How to Recover From a Flood in a Little Over a Month

how to recover from a flood in a little over a month

If you’ve ever wanted to go through a flood, I would suggest thinking up a different activity to take up your time.  As it turns out, 99 times out of 100 it won’t be up to you anyway (always drip those faucets during winter).  However, if you do happen to be at the bum end of the luck-stick, here’s what I did to recover from a flood in a little over a month.

Now, before I begin I should say that everyone has a different story and different methods.  I’m not going to write a definitive book here on how to recover from a flood that encompasses every possible scenario you could go through.  Instead, this is my story and what I did—for better or for worse.  If you’ve read my previous posting about the flood, you’ll have an idea of what I went through in the days surrounding the event.  So I won’t recap all that stuff.  This will be about what I did before, during, and after the flood that helped me get back into my house and back into living a relatively normal life.  My situation won’t be your situation and I don’t expect you to be in a financially good place like I was at the time.  But you can read through this and gain some knowledge about the steps I took to get back up to speed.  You can also use this to help ease your mind with what’s coming down the road for you.

Because, really, that was one of the most stressful points for me:  not knowing what was coming next.  Would I have to elevate my house?  Would I be stuck with these bills?  Would the mold come back?  Did I do the plumbing right?  And then there were all the rumors in the neighborhood about what this person heard they had to do, and what that person was going through, and blah blah blah.  All right, look, rumors aside, here’s what I did.  Let’s dispel some myths and also get into dealing with these insurance and mortgage companies.

Part 1 ~ Before the flood

First and foremost, I want to talk about my financial situation before the flood.  For me, this was crucial to getting back into my house in such a short period of time.

Prior to the flood I had taken up a second job as a bartender.  I was doing this for about six months.  During the day I put in my 8+ hours of work as a planetarium producer, and then at night I would put in an additional 5+ hours as bartender.  It was not to pay off any debts; it was so I could build up a 9-month savings account cushion in case I got fired from my main job, wanted to move and switch jobs, or fell on some type of hardship.  You never know what’s going to happen, so be prepared.  I believe everyone should have zero credit card debt and at least a 6-month “Fuck You Fund” in their savings account.

A “Fuck You Fund” is when you have enough money in your savings account that you would use to pay off your bills for at least 6 months.  If you have a Fuck You Fund you could say “Fuck You” to your job if they piss you off, or “Fuck You” to anyone that wants to make your life a bit harder.  It’s financial security for more than just leaving your job.  It’s there in case your air conditioning quits on you, if your car breaks down and needs a significant repair, or if you house gets flooded with three feet of water.

So yeah, prior to the August 13th 2016 flood in Louisiana, I had zero credit card debt, zero PayPal debt, and 6 months of bill paying money in my savings account.

The flood hit on August 13.  On August 12, it was my last night as a bartender.  So not only did I not have to worry about going to two jobs post-flood, but I had $175 worth of cash in tips on me from the previous night.

So I was financially in a good spot before the flood happened.  I also had flood insurance.  I live in a flood zone and carried that flood insurance for about 7 years.  Now, my house was pretty old—built back in 1967.  In all those years that house never flooded.  Flood insurance had been going up and up over the years so, stupid me, I actually had gotten rid of “contents” on my policy to save some money.  My flood insurance only covered “dwelling.”  This meant that the flood insurance would only pay me for the cost of rebuilding the structure, the essential interior, and any essential appliances like a fridge and dishwasher.  For whatever reason they don’t consider a washer and dryer essential.  A dishwasher, sure.  But not a washer and dryer.  Apparently, tumblers and plates are more important than underwear and jeans.  But, whatever.

Alright, it’s the day of the flood and the waters are rising.  Now what do you do?  Well, I didn’t have a GoBag (or Bug-out bag as some call them) so I had to flee the house and head to my girlfriend’s with only a few minutes to grab some things.  I grabbed some food, cash, clothes, toiletries, favorite guitars, gun, cellphone, things like that.  I had neglected to get my important documents.  That was my first mistake.

go bagLet’s talk about a Go-Bag for a second.  A Go-Bag is a backpack that has all your essentials in case you need to flee your house really fast.  It should have copies of your important documents like your birth certificate, car title, insurance papers, house papers, etc.  For me, all that stuff got ruined in the flood. I was able to save a few of the papers but I should’ve had copies of them and I should’ve brought them with me.  So, word to the wise, make copies of your important docs and have them ready to go if you have to flee fast.  If you have them in a Go-Bag they should be in a plastic bag.  One more thing, a Go-Bag should contain supplies for about three days: some MREs, water, flashlight, first-aid kit, radio, tools, etc.  There are many sites online that will tell you their own version of what a Go-Bag should contain so I won’t cover it here.  However, I will say that you should have at least 200 dollars in cash put away inside it.  Once the electricity goes down you’ll need cash to trade with.

The studio “before.”

Pin's room

Pin’s room

If you know a flood is coming (or a hurricane, etc.), take photos and video of your whole house.  Not just inside the house but outside the house as well.  Take photos of everything: cabinets, carpet, appliances, tiles, closets, clothes, furniture.  Everything.  Photo document it all.

