Nothing in Canada matches the horror caused by Hurricane Katrina, but across the country it was a bad summer for flooding.

When we plan and decorate our homes, particularly the basement, we never think about the possibility that all the interior finishes, furniture, and storage boxes on the floor could be flooded by a summer storm, a broken water pipe or a leaky roof. When it happens, it's important to act fast to save your valuables, protect the structure of your home, and prevent the growth of mould.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. offers several documents about protecting your home from floods and what to do when water damage occurs.

"The faster the water can be cleaned up, the less likely there is to be mould," says Halyn Tataryn, senior researcher at CMHC Calgary. "Take photographs or video of the damage for your insurance company prior to starting, and then it's crucial that people get the water cleaned up as soon as possible."

After flooding in Alberta, CMHC said there are more than 270 species of mould that can grow in Alberta homes. To find out if mould is present, put a drop of household bleach on the area. If the colour bleaches out of that spot, there is mould and the area must be scrubbed. CMHC says painting over mould won't get rid of it -- you should scrub the area with soap and hot water. On concrete, use one cup of TSP in one gallon of warm water to scrub the surface, then rinse with clean water and let it dry thoroughly.

CMHC senior researcher Anand Mishra says you should wear gloves, safety glasses and a 3M 820 mask when dealing with mould.

Mishra has complied a guide of CMHC materials to help consumers handle the daunting task of saving their home and contents. It says water from a seriously flooded home should be removed slowly to avoid making the walls or floors buckle. Drain in stages, removing about one-third of the volume daily. Use pumps or pails to take out standing water, and then use a wet-dry shop vacuum for the rest.

Don't use flooded appliances, electrical outlets, switch boxes or fuse-breaker panels until they have been checked by your local utility. Make sure you heating system has been serviced by a qualified technician. Forced-air heating ducts and return-duct pans must be cleaned or replaced.

Some things can't be salvaged if they have been soaked. Remove and replace wet drywall, insulation materials, particleboard furniture, mattresses, box springs, stuffed toys, pillows, furniture coverings, padding and cushions. If the carpet has been soaked with sewage, it has to go. CMHC says water-damaged carpet should be dried within two days to prevent mould growth -- you'll likely need a professional to come in to handle this job.

Drywall, wood paneling and insulation should be removed at least 500 mm above the high-water line. Hose down dirt sticking to walls and furniture. Wash the area, then ventilate or dehumidify the house to dry it out. CMHC suggests taping clear food wrap to sections of materials to see if they are dry. If the area under the wrap turns darker than the surrounding area, it's still damp inside.

Anything you salvage should be moved to a cool, dry area, and set up with fans to dry it out. Important or valuable documents, books and textiles can be put in the freezer and frozen while you deal with the rest of the job. Later you can call a conservator for advice about drying them out.

Dry upholstered furniture by removing cushions but not the upholstery. Blot out excess moisture and raise the furniture on blocks, placing fans underneath. To keep wooden furniture from splitting or warping, dry it slowly. Open drawers and doors immediately so they don't swell and stick. Lay freezer or wax paper on lifting veneer and apply weights. CMHC also recommends sheltering the item under polyethylene sheeting to slow drying.

Most photographs can be air-dried face up. They can also be frozen and then thawed and air-dried. Remove framed items from the frames and lay them face up on blotting paper or other absorbent material, and then air-dry, CMHC recommends.

Documents should be removed from storage boxes and air-dried. Don't try to separate the pages if they are stuck together. Remove paper clips, pins and staples if possible. Books that are not saturated can be air-dried by fanning out the pages and using fans to circulate the air. Books that are saturated should be frozen as soon as possible and later thawed out as time permits.

There will probably be lots of room in your freezer, because all the contents as well as meats, fresh fruit and vegetables and boxed foods should be thrown out if they've been wet. Even bottled drinks and preserves in jars should be discarded because the area under the seal of the jars can't be disinfected. Canned goods are okay if undamaged and thoroughly washed and disinfected. Toiletries, cosmetics and medicine exposed to flood water must also be thrown out.

Make sure that everything in your home is completely dry before you undertake the job of replacing interior finishes and repainting.

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