What are the reasons for tearing down a flooded house?

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Home Improvement

Flooding after Hurricane Katrina. See more storm pictures.
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While water is essential for life, it can also be destructive. Floods are one of the most devastating events in human history, and even today, floods continue to wreak havoc on communities. When a flood hits your home, deciding what to salvage and what to let go of is a difficult decision.

Floodwater is dangerous as it picks up unsafe chemicals, mud, and refuse, making it unclean and unsafe to drink. Floodwater contaminates everything it touches, which means almost everything in your home during a flood. Even tap water is not safe immediately after a flood and needs to be decontaminated before use. Cleaning a flooded house is difficult, and some things like mattresses and wallboard can soak in contaminants that are impossible to remove. Therefore, experts advise disposing of contaminated items.

Renovating a flooded house in a flood-prone area requires floodproofing your home, such as adding waterproof seals, installing backflow valves in drains, and getting shields for doors and windows. Additionally, structural damage caused by floods can call for significant repairs, making it cheaper and safer to tear down a flooded house. Local regulations may even require it.

What is Structural Flood Damage and How Does It Lead to Demolition of a Flooded House?

Destroying the house is easy. Getting rid of the debris is more of a challenge, however.
ŠiStockphoto/Sonja Miokovic

Floods can impart lasting damage on a house, even if it isn’t hit by impact loads like waves. Renovating a flooded house is complicated as the inside of the house can remain waterlogged while the water outside the house subsides. This causes hydrostatic loads that press towards the side of the house with the lower water level, leading to walls and floors collapsing or cracking. Hydrodynamic loads can also cause similar physical pressures and inundate the house with silt and soil, weakening the foundation. Therefore, tearing down a flooded house may be necessary to prevent further damage.

If you notice that your ceilings are sagging or there are cracks in your basement or foundation walls, it may be necessary to replace them. Unfortunately, this can be costly and difficult. In some cases, demolishing a flooded home may be a better option than repairing it.

Making the decision to demolish your home can be tough, but sometimes it’s necessary. Certain local regulations may prevent you from repairing your home if the damage exceeds half of its market value. Other regulations may require you to raise your house higher off the ground or fill in the basement. The costs of complying with these regulations may make demolition a more appealing option.

While demolition can be expensive, flood insurance may cover some or all of the costs under the Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage, which is meant to bring your home up to regulation. It’s important to check your insurance policy before making any decisions.

If you decide that demolition is the best option, you’ll need to obtain the necessary permits before getting started. You’ll also need to disconnect any utility lines and properly dispose of any hazardous materials, such as asbestos.

During the demolition process, a bulldozer is used to knock everything down. However, disposing of the debris can be the most expensive part of the process. You may need to have it hauled away to a designated site and pay a fee for dumping it there.

After the demolition, you have a few options. You can choose to rebuild on your property’s clean slate or move out of the flood-prone area. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages.

When considering rebuilding a flood-damaged home, there are several challenges to keep in mind. Rebuilding on the same site will require flood-proofing the home and complying with local regulations, which may mean forgoing a basement and building at the correct elevation. The base flood elevation (BFE) is crucial to consider, as the first floor of the home must be at or above this level to prevent flood damage. The rebuilding process also requires obtaining permits and finding temporary housing during construction. However, rebuilding allows for a personalized home design and avoids uprooting the family. Moving to a new area outside the floodplain is another option, but selling flood-prone land can be difficult and local regulations require restoration of the old site. Rebuilding on a different portion of the property outside the floodplain is a possibility, but it still requires temporary housing and compliance with restoration regulations. It is important to understand that a 100-year floodplain does not mean a flood will occur once every century, but rather refers to a flood with a 1 percent or greater chance of occurring annually.

