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  • Writer's pictureFlorida Trust

Keep Loving Your Flooded Historic Building

With Hurricane Irma, historic resources and homeowners from around the state have been hit with the impacts of flooding. We care about your efforts to rebuild. Here are some tips for your recovery process in the immediate future and when facing local building codes and insurance claims.

1. The safety of you and emergency response teams is the number one priority. First and foremost heed all warnings and take all precautions that may not always be obvious. Wildlife such as alligators and snakes, downed power lines, standing water and pot holes can pose serious threats in and around your yard. Use caution if there are electrical appliances or electric outlets impacted by flood waters.

2. Flood waters in your building could be contaminated. Keep yourself informed of any reports from your local officials of compromised water treatment facilities so you know what level of protection is necessary when cleaning up your property.

3. Remove standing water from the inside of the building and ventilate as best as possible, using fans and dehumidifiers if power is an option. Dry and sanitize surfaces to prevent mold growth. Hardware stores will be happy to point you in the right direction for these products. Read the labels to make sure the product you choose is safe for your historic materials.

4. When it's time to make permanent decisions on repairing damage get more than one estimate and know all your mitigation options. Contractors and water restoration specialists WILL be making the rounds in your community. This is a big help when your local contractors may be dealing with their own damage and tending to all their clients but buyer beware – they will leave town and you may not see or hear from them if problems arise with their work product. Contact your local building department to educate yourself on what actions require building permits and licensed contractors. If the "contractor" refuses to get a permit it's a red flag. Consider multiple mitigation options and choose the right fit for your budget and the long term sustainability of your building. Keep in mind if you are in a flood zone flooding could happen again. Unlike modern materials (drywall) historic materials such as plaster and wood lathe may be able to dry out and be preserved. Plaster is a cementitious material whereas drywall has a paper covering that can mold. If your contractor cannot distinguish these factors seek an alternate option. You should be able to have an informed discussion based on your particular situation. Do not assume you need to remove historic plaster walls if they are sound when cutting small ventilation holes is an option.

5. Check your crawl space for standing water and ventilate this space to the extent possible to prevent rising damp. Historic buildings with crawl spaces were intentionally designed to allow ventilation and building elevation before modern comforts. Keep these spaces clear in the future so water can easily pass and flush out quickly.

6. Ask your building department or search for your municipal building code online to determine the threshold for "substantial damage" and "substantial improvement" because this will affect code compliance for significant repairs and there may be exemptions for historic buildings. In the immediate aftermath FEMA will be working with your local officials to determine the extent that properties are heavily damaged by their own indicators so that federal aid can be engaged. Your local building codes, though, are what impacts the code compliance measures that must be made during repair work and will be reviewed by your local building official. The most challenging code factor is the required finish floor elevation to comply with flood plain management codes that could require a building to be elevated. For example, if your building is currently at a 6' finished floor elevation and 9' is the current flood code and your building is more than 50% damaged the repairs must include raising the finished floor to 9' unless your local code exempts historic buildings from this requirement. Your local code may have an outright exemption or variance process. Always ask your building official and enlist a knowledgeable architect to make sure other exemptions for historic buildings are being applied.

7. Find out what financial incentives are available for repairs and restoration. Federal tax credits are available nationwide for historic, income-producing properties for qualified repairs. Locally, there may be facade grants and property tax exemptions. At the state level, historic preservation grants are available to non-profits and local governments. In all cases there may be application processes and they may be competitive. As far as insurance options, there are FEMA programs to provide low interest loans and increased cost of compliance (ICC) funding to offset some costs to bring your building into compliance with the required floor elevation. Hazard mitigation funding is applied to a community level for large projects and may be available in the future for projects listed in the local mitigation strategy. Consult your local officials to learn more and help advocate for these programs.

8. Conduct a full evaluation for structural issues that might not be immediately visible. Consult experts in historic property issues particularly for foundation, wall, and roof restoration. Temporary shoring can be installed while the evaluation and long term decisions are made.

9. Salvage interior details and your mementos. Papers, photographs, wood and plaster objects may be salvageable while upholstered items may be too far contaminated if they cannot be disassembled and treated separately.

10. Consult additional resources for more detailed mitigation and remediation options for historic buildings. The Florida Division of Historic Resources has a resource page: Guidance for Disaster Mitigation and Recovery for Historic Properties

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