Cash.  Boy, am I glad I had cash on me.   When the flood went down all the electricity and water supply went down, too.  When I had to wade out of the waters to look for food and water I found a place that was open for business.  However, they were only taking cash.  For two days I went to that place and bought everything I could to last a few days and I spent all my cash on water, PowerAde, protein bars, fruit, sandwiches, etc.  If I didn’t have that cash on me, I would’ve had to swim back home to raid my own fridge.  That would’ve been an 8 mile walk/swim.

View from 3rd floor apartment

That being said, I was at a safe place as my house took on about three feet of water.  Lucky for me, my girlfriend was in a third floor apartment.  I would end up staying with her for the time it took me to restore my house back to normal living conditions.

And that leads me to the other thing you need pre-flood:  a place to stay to wait things out.  Hopefully, you know someone that can put you up for about three months while you deal with this shit.  No family or friends?  Well, the Red Cross, churches, and other charities can put you up for a while.  Those are worst case scenarios.  So if you don’t have a family or a girlfriend/boyfriend, start making some really good friends as soon as you can.  You’re going to be going to work for the usual 8 hours then going to work on your house until you pass out.  You’ll need a good place to crash for the night.

Part 2 ~ During the flood

Again, I want to reiterate that this is my story.  I can only go on by saying what I did and maybe give some incite from what other people did.  Having said that again, I was able to get out of my house before the waters got too high.  I was at my girlfriend’s apartment and I knew my house was going to be taking on water. I knew my vehicle was taking on water.  So, why not go ahead and make a claim?

I used my cellphone sparingly.  I had no clue when I was going to be able to plug it in again.  But I went ahead and started making my insurance claims.  The reason is because when a massive city wide flood is happening, you’re going to want to get as far ahead of the line of people as you can.  Make those insurance claims as soon as you can.  Get those adjusters out to see your stuff as soon as you can.  The longer you wait to make a claim, the longer you wait to get your money.  This is all about how to maximize how you spend the money you’ve got.

Inside my vehicle, 2nd day of flood

Be aware that you’re about to go through a lot of paperwork.  When I started making these insurance claims I got a dedicated notebook just for the notes I would be taking, for the pointers that FEMA would be giving me, for all the claim numbers, policy numbers, etc. etc.  I called my flood insurance company and went ahead and got a claim going. I called my car insurance company and went ahead and got that going. I called my homeowners policy and went ahead and got that going just in case I needed it (I didn’t).

By the way, I was told that my homeowners policy might cover my water heater.  Nope.  Homeowners insurance refused to cover anything because they said that all of the damage was flood related.

I called FEMA and got on board with them to see what they could do for me.  Since I had flood insurance already, there wasn’t a lot they could do for me.  However, if you’re subletting a room in an apartment or staying at a hotel, FEMA can help you out on renter’s assistance.

This is all the stuff I did before even going to look at the damage my house had taken on.  And it ended up helping me out a lot.  It’s crucial to start making your insurance claims as early as you can to get ahead of the procrastinators out there.

Part 3 ~  After the flood

After the flood waters went down enough for people to drive out of the apartment complex, I went to my vehicle to see if water had gotten into the engine.  You do this by popping the hood, pulling out the oil dipstick and putting the tip to a piece of paper towel.  If water spreads out beyond the oil drop then you’ve got water in your oil.  Don’t crank the engine.  But for me, the oil and transmission fluid were all fine.  Water did get into the interior of my vehicle though.  Even though I was able to drive my Pathfinder out of the apartment complex it would only be a matter of days until it started to deteriorate.  After the second day it became difficult to crank.  After Progressive insurance checked the vehicle they deemed it a total loss.  Even if water gets up into the underside of the vehicle, the river water could cause corrosion.  For me, the water got up into the seats and into the electronics.  It was only a matter of time until the carpet got moldy, the gears under the seats rusted out, and the electronics corroded.

But, for the time being, I was able to drive out and get to my house to assess the damage.

The state of Louisiana later decreed that all vehicles damaged in the flood must be deemed a total loss.  There were health risks associated with keeping a vehicle with flood damage.  To be on the safe side they said to scrap all the vehicles and take the insurance money.

the water line inside my house

When I finally got home I was somewhat pleased to see that the damage wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.  I got around three feet of water which meant I didn’t have to tear out all the sheetrock.  If you don’t know how sheetrock is put in, they’re typically done but putting a four foot sheet on the bottom, and another four foot sheet from the middle of the wall to the ceiling.  So being able to cut out four feet of sheet rock meant it would be much easier to float new sheetrock when the time came.

The house was a wreck on the inside though.  Bookshelves had collapsed.  My collection of hardcover books were ruined.  My CD shelves had collapsed and many of my CDs were ruined.  The water had gotten into the boxspring and mattresses of all my beds.  Basically, all my furniture, appliances, cabinets, and a lot of my studio stuff had taken on water.

