Water Damaged Historic Homes – What To Do….

Unfortunately, this post may come at a time when the advice is needed.  Our friends in New Orleans, surrounding Louisiana and Texas are again in the path of a storm that has the potential to destroy the efforts over the last three years to restore the beautiful area.  My thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Gustav’s path and the following storm, Hannah

Regardless of where you live there is the potential to have your historic property affected by water.  While the initial onslaught of water may be quick and swift the aftermath is a slow and time-consuming project.  Some tips and advice for drying out your home are:

  • Natural ventilation and a SLOW drying process is the ONLY way to go.  Irreparable damage can result by the use of heat forced air.
  • Before beginning the process of drying out your building you must first address any health or safety concerns.  Always assume that power lines are active!  Even if the power is out in your surrounding area ALWAYS turn off the power to the house at the connection.  You also want to check for any natural gas leaks and be sure to turn it off at it’s source as well.  Keep in mind that floodwaters are most often contaminated with sewage and/or animal waste.  It is imperative that you protect yourself with goggles, face masks, and gloves.  Everything will need to be disinfected.
  • Be sure to photograph all damage to the property prior to clean up.  Please refer to Hurricanes and Historic Properties for additional tips on reporting damage.
  • Make temporary repairs to the property such as tarps on damaged roofs and windows to help prevent additional water from getting inside the building.  Some materials to consider are tarpaulin, 30- or 90-pound felt paper, and plywood covered with tarpaper.

Water damage will affect a building in three ways:

  1. Materials:  Wallboard can disintegrate; woods can swell, warp and rot;  electrical components can malfunction, short out and cause fires.
  2. Floodwaters are contaminated and cause more damage than rainwater.  The unknown contaminents in the floodwater can and will touch everything in a building and it will all need to be cleaned and disinfected.
  3. Moisture will attract harmful mold, mildew and fungus which promotes rot and causes serious health conditions.

When starting the drying out process you should:

  • Start at the top of the building – the attic!  If you have insultation that has been exposed (and chances are you do) it should be removed immediately and disposed of propertly.  Once insulation becomes wet most of it is then ineffective.  If it is not removed it can retain moisture and cause further damage to other materials such as wood, masonry and metals.
  • If you have items stored in your attic remove them.  Not only to dry them out but the additional weight of the water can cause cracks in your ceilings plaster.
  • Be sure to open all windows and vents in your attic and SHOULD your power be safe turn on your attic fan.
  • Inspect your ceilings!  Ceilings can hold trapped water that can lead to a collapse.  If you find areas of a ceiling that are bulging you will have to release the water by drilling holes in the ceiling to provide a release.  If possible capture the water in buckets instead of allowing it to simply spill out onto the floor below. 
  • Walls – Plaster walls can be saved if damaged ONLY by rainwater!  You will need to remove baseboards and drill holes in the bottom of the plaster to allow water to drain out.  Remove any insulation that has gotten wet and allow the walls to dry out completely.
  • Open windows in ALL rooms.  Even the rooms that appear not to have been affected.  Windows fans will help to circulate fresh air throughout the home encouraging the drying out process.
  • All wood features of the home such as trim work, doors, mantels, stairs, will need to be washed to remove any silt or mud.   Mold and mildew must be cleaned with a mixture of Clorox and water or a commercially avaiable disinfectant. 
  • Pay special attention to any historic wall coverings.  You will want to maintain a sample for research when the time comes to restore the property.
  • All wet furnishings, rugs, and carpets must be removed from the property.  If they remain in the property they will only increase the amount of moisture in the property therefore extending the drying out process and possibly making the potential for mold and mildew worse.
  • If wood floors are involved they must be cleaned with fresh water.  While boards may begin to warp during the drying process there is always the possibility that they will return to their original shape once the process is complete.  The use of weights or shoring the floor may aid in the retention of the boards shape.  If thee are any vapor barriers under the floor you need to remove them to encourage full circulation of air.  Drying floor boards can take several months for the to completely be dry.
  • If you have a basement and it has flooded do not try and pump it out immediately.  Keep in mind that the surrounding ground is saturated and the additional water will contribute to instability which could result in a basement wall cracking or collapsing.  Once surrounding waters have started to subside you can start to pump your basement in stages going only 2-3 feet, waiting overnight and then repeating the process.
  • Furnishings, art work, books, photographs, etc should be addressed by a constultant well versed in restoration so that damage can be minimized.

The key to drying out a property is air circulation.  Remember, DO NOT use heat forced air to dry a building out – it will only cause further damage and in most cases ireperable damage.

Again, my thoughts and prayers are with those on the Gulf Coast.  I would like to take this opportunity to promote a charity that I have contributed to and firmly believe in.  They needed us once, they still need us -let’s just hope that it doesn’t get worse.  Make It Right 9  I implore you to visit the site and should you be so inclined to make a contribution. 

Hurricanes and Historic Properties

With Hurricane Season in mid-swing there are many properties that are in harms way.  While it is heartbreaking to see historic properties affected by a hurricane it does happen.  I can think first of New Orleans and the surrounding areas when Hurricane Katrina devastated an entire region.  While a catastrophic storm brings a whole set of it’s own issues even a tropical storm can cause damage.  Here are some things to know if your historic property is subjected to a storm.

  • Each SHPO should have a “Damage Report” that can be filled out and sent in.  Some basic questions that you may find on the report are:  Name and location of your property.  Historic District your property is located in.  What kind of damage did the building sustain?  Will all of the damage be covered by your insurance?  If not, how much money do you anticipate having to spend out of pocket?  Can the SHPO be of assistance in assessing the damage and advising you on repairs?
  • Your state specific HPO can provide technical restoration assistance such as vital records regarding your property, guidance in seeking qualified restoration architects and contractors, on-site inspections and free phone consultations. 
  • Your home does NOT have to be on the register (but must be at least 50 years old) however, special consideration will be given to properties that are already on the register.
  • The Office of State Archeology can be invaluable when assistance is needed with exposed once-buried features such as old wells, foundations, privies and cellars.   (Preceeding link is for North Carolina)
  • Emergency Procedures for State Tax Credits following a natural disaster are usually implemented in each state.  In North Carolina there is a 30 day window once an area has been declared as a disaster area in which a historic property owner can receive verbal approval for emergency repairs provided the property qualifies for rehabilitation tax credits.  Be very careful – very detailed information is needed following the verbal approval.  Photographs of damage and detailed damage information is a MUST!

While I sincerely hope that your historic property is NEVER affected by a natural disaster it is always good to be prepared for the aftermath.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to call me or email me anytime!