Planning For Rebuilding –
Adding Energy Efficiency
Building Shell Issues
Rebuilding a flooded house can be very expensive, so it is important to understand which items you must replace, which items you can salvage, and seek help managing and planning for the multitude of contractors needed to put your home back together.
First, you need to estimate your building construction and technical skills and determine what type of contractors you will need. This is where a service such as ours, can manage the entire renovation effort for you, organizing and aiding the entire scope of repairs.
Second, you need to collect information on the extent of damage, how you would like to rebuild, and your financial resources. Rebuilding is an opportunity for homeowners not only to rebuild, but to upgrade their houses in the process.
To accomplish this inexpensively you need to know:
- the degree of flood damage,
- the level of improvement you would like to reach during the rebuilding process
- what professionals to contact, along with what materials will be needed
By carefully inspecting every part of your home and surrounding area, and by answering these questions, it should be possible for you to develop a work- program aimed at rebuilding.
Increasing a home’s airtightness will lower its space heating and cooling requirements, allowing you to install a smaller, less expensive heating or cooling system and aiding it in maintaining your home’s environment.
Airtightness is essentially accomplished by minimizing leaks using caulking and weatherstripping. While repairs are taking place, pinpoint where air is leaking into the home and then seal those leaks. Common air leakage points include openings for plumbing and wiring, recessed lights, attic hatches, and at the top of foundation walls
Caulking can effectively seal smaller gaps (less than about 1/4″), but be sure to select a caulk that is suitable for the materials you are sealing. For larger gaps (1/4″ to 1″), use an expanding foam, or a backer rod followed by caulk. If your windows and doors have been broken or damaged due to flooding, now is an opportune time to upgrade their efficiencies.
A simple and quick way to cut down the heat loss from your existing windows is to seal around them with caulk. Doors should also be weatherstripped to make a tight seal when they are closed.
Windows can account for as much as 25 percent of the heat loss in homes. If existing units are in good condition, you can cost-effectively improve their performance with weatherstripping and caulk, as mentioned earlier. To double the energy efficiency of single-pane windows, install storm windows.
If your existing windows have been damaged or are in poor condition, consider replacing them with new, higher efficiency units. Double-pane windows incorporating the new technologies of low-emissivity coatings and gas-filling for greater insulation value are now the standard with many major window manufacturers. These units could cost about 25 percent more than a standard, double-glazed unit, but they are about twice as efficient, making the cost premium worthwhile.
Select wood, vinyl, or fiberglass frames rather than metal ones. Metals such as steel or aluminum are poor insulators and can account for as much as 24 percent of a window’s overall heat loss, in addition to contributing to condensation problems.
There are, however, metal windows which include a “thermal break” to avoid high heat loss. Be sure to ask for this feature if you decide to select metal windows.
And finally, windows that close against compression seals, such as casement and awning windows, tend to be more airtight than windows with sliding seals, such as double-hung and horizontal sliders.
Inspect exterior doors to be sure they are in good condition. Solid wooden doors that swell will tend to return to their original size when dry. Give them time to dry thoroughly before making adjustments. Check for warping or other structural damage if the doors have been exposed to flood water.
Quality construction, proper fit, adequate weatherstripping, airtight jambs, and tight-fitting hardware are important to a door’s efficiency. Obviously, any broken glass in the door should be replaced. Sweeps installed on the bottoms of doors can also help to ensure a tight seal. If your door is not very airtight, consider installing a storm door to reduce heat loss, or replacing the door with a new, insulated model with good weatherstripping.
Many wood doors are made from hardboard or contain hardboard spacers. However, wood products such as hardboard, plywood and oriented-strand boards will not regain their original shape when dried after substantial wetting.
Plywood and oriented-strand boards may delaminate. Hardboard swells when wet and can lose its strength. These products will have to be discarded and replaced.
If water has reached the insulation of your walls, floors, or ceiling, you will need to replace it. Some sources say that fiberglass insulation can be dried and reused with no loss of thermal performance. However, once any type of insulation has been exposed to water, the possibility for mold or mildew growth and the resultant potential indoor air quality problem exists. Therefore, flood-contaminated insulation should be replaced. Insulation is not the most expensive of materials and salvaging it is probably not worth the effort given the potential for problems.
Replacing your insulation provides an opportunity to select a product with a higher insulating or R-value, which will slow down the heat lost or gained within the house. For example, many homes with standard two-by-four framing have fibrous batts rated R-11. Within the same limited space, you can boost the insulating value to R-13 or R-15 by installing medium- or high-density fiberglass batts. Another option to increase your wall’s R-value is to add insulating foam sheathing to the outside walls. While availability and cost of these materials may vary in different areas, they can be cost-effective especially where energy costs are high.
Added insulation may take some of the strain off your heating and cooling system, saving energy and money.
You should also insulate attics and floors above unconditioned spaces to at least the minimum recommended levels. To determine what these levels are for your area, contact your local building permitting agency, or building inspector.
As you replace your insulation, you will discover that drywall and wood framing may also be wet. While you’ll want to replace your insulation and drywall as soon as you can, be aware that it can take weeks or months for a house to completely dry out. The house must be completely dry before it is re-insulated to avoid later damage to building materials and serious health problems for your family that may develop if moisture, mold, and mildew are allowed to go untreated in your house.
Wet or flooded foundations will be a continuous source of moisture, and can increase the time needed to dry the rest of the house. Homes with basements require special attention during the aftermath of a flood.
Do not be in too big a hurry to pump water out of your basement. Water in the ground outside your house is pushing hard against the outside of your basement walls. At the same time, the water inside your basement is pushing back. It is important to keep these two forces balanced as the water subsides. If the forces become unbalanced by pumping too rapidly, the basement floors or walls may crack.
