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Flood Damaged Home – Frequently Asked Questions

Safety Codes Permits

Do I need safety codes permits to repair my home?  

You will need building permits if you are replacing materials behind the interior finish or replacing building service systems. This includes, but is not limited to, wiring, insulation, vapour barrier, plumbing, gas appliance piping, and/or gas venting. 

The permitting process ensures that your building, electrical, gas, and plumbing systems will be safe for years to come and obtaining the correct permits and inspections is not optional. Permits are also required by mortgage holders, insurance companies, at time of sale, and for Disaster Relief Plan compensation.  

  • You can apply for a permit in person at the Timberlea Municipal Planning Offices (309 Powder Drive in Fort McMurray) or online at  rmwb.ca/e-permit
  • All Safety Codes permits and associated inspections are free.
  • Questions regarding permitting or requests for inspections can be made through Pulse at 780-743-7000 or pulse@rmwb.ca.

Development Permits 

Do I need a development permit to repair my home?

If you are not adding to the footprint or area of your home, a development permit is not required to repair or restore your basement, even if you are adding walls or rooms. If you are remaking or creating a basement or secondary suite, you will need to apply for separate safety codes permits for this. 

Do I need a new development permit for a basement suite if my house had a suite before the flood?

If a development permit for a basement or secondary suite was previously issued for your home, then you will not need to apply for a new development permit. You will, however, need to apply for separate safety codes permits specifically for the basement or secondary suite. At the time of application for your building permit you will need to provide confirmation you are already approved for the secondary suite. Planning records to confirm you were previously approved can be accessed by emailing p&drecordmanagement@rmwb.ca. 

Restoration and Construction

The questions below are some of the most common questions owners and contractors have about repairing properties damaged from the recent flooding. The information provided below is not comprehensive or the final word. There will always be project-specific questions that need to be answered individually.

Do I have to restore my home to meet the requirements of the latest/current codes? 

Generally, if you are only repairing an existing home (and not replacing the home with a new one) you will not have to meet all the requirements of current codes. However, you will have to meet the requirements of the codes that were in place when your home was originally constructed and some basic life safety items, such as smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, which are required for all homes regardless of the time when they were built. It’s recommended you review the information provided here and share the requirements with the contractors you’ve hired so they can be incorporated into the repair plan. 

Will I have to change my basement/bedroom windows?

There is no requirement for any windows in a basement unless there is a bedroom. However, if you build a room in your basement that either has no window or the window that’s there does not meet the minimum requirements for egress, the inspector will note that the room is not to be used for a bedroom on their final report. Should you wish to create a bedroom, a new window that opens fully may be able to be fitted in the original opening that will meet the dimension and openable area requirements for egress. Current requirements for window wells in basement or secondary suites is that they must be 30” deep.  

Check with your contractor or local building supplier and read the full requirements for bedroom windows from Alberta Municipal Affairs and housing here

Do I need to install smoke or carbon monoxide alarms in my basement?

Yes. If you are replacing the electrical panel or doing wiring in your basement, a hardwired 120-volt smoke alarm is required on the basement level. Additionally, if you are rebuilding the basement development and creating a bedroom, smoke alarms are required in each bedroom and one outside of the bedroom(s) in the hallway or living area. Finally, a carbon monoxide alarm is required within 5m of every bedroom. All alarms are required to be interconnected and hardwired on a 120-volt circuit that is shared with another commonly used circuit, such as a hall light. 

Will I have to upgrade the insulation in my basement? 

The need to upgrade insulation depends on when your house was built. Up until 1981, there was no requirement to insulate a basement. After 1981, the only requirement was for the wall to be insulated with R8 insulation to 2 feet (600mm) below the exterior grade. This is still the only requirement in a house constructed from 1981 to 2017.  It is recommended you install insulation with at least an R12 value for comfort and energy efficiency. Also, it’s preferable that foam insulation is used in flood zones. 

Are there special requirements for using foam plastic insulation?

If foam is to be used for re-insulation, it is recommended you use closed cell foams as they are highly resistant to water penetration. Generally, spray foams are designed to adhere to the foundation and can prevent contaminated water from getting trapped behind the insulation. Besides providing excellent thermal and mould resistance, spray foam is effective for damp-proofing, as a vapour barrier, can be applied over rough surfaces and in places that are difficult to insulate, and seals penetrations effectively. All types of foam insulation will require a protective thermal barrier covering of ½” drywall, plywood, or OSB if it is exposed/visible in an interior space including a basement.Receptacles need to be installed as per standard wall spacing when you add drywall or other finishing material over the foam. 

HVAC System Repairs and Upgrades

Are permits required to replace my furnace or water heater?

If gas appliances are changed from mid-efficiency to high-efficiency, a gas appliance vent permit is required as the type and size of the venting for the appliance must be changed and inspected. If either the gas piping or venting is changed due to the relocation of a gas appliance, then both a gas permit and a gas appliance vent permit will be required. Correct installation of the venting is critical to the operation of the appliance. Building permits are not required to replace a water heater or furnace in a dwelling if the ductwork or design of the system is not changed. 

Do I have to upgrade my furnace and water heater to high efficiency?

