After natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, or other types of storms, the site and property may have hazards that could risk home occupants' and workers' health. Follow the "Top 10 Tips for Post-Disaster Home Restoration" from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 's Consumer Tips for a Post-Disaster Home Restoration to ensure the safety of workers and occupants when returning to a disaster-damaged home.
- Remind yourself often to put people before property! Make safety your top priority.
- Wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including protective clothing and a respirator approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), every time you set foot in a damaged or moldy building.
- Assess structural stability and hidden hazards before you enter. Do not enter the building if you see downed power lines or broken gas or water lines; call the appropriate utility.
- Prepare a plan for site work (supplies and methods), make a map (disposal and cleanup site layout), and review insurance policies and disaster assistance resources.
- Go slow when pumping out water, then act fast to dry out and remove mold. Read, copy, and share the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Mold Removal Guidelines sheet from HUD's Rebuild Healthy Homes guidebook.
- Permanently remove wet insulation and foam padding, even if the surface looks dry and clean.
- Assume lead-based paint and asbestos are in homes built before 1978 (unless verified not present). Be mindful that disturbing such materials increase the hazard.
- Control dust, capture debris, and contain contaminants – with wet methods, drop cloths, debris bags, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuums, and workers trained in safe work practices.
- Check credentials and hire only licensed and insured contractors, Lead-Safe Certified Renovators, and certified asbestos professionals. Examine qualifications of mold remediation, fire and water damage restoration, and other professionals. Check with your local contractor licensing agency, permit office, and health department for requirements and lists.
- Restore for more than before! Install hazard-resistant materials, connectors, and building systems. Include energy-saving and healthy home improvements.
Additional information on common contaminants encountered during clean-up and renovation activities is provided below.
Molds are living organisms found in homes with humidity and wetness problems, usually in damp, dark areas on walls, ceilings, carpets, and furniture. Mold can significantly impact indoor air quality and damage structural building materials, such as Oriented strand board (OSB) sheathing, as shown in Figure 1. Mold is especially problematic following natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and any other disaster that increases moisture in a home. For more information on returning home safely following a natural disaster, follow the guidance in the Homeowner's and Renter's Guide to Mold Cleanup After Disasters from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Environmental Protection Agency (FEMA), HUD, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). For information on worker safety when dealing with potential mold issues following a natural disaster, follow Mold: Worker and Employer Guide to Hazards and Recommended Controls from EPA, HUD, NIH, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
In homes built before 1978, renovation workers should assume that paint is lead-based. Any work on window frames and other painted surfaces should follow all state and federal laws for handling hazardous materials. Follow the most current version of EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program Rules. For homeowners returning to homes following a natural disaster, follow the guidance in the Homeowner's and Renter's Guide to Reducing Lead Hazards After Disasters from EPA, FEMA, HUD, and NIH. For workers providing clean-up services following natural disaster events, follow the guidance in Lead: Worker and Employer Guide to Hazards and Recommended Controls from EPA, HUD, NIH, and OSHA.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral that has historically been used in building materials. Cutting, tearing, or abrasion of asbestos materials can release asbestos fibers into the air. If inhaled, the asbestos particles can cause lung cancer and other forms of lung disease. Examples of materials that might contain asbestos include vermiculite insulation in attics and walls, tape used to seal old ducts, insulation on steam pipes and ducts, door gaskets in furnaces, plaster in old houses, vinyl flooring, and wall cladding. To find out more about asbestos, see the EPA's asbestos website and the Homeowner's and Renter's Guide to Asbestos Cleanup After Disasters from FEMA, EPA, HUD, and NIH for homeowners returning home after a disaster or Asbestos: Worker and Employer Guide to Hazards and Recommended Controls from HUD, EPA, NIH, and FEMA for workers providing clean-up services following natural disaster events.
Radon is a naturally occurring soil gas that can cause lung cancer. This gas can enter the home through cracks, penetrations, or gaps in the foundation, concrete slab, or floor over a crawlspace. Air sealing steps to minimize soil gas entry should include air sealing of any cracks in and around the subfloor. A vapor barrier should be installed over any bare earth floor in a home's basement or crawlspace; the polyethylene sheeting should be taped at all seams and sealed to the walls as described in the guide Capillary Break at Crawlspace Floors - Polyethylene Lapped Up Walls and Piers or Secured in the Ground (see Figure 2). If you are detecting oil, gasoline, or sewer gas odors inside the home, investigate to determine the cause. A plumber or remediation specialist may be needed to mitigate the issue. See Step 2 in the Existing Homes Tool on ensuring fresh air, which includes sections on providing ventilation and radon mitigation. Also, see the Indoor airPLUS checklist in the Building America Solution Center. The EPA has more information on reducing radon and other soil gases at the Indoor airPLUS program website and the EPA website on radon.
For information on radon mitigation systems, see the following guides: Vertical Radon Ventilation Pipe and Radon Fan. For more information for workers on safely cleaning up their home following a natural disaster, follow the guidance in the report Radon: Worker and Employer Guide to Hazards and Recommended Controls from EPA, HUD, the NIH, and the OSHA. For more information for homeowners on returning to a home safely following a natural disaster, see the Homeowner's and Renter's Guide to Reducing Radon After Disasters from EPA, HUD, NIH, and OSHA.
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The following authors and organizations contributed to the content in this Guide.