It's been just 18 months since Hurricane Florence blew through our coastal North Carolina area.

Our town was hit particularly hard, and the tidal surge from nearby water bodies coupled with drenching rains filled our home with over two feet of water.

Over the months that followed, I learned a lot about water damage, what it does and what homeowners can do about it before and after it happens.

The first thing you'll learn when your home is uninhabitable is the value of family, friends and community. And the second thing you learn is the importance of insurance, the right kind of insurance.

Even if you don't live near the ocean, a lake, river, stream, or canal, water damage can result from a variety of sources. Approximately one-fifth of all insurance claims are due to some type of water damage.

A water heater could leak while you are away on vacation. Water pipes in your crawl space could freeze in a cold snap. The sewer or drainage line on your street could back up. A dishwasher or washing machine or toilet could overflow. Pipes and drains under sinks could be leaking without your knowledge. A windstorm could blow a tree limb onto your roof and punch a hole in it that leaks rainwater.

Know what your insurance covers

If you own a home, you need to know exactly what kind of insurance you have. If your home is in a flood plain as defined by local authorities, you should have flood insurance. If your mortgage is backed by federal insurance, and your home is in a flood plain, you are required to have insurance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

Not all water damage is created equal. For example, under the average homeowner’s insurance plan, leaks that develop gradually over time are generally not covered, while pipes that burst suddenly are.

Most water damage restoration services will cooperate with insurance providers to partially cover their services or, in some cases, provide full coverage. I strongly recommend that you check with your insurance provider to know what is and is not insured. Meanwhile, here's a quick primer on water damage and home insurance. 

Two other pieces of advice I'll give you are to create a photo record of your home's interior and exterior, and to purchase contents insurance. Make a photo record of possessions and serial numbers in case you need to make claims for replacing these belongings.

Be safe but act quickly  

No matter what kind of water damage you're hit with, time is of the essence.

You can see the water level on our home's
wall in this photo, and you can see
the irresversible damage even a few
hours of water exposure can do to floors,
drywall, and baseboards. 
If your home is flooded the way ours was, the faster you can empty it of everything wet, the better. In the chaos that engulfed our neighborhood following the storm, we were fortunate to have family members come to our aid, dragging to the curb carpeting, doors, furniture, and anything damaged beyond repair (most of what we owned).

And we quickly hauled to a dry storage facility anything dry enough to rescue. We were also fortunate to have purchased just a few months prior to the hurricane's arrival, a house we were in the middle of rehabbing as an investment property. We camped out in that house for the eight months it took for our own residence to be rebuilt.

During that time, it took professionals to do the nasty work of removing drywall and flooring to dry out the structure. FEMA and local authorities oversee to some extent the process as best they can, but it will be up to you to hire reputable remedial workers, not untrained volunteers or fly-by-night, non-local, price gougers.

Midway through the cleanout process in our home. The major concern is mold.
Microbial agents and quick dry-out are the solution.
No one wants any residual moisture in the structure. 
Whether your home is damaged by floodwaters (and I hope it never is!) or a slow drip under your kitchen sink, the sooner you take action, the less severe the damage.

If you don't know where the main water shut-off point for your home is, now's the time to learn. Some turn offs require a special tool. If the problem is a toilet or sink or washer or dishwasher or water heater, turning off the water source at the appliance is usually sufficient, depending on where the damage is exactly.

When it comes to removing residual water yourself, you'll likely be able to do it only to a point. Every homeowner should have a wet-dry vacuum. Anything you can do will help until you get a pro to fix the problem-- either a plumber, building contractor, carpenter, or restoration service, depending on the exact nature of the water damage.

Certain types of water such as floodwater can be full of contaminants and hazardous waste, which you should not attempt to clear out yourself. If you are unsure of the source, please leave the job to the professionals. Nothing is as important as your good health. Do not try to salvage carpet and upholstered items that have been wet as they can harbor harmful mold that will continue to grow even if unseen.

Replace or restore what's damaged 

We opted to replace our hardwoods, carpeting, and tile flooring with what real estate agents are telling me today's sellers like -- luxury vinyl planking. I can see why it is popular. It's bulletproof! Handsome patterns, easy to maintain, and it's waterproof. If we are hit with another flood, we are told this flooring can be removed, dried and re-installed! 
Polished concrete can be stained or left natural.
If it's too sleek or too chilly for you, area rugs will fix
the problem. In the right setting, polished concrete can
act as a passive solar heating system. Photo: Carl Hansen  

Another replacement option is polished concrete flooring due to its superior performance and durability. If you like the industrial vibe, this might be your choice. It's economical, durable, and low-maintenance. 

There are currently about 309,000 public and 10.4 million residential swimming pools in the United States. Whether it is in-ground or above ground, swimming pools contain thousands of gallons of water that can leak into the surrounding soil and cause damage to your home’s foundation. As a pool owner, part of your job is to stay on top of potential problems and leaks.

Schedule an Inspection

I was concerned running the identical
flooring throughout
our home would
look too commercial.
Instead, it created a
seamless, contemporary look I love.  
When your home sufferers extensive damage, your insurer and lender and local building inspector all need to be satisfied that the home is finished and safe. You'll be required to pass electric and plumbing inspections. Local authorities will guide you on requirements.

If the problem is less severe, it will be up to you and the people you hire to inspect singular water damage such as a roof or plumbing or appliance repair. If you are planning to put your home on the market, now is the time for a complete home inspection. The report you get will allow you to fix any remaining deficiencies so there are no surprises if your buyer wants an independent home inspection.

Chances are your home is not going to be flooded they way mine was. But I want to post my advice to my readers so you can prepare for the different ways water can damage a home.

Make your home the one buyers want. Stage it right. Download my eBook DIY HomeStaging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. I guarantee you will add value to your home by learning from my boots-on-the-ground years of experience in real estate.