“Electricity and water don’t mix” is a safety rule we’ve all heard. But when flooding occurs in our home, the cautionary voices echoing in our mind can be drowned out by the swell of the stress and water. Don’t jump in and add a tragedy to the trauma.
“Whenever there’s flooding, it’s human nature to want to quickly assess the damage and start cleaning up. And if the water’s still rising, we definitely want to save other things from getting wet,” said John Gasstrom, CEO of Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “But that old rule about electricity and water holds true whether we’re talking about running water in the tub or two feet of water in the house.”
If water has risen above or comes into contact with electrical outlets, baseboard heaters or other electrical systems, do not go into the water, added Gasstrom. “You can be shocked or killed. Not only can electricity travel through water, it can shock you through a wet floor.”
Here are some things to keep in mind before and after a flood.
Before the Flood
If you live in a flood-prone area:
- Keep an emergency kit of batteries, medications, etc., ready if you have to leave immediately, or if services are cut off.
- Keep important documents in a waterproof container. Create password-protected digital copies.
- If your basement requires a sump pump, install a backup pump that uses a battery and sounds an alarm in case the main pump fails or the electricity is out for an extended time during the storm.
If flooding is forecast or imminent:
- Move electrical appliances and devices out of your home or to an area in the house above the expected level of flood water.
- Follow any directives to turn off utilities. To switch off the main power to your home, flip each breaker off first, and THEN turn off the main breaker. You may also need to shut off the main valve for your home’s gas and water.
After a Flood
- If you’ve had to evacuate, do not enter a flooded area until it has been determined safe to do so by a first responder or other authority.
- Once you return home, do not touch a circuit breaker or replace a fuse with wet hands or while standing on a wet surface.
- If your home experienced flooding, keep the power off until an electrician has inspected your system for safety.
- Have an electrician inspect electrical appliances that have been wet, and do not turn on or plug in appliances unless an electrician tells you it is safe. Most wet appliances will require replacement.
- If your home experienced severe flooding, snakes and other animals may be in your house. Wear heavy gloves and boots during cleanup.
Sources: Electrical Safety Foundation International, FEMA, Electrical Safety Authority
Flooding safety precautions: Dos and don’ts of cleaning up after the flood
- DO keep a flashlight and batteries on hand in case you have to maneuver flood waters in the dark.
- Electricity and water DON’T mix. That’s why you should make sure your wet/dry vacuum is plugged into a GFCI outlet. DO look for power strips that have GFCIs to use during cleanup.
- DON’T allow power cord connections to become wet.
- DO replace all circuit breakers and fuses that have been submerged in water.
- DON’T touch a circuit breaker or replace a fuse if your hands are wet or if you are standing on a wet surface. When resetting breakers, use a dry plastic- or rubber-insulated tool. Use only one hand.
Sources: FEMA, Electrical Safety Authority
What to replace or repair
When cleaning up after a flood, keep in mind that not all appliances can be salvaged. Some can be repaired by the original manufacturer or approved representative, but many should be replaced.
Throw away breakers, fuses, disconnect switches, GFCIs, arc fault circuit interrupters and surge protection devices if they have been submerged in water.
Things that MAY be repairable: panels, switchgear, motor control centers, boilers or boiler controls, electric motors, transformers, receptacles, switches, light fixtures, electric heaters and appliances such as water heaters, ovens, ranges, and dishwashers. In MOST cases, though, these will need to be replaced.
Depending on the type of wire or cable and the extent of the damage, electrical wiring MAY need to be replaced. Just because you can’t see any damage doesn’t mean there is no damage. A licensed electrical contractor should make that determination. Never just allow the equipment or wiring to “dry out” and attempt to power it up later.