Take a bunch of “after” photos of everything

Now is the time to take photos and video again.  Before you start taking stuff out of your house, photo document the shit out of everything. Again, not just inside the house but outside as well.  If you have a shed or utility room outside then take photos of all that as well.   The reason is if there is trash pickup that takes all your junk away BEFORE your insurance adjuster has a chance to see it, that’s going to cause problems.  Your insurance adjuster needs to see the damage done to the stuff you had before the flood.  They’re only going to pay you to get stuff that is equal to what you had before.  It might take a while for your adjuster to get to your house.  So if your stuff is outside or by the street it might be looted or picked up by the trashman before they see it.  Take photos of everything and back them up on your computer as soon as you can.

Keep track of social media and look up the Red Cross.  Social media will always have people in the situation you’re in and they’ll be updated their folks to where the Red Cross is handing out supplies.  Stay tuned to what local churches are doing.  There are going to be a lot of places giving out food and clean-up supplies.  Take them up on this.  Get lots of water, cleaning supplies, and food.  They’re there to help.  Your tax dollars are paying for it so take up any government help you can.  You paid into so it’s time to collect.

Okay, it’s time to start gutting your house.

temporary storage

Decide on a place to put all your stuff you want to keep or attempt to clean.  I had a carport so I took out everything in “like” categories and placed them there.  All my dressers, nightstands, big furniture I might be saving went in one spot.  All the furniture like mattresses and couches I knew were beyond saving went out to the road.

Whenever you start making debris piles outside your house ALWAYS put them in like piles and at the edge of the road.  Trash pickup is not going to come into your yard to pick up your shit.  And sometimes they’ll swing through neighborhoods just picking up wood or just picking up carpet.  At least, that’s what it seemed like to me.  I’d get home from work and see that one pile was picked up and the others were still there.  So it benefits you to take a bit more time to organize your debris to help out the trash pickup.  Also, make sure your debris pile isn’t close to your gas meter.  I had my sheetrock pile a little too close to my gas meter and I ended up having to relocate a bit of it to the side so they wouldn’t accidentally bump it with their crane.

I would’ve saved a lot more of my furniture if I knew then what I know now.  Thinking back, I threw out a TV stand I could’ve saved.  I threw out a lot of stuff that was made out of treated wood or metal that could’ve easily been cleaned up.  I was under this impression that it was contaminated and I didn’t want to get sick. Not so, I could’ve Formula 409’d the hell out of that stuff and saved me a lot of money.

However, there are certain things you can throw out at the get go.  If your mattresses and boxsprings got wet, if your couch got wet, if any furniture that can’t be thoroughly cleaned gets wet—toss it out.  You can probably save headboards, desks, certain wood items made from treated wood.  I’d even venture to say that my washer and dryer could’ve been saved.

Older washer and dryers are pretty simple machines.  The brains of the operations are located higher up so if that didn’t get wet you can open up the back of each machine and clean them out.  Really they’re both just machines with internal drums and belts—not that big of a deal to fix up.

Again, keep up with Facebook or whatever social media feeds you follow.  You’ll learn from other people what churches and charity groups are in the area.  You’ll be able to get help from such places for food, cleaning supplies, even man-power if you need help gutting your house.

There were several days that I had lots of help from family and friends.  It’s in this time that you really find out who your friends are.  I had several friends that I’ve known for years that didn’t even bother calling to see if I was okay, much less offer to help.  However, I had some great people I work with that came out to pitch in.  Also, there were a couple of days when family members I hadn’t seen in years came by with volunteers on demo day.  For those people I’m extremely grateful.

This is the moving out phase of the process.  You’re getting everything out that isn’t nailed down.  And I mean, move everything out.  Everything except what was in my attic.  All the closets have to be painted.  The ceilings are going to be repainted.  So if it’s not hidden by doors then move it out.

no tolerance for looting

By this point I had all the stuff I wanted to keep under my carport or in storage.  I had all the garbage at the edge of the road and in like piles.

Once my house was completely gutted I had a Louisiana certified contractor come over to look at my property and work up an estimate on how much it would be for them to restore my house.  It was advised to me that I obtain a couple of these estimates and use the best offer.  Also, this estimate is used when applying for a permit from the city.

Yes, I had to get a permit from the city of Denham Springs to begin restoring my house.  Now, there’s a part of me that wanted to rebel and say, “why the hell do I have to wait on these government bureaucrats to tell me when I’m able to start work?” However, there’s a good reason for it.  I’m guessing the city wants to make sure that the property I’m occupying will be worked on by a professional and not some yahoo that’s going to throw shit together and resell the house with shoddy electrical work and fucked up plumbing.  They also need to inspect the house so they can instruct you on any additional repairs you need to make, i.e. termite damaged beams, installing necessary junction boxes, etc.

Well, when I went to apply for the permit they gave me a long list of things they needed from me…of course.

