, unsealed wood, stoneware, books, etc) throw it away. You can treat porous items but it’s a bit of a crap shoot because mold abatement success on porous things is sketchy at best. Nonporous items like metal, glazed or sealed tile, glassware/china, and most plastics can totally be treated for mold with a high success rate.
Clothing/fabric items may or may not be salvageable – again, how important is it to you? If it’s got visible mold the only thing you can do is toss, or treat with mold abatement chemicals. If it got wet but there’s no visible growth yet you can wash in mold abatement chemicals, reagent-grade cleansers (Liquinox, Alconox) or a bleach, a vinegar, or a tea tree oil solution.

Someone asked me earlier – if the clothes/fabric items were never wet from the flood waters but were IN the house that flooded are they contaminated? Maybe, maybe not. If they were never flood water-wet then wash in Dawn then in a regular wash load; OxyClean is good. If they were wet at all then wash via the 3-container method I described above (PPE section), then wash in a washer.

On the off chance that you have/have access to an autoclave you can autoclave some items to kill the mold too.

FURNITURE
Varies. Real wood that is not warped may be salvageable. Real wood that is warped may be salvageable but you may not want to try to salvage warped wood. Dry it out, then apply mold treatment chemicals and sand/scrub to both kill and physically remove mold spores. Let it dry and then reapply (spray or paint) with mold abatement chemicals. Let it dry.

APPLIANCES
If they were saturated, including floating around in flood waters, I’d toss them. It’s too risky to plug them back in because of the electrocution risk.


Headshot of Kim BartonKim Barton is the owner of Environmental Investigators a boutique environmental consulting group providing environmental assessments including mold and Phase I, II ESAs, permitting, and risk assessment, primarily in support of commercial real estate transactions and site development. She strives to be active and productive members of her community and to work towards the common goal of improving the state of Louisiana.

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