FLOOD INFORMATION RESOURCES


Due to the large amount of calls we are getting for flood demolition and build-back work, we have been forced to put new flood and regular remodeling projects on hold for a few months.

If your home flooded, our heart goes out to you. We are truly sorry your family has to go though this.  We know you need immediate help, but we cannot offer it at his time   Our resources have been consumed by helping our families and our existing clients put their home back together again, first.   We can put you on a waiting list if you wish to “opt in.”

We are tracking when we receive your project information via the “Contact Us” form on our website. We promise to get to you on a “first come, first served” basis.

Please let us know if you wish to “opt-in” to the waiting list.

Thank you and God bless.  You are in our prayers.

Dan Bawden, President & CEO, Legal Eagle Contractors, Co.

P.S. We put together this post-flood Frequently Asked Questions document to help guide you and give practical advice after a flood hits your home.


FLOOD RE-BUILDING FAQ’S


By Dan Bawden, Master Builder, Legal Eagle Contractors, Co.

The demolition, tear-out, mold remediation, and dry-out stages are ending for most Houstonians. This means that the rebuilding process will be next for thousands of Houstonians.

Here are some common questions and answers about the upcoming stage of flood recovery:

Q. How can I find a good contractor who can start repairing my home without having to wait?

A.  Realistically, you can’t. Be patient, and be prepared to wait.  Reputable contractors all have a waiting list at this point, and that list is getting longer as time go by.  The best idea is to call and pre-qualify contractors on the phone, narrow it down to a couple you feel are a good fit, and get on their waiting lists.   Stay in touch by emailing them periodically to remind then you are still counting on them to start your job.  Use this time to pick out all your selections, such as appliances, tile cabinets, countertop stone, doors, trim etc.  Have all that picked out before your job starts, and construction will go much faster!  If you call a contractor and they can start right away, be very suspicious.

Q. When do I have to pull a Flood Repair Permit to rebuild my home?

A.  If you are in the City of Houston, Bellaire or in any incorporated Village around Houston, you need to pull a permit unless your re-building work is limited to the following:

  1. installing insulation, drywall and wood trim
  2. Tarping your roof
  3. Replacing wood or metal fences
  4. Replacing cabinets, countertops and backsplash is
  5. Installing wallpaper tile in kitchens and bathrooms
  6. Flooring such as wood floors, carpet, vinyl and laminate

Q. Give me some examples of work in my home that dorequire pulling a flood repair permit.

A.  If you are replacing any exterior doors or any windows you must pull a permit; if you are doing any electrical work, such as replacing outlets and wiring they got wet, you must pull a permit. If you are installing any new plumbing because countertops and sinks were removed, or new tub or shower plumbing where tile was removed in bathrooms and tubs, you need permit.  One exception to this is if you are only installing sink faucets – you do not need a permit if this is the only plumbing you are doing. You also must hire a licensed plumber and electrician to do this work (even if your brother-in-law the fireman says he can do it at a discount).  If you are moving any walls to update your home while you rebuild, you must pull a permit.  These all require on-site inspections by city inspectors – even if you pulled your own flood repair permit –  to make sure the work is being done properly.

Q. How concerned should I be about whether I am closing up the walls and sheetrocking too soon or not?

A.  if you have a home that was built in the 80s or earlier, it is less of an issue, since these houses are linked here and “breathe” a lot more. If you have a home that is newer, especially if it is an energy-efficient home (and even more especially if it is a LEED-certified home), drying the home out is much more difficult and can take several times longer.  Be sure and consult with a professional remediation company if you have a tight, energy-efficient home, and it flooded.

Q. How can I tell if my home is in the 100-year flood plain, or in the “floodway”, which is even worse?

A.  See the color-coded map here http://www.harriscountyfemt.org/

Look at the color-coded key on the left side.  Zoom into find your street.  If your home is in the medium blue (100-year flood plain) or the floodway are (dark blue), you must follow the flood plain rules.   If you are in the lightest blue are, you do not have to follow those rules and can spend what you want to re-build your home.

Q. Where can I get more information about the Houston floodplain rules and permitting?

A.  See official city of Houston rules here: https://edocs.publicworks.houstontx.gov/documents/flood_plain/chapter_19_guidelines_floodplain.pdf

If you are not in the City of Houston, check with your town’s building permit department for local rules.