I had to fill out the permit application.  I had to give them a letter of intent.  I had to supply them with one estimate from a Louisiana certified contractor.  I had to supply them with a fair estimate value of the house.  Finally, I had to give them a simple dollar breakdown of the bare minimum it would cost to get the house back to a livable condition:  sheetrock, windows, plumbing, electrical.  They didn’t care about paint, internal doors, appliances, etc.  They just wanted to know the bare minimum.

So yeah, it took two trips to work that out because, of course, they didn’t tell me the correct info over the phone.  And yes, getting a fair market value statement on your house is another hoop you have to go through when you can be starting the process of rebuilding your house.  Honestly, I used the fair market value that I got from my mortgage company back when I first bought the house.

What I’m saying is, I started working on my house without a permit.  Screw them, I’m not waiting around.  What are they going to do fine me?  Take my bike?

Part 4 ~ Demolition

On the topic of demolition there is an order that I followed that I think worked out well for me.  And, of course, it should be stated right at the start that when you’re demo’ing your house after a flood you should always wear gloves and a respiratory mask.  Mold grows quick and you don’t want to be breathing that stuff in. Trust me, after a few days of working in that damp house without a mask I could feel it in my chest.

Once the contents of the house were cleared out I was ready to demo it. This means, I’m going to take out all the structural items that need to be replaced:  walls, cabinets, sheetrock, insulation, etc.

Before I began work I got myself a chalkline and ran a blue line of chalk that was 4 feet up from the ground.  This chalk line told me where the sheetrock would be cut.  Houses are typically built with two panels of sheetrock stacked on top of each other.  One 4×8 sheetrock panel is laid down long ways at the bottom of the floor and nailed to the studs; another panel goes above it.  This is floor to ceiling sheetrock.  So if the flood waters are over 4 feet then you might as well remove all the sheetrock from floor to ceiling.  I only got about three feet.  This was quite fortunate.  I could cut four feet up and it would allow the perfect amount of space to come in with a brand new sheet of ‘rock and lay it on down without making too many crazy cuts.

So, again, before I really started cutting out sheetrock, I went through the whole house and popped a chalk line four feet up to tell me, or whomever was helping, where to cut.  Also, important to note that when you measure to cut four feet up, you’re measuring from the floor to four feet up.  Not from the stud to four feet up.

However, before you start tearing out the sheetrock you have to take out all the floorboards.  I used a hammer and a tugbar and just went room to room working from the bottom up—floorboards and door moldings.  Floorboards went first and that all went to the edge of the road in the lumber pile.

After I took out all the floorboards and door moldings I went ahead and took out all the doors and door frames.

After that I went ahead and got rid of my carpet.

This is a tough job.  You’ll really need a wheel barrow to help you out because that water logged carpet is going to be heavy.

I used an Exacto Knife to cut away swatches of carpet.  There was no way I could pull all the carpet out in one roll and drag that to the road by myself.  This was a tough day as I did this by myself.  I went room to room and cut out strips of carpet and pad, loaded the wheelbarrow and hauled it to the road.  It took all day and was very tiring.  I then had to get a shop vac to suck out all the water that was still standing in my studio. My studio space used to be a garage so there was a step down into it.  I had to manually get that water from that room to the outside—hundreds of gallons of water with a 4 gallon shop vac.  It took hours to do.  It was just an awful day of back breaking work.

Next was taking anything out that was blocking the sheetrock, or access to the walls.  This can be done at the same time as getting the sheetrock out.  During this time I had a group of guys with wheelbarrows tearing out sheetrock and hauling to the road.  While they were doing this we had to cut out the cabinets and countertops because behind them was the wall to the utility room.  The only way to get to that wall was to bust out the lower cabinets.  Sorry, cabinets.  They had to go.

Again, you’re cutting out all the sheet rock that is at least one foot above the water line.  Mold grows fast so you have to cut away the dry sheetrock above the water soaked sheetrock so the mold and wetness won’t spread.  The longer you wait, the more it’ll spread.  The longer you way to pull out sheetrock the more risk you run of eventually having to pull out ALL your sheetrock because the mold spread up the wall.

Your appliances are probably already out at this point.  The fridge and dishwasher are goners.  Toss them to the road.  In retrospect you might be able to save the washer and dryer.  In some units, the electronics to these devices are located pretty high up on the unit.  So if water got half way in to them, you can probably open them up from the back, clean them out, and save them.  But then again, a new washer and dryer really isn’t that expensive so—for me—I got a new washer and dryer set.

Be warned that washing machines and dryers are not covered under flood insurance.  At least, they weren’t covered under mine. So when I bought new machines, they came out of pocket.

You can probably save your front and back doors to the house.  You’ll need to lock them at night.  But all your interior doors need to go.  These doors are usually made out of thin material and the water is going to completely warp them, ruin them, and render them useless.  They gotta go.  Sorry.  Doors and door frames to the road.

I had to pull the front and back doors off the hinges and cut them to refit the door frames.  The water and humidity had made the wood swell so much that I was unable to open or close them. I had to actually kick down the doors just to get into my house for the first time.

