After the Storm: Insulating Your Home from Future Floods and Contamination
The following post was written in conjunction with Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center in an effort to raise awareness of about asbestos in older homes/construction and what new insulation materials are available.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma caused record-setting property damage after striking Texas and Florida just a few months ago. As the floodwater recedes and the figures come in, home inspections, assessments, and insurance claims are providing a clearer estimate of the total cost. According to National Geographic's Climate Data Center, Katrina set the record as costliest weather event in U.S. history after generating 160 billion dollars in damage across nine States. However, Hurricane Harvey soared to the number two position, with damage estimating between $86-$108 billion. Adding to the cost, gale force winds and fast-moving currents common to major storms makes the dispersal of solid and liquid contaminants much easier. Potentially transporting toxins for miles, dangerous debris and liquids can contaminate both property and structures, leading to poor air quality and even breathing problems for some individuals. Posing a risk to unprotected individuals, it’s important to be aware of and protected from potential hazards and toxic materials.
From cosmetic damage to structural integrity, the property inspector will look for any issues while assessing the building from top to bottom. Flooding and winds can weaken or damage foundations. If left unattended, the structure can become unsafe and even compromise gas lines or sheer electrical wire. Therefore, once the inspector enters the structure they will immediately turn off all gas and electric services and appliances to check damage or code violations. Monitoring and detecting changes in air quality and gas concentrations is an essential step to the inspection because generator fumes and broken gas lines can expel potentially combustible and or toxic gases. High concentrations of carbon monoxide in particular can cause loss of consciousness or even death within minutes of unprotected exposure.
- Wear protective equipment before contact with any water or debris
- Hire a qualified building and property inspector before entering any structure
- Photograph all damage reported by inspector
- Be aware of hazardous or changing air conditions
Hurricanes, seasonal snow melt, and heavy rains generate the floods that devastate communities, fill basements, and, in severe cases, submerge homes almost entirely. Floodwater saturated with industrial chemicals, fertilizers, and fuels transport potentially hazardous materials and unknown solids that settle on properties and within structures. All storm runoff and stagnant pools should be treated as hazardous. Following the structural inspection, homeowners should have excess water removed immediately and dry out the area thoroughly. Severe water damage could require an expert remediation service, especially if unknown chemical or mold odors linger. Soaked drywall and traditional insulation materials could have absorbed potentially hazardous liquids, promoting mold growth, and if allowed to dry out both can lead to possible allergic reactions, breathing complications, or lung damage. Extensive remediation often results in the costly replacement of drywall, insulation, flooring, and even framing.
Thankfully, there are modern insulation solutions designed to resist water absorption as well as reject bulk water ingress. If you live in a flood prone area, consider looking into modern spray foam insulation solutions such as closed cell spray foam. In fact, Icynene has developed a medium density, closed-cell spray foam insulation that meets FEMA standards as a flood resistant material. Homes insulated with closed cell spray foam products, such as Icynene ProSeal, can efficiently maintain temperature and humidity while helping to protect homeowners against future insulation replacement costs after a flood, hurricane or even a broken pipe.
Potentially Contaminated Debris or Materials
Some construction materials can contain harmful additives that individuals should not come in contact with. Yet, as we know too well, storm water and high winds can expose these surprisingly common materials. Therefore, during the initial property inspection, it’s important take note of all organic (plants, trees, etc.) and inorganic (trash, building materials, etc.) items that could have come from, or been carried to the property.
Organic material like plants and fallen trees can be removed by homeowners wearing protective equipment, however, individuals should never touch or disturb any unknown-inorganic solids. Questionable or potentially hazardous debris should be immediately reported to and handled by certified remediation professional only. For example, building materials common to the late 1900s often contained carcinogenic asbestos, and can still be found common products of the past including:
- Ceiling and floor tiles
- Roofing papers and shingles
- Cement board siding and masonry products
- Paints, adhesives, and gaskets
- Vermiculite and other fiberglass insulation
Because asbestos products are inherently brittle, if they are cut, broken, or exposed to high winds or fast moving currents, they can break apart and contaminate both the air and water with billions of microscopic carcinogenic fibrils. Asbestos contamination is hard to detect, so accidental inhalation or ingestion is extremely difficult to prevent. Once in the body, the fibers cause damaging inflammation and scar tissue better known as mesothelioma. Traveling through the body, asbestos can become trapped to multiple locations, including the lungs (pleural), abdomen (peritoneal), or heart (pericardial). Construction workers, emergency responders, and DIY home flippers, are most commonly diagnosed with the type that develops in the pleura, however, mesothelioma life expectancy in general is often less than ideal due to misdiagnosis and or late detection. Homeowners should never attempt to handle or remove asbestos, calling a trained professional is a necessary precaution.
Monitoring Conditions after Remediation
Whether the property and structural inspection passes or fails, the inspector will always be able to answer questions and recommend cleanup, repair, or reconstruction professionals in your area. Peace of mind comes when families return and settle into their home, knowing everything has been properly decontaminated, repaired, and protected from future weather events. However, it’s important that with the introduction of new materials, and potential presence of unaddressed water or mold, homeowners continuously monitor indoor air conditions for any changes that could cause serious harm.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are gases that get released from building materials, adhesives, paints, cleaning supplies, and other common commercial and residential products. Frequent contact or inhalation of VOCs can cause headaches, sinus sensitivities, and breathing complications. Another extremely common, naturally produced, and radioactive VOC present in the U.S. is called radon. Generated as a product of decomposing soils and rocks, radon is found in every state and is safe in low concentrations. In most cases, it freely rises to the surface, and safely dissipates into the atmosphere. However, if radon becomes trapped by a structure, it will take the path of least resistance, often entering structures through exposed soil basements, foundation cracks, and sump pits. Long-term exposure to higher-than-average radon levels causes cancer to develop in the lungs, and among U.S. non-smoking citizens, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer. Radon monitoring is always suggested, yet it’s not required by federal law, relying on local municipalities to assess and implement radon codes based on geographic location, seismic activity, flood risk, and soil composition.
Things to Remember
- Be aware of potential contaminants and damaged structural components or materials and have a structural inspection performed before entering the building
- Photograph both property and structural damage, including any unknown debris, waste or potentially contaminated building materials for insurance and potential analysis
- Disaster remediation service will remove standing water, expose hidden damage, fix the problem, and replace damaged or contaminated materials with more sustainable alternatives
- Asbestos-containing materials and debris can only be removed by a certified abatement professionals trained and equipped to safely contain and dispose of asbestos
- Icynene’s closed cell spray foam insulation meets FEMA criteria as a flood-resistant material to help reduce the risk of water ingress from floods and hurricanes
- Monitoring air conditions will alert you to changing or the presence of any unknown toxins or gases that can cause respiratory conditions and cancers