Building Back Houston Strong

Bulldozers are at work. Shovels and trash bags are in hand. Recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey are in full swing in Houston.

Some 200,000 homes were damaged by the worst storm to hit our great state in more than 50 years.

No matter whether you’re a property investor, landlord, business owner or homeowner, we are all in this together. That is why we wanted to use our real estate expertise to create a helpful Flood Recovery Tip Sheet for evaluating and repairing your property.

We believe that not only is Houston strong, Houston will rebuild even stronger.

Rebuilding Your Home after Hurricane Harvey

Where do you even begin when evaluating your home for repairs or rebuilding after being flooded?

Paperwork needs filled out. There are questions on what to salvage and what to demo. You may have health concerns due to standing water and mold. Use these tips to help you get started.

Cleaning and Disinfecting after a Flood

Although Houston and surrounding areas may be "mostly dry," homeowners still face a number of potential health problems due to what the floodwaters left behind.

Floodwater and residual mud are not just dirt and water. It may also contain sewage, chemicals, bits of glass and anything else picked up along the way. Add in the Texas heat and humidity and you’ve got an ideal environment for mold to grow quickly.

Therefore, it’s important to clean and disinfect everything that got wet.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans in 2005, close to half of all inspected homes had visible mold, according to the CDC. Mold after Katrina was also connected to the deaths of four people.

Not everyone is sensitive to mold, but for those who are, and for those who are allergic to it, the reactions can be severe, causing stuffiness in the nose, throat irritation, coughing, and sometimes infections in the lungs, the CDC points out.

Preventing Mold in a Water Damaged Home

Cleaning mold quickly and properly is essential for a healthy home, especially for people who suffer from allergies and asthma, advises the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Mold and mildew can start growing within 24 hours after a flood and can lurk throughout a home, from the attic to the basement and crawl spaces. The best defense is to clean, dry or, as a last resort, discard moldy items.

Many materials are prone to developing mold if they are damp or wet for too long. Sort waterlogged items into three categories:

  • Wood, upholstered furniture and other porous materials. These can trap mold and may need to be discarded. If you decide to keep, thoroughly clean and continue to evaluate for any mold growth.
  • Glass, plastic, metal objects and other items made of nonporous materials. These can often be cleaned, disinfected and reused.
  • Carpeting. Even if you extensively dry out carpeting, it often still contains mold spores. To ensure a healthy environment, discard all wet carpeting.

6 Steps to Cleaning & Disinfecting a Home after a Flood

Step 1: Open windows for ventilation and wear rubber gloves and eye protection when cleaning and disinfecting a water-damaged home. Consider using a mask rated N-95 or higher if heavy concentrations of mold are possible.

Step 2: Place plastic barriers between affected and unaffected areas (typically between the first and second floors at the base of the stairs) to reduce the potential of mold spores spreading to unaffected areas.

Step 3: Remove all water-damaged interior finishes, including wet carpet and padding, curled vinyl tiles and linoleum, saturated drywall and plaster, saturated wall insulation, flooded electrical receptacles and swollen wall paneling.

Step 4: Clean and disinfect all surfaces. Scrub surfaces with hot water and a heavy-duty cleaner. Then disinfect with a solution of ¼ cup chlorine bleach per gallon of water or a product that is labeled as a disinfectant to kill germs. Laundry bleaches should not be used on materials that will be damaged or might fade. Sanitize dishes, cooking utensils and food preparation areas before using them. Thoroughly disinfect areas where small children play. Do not mix cleaning products, especially chlorine bleach and ammonia, which can be extremely toxic or even fatal.

Step 5: To clean and decontaminate crawl spaces, the simplest way is to remove the flooring. All exposed sides of floor joists, foundation walls and remaining structural elements should be cleaned to help avoid mold growth.

Step 6: Allow for adequate drying time and/or use fans, dehumidifiers and other drying equipment to speed up the drying process. Cleaned areas can take several days to dry. It is important for the home to be thoroughly dry prior to reconstruction to prevent moisture being trapped inside and causing fungal growth.

Step 7: Continue to check for odors. Mold can hide in the walls or behind wall coverings. Find all mold sources and clean them properly.

What Can Be Saved in a Water-Damaged Home

Use these tips when evaluating what to save and what to trash after the water recedes.

Foundation. Because the soil is mostly clay and most homes are built on slabs in southeast Texas, foundation problems are not uncommon.