At this point I had all the floor boards, doors, door frames, excess lumber, shelving, etc. at the edge of the road in one pile.  Next to that I had all the carpet and pad.

Now we’re going to start pulling out sheetrock and insulation.

I started working on my house and half way into the first week the City shows up with FEMA and they scope out the dwelling.  They make quick work of it and give me “permission” to go ahead and start restoring, filing the permit electronically.

This actually wasn’t that big of a deal. When I was removing carpet and water from studio room the city actually came by to ask if I wanted my water heater relit.  The worker came in and tried to relight the water heater, but unsuccessfully.  This let me know that I had to buy a new water heater.  I also found out how to turn on the gas to my house.  It wasn’t something I could’ve done on my own anyway.  The guy had to unlock the meter outside but later told me how to turn it back on myself when I was ready with the new water heater. During that first week of restoration I learned something valuable.  Always have the gas turned off to your house first.

Of course, not only should the gas to the house be turned off, but your main electrical breaker should be off as well.  You need to give those sockets time to dry out…before you replace them that is.  I only got three feet of water in my house but it was enough to cover the electrical sockets down low. Even though they still worked I had to replace them for safety reasons.

When working on pulling sheetrock, cabinets, and various things out of the house, always make sure the main breaker is off.  If you have to use a saw to cut some stuff then stop everyone from working, turn the breaker on, use the saw, and get on with it.   I had that main breaker pulled just to be safe.  I didn’t want anybody helping me out plunging a hammer through a wall and yanking on a wire.

When pulling out the sheetrock you should always wear gloves and a mask.  Watch out for nails and watch where you step.  This is probably the easiest part of the process.  The sheetrock is wet so it’s easy to pull out.  I had people helping me and we actually got all the sheetrock, cabinets and countertops, doors and door moldings, out to the street in one day.

Remember, put all your sheetrock debris in one pile and put all your insulation in another pile.  DO NOT make piles of this stuff in your yard.  Trash pickup is not going to drive into your yard to pick up your stuff.  These piles go to the very edge of your yard by the street…not IN the street.  Not in the middle of the yard, at the edge of the street.  Not outside your front door, to the edge of the street.  Not in your flower bed, garden, swimming pool…take your shit to the edge of the steet and put them in like piles.

After you have pulled out all the sheetrock go back and make sure that you pull out all the nails that have been exposed in the studs.  Just get a radio going with some tunes and make a few hours of going through the house making sure that every exposed nail has been pulled and thrown away.  Sweep up a bit and make sure that no nails are left on the floor for someone to step on.  Trust me, I was helping someone else out with their house and when I was making a wheelbarrow run to the street I heard another guy in the house scream cause he stepped on a nail.  He had to pull it out with pliers.  You don’t want a rusty nail that’s been soaking in river water embedded in your foot.

Once I was done with all this stuff I went ahead and pulled up all my vinyl tiling in my kitchen and utility room.  I then bought a big scraper and had to scrape up all the glue used to stick it down.

 

At this point, phase 1 should be done.  You’ve got all your trash to the road in their own piles and you’ve got all the stuff you want to keep under your carport or in storage.  The carpet and pad is up; the sheetrock and nails are out; the cabinets are gone.  Ask yourself, “if a contractor came in tomorrow would they be able to begin a rebuild.  Or, would they have to do a lot of shit that you forgot to begin rebuilding?

Now it’s time to dry the house out.

 

While the studs were still kinda wet I decided to do some preventive action.  I was hearing a bunch of rumors about the best way to prevent mold.  One was using bleach and water, another was just using bleach, and yet another was using something called Concrobium.

I heard that since we live in the south we should use Concrobium to fight the mold because the bleach/water solution would be less effective.

Well, here’s the truth on all that.

I actually went out and bought a shit load of Concrobium spray.  I spent around 500 bucks on cleaning supplies that day.  I went out and bought a backpack sprayer as well.  I got home and mixed a bleach and water mixture for my new backpack sprayer.  This was one cup of bleach to one gallon of water.  And I made a whole mess of the stuff.

I went through my whole house spraying the bleach diluted solution on all the studs, the floors, the edge of the remaining sheetrock, the pipes, you name it.  I then waited for that to dry—about a day.  Then I went back and sprayed concrobium on all the studs.

I thought I was in the clear.

It was then that I decided to hire ServePro.  I rented a bunch of air movers and dehumidifiers to run over the weekend.  This cost me over a thousand dollars to do.

When the guy got to my house he told me to NOT use concrobium.  He said that concrobium sprays are only good if you ALEADY have mold.  It is ideal, in a flooding situation, to only use the one cup of bleach to one gallon of water solution.  He told me to wipe down the studs with a wet rag and reapply the bleach/water solution; then, return the remaining bottles to get my money back.  This is the same information that FEMA told me.

The dehumidifiers and air handlers were used to get the studs down to under 15% dryness.  All wood has a dampness ratio.  You can get this reader that kinda looks like a stun gun that will tell you how damp your wall studs are.  Before using the dehumidifiers and air handlers the dampness was a little under 50%.  Once the weekend was over I was down to 12%.  That meant I was ready to start nailing shit into it.