Q. I need simple, non-technical information about getting city permits and re-building my home. Is there a link directly to this information?

A.  Yes. Here it is: https://houstonrecovers.org/repairtips/

Q.The value of my home is artificially low in the Harris County Appraisal District records.  Will the city accept private appraisals increase my home’s value, so I can get a permit and undertake more repairs?

A.  Yes, but the appraisal must be a legitimate, professional appraisal.

Q. How do I know if my home had the bad kind of “toxic mold”?

A.  There are thousands of types of mold and there is some mold present everywhere in and around our homes in the tropical part of the world we live in. You can never get rid of mold entirely.  The longer your home sat for the sheet rock and insulation the more likely you could’ve gotten the bad kinds of mold. Homes that are torn out weeks after the event much more dangerous to muck out, and may require special equipment such as airtight suits with onboard breathing equipment for the crew to do the removal work safely. This is a lot more expensive.  The vast majority of mold types are not toxic, and people tend to overreact about exposure to them.   The specific type of “black mold” that people refer to as ”toxic mold” that is dangerous, has a round, circular pattern and looks like this:

toxic-mold

Q. How can I get someone to come someone to come to my home to certify it “mold free”?

A.  As stated above, there is no such thing as “ mold free”. There is no magic unicorn “certificate” that declares your home as “mold free”.  Your remediator may be able to give you a certificate saying that the house has been checked and is dry to certain percentages that allow you to close up the walls. They will not guarantee in the certificate that it will stay dry because factors beyond their control could change that. For example if you turn your air-conditioning off for a while.  There are industrial mold hygienists that can be hired to come in and test for mold, but they will only come if the home has been completely dried out, and certified as drive-by a professional remediation company.  They will also tell you that the certification is only good for that day. If you fail to keep your AC cold enough, leave your windows open, etc. this can cause the mold to return.  For this reason, they provide no guarantee that mold won’t come back.

Q. How do I know where home has been “substantially damaged”?

A.  If you are in the 100-year floodplain, and the value of the repairs is more than half of your home’s value (not your lot and home, just your home), the city deems your home “substantially damaged”. This means that, to get a permit and be able to rebuild, you either must elevate yourhome, or knock it down and rebuild a new home higher up.

Q. How do I know how high my home would have to be raised, if I decide to elevate it?

A.  You must get a current “base flood elevation certificate”, available from any good surveyor. Look for some good surveyor’s the Better Business Bureau site, at https://www.bbb.org/en/us/search?inputText=surveyors&locationText=Houston%2C%20TX&locationLatLng=&page=1

Ask your surveyor to explain where your “base flood elevation point” is on your lot in relation to your existing home‘s slab height.   Your elevated home or new home must have the height of the new finished flooring sitting at least 12 inches above this “base flood elevation point”.  For homes along Braes Bayou in Meyerland, that might mean raising your home 8 feet in the air.  Further away in the same neighborhood though, you may only have to raise your home 1 foot, or maybe not at all. Only this special survey can tell you.

TIP: if you get a current elevation certificate in your home is not in the floodplain, be sure to send the certificate into your flood insurance provider. It can vastly lower your premium!

Q. What is the most I can get for my flood insurance to repair my home and replace contents?

A.  $250,000, unless you have a rider extending that amount higher. Be aware that some policies have lower amounts than $250,000. The maximum amount for contents is $150,000.  Check your policy.

Q. How do I know when my home is dry enough to put the sheetrock back on?

A.  Only testing using professional moisture meter can tell you this. The places in your home that dry out the last are at the 2’ x 4’s that sit on the slab around the outside perimeter walls of your home.  This is where you should do most of your testing.  When all of the readings here are under 12%, you are probably okay to close the walls up.

Q. My home has been cleaned out and dried out, but I am not going to rebuild for a while. I’m living somewhere else in the meantime. Now that it is dried out, is it okay to turn my air-conditioning off to keep my electric bills down?

A.  Absolutely not! It will turn your home right back into a mold farm.  Just because your home is “dried out” does not mean that the mold will not return given what it needs to grow again – moisture and humidity.  You must keep your home below the temperature of 80°F.  for the mold will start to regrow if this occurs, you will have to disinfect the inside of the home again then wait another cycle for everything to dry sufficiently to be able to put the sheetrock back on.  This will delay your reconstruction.

