From Scott Carlberg

(NOTE: October 10, 2018 – Two tropical storms or hurricanes in one month foe the Carolinas. Florence and Michael. Carolinians have to be ready for storms all the time during hurricane season.)

Hurricane Florence leaves the Carolinas with immense damage. What “after the storm” tips about electricity and flooding do experts have?* We take a look. (Gleaned from various sources. Consumers: Do your own homework to ensure your actions are safe and fit your needs. Every situation is different. These are general thoughts.)

Let’s start outside. Beware of fallen power lines. Downed lines and even electric systems from neighboring buildings can energize flood water. Also, any downed power line should always be assumed to be energized and dangerous.

Inside, flood waters cause real damage. Safety is always the first order of business. Make re-entry a part of a team effort. In an article, 4 Rules for Electrical Safety After a Flood, Consumer Reports says,  “Rule No. 1: Don’t turn them [electricity/appliances] on without taking precautions.” From the U.S. Government’s “Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water. If it is safe to do so, turn off electricity at the main breaker or fuse box to prevent electric shock.”

A question: Does a flood affect my home’s electrical system or just appliances? Rutherford Electric Membership Corporation in North Carolina says: “Electrical items, such as circuit breakers, fuses, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), receptacles, plugs, and switches, can malfunction when water and silt get inside. Discard them if they have been submerged. Have a licensed, qualified professional replace them.”

Back to appliances. ECC contacted a businessman who has worked appliance and electrical issues for homeowners for some 40 years, including a past flood in the city where he lives. In the rest of this column he notes various issues based on his experience:

    “When water interacts with insulation, motor bearings, lubricants, electrical parts and metal the results are not usually positive. In most cases a key question is: How deep was the water and what parts of the appliance were possibly affected?

    Refrigerator/Freezer: Even if no water damage occurred you should address remaining food spoilage as this can leave odors that are quite difficult to eradicate. Next, how high was the water – water sprayed onto or over likely has little negative impacts once the unit is dry; immersion means some level of water was able to soak motors and controls that are typically located on or near the bottom of the units. Parts replacements may be required for safe operations. Older units had fiberglass insulation (newer units use blown in foam which is less susceptible to moisture) which, once soaked with dirty water, can be almost impossible to address successfully. The refrigerant systems are sealed meaning that immersion is not a problem for that part of the system. Water trapped inside metal components may accelerate rust problems. Deeper water has floated units causing them to tip over which can allow water into locations not normally possible.

Dishwasher: Components are often at bottom

    Dishwasher: Most components are located under the unit meaning even a few inches of water would soak the motor, valves and switches. Cleaning and drying these would be time consuming with no assurance of a positive outcome.

    Ranges/Cooking stove: Most controls are located higher (on the back panel) but the real challenge is wet insulation. This insulation is much denser than that used in home construction, is not easily acquired, and is usually cut and shaped to fit specific parts of the range. Because of the heat produced during cooking odors from any contaminant will be greatly amplified during use with the heat making a slight odor much more noticeable. For this reason, most ranges subjected to more than a few inches of water are unlikely to be salvageable.

    Vent Hood, Microwave-Over-The-Range and cook tops are usually much higher off the floor and less likely to sustain water damage. If immersed they should probably be replaced as it is not feasible to attempt repairs if replacement is under a few hundred dollars.

Washers: Motors often at bottom of machine

    Washer/Dryer: Most motors are near the very bottom of the machine and do not perform well after being wet. Ultimately, every unit will be unique depending on it’s age, condition prior to water damage, etc. and repairs might extend the usable life, but it will be impossible to know if the life was shortened due to water, possible power surges/dips, etc. New replacement appliances will almost certainly be more energy efficient, have a manufacturer’s warranty and erase any worry about future potential problems related to older, water soaked, compromised units.

Some experts say do not use power strips or extension cords on refrigerators and other big appliances

    In past catastrophes of this sort, many manufacturers have offered significant support for replacements with special pricing. The desire to save money and put a damaged appliance back into operation may risk electrical shocks, poor operational performance and a shortened appliance life. Extreme caution is advised.”

ECC notes a constant thread in research we have done: Use a professional to assess your situation for safety and proper review of your electric system and appliances.

*Remember: Safety first. This column has some thoughts about electrical safety gathered from various sources; it is not comprehensive. Do your own homework to make sure you are doing all work safely, choosing proper resources,  and you are making the best decision for your situation. 

Evaluating Water-Damaged Electrical Equipment is a publication of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. Largely for professionals in electric repair. Provides advice on the safe handling of electrical equipment that has been exposed to water. Outlines items that will require complete replacement or that can be reconditioned by a trained professional. Equipment covered includes electrical distribution equipment, motor circuits, power equipment, transformers, wire, cable and flexible cords, wiring devices, GFCIs and surge protectors, lighting fixtures and ballasts, motors and electronic products.

Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) – Flood Safety Guide.