Saturated clay expands unevenly and lifts parts of a slab, causing it to crack or break. This can lead to embedded pipes rupturing and exterior walls cracking. These problems are often compounded further when the soil dries and sinks.

Hire a structural engineer for an unbiased foundation inspection and document what must be done.

Drywall. Paper facing in drywall can feed mold. If drywall is soft, crumbly or moldy, it has to be replaced. Walls and ceilings that were in contact with water may need to be gutted down to the frame and studs and then dried to prevent mold growth.

Insulation. Insulation used in homes is made of fibers or forms that hold water. Therefore, if it gets wet, it needs replaced. Closed-cell foam insulation would be the exception as it does not absorb water and can survive saturation.

Framing. Even if the wood soaks up water and swells, it should return to shape and maintain its structural integrity. All framing should be cleaned and dried thoroughly to prevent mold.

Electrical systems. Wiring may dry out and survive a storm such as Harvey, since it was rainwater and not corrosive saltwater. However, all saturated wiring and switches should be inspected for safety.

Flooring. Carpet and padding that was covered in water should be removed due to it being difficult to clean and easily holding mold spores. Laminate flooring may peel apart, while hardwood floors could survive but you may need to relay some to prevent warping. Some tile may just need to be cleaned, but even usable flooring may need to be temporarily removed to clean and dry out the subflooring.

Protecting Your Home from Future Floods with Retrofitting

Floods are the most common and most expensive natural disaster in the U.S., according to FEMA. One way to help prevent a future flood from destroying a home is retrofitting.

What is retrofitting?

Retrofitting is making changes to an existing building to protect it from flooding or other hazards, such as high winds and earthquakes.

Many of the homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey were built when little was known about how often floods would occur or how buildings should be protected. Designers and contractors today have a lot more data at hand to design retrofit options that help protect your home from future flooding.

Before making any changes, discuss retrofit options with your insurance agent, a design professional and local government zoning officials.

Home Retrofitting in New Orleans

Check out this example of retrofitting in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This home was elevated on concrete piers to be above the level of potential future flood events. Due to the retrofit, it avoided damage from Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

home affected by hurricane katrina


home after renovations

Source: FEMA Homeowner’s Guide to Retrofitting

6 Methods of Retrofitting a Home After a Flood

The FEMA home retrofitting guide lists six options to consider when wanting to protect your home from future flooding:

  1. Elevation – Raising your home so that the lowest floor or lowest horizontal member is at or above the regulated flood level.
  2. Relocation – Moving your home to higher ground where it will reduce the exposure to flooding.
  3. Wet Floodproofing – Making portions of your home resistant to flood damage and allowing water to enter during flooding.
  4. Dry Floodproofing – Sealing your home to prevent floodwaters from entering.
  5. Barrier Systems – Building a floodwall or levee around your home to restrain floodwaters.
  6. Demolition – Tearing down your damaged home and either rebuilding on the same property or buying or building a home elsewhere.

If you’re evaluating a home as a property investor, you may be interested in our How to Make a Living Flipping House. You’ll get insider tips from 3 successful property investors, a 12-step checklist to evaluating an investment property and 8 questions to ask before choosing a lender.

4 Steps to Help You Determine the Best Method of Retrofitting a Home


Source: Homeowner's Guide to Retrofitting: Six Ways to Protect Your Home From Flooding

Applying for Federal Flood Assistance

Within weeks of Hurricane Harvey, FEMA had received 700,000+ applications for assistance and already distributed $376 million. If you don't have insurance or if an individual policy doesn't cover flood damage, then the federal government may have funding available for you.

FEMA assistance could also include grants for temporary housing, home repairs and uninsured property losses. Loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) may also be available to help repair flood-related damage to a home or business.

The quickest way to apply is online at

9 Steps to Disaster-Related Financial Assistance

flood checklist

Source: FEMA Disaster Survivor’s Checklist

Rebuilding Often Brings Change

As engineers and government officials evaluate Houston and the surrounding areas hit by the devastating floodwaters, new regulations within the construction and real estate industry are likely.

The growth Houston has seen -- it grew by about 159,000 people last year, making it the nation’s largest new-housing market -- will be evaluated as rebuilding continues. The New York Times called our city a uniquely American success story, the capital of the world’s petroleum industry, the place that sent a man to the moon and a model of multiculturalism with 145 languages spoken.

Change is likely for the real estate industry and many others. However, Houston will recover. We are resilient. We are Houston strong.

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Catalyst Funding is a hard money lending and real estate investing company located in Houston, Texas. 832.648.3626