During all this time and process you should be keeping your eye out for contractors. When you drive around town you’ll start seeing signs posted up on the sides of the roads for contractors that are available.  Check out the first ones that pop up.  These are the ones that are on the ball.  The first group I saw was a company called Acadian Remodeling.  I gave them a call and they got to my house when they said they’d be there.  They got there on time and gave me an estimate when they said they’d have it.

Showing up on a time and delivering on time goes a long way with me.

Once the studs are under 15% moisture you can go ahead and close the windows and doors to the house and keep them closed.  Start running your air conditioner at this point.  Now you’re going to be fighting the humidity inside your house to the humidity outside your house.  Your central AC for cycling the old air out of the house and bringing cool air back in.

My central AC survived the flood and I was able to run it all day and night through the rest of the process.

 

Part 5 ~ See what you can save

some of my poor CDs

After a few days I was tired of working on my house.  I was just tired in general.  I took that time to go through my stuff I had under my carport.  I really wanted to save my CDs but they were goners.  But this was a good time to evaluate the stuff I still had and whether or not it was worth saving.

I really thought I was going to have to throw away my Mapex drum set.  Not so.  With some cleaning and drying out the drums were okay.  I lost a good bit of stuff but since I didn’t jump the gun and haul everything out to the road, I was able to look through things and determine if a little elbow grease could save me some money.  Every little bit helps.

I ended up throwing things out that I shouldn’t have.  I could’ve saved my TV stand an

I was able to save the drums

d a few bits of furniture.  But I was scared that mold would eventually grow and make me sick.  Some things I moved out to a shed and just let sit for a while.  I ended up saving a writing desk and my headboards.  These pieces of furniture were saved by thoroughly cleaning them with Formula 409, drying them out after that, spraying and scrubbing them down with concrobium spray, letting that dry, spraying it down again, wiping off excess, and sealing the wood with some wood sealant.

I was afraid I’d lost my nice LED TVs as well.  Actually, they were okay.

My main TV in my living room actually got about an inch of water at the bottom but so far it’s been working perfectly.  Thanks, Samsung.  But yeah, you can let some of your electronics dry out and clean them.

I saved the X3 Pro

I have a Line 6 X3 Pro that got almost completely full of water.  I took it apart, applied some contact cleaner to the parts, scrubbed it with a toothbrush, let it dry…voila, it still works.

You never know.  If there are some electronics you want to save then just let them dry out, open them up, apply some contact cleaner, dry it out again, and give it a shot.

Well, at this point I needed a place to store stuff.  Having all my things sitting outside wasn’t working great on my anxiety.  I just knew at some point in the night some shitums would arrive to steal my stuff.  Sure enough, looting was a bit of a problem in my city.  I’m not sure if people were breaking into vacated houses but I know for a fact that people were going through stuff that were sitting outside people’s houses.  Many arrests were made.

So I took what remained of my CDs, DVDs, small appliances, towels, clothes, etc. etc. to my girlfriend’s apartment.  I stored some of the bigger stuff in my parents’ storage unit.  I also stored all my musical instruments in my office at work.  People at work asked me if there was anything they could do to help me out. Yeah, you can let me store all my music gear in my office.  A friend of mine took my paintings to her house and my parents took some of my other things to be stored at their place.

And that was that.  I no longer had stuff sitting outside my house for people to steal.   Now I could use my carport to cut lumber and store the building materials I had being delivered.

 

Part 6 ~ Get your ducks in a row

Again, Before I could officially begin the restoration process on my house, I had to get a permit from the city government.  To get that, they needed a few things from me. I had to supply to them a signed bid from a Louisiana certified contractor, a letter of intent, the flood insurance adjuster’s estimate on the cost of the repairs, and a fair market value estimate which shows the value of the house.

There were plenty of LA certified contractors that were able to come to my house and provide me with an estimate for the cost of repairs.  That wasn’t a problem.  And the city only really wanted to know the cost of repairs for the very bare minimum to get the house back up to livable conditions, or saleable conditions.

At that point they sent a guy out to my house to give it an initial inspection.  But that didn’t mean I was going to wait around on them.  No sir, I got shit to do.  I started restoration anyway.  What are they going to do? Tell me to stop?  The city official came by, scoped it out with a FEMA rep and gave me the green light to go ahead and start the restoration that I was already working on.

I mentioned that I had to have the insurance estimator’s assessment.  This should be done during the demo process. My flood insurance assessor came out pretty quickly and was able to look at the damage, see the materials at the side of the road, and mark up an estimate on what he saw.  He’ll email you a copy of this and that’s what you use to get a city permit.

Also, the flood insurance guy cut me a check for 10 thousand dollars to help jump start the repair process.

