The absolute first thing you must evaluate is whether the area is still flooded. Downed equipment or damaged electrical wires present a life-threatening safety risk under normal circumstances. However, adding water to the mix poses the risk of electrocution, even if you are nowhere physically near the equipment. If there is flood water within your home, building or neighborhood, DO NOT ENTER the area.
Q2: There doesn’t appear to have been flooding in my neighborhood, or the water has receded. Now what?
Even in the absence of water at first glance, remain vigilant. Flooding can cause severe electrical damage, so you should check for evidence that there may have been flood water within the building at some point. Proactively look for signs of standing water, floor and wall stains that indicate flooding, fire or water damage near electrical outlets and if appliances or electrical equipment otherwise look like they have been submerged or exposed to flood water. If you see any of the above signs, ensure the main power has been shut off to the home. If you’re not sure how to check for that, or not sure it has been turned off stop what you are doing and call a professional.
Q3: If I see evidence of flooding in my home but am not sure if the main power has been shut off, what should I do?
Do not enter a home or building where there is standing water inside until you are sure the main power is off. The power can be running even if it looks like it is off, so make sure the power is off before doing anything. Do not attempt to turn off the main power. Instead, have a qualified person – preferably an electrician or your electric utility – turn off the main power for you. Water and electricity do not mix, so never enter areas or rooms where there is standing water if the power is still on.
Q4: When I know the power has been shut off, what steps can I take?
After you are certain the power is off, keep it off until a licensed electrician or electrical contractor inspects the electrical system, identifying any equipment or appliances that have been damaged by flooding. You should also unplug all corded items prior to restoring power after flooded areas are dry.
For safety reasons, electrical equipment that has been submerged or come into contact with water needs to be replaced. Some larger equipment may be able to be reconditioned, but this determination can only be made by your local electrical contractor or service technician. It is important not to take chances, so you should always rely on an expert to help make informed decisions.
Q5: It doesn’t look like there is any evidence of flooding. How cautious should I be, and what should I do?
First you should locate the main panel to see if any circuit breakers or fuses have tripped, because tripped circuit breakers or fuses indicate there may be hidden damage. As a safety precaution, the main power should be turned off until this inspection can be completed. Main power should also be removed if there is a smell of smoke or heat.
If the power was turned off prior to the flooding, then power may be restored by first turning off all circuit breakers or switches. The main power can then be turned on followed by the circuit breakers or switches in the electrical panel. If you experience tripping of circuit breakers or fuses or smell smoke, there is damage to the electrical system and the main power should remain off until an inspection and necessary repairs can be completed.
Now is the time to call your electrical contractor to help assess the damage and provide you peace of mind as you settle back into your home.
Q6: I have an urge to clean everything in my house right away. What precautions should I take, as it relates to electrical equipment?
It’s difficult to be patient, but resist the urge to clean your electrical equipment. Attempting to reuse damaged electrical equipment by air drying, rinsing, cleaning, washing down or pressure washing creates a significant safety hazard, so while you are cleaning up other areas of the house, contact a professional to focus on your electrical equipment. Once you know which equipment needs to be replaced and which needs to be repaired, you can then begin to address those issues appropriately.
Q7: Can I connect my home to a temporary source of power?
Yes, but take caution. You can connect to a temporary source of power, such as a portable generator, but it is imperative that these connections are only performed by an electrical contractor. Generators should never be connected directly into the wiring system, as an improper generator connection can cause severe injury or death.
Transfer equipment installed by a qualified electrician is required in all cases. It is not safe to connect a generator to the utility meter terminals, clothes dryer receptacle or range oven receptacle. Keep in mind, generators can also pose a carbon monoxide hazard if they are not located correctly. Locate any generator away from doors, windows and other building openings as specified in the manufacturer’s instructions. Never operate a generator in your garage, basement or similar confined space.