Q. The water got high enough in my home (14”) to get water in the outlets. They seem to be working. Do I have to replace them?

A.  Absolutely, yes! Why?  Any electrical items they got wet are a fire hazard, particularly outlets and appliances. On one of the homes we were drying out recently, one of the outlets caught fire while my crew was there working. There was nothing plugged into it.  It just got corroded by the water and shorted out. My crew ran to the breaker box and turned off the power before the house burned down. Replace all outlets that got wet, even a little bit!

Q. Do I need to replace my appliances if they got wet?

A.  Probably. If you only had one or 2 inches, you should have an appliance repair expert check them out to certify there is no danger of fire. Get this opinion in writing and keep it in your records .If you had water depth in your home of 6 inches or more, they should not be used, even if they seem to be okay. Why?  The electric motors rust and circuit boards corrode in floodwater. They can become a fire hazard weeks or months late, when you least expect it.

Q. What local companies I talk to about raising my home?

A.  The three I hear about the most are: P3 Elevation, Arkitektura, and Dawson Foundation. They all raise houses. Dawson Foundation raise houses but preferred to limit it to 3 feet or so.  In my personal experience, they are a reputable company and their prices are a lot cheaper than the others.  There is another brand name foundation company that elevates homes, but they are so expensive I cannot put them on this list, in good conscience.

Q. Is it possible to raise my home 10 feet so I can park my cars underneath it?

A.  Believe it or not, yes, it is. You must have the financial resources to pay for that. Some of my Meyerland clients are planning to do this.

Q. My contractor bids are coming in significantly higher than my insurance settlement. What can I do?

A.  The general rule is the NFIP (flood insurance) is only going to give you 50 or 60% of the real cost of rebuilding your home using a professional contractor with insurance and licensed trades. Here are some things you can do:

  • The contractor you choose to work with can help you negotiate with your adjuster to add work to the scope that the adjuster missed.
  • If you are in the low-income category, you may be able to get a 30-year SBA loan at 1.7% interest. If your income is above that the interest rate is about 3.5%, which is still cheap.   Always start by applying for an SBA loan! Appeal it if you your application gets refused. This is the cheapest, best deal to get money for rebuilding your home. R
  • The IRS has just released rules that say you may borrow money from your IRA or 401(k) without penalty if you use the proceeds to rebuild your home. Some restrictions apply. Ask your CPA or financial planner about this.
  • If you’re over 62 years old you can take out a reverse mortgage to pay for the repairs. These are now safe and federally regulated.
  • Take a home improvement loan from your local bank or credit union
  • Borrow from savings, if you have savings!

Q. I’m struggling to fill out my Contents spreadsheet for my insurance. How can I tell what is part of the building and what is contents?

A.  if you could open your front door, pick up your house and shake it anything that falls out to the front door is “contents”. Things like appliances, cabinets, and basically anything that is attached, screwed or glued in place is going to be part of the building

Q. Where should I look to find a local contractor?

A.  Look on the BBB website (BBBhou.org), the Greater Houston Builders Association website (GHBA.org), and on the and NARI website – National Assoc. of the Remodeling Industry, at (NARIHouston.com)

Q. What will happen if local contractors all get booked up over the next couple of years?

A.  There will be plenty of out-of-town contractors streaming into your area, so you must be extremely careful. Many will be unscrupulous.  There are special rules that apply to out-of-town contractors. One of the most important ones says that they may not ask you for any kind of deposit before starting work unless they have a storefront address in Texas for at least one year prior to the storm.  Never give a money-up-front to an out of town contractor!! Chances are they will take it and run, and you will never be able to find them.

Q. How can I get my adjuster to give me insurance money for replacing my stone countertops?

A.  You should be able to collect some money for replacing granite or quartz countertops if they broke during removal, and you can prove that with photos – providing doing this won’t put you over $250,000 reconstruction limit. Hopefully you told your contractor to take pictures during that phase of the work. If you did not take pictures but have the broken stone counters on site, insurance should accept that as proof too.