Since I don’t own the house outright the name on the check was not only to me but also to my mortgage company.  The mortgage company will endorse checks up to 10k without any problem.  So I was able to meet up with some of my mortgage company reps to have them sign off on my 10k check.  During disasters like this the insurance and mortgage companies will send out teams to set up shop in banks and hotel conference rooms to help people out.  I had to go to my bank to have the flood insurance check written to me. I then took that check to a Hilton where my mortgage company was set up so they could co-sign the check.

Fairly easy…so far.

Now all I had to do was decide on a contractor.

Well, all the Louisiana contractors were getting booked up and it was going to take them a few months just to get to me.  No thanks.  I was able to get a contractor from Texas.  I asked the city if it was okay if I used a TX contractor.  They said it was not.  I then said that I wasn’t going to wait for a LA contractor and that I was going to be doing a lot of the work myself.  The lady on the phone said she understood and that as long as I had a LA certified contractor sign a bid for the cost of the repairs I was fine.  I could do the work myself or hire someone from out of state as long as they had the proper credentials.

Good enough for me.  The city told me I was fine so I went with that.  I hired a contractor from Texas for a week, borrowed a trailer to house them, and ordered the building supplies.

They did say that all contractors were going to have to supply me with a W-9, and their own signed bid.  This is the same thing that my mortgage company told me.  However, a month later they would change their story.  More on that later.

delivery of building supplies

Before the contractor came down I had all the construction material ordered and delivered.  I wanted it there waiting for them so as soon as they got to my house they could start working.  Measure all your walls to get the footage amount needed for the sheetrock.  Measure the sizes of the doors and order those doors.

There was a local place in town—not a Home Depot or Lowes—that I used to get all my building materials. I ordered the sheetrock, sheetrock nails, sheetrock mud, floodboards, and quarter rounds from them.

I got my paint from a local Sherwin-Williams.  The contractor helped me determine the cubic square footage of what I’d need.  You’ll need paint, primer, and texture.

The contractor came down and was able to do the sheetrock, the paint, the moldings, the doors, basically all the hard stuff.   I borrowed my parents’ motor home and put it in my driveway for them to stay in.  That motor home had beds, stove, coffee maker, etc.  I supplied them with breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day and made sure they had plenty of water and PowerAde.  I made sure that my bathrooms worked, that the water was running, that the water heater was working, and that I had clean towels and toiletries for them.  I came by every few days to wash clothes for them, too.

And they knocked the job out, man.  Within a week I had walls, doors, and paint.

While they were working I was driving around trying to find a cabinet and countertop company.  This was tricky because so many places were being snatched up.  Also, to make matters worse, the cabinets and countertop at my house were specifically made for my kitchen.  Most cabinets you order are pre-made and you just pick and choose what you want, assembling them together and screwing them to the wall.

A friend told me that there was a place in another city that was pretty good to work with.  So I drove out there and was able to get cabinets and countertops done and delivered in about a 2 to 3 week span.  That’s a pretty good turn around.  Especially for such an in-demand period of time.

I was also calling and driving around, meeting people, and working up estimates for carpet and flooring.  For my carpet and cabinet people, I ended up not choosing the least expensive offer but choosing the people that I liked the most. If they showed up to my house on time to do the estimate, if they appeared to want to do the job, if they seemed sympathetic to my situation, if they appreciated my business…they got the job.  I’ll pay a little bit more to know I’m going to get good service.

So, I just want to say that LeCours Carpet World in Baton Rouge and Cabinets and Countertops Unlimited in Hammond got my business.

The contractor told me when they would be done with the house.  I knew that I would need a couple of days to clean up before the cabinets and carpet came in.

I scheduled the carpet on a Monday and the cabinets at the end of the same week.  The carpet company actually were able to do it earlier and the same goes for the cabinet people.  Everyone showed up when they were supposed to and all the jobs were finished in the amount of time promised.  I don’t mind paying a little extra when I know I’m dealing with quality people.

There was a lot that I did on my own, too.  And I had help from my girlfriend and parents as well.  I replaced all the electrical sockets in the house, changed out the ceiling fans, painted and reinstalled the AC vents, painted all the inner and outer doors,  put down new baseboards and quarter rounds, installed all the new appliances, fitted the new plumbing, installed the sink, etc. etc.

If there was any question I had on how to do something I simply consulted YouTube.  Pretty much any home improvement question is covered in detail by someone on YouTube.

I basically got the house ready for the carpet and floor people.

At this point I had walls, windows, blinds, curtains, ceiling fans, appliances, etc.

After I knew carpet was going down I went out and ordered my new mattress and box spring and scheduled some new furniture to be delivered.

And that was that.

The flood happened on August 13th and I was back in my house at the end of October.

It took about a month to get everything demo’d and structurally rebuilt.  After that it took a while just to get the carpet and cabinets in.  Even after I had carpet I still had to wait a week or so to get cabinets in.  So, I started working on my house—taking stuff out and getting it ready to demo—on August 18th.   By mid-September I had walls, paint, floor boards, etc.  Half way into October I was at a point where I completely moved everything back into my house.

Then came the hard part.

