If your home or business is located in a floodplain or near a river in Washington State, and floodwaters run into your ground floor or crawlspace, there are several things to think about before cleaning up the mess. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe.
Everyone is in a hurry to get things back to normal after a disaster such as a flood. It seems Western Washington flooding has increased in severity in recent years due to climate change, but when it comes to electrical safety, it pays to step back and carefully evaluate things before moving ahead with any work. If your house has been severely damaged by floodwaters, here are some helpful hints to help keep you safe:
1. Never go into a flood-damaged basement or a crawlspace filled with water until the utility company, fire department, or a licensed electrician has disconnected the home’s electrical meter. Removing the meter from the socket is the only way the house can be completely disconnected from the grid. Even if you’ve lost power, you can still be electrocuted in a flooded basement if someone is running a generator nearby and back-feeding electricity into a storm damaged grid. You can’t count on a storm-damaged circuit breaker or disconnect switch to protect you. The only safe way is to remove the meter.
2. Once all of the water is pumped out and recovery efforts begin, keep in mind that all flooded electrical equipment is almost certainly damaged or irreparable. Very few things in a house are rated to survive water submersion, even for a short time. The following items will almost certainly need to be replaced:
Plastic-sheathed building wire (Romex), Armored cable (BX cable), Circuit panels, sub panels and circuit breakers, Fuse boxes and fuses, Switched disconnect boxes and switches, Outlet receptacles, Motors, Circuit boards, Non-submersible pumps, Blowers and fans, Lights, Heaters, Air conditioners, Furnaces and Boilers.
A licensed air conditioning or a heating/cooling contractor can advise you whether your heating or cooling equipment can be salvaged. It depends upon the type of equipment, the depth of the floodwaters, and the duration of submersion. Many people try to salvage appliances such as dehumidifiers, refrigerators, and freezers that have been in flooded basements, but they can be extremely dangerous to operate after they’ve been flooded.
3: Pay increased attention to grounding and bonding, and after the flood ask an electrician to conduct a thorough survey the system.
There are two aspects to every home’s electrical system: the parts designed to carry electrical current during normal operation, and the parts designed to carry current safely to ground should something go wrong. The latter is known as the home’s grounding and bonding system and it can be severely damaged by floodwaters. Only a licensed electrician is equipped and trained to evaluate the damage. All metal components of a home’s electrical system should be carefully and replaced if necessary. For example, metal electrical boxes that have been submerged may rust and the rust on the box prevents an adequate connection to the home’s grounding system.
4. Even after the building is fully disconnected from the grid, never go into a flooded building alone. Put on chest waders, and bring a bright flashlight that clips to your hat or your waders so you don’t have to carry it. But most importantly, have someone standing by in case you need help. Flooded buildings are dark, slippery, and disorienting. It’s easy to get hurt or even drown in one.