It’s important to keep basement floor drains open and clear as flood water recedes to allow the pressures from outside and inside the foundation walls to equalize.
Crawl spaces require special attention as well. First, remove and discard all wet insulation and plastic sheeting you find there. Next, dry out the crawl space using natural or powered ventilation such as a fan if necessary.
If your home is older, this may be a good time to check with local building officials to determine if your crawl space is adequately vented. Finally, crawl spaces should have continuous plastic ground covers installed once standing water has been drained or pumped out of the crawl space. Damp ground that is not covered will continue to be a major moisture source. Crawl spaces should be ventilated as much as possible to dry them out.
Floors and Flooring
Unfortunately, most floor coverings will not survive water infiltration and should probably be replaced. By removing them you will also be helping the house to dry. If the floodwater reached wall-to-wall carpeting, you should discard it.
Tile, vinyl, and linoleum should also be removed to speed the drying of the floor. Although a good floor finish helps by preventing the water from penetrating the surface from above, the underside of the floor allows water to penetrate from below and cause swelling and damage. When the floor is dry, you can sometimes correct “cupping” by sanding and refinishing. Otherwise, you must replace the flooring.
Tile, vinyl, and linoleum are usually installed over an underlayment, which in turn is installed on a structural subfloor. Water can loosen these materials directly or through swelling of the underlayment so it may be necessary to replace the flooring material and probably even the underlayment.
Structural subflooring is usually plywood or oriented-strand board. Older types of plywood made for interiors are especially susceptible to damage since they may not have waterproof glue between the veneers. Water penetrates the unfinished edges and surfaces of the plywood causing the veneers to soften, swell and delaminate. If this has occurred, you may need to replace the structural subfloor as well. Advice from your building contractor should help you make a final determination.
Before you begin to rebuild or refinish, it’s important that the wood structure of the home be completely dry. Refer to the earlier section on drying and decontaminating your home.
In most homes, ceilings and walls are covered by either plaster or drywall. Plaster can regain its strength when dried, however it can not be decontaminated. Therefore, wet plaster should be removed and discarded.
Drywall acts like a sponge drawing water up above the flood level. Drywall becomes very fragile if it stays wet for a long time, and it will fall apart when bumped. Drywall can’t be decontaminated either and should also be discarded. Because new drywall will be installed horizontally, a good line to remove old drywall to will be about 48″ above the floor.
Check to make sure that the insulation above this line is dry and hasn’t wicked water any higher. Insulation can act like a paper towel does with a counter spill, pulling up water much higher than the point of contact with flood water. If it is wet, remove all drywall.
All wall coverings inhibit drying so they should be removed and discarded, even in homes where the flood water has not actually reached the walls. New wall coverings can be installed once the building has been dried and decontaminated.
Wood construction is durable and will normally be structurally sound even after being in water. But once the water recedes, the moist contaminated environment allows decay organisms to flourish. If the environment persists, the decay will cause structural damage. Therefore, you must dry the structure.
Kiln-dried or well-seasoned wood used for residential framing can absorb water and will swell as a result. However, as the wood dries it will often return to its original shape and strength. Remember that even if this occurs, you will need to decontaminate.
Many homes have either siding or brick on the exterior. To facilitate drying, walls can also be opened from the exterior. In the case of wood-lapped siding, plastic wedges can be inserted under the siding at the horizontal lap joint. Place a wedge beside each nail. The wedges will stay in place permanently and will improve paint performance. These wedges under siding are only an additional measure, not an alternative measure – you must still open and completely expose all exterior walls from the inside of the home.
In the case of brick, generally good quality brick masonry can withstand water over long periods. Most types of brick will dry out and show no permanent damage from water. In addition, a disturbance or subsidence of the foundation can cause cracks in brick masonry. Do a careful inspection and get professional help. Even tiny cracks may be evidence of much larger and costly problems with the foundation.
Electrical wiring in walls may suffer damage from wetting. The damage will depend on how well-sealed and impervious its shielding is. In many homes, plastic coated wiring is used, and it is fairly waterproof. Plastic-coated wiring will probably not need to be replaced after a flood.
Any outlet or switch, and all connections that have been under water for any period, however, may corrode. It is cheaper and safer to replace outlets and switches and to redo connections than to repair them. All electrical work should only be done by a qualified electrician, per the electrical codes of the area.
During the rebuild, you may want to consider adding or moving outlets, switches and fixtures. Ground fault interrupters installed in each branch of an electrical circuit are a good idea to consider as well as childproof outlets. If the house is old, it is possible the existing electrical service may be undersized. Consult your contractor about the feasibility of adding a larger service entry and more breakers.
Since you’ll be doing electrical work anyway to recover from the flood and the walls will be open for easy access, it may be a timely opportunity to consider electrical system improvements. Also, cabling for television, audio, and even security systems will be easy to install at this time.
A ceiling may not have been touched by flood water, but it can still be damaged by humidity. Check to see if drywall has swelled or pulled away from the framing. If it has, replacement will probably be necessary. If sections of the ceiling are sagging, carefully punch a few small holes at the low spots to drain collected water.
If flood water reached a drywall ceiling, you should remove and replace it. If the ceiling is plaster, it will dry eventually but will likely sag or crack, so it should also be removed and replaced. Remove all ceiling insulation to allow the joists to dry.
Consider upgrading the ceiling insulation as you rebuild. Remember, once the insulation contractor is on site to re-insulate walls, the extra cost of additional ceiling or attic insulation could be relatively minor.
If you’ve experienced severe water damage, contact us and we can formulate a plan of action to get your home safely back together. email: email@example.com phone: (301) 533.0111