Flooded homes need a chance to dry out

Published 7:45 pm Thursday, September 27, 2018

Nearly two weeks have passed since Hurricane Florence ravaged eastern North Carolina. With the storm came flooding the likes of which many have never seen before.

In the days after the storm, many homeowners returned from their voluntary evacuations, hoping for the best. Some got a reprieve from the storm; others did not.

Early estimates by local emergency management counted 566 homes damaged by Hurricane in the county. The estimate does not include the City of Washington, as the city does its own assessment. According to Beaufort County Chief of Fire/Emergency Management Chris Newkirk, that number will change as more reports are made.

In Washington Park, the river surged through the park, surrounding homes and, in some case, entering homes. Days later, Alvin Maxwell, a self-employed contractor, went to work gutting one of those houses on Fairview Avenue.

“It’s amazing to me how if you rode through the day after the storm, it looked like it had done nothing, there were no trees down, but it did so much damage,” Maxwell said. “There’s probably $5 million in damage in this neighborhood and it looked like nothing happened.”

“Nothing” turned out to 1 inch of floodwater in one house, 5 inches of water in the house next door. According to Maxwell, the amount doesn’t matter, if any water gets in, it can do some serious damage in both the walls and the floors.

PASSTHROUGH: Drywall and insulation about a foot above the waterline has been removed to prevent mold growth and allow the house to dry out. A moisture meter is used to determine how dry interior wood is — between 8 and 11 percent moisture is acceptable.

“Well, it gets in the walls and causes mold in the insulation. It gets between the floor and the subfloor and between the subfloor and flooring is tarpaper, so basically the same moisture barrier that’s trying to keep moisture from coming in is now holding it in,” Maxwell said.

There’s a laundry list of things that need to happen in order to dry a house out and prevent mold from taking over. Drywall a foot above the waterline needs to be cut out of walls; the insulation behind it needs to come out too, as insulation will wick water up higher than the waterline. Insulation under the house needs to come up, as well.

When it comes to hardwood floors, some say that using large fans and air conditioning can dry out the floors so they’ll “lay down,” but Maxwell said that will likely only cause problems in the long haul.

“Initially, when you look at it, you think that it might be alright, but over time, that subfloor is going to start separating, and it’s going to weaken the floor and leave a void for moisture,” Maxwell said. “I think there’s no way to dry it out with two layers and with tar paper between them — it might work once.”

PAST MISTAKES: Separating in most places and rotting in others, the Fairview Avenue home’s subfloor is evident of a past flood and damages that were not repaired.

Case in point is the home Maxwell is gutting now. After pulling up the warped oak floors in the living room, what he found was evidence the house had been flooded before and the subfloor had rotted beneath the flooring. Now, he’s removing floor and subfloor from virtually every room in the house. He said in any flooded home, all the flooring (whether that’s hardwood, carpet, tile, etc.) needs to be removed in order to let the subfloor dry — or risk the rot.

“If you can get it to that point, you’ve got it to where it will dry. Once it dries, it’s possible to save the subfloor. You’d need to get that assessed to see if it’s in good enough shape to leave it in,” Maxwell said.

Since water and electricity never mix, that’s another aspect that needs to be looked at by professionals.

“It’s a lot,” Maxwell said.

Hurricane Florence may have dissipated and disappeared, but her effects are long-lasting. For this Fairview Avenue homeowner, that means the evacuation will go on for a few months.

“If it wasn’t for the flooding, I’d say this was the mildest hurricane we ever had,” Maxwell said.. “We’ve had nor’easters that had more wind than that. Not more water, though.”

FLOORED: Living room, kitchen and dining room have all been stripped of flooring and subflooring. Rotted subflooring from a previous flood was discovered as the hardwood was removed.

DEMOLITION: Oak flooring rests in a pile, while the rotting subfloor goes to the dumpster behind.