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From the recent floods in Louisiana and the wildfires raging in California, to Superstorm Sandy and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, remodeling companies are often on the frontlines in helping salvage what’s left of a family’s home. The work involved in a remodeling project following a natural disaster may not be that different as any other job, but the stress on you and your business is.

Robin Baine knows a thing or two about dealing with natural disaster aftermath. She and her husband are the co-owners of Baine Contracting, based out of Point Pleasant, N.J., which had many customers hit by 2012’s Superstorm Sandy. “You’re running a company with employees and you have no place to send them to,” Baine told REMODELING. “For about two months after the storm, we were spending most of our time taking care of people who needed our help to secure their properties.”

Graphic by Alexander Cortez
Graphic by Alexander Cortez

For many remodeling companies stumbling from the wreckage, navigating who to help can be an added challenge. “It’s a moral dilemma you’re faced with; if you had all the money you’d help everyone,” Baine says. “In a week, my employees have to get paid because they have bills to pay too.” The best way to address this, Baine advises, is to make a checklist with your entire team, deciding who you’ll help and what projects you’ll undertake.

Homes destroyed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Wildlife Service and Greg Thompson/USFWS via Flickr).
Homes destroyed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Wildlife Service and Greg Thompson/USFWS via Flickr).

Companies also should be mindful of the physical, emotional, and mental stress that recovery takes on your employees. Following Superstorm Sandy, Baine Contracting employees were stretched thin, working around the clock on
15-18 projects, continuously, for 18 months. The company normally averages five to eight projects at any given time. Baine saw the weariness in her entire staff as they helped families pull their possessions out from the rubble. “[They were] mentally and physically wiped out because it was like being in a war zone every day… I didn’t really think about that until after the fact, until it was really emotionally draining.”

To address this, the company began holding weekly meetings to check in on how everyone was dealing with the emotional turmoil. And to thank their employees, Baine Contracting gave everyone personal bonuses for having gone above and beyond.

Ben Waldman of Living Craft Design-Build also has extensive experience working in disaster recovery areas. In 2003, Waldman began volunteering in disaster recovery efforts during Hurricane Katrina, which started a journey in helping other communities rebuild. He’s helped victims after Superstorm Sandy, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the 2013 Colorado floods. He now runs a worker owned cooperative in Denver, Colo.

Recovering from a Storm

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Ben Waldman's aunt, Laura Andorf, captured photos that show the damage left in the wake of massive flooding in Louisiana earlier this year. Plus, Robin Baine shares photos from a house located in Ortley Beach, New Jersey following Superstorm Sandy (Photo courtesy of Osprey Prespectives, LLC).

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Waldman helped his own family after the recent Louisiana floods, “The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it is no different than any other remodeling project,” Waldman says. “It takes a lot of trust and patience and hand-holding and really guiding folks through that process. It is a huge overwhelming situation. ... You have to have a lot of compassion and understanding.

What are Waldman’s first steps towards recovery? Getting a damaged house to a point where no more damage is happening and getting people into a temporary safe place.

With flooding, Waldman recommends to get as much wet material, such as carpet and furniture, out to dry as possible. Make sure that you have air circulating to help dry concrete slabs and studs that are soaking wet. Be sure to get some sort of ventilation or AC system going if you are expecting high temperatures in the area. In Louisiana, temperatures during the summer average 90 degrees where, as Waldman puts it, “mold is just super happy.”

The drying process takes the longest and requires the most patience. “It can be deceiving,” he says. “It can look like your house is super dry. When I left my folks’ house in Baton Rouge, compared to the first day that I went in there and they were still gutting, it felt great. You know, the humidity was at a great level in there, everything was mostly dry to the touch at that point. But you take a moisture meter and take measurements around the building and you quickly discover things are mostly still wet—and wet enough that if you put drywall up, mold would start to grow.”

You have to have a lot of compassion and understanding. - Ben Waldman

To prevent this, Waldman says having the right tools is critical, such as a moisture meter and disinfectant, to name just a few.

A Coast Guardsman looks out from an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter searching for stranded residents in Baton Rouge, LA on Aug. 15, 2016. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake (photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr).
A Coast Guardsman looks out from an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter searching for stranded residents in Baton Rouge, LA on Aug. 15, 2016. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake (photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr).

After everything has dried, it’s important to disinfect every surface and remove any visible mold by using a wired brush, Waldman says. He suggests using vinegar or borax, instead of bleach, to disinfect and remove any mold spores

“To sum it up,” Waldman told REMODELING, “gut, dry, mold removal, disinfect.”