Calm After The Storm: 3 Things To Check If Your House Was Flooded

If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm. -Frank Lane

I woke up in the middle of the night to the drumming beat of torrential downpour, as I huddled in a red plush sleeping bag. That was my first night experience under a lightless/heatless canvass shelter during the monsoon season at Taliesin West in 1997. I was alone in the middle of the Sonoran desert of Arizona and I thought to myself "The world wouldn't care much if I lived or died at this moment".

As I watched the news unfold before my eyes about typhoon Ketsana and Parma, and the massive flooding that resulted, I wondered if those people who found themselves climbing to the top of their roofs, ever had the same thoughts I did back in my shelter in 1997.

The Philippines was recently devastated by these two strong cyclones hitting major cities that included Manila, Quezon City, and Marikina. It is a country of 7,100 islands with a land area about the same size as Arizona, USA. It is located north of the equator at approximately 14° 34' 51" Latitude and 120° 57' 15" Longitude. There are generally two seasonal climates, the dry season (from November to June) and the wet season (from July to October). It is during this wet season when the torrential rains and typhoons can be expected.

Rain is always expected in this tropical country. This time however, it was different. The volume of rainfall far exceeded what was considered normal. Nobody expected flooding to occur in this magnitude where nearly half a million people were displaced.

This story is more than just about world news for me. It is a personal story about friends losing their homes to natural calamity. It is about a high school classmate whose house was flooded to the rooftop. It is about a college friend who found his house flooded days after the storm has passed. It is about a former colleague getting stranded in flood waters more than six meters (approximately 20 feet) high.

For me as an architect, this is a call to action. That action is to share information on what one needs to do if you find yourself a victim of flood. Here are three major issues that need to be checked and addressed after a building or house has been subjected to prolonged periods of water submersion.

1. Ponding/ Standing water

Ground water poses a threat to foundations (structural) and below-ground spaces. While accumulation of water towards buildings can be accounted as a factor of design, the non-provision for diversion where surface water intercepts buildings is considered negligence on the part of the designer. The best thing to do after your house has been exposed to flood is to check the structural soundness of its foundations. While the common material used in building houses in the Philippines is cast-in-place concrete, some may have used concrete-hollow-blocks, or at worst, timber for some of its wooden structures.

Keep an eye out for any cracks on the floor slab and make sure that the waterproofing coat is still effective and not damaged.

2. Moisture

Moisture is a breeding ground for mold, bacteria, and fungi. If your house contains wooden structures, have a professional engineer check it's soundness. Observe if dry-rotting has occurred on the structural member's surfaces. I would recommend opening all doors and windows to let the house completely dry out. The presence of moisture in the air also affects the indoor air quality of the house that could later on lead to respiratory diseases for its inhabitants. Ventilating the interior space would be a highly recommended approach to keep the levels of moisture at a desirable level.

3. Runoff

The most serious effect of a concentrated flow of water is the possibility of pollution and contamination that can be in the form of organic, chemical, and radioactive. One lesson can be learned about the developmental effects of urbanization in areas of Marikina and Quezon City: These areas which were formerly low and marshy were filled in with housing development. The extensive grids of paved roads and sidewalks in these level developments caught and held water, resulting in the presence of standing water. The storm sewers reached beyond capacity, or in some areas, non-existent. Overloading of storm sewers is one of the major causes of flooding. These need to be incorporated in any building design: Designers need to begin to emphasize storm infiltration (also known as recharge of groundwater), rather than quick runoff. Other ideas include incorporation of porous pavement, vegetated green roofs that will retain water and slowly release it, and on-site infiltration of runoff.

The greatest risk to health, safety, and welfare of home owners after flooding has occurred is that they want to go back to their houses without knowing if it's safe to do so. It will be a long rebuilding process, and for some, starting over. The calm comes after the storm.

For more extensive tips and ideas about rebuilding the sustainable and organic way specifically structured for countries in the lower latitude, please listen to my audio book, Frankly Speaking: It's the Wright Way.

(Beginning in November, some proceeds in the sale of "Frankly Speaking: It's the Wright Way" will be used toward rebuilding efforts of communities affected by Typhoon Ketsana and Parma.)



Frankly Speaking: It's the Wright Way by Lira Luis, 2006

Philippine Architecture During the Pre-Spanish and Spanish Periods by Norma I Alarcon, 1991

Mechanical and Electrical Equipment for Buildings by Benjamin Stein and John S Reynolds, 2000


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Calm After The Storm: 3 Things To Check If Your House Was Flooded by Lira Luis, AIA, RIBA, NCARB, UAP, LEED AP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.
Based on a work at liraluis.blogspot.com.


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