Additional Information Available

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Useful Resources

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency

Sources of Information

  • American Red Cross, FEMA. “Repairing Your Flooded Home.” American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency, 1992. (Dec. 9, 2008). https://americanredcross.com/static/file_cont333_lang0_150.pdf
  • CDC. “Flood: A Prevention Guide.” Centers for Disease Control. Jan. 1, 1994. (Dec. 10, 2008). http://wonder.cdc.gov/wonder/prevguid/p0000371/p0000371.asp
  • EPA. “Planning for Disaster Debris.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Updated Dec. 11, 2008. (Dec. 16, 2008). http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/imr/cdm/pubs/disaster.htm
  • FEMA. “Other Ways to Make Your House Floodproof.” Federal Emergency Management Agency. Nov. 20, 1998. (Dec. 10, 2008). http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=10678
  • FEMA. “Resource Record Details: Homeowner’s Guide to Retrofitting.” Federal Emergency Management Agency. June 1998. (Dec. 10, 2008). http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=1420
  • Rogers, Craig D., P.E. “Structural Damage Due to Floods.” Rimkus. (Dec. 16, 2008). http://util.rimkus.com/files/NEWS%20Structural%20Damage%20Due%20to%20Floods.pdf


1. What causes a house to flood?

A house can flood due to various reasons such as heavy rainfall, natural disasters like hurricanes or flash floods, burst pipes, or a malfunctioning sump pump. Whatever the cause may be, if water enters a house and remains stagnant for a prolonged period, it can lead to severe damage and pose a significant risk to the occupants’ health.

2. Why is it necessary to tear down a flooded house?

When a house floods, the water can seep into the walls, floors, and ceiling, causing structural damage. The water also carries harmful bacteria and viruses that can contaminate the entire house. If the water damage is extensive, it can be difficult and expensive to repair, and the structural integrity of the house may be compromised, making it unsafe to live in. In such cases, tearing down the house is often the most practical solution.

3. Can a flooded house be salvaged?

It depends on the extent of the damage. If the water damage is minimal, the house can be dried out, and the affected areas can be repaired or replaced. However, if the water damage is extensive, it may not be possible to salvage the house. A professional assessment is necessary to determine the extent of the damage and the feasibility of restoration.

4. What are the health risks associated with living in a flooded house?

A flooded house can pose several health risks, such as exposure to harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause infections, respiratory problems due to mold growth, and skin irritation due to prolonged exposure to contaminated water. It is crucial to vacate the premises immediately and seek professional help to prevent any health complications.

5. How long does it take for mold to grow in a flooded house?

Mold can start growing within 24 to 48 hours of water damage. It thrives in moist and humid conditions and can spread rapidly, affecting the structural integrity of the house and posing health risks to the occupants. Prompt action is necessary to prevent mold growth and minimize the damage.

6. Can insurance cover the cost of tearing down a flooded house?

Most standard homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover the cost of tearing down a flooded house. However, some policies may cover the cost of rebuilding or repairing the house. It is essential to check the policy terms and conditions and seek professional advice from an insurance agent.

7. How can one prevent a house from flooding?

Preventing a house from flooding requires taking proactive measures such as installing a sump pump, maintaining the gutters and downspouts, sealing the foundation walls, and elevating the electrical system and appliances above the flood level. It is also essential to monitor the weather forecast and evacuate the premises if necessary.

8. What should one do if a house floods?

If a house floods, the first step is to vacate the premises and turn off the electrical supply to prevent electrocution. The next step is to contact a professional restoration company to assess the damage and develop a restoration plan. It is essential to document the damage and contact the insurance company to initiate the claims process.

9. How can one ensure that a flooded house is safe to live in after restoration?

After restoration, it is crucial to ensure that the house is safe to live in. This involves testing the air quality for mold and other contaminants, ensuring that the electrical and plumbing systems are functioning correctly, and checking for any structural damage. It is also essential to follow the recommended safety precautions and maintain good hygiene to prevent any health risks.

10. What is the cost of tearing down a flooded house?

The cost of tearing down a flooded house varies depending on various factors such as the size of the house, the extent of the damage, and the location. It can range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. It is essential to obtain multiple quotes from reputable contractors and factor in any additional expenses such as debris removal and permit fees.

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