 

Part 7 ~ Dealing with the god damn mother fucking mortgage company

Working on and restoring the house was hard.  Working with and dealing with my mortgage company was a god damn nightmare.

Like I said before, endorsing a 10k check was easy.  But the remainder of the full amount owed to me by my flood insurance company was a lot more.

Dealing with my flood insurance company was fairly easy.  In just a few phone calls we squared things up and they sent me the remainder of the funds owed to me to complete the payoff of all repairs.

However, these checks were written not only to me but to my mortgage company.  There were two checks remaining after the 10k advance: one for the remaining cost of repairs, and one for the depreciation.

The mortgage company held on to these checks and they demanded to see certain documents before signing over pieces of it to you.

Now, like I said, I did a lot of the repairs myself, used a TX contractor for a LA house, and basically sub-contracted myself by getting the carpet and cabinet companies in line with me.  This isn’t how it’s usually done.  Typically, you get one contractor and they take care of all that stuff for you. But you end up paying way more money for it.

Every…single…time I called my mortgage company they would tell me a different story for what they wanted to endorse the remainder of the money to me.  I had that 10k in my bank account and I was using that to pay for the carpet and flooring depost, to pay for the building materials, to pay for labor, to pay for the deposit on the cabinets and countertops.

I ended up going through all the 10k, then maxing out my credit card, maxing out my paypal account, and then also having my parents buy the doors to my house on their account.

So, at the end, I call my mortgage company and say, “Hey guys, I’m done fixing up my house. I’d like my money now so I can pay myself back.”  That’s when they said, “Oh, we need to see all your receipts and…” started going on this completely new list of documents they wanted to see from me.

They sent me to a website so I could upload my documents scans to them.  This caused even more problems because they saw I had paid half on the carpet and cabinets.  Since I didn’t pay for these in full I ran the risk of these companies putting a lien on the house until I paid for it.

The concept of my mortgage company holding on to the money is so that they would put it in escrow, then dole out specific amounts to contractors as the work went along.  They were keeping the funds to pay for my work for me.  This was to insure no liens were put on the house.

They started demanding documentation that I didn’t have.  I started to flat out refuse to give them documents because I felt they didn’t actually need it.  I demanded that they send out an inspector to my house to give the final inspection.

Look, everyone wants to come out ahead when dealing with the insurance companies.  So I was holding some cards close to my chest.  The fact is that I completed my house to a 100 percent inspection.  Regardless if it was done by a contractor or completely by myself, the house was finished.  They owed me the money that was cut to me by my flood insurance company and I wasn’t about to take any more shit from them.

When dealing with companies like this you have to remember to a) be stern with them, b) don’t bend or give them an inch—it’s your money that you’ve been paying into, c) do not curse them on the phone or use bad language—they’ll  hang up on you, d) get the name of the people you’re talking to.

Yes, always get names.  On the four phone call with my mortgage company I had them put me in contact with their dispute resolution team.  I got that guy’s name and every time I called back I would reference him.    I told them that I was only going to show them partial receipts—not all of the receipts— and that I demanded a final inspection.  I didn’t back down on this.  I didn’t threaten a lawsuit, I didn’t use foul language, I didn’t raise my voice.

I did, however, pound my fist into the desk in front of me a few times.

The mortgage company sent out an inspector and, guess what, my property passed with a 100 percent.  Now where’s my money?

Well, they then said that I either had to pay off the carpet and cabinet company in full or that I would have to supply them, the mortgage company, with the final bills so that they could pay them off.  After everyone was paid in full, they would then disburse the remainder of the checks to me.

Me thinks not.

I moved some money around and paid off the carpet and cabinets people off.

I uploaded the finalized statements stating that everything was paid in full to the mortgage company website.  I then waited a couple of days for those documents to be received and called them back.

At that point they had no choice but to endorse the FULL amount over to me.  No trickling bullshit.  The full amount.

I can’t even begin to tell you how annoying they were to deal with on the phone.  Every single time I called them they would tell me a new document that they wanted to see, a new certificate that was required, a new scan they wanted completed.  That was when I got in touch with the resolution team and started taking names.  That way, every time I called and they told me something new to do I would say, “Nope, I just talked to ______ and he said that all he needed from me was X, Y, and Z.  And I’m supplying you with that and only that.”

Going through a flood will be one of the most stressful and difficult times of your life.  Mourn the things you lost but look forward to the new things that you’ll replace them with.  Be grateful to your friends and family.  Rest when you’re only at the brink of breakdown.    Just remember that in 5 years you’ll look back on it and be able to say, “yeah, I got through that.”  There are worse things to go through.

Push through the pain, work hard, stay determined, keep your chin up, be positive, and stay metal.

A big thank you to my friends and family for helping out during this time.  Also, a big thanks to all the Cea Serin fans who voiced their support.

About Jay Lamm

J. Lamm is the bassist, vocalist, song writer, and keyboardist for the mercurial metal band Cea Serin. While away from Cea Serin J. Lamm also performs live with Cirque Dreams as a touring musician. J. Lamm has also written and recorded music for movies, television and radio.
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