Q. What should I do if my fireplace got flooded?

A.  if your home was built in the 1950s or 1960s you probably have an all-masonry fireplace. General wisdom says if you soak the firebox, hearth and other components that may have gotten wet with the disinfectant chemicals and let them dry completely, you should be okay, and these can remain. However, if you have a newer home, chances are the firebox and flue are manufactured metal. Exposure to flood water will void the manufacturer warranty.  You can choose to keep the fire box, in which case you should have it inspected by a qualified chimney sweep.  If you choose to remove the front of the fireplace and firebox altogetherto replace them, the best idea, but it is more expensive.  This could cost $2500-$3500 in the Houston market.

Q. If I am in the 100-year floodplain or floodway and I raise my home, is there a limit to how much I can spend on rebuilding my home?

A.  No, there is no limit if you elevated your home. After sufficient raising, your home is deemed “in compliance” by the city.

Q. What if the gypsum board, or phone insulation board on the back side of my studs is damaged or missing in places?

A.  This layer between your wall studs and your brick is part of the “moisture barrier” or “raincoat” that keeps the moisture from coming through your brick and getting into your home. It must be repaired before you put insulation and sheetrock back!Never put insulation or sheetrock over a wall that has crumbling wallboard or brick showing at the bottom.  The best way to restore your moisture barrier is by removing the brick, but insurance will not pay for this, so most people are not doing it.  There are several theories being put forth by engineers in Houston and they are all slightly different.  If there is interest in this, I will publish drawings of my favorite method, which involves installing ¾” inch waterproof insulationblue-board, screwed and sealed in with polyurethane caulkings.  Before installation of the “blue-board”, the back sides of the studs should be wrapped with heavy-duty peel-and-stick window wrap to protect the studs themselves. There are many opinions on the subject but all the good ones emphasize the importance of restoring the “moisture barrier” before closing up the wall. Failure to do this will result in moisture being sucked back into your walls in the months where your air-conditioning is running, because moisture will always move towards a cooler dryer environment.

Q.Do I have to replace the wiring in my walls if it got wet? 

A.  Yes. In homes built in 1960 or earlier, you may have fabric-wrapped wiring. Homes built since then usually have white or yellow “Romex wiring”. Both of these should be replaced if they got wet.Soaking soon voids the warranty on the wiring.  The building code says repairs “must be made safe”.  The newer Romex wiring has a paper insulator inside that can soak up water higher than the water actually got in your home.  A qualified electrician should inspect and do this work, not the homeowner!

Q. Do have to bring my outlets and wiring up to code in they got wet? Will flood insurance pay for this?

A.  The city originally told contractors that we simply had to “put things back” as they were originally. However, they soon changed their minds and are now saying that the outlets must be installed per current code. This could mean that all of your outlets will need to be rewired so they are grounded outlets. If this is true, it would mean tearing out a lot more sheetrock on your ceilings, and could be an expensive proposition indeed. It could also mean that outlets in all the bedrooms would need to be arc-fault-interrupter style outlets, which are more expensive and tend to trip when there is no reason to, driving both contractors and homeowners crazy. Insurance may pay for this if you get a letter of necessity from a licensed electrician, and you have room left inyour settlement to pay for it.

Q. What if my wiring got wet and I have aluminum wiring in a two-story house?

A.  Aluminum wiring is no longer allowed by code, so wiring would have to be replaced with copper wiring. A letter from a licensed electrician could probably get insurance to pay for this, at least for replacing it on the first floor. Aluminum wiring cannot the connected to copper wiring so the best practices to replace all the aluminum wiring in the home with copper, even if it costs you more to do so.

Q. How can I get my adjuster to pay for more repairs?

A.  You are trying to collect more, make sure you have not tapped out your flood insurance maximum payment. For example, if you have already spent 240,000 of your $250,000 maximum recovery, there’s no point in trying to get your insurance company to pay for $30,000 for extra rewiring work in your home. Likewise, if you only spent $150,000 of your $250,000, you may be able to get the brick replaced by contacting an engineer (a “P.E.”) and getting a letter saying this is required for structural integrity reasons.  Flood adjusters are somewhat flexible about adding things to your coverage, providing it does not push you over the maximum settlement amount.

Q. Is there any advice about what paint types to use when I rebuild?

A.  Yes!  Since we live in a tropical climate should only use water-based paints, especially on exterior walls, and sealed areas such as walls behind mirrors.  Oil-based paints are impermeable – they trap moisture inside the walls and behind wood trim.  This can result in mold growing in the wood and sheetrock behind the oil-based paint.  Water-based paints “breathe” so they are much safer and better to have in your home.