things I learned while doing house demolition
- filing insurance claims post-flood takes a long while, like most government filing things do. hearing back takes even longer, like most government things do.
- regardless of if you have insurance or not, document everything. dimensions. estimated values. amounts. take pictures of everything and every room before you start, including the waterline.
- you must strip and clear out a house asap to let it dry once waters recede & storm has passed to prevent mold. this includes carpeting, rugs, hardwood floors, spongy stuff that took on water (leather furniture, mattresses, sofas/couches), wooden things like desks, chairs, and pianos, and other unsalvageable things (books, papers, anything that will warp/mold.) everything you can’t save goes to the curb. even stuff you think you can save, sometimes you can’t.
- don’t put things on the curb if the storm hasnt passed yet; it could float away and clog a drain.
- good tools are everything, and so are good people. the key is having a good amount of both. (2-3 of each tool is nice, and anywhere from 6-15 people)
- essentials: utility knives, work gloves (waterproof ones are real nice), masks, crowbars, hammers, trash bags (heavy duty ones are best), brooms, dustpans, tarps, bucket/container for nails and other sharps. a cart or a dolly to lug stuff around. a power drill. water. snacks. patience. a willingness to listen, work hard and learn.
- building a house requires a different skillset than taking it apart.
- open all the windows and doors, turn on fans, dehumidifiers. a/c even. you gotta dry everything.
- don’t use electrical sockets under the waterline.
- electrical sockets are typically wired from the ceiling, so those that are above waterline are probably ok.
- you can avoid dulling your knife on concrete by rolling or flipping pieces of carpet and cutting it at the fold.
- carpet is heavy. carpet is heavier when wet.
- you can bet that sewage came out in the flood water, especially if it passed toilet level.
- you have to cut off all drywall 12″ above the waterline. measure, cut, tarp, smash, clean, repeat.
- crowbars and hammers are equally good at removing nails.
- pulling nails by putting your tool under and pulling up is more efficient than pulling sideways or down.
- wet drywall is damp-smelling and strange-feeling, but comes out easily. dry drywall doesn’t wanna move as much.
- a hammer-crowbar combination overpowers a lot of things.
- tackboards suck.
- you gotta drill holes under cabinet and interior wall toe space to air it out.
- insulation is disgusting when wet and super gross. wear face masks when removing.
- house frames look weird.
walking through a stranger’s house and demolishing it is incredibly surreal. slowly, you begin to take the house apart. suddenly you’re seeing various guts and crevices of the house you probably never would have in your life otherwise. glancing at their personal effects, talking to the homeowners about their lives, trying to save their possessions–you recognize a little bit of yourself in everything, and you recognize that you’re so incredibly lucky to have the things you have.
and all this aside, it took our team of more than ten people 7 hours to clean up one house. i kept imagining the work we did, unfolding across Houston, propagated across thousands of homes. no wonder i’ve heard from a lot of people that post-harvey relief is a marathon, not a sprint; people will be working here for weeks. months. years even, after all of this. yet, there’s a sense of hope and resiliency that pervades it all.
i suppose that’s the strength of houston.
edit: here’s a thing on what to do if you got flooded by a Rice bioengineering prof that’s been through it multiple times