Why does a flooded house need to be torn down?

Structural Flood Damage and Demolition of a Flooded House

Destroying the house is easy. Getting rid of the debris is more of a challenge, however.
Destroying the house is easy. Getting rid of the debris is more of a challenge, however.
©iStockphoto/Sonja Miokovic

­Even if your house isn't hit by impact loads, such as waves, floods can still impart lasting damage on your home. When your house is flooded, renovation is complicated by the fact that the inside of your home can remain waterlogged while the water outside your home subsides. For instance, your home may retain water that gets swept away outside. It could also happen if you pump out the water from your basement prematurely while the soil around it remains saturated with heavy floodwater [source: Rogers]. This causes hydrostatic loads that press toward the side of your house with the lower water level, causing walls and floors to collapse or crack. Hydrodynamic loads, which result from floodwaters flowing against and around the house, can not only cause similar physical pressures, but can also inundate your house with silt and soil tha­t can weaken the foundation.

If you see sagging ceilings and cracks in the basement or in foundation walls, they'll probably need to be replaced. As you can imagine, replacement of such fundamentals is usually costly and difficult. This is when tearing down a flooded home rather than repairing it might be more advantageous.

Although it's a difficult decision, you may not even have a choice. Some local regulations won't let you repair the structure if damage exceeds half of the market value of your home. Other regulations may require that you raise your house higher off the ground and fill in the basement. The costs of complying with local regulations add to the benefits of demolition over repair.

This isn't to say that demolition comes cheap. Fortunately, flood insurance could cover at least some (or perhaps all) of the costs of demolition, elevating the home or floodproofing the structure under the Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage, which is designed to restore a home to regulation. So check your insurance policy to see what's covered before you make any rash decisions.

If demolition turns out to be the best option, you should know what to expect in the process. First, obtain any necessary permits you need for demolishing a house. Then, consider all the utility lines that are connected to your home, such as gas, water and electricity. You'll need to contact the utility companies to turn these off. Make sure your contractor disconnects or caps the connections as well before going forward with demolition. You'll need to dispose of asbestos and other dangerous materials properly before demolition. Check federal, state and local regulations for the legal ways to get rid of these materials [source: FEMA].

During the actual demolition, the contractor uses a bulldozer to knock everything down. Oddly enough, the physical tearing down of the structure is often the easiest and cheapest part of this process. The hard part is next: disposing of the debris. You might be able to get a permit to bury debris at the site, but many communities have policies against uncontrolled burials as a precaution for keeping soil uncontaminated [source: EPA]. Instead, you might need to have it hauled to a designated site and pay a fee for dumping it there. Although it depends on how much debris there is after demolition, disposal is usually the priciest part of demolition -- no matter what method you use.

As if deciding to tear down home sweet home wasn't hard enough, even more difficult decisions follow after demolition.