No. Homes built before 2015 do not have to comply with Energy Code requirements. However, it is recommended an automatic damper, wired to fail open, be provided in the fresh air duct to the furnace so that when the furnace calls for heat the damper opens. This will help the efficiency of any furnace. If the furnace does not have a supply of fresh air it will have to be added as will combustion air if the gas code requires it.

Can my HVAC system be cleaned and re-used?

The HVAC system should be inspected for cleanliness, mechanical condition, and adequacy of the system. Approval to repair or replace water damaged components of the mechanical equipment must be granted in writing by the manufacturer and, for larger equipment, letters from the manufacturer’s engineer will be required that are component, model, and serial number specific. The system should be cleaned and restored at the same time as the building and prior to running the system to prevent the spread of microbes or other contaminants by the ventilation system. Restored HVAC system components that are potentially exposed to recontamination during ongoing building drying and restoration activities should be re-inspected after demolition and reconstruction activities are complete.

Can HVAC ductwork be cleaned and re-used?

Internally lined ductwork, duct board, and flexible ductwork with flood water contamination cannot be cleaned and must be removed and replaced with new materials. Regular ductwork can be cleaned. However, if an antimicrobial product or biocide is used to clean or inhibit future microbial growth in the HVAC system, the products used must be specifically approved for use in HVAC systems by Health Canada. Filtration is also important in decreasing the spread of microbial spores from one part of a building to another so, upgrading the filtration is recommended.  

Electrical Repairs and Upgrades

My panel and wiring got wet, what do I have to replace?

If your electrical panel got wet, it needs to be replaced along with all the circuit breakers. If you think some of the wiring can be saved, it will have to be inspected, tested, and serviced by an electrical contractor who will check with the manufacturer for the testing requirements and conditions for re-use. 

Receptacles, switches, GFCIs, and fuses that have been submerged must also be replaced as water and silt inside the devices can prevent them from performing properly and can cause electrical shorts or mechanical malfunctions. The only safe action is to discard and replace any affected devices. Read the full safety bulletin from Alberta Municipal Affairs and Housing titled “Electrical Tips for Returning to Your Home or Business After a Flood” here

I have aluminum wiring, does my wiring have to be replaced? 

You do not have to replace aluminum wiring just because it is aluminum however if it got wet the requirements above for wiring and other electrical equipment exposed to water will also apply.  Subject to the above, as with all wiring, aluminum is safe provided proper connections and terminations are made without damaging the wire and with approved materials installed in accordance with the Canadian Electrical Code and the manufacturer instructions. Read the full safety notice on aluminum wiring from Alberta Municipal Affairs and housing here

Do I need to install smoke or carbon monoxide alarms in my basement?

Yes. If you are replacing the electrical panel or doing wiring in your basement, a hardwired 120-volt smoke alarm is required on the basement level. Additionally, if you are rebuilding the basement development and creating a bedroom, smoke alarms are required in each bedroom and one outside of the bedroom(s) in the hallway or living area.  Finally, a carbon monoxide alarm is required within 5m of every bedroom. All alarms are required to be interconnected and hardwired on a 120-volt circuit that is shared with another commonly used circuit, such as a hall light.

Do I need to relocate the panel if it being replaced?

Many electrical panels in older homes were installed in locations much higher than would be permitted today and lowering these panels would gain very little, in fact it could be argued having them higher may be an advantage in flood prone areas. If the existing panel is in a safe location and there is no obstruction in front of the panel, it can be replaced and left where it is.

What other upgrades to the wiring must be made when wiring repairs are completed?

The following minimum upgrades to the electrical system are required when repairs are made to more than just the lower receptacles:

  • If the system ground wire was submerged, it is considered contaminated, and therefore compromised.  A new system ground conductor (#6 copper) must be run from the neutral bus at the main panel and terminate on the street side of the water meter. A jumper of equal size must be placed across the water meter.
  • Receptacles need to be installed as per standard wall spacing when you add drywall or otherwise finish the space. 
  • A GFCI protected outlet is required at the electrical panel.
  • All newly installed receptacles are required to be tamper resistant.
  • A 120-volt hardwired smoke alarm shall be provided on any floor level where wiring is replaced, or circuits are added. Additional smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are required if bedrooms are constructed.  

     

    Flood Demolition and Cleaning 

    Are safety codes permits needed for demolition work?

    Permits are not required for the removal of damaged materials like drywall, flooring, insulation, wiring, or gas appliances. If materials that are structural in purpose are removed, you will need a building permit and probably an inspection before they are removed. If you are demolishing and rebuilding an entire building, a demolition permit, development permit and building permit will be required. 

    What documentation should be obtained and maintained during my restoration?

  • Pictures and videos of everything with dates recorded.
  • Receipts for all expenses. 
  • Copies of all municipal permits and the associated inspection reports provided to your contractors by the municipality.
  • Any environmental reports made available from your restoration company.
  • Any written water damage restoration recommendations and/or technical specifications from specialized experts, inspectors, and others acting in the capacity of consultants or advisors. 
  • Monitoring reports documenting daily temperature, relative humidity, specific humidity, and dew point of the air. 
  • Daily humidity record in the various areas of your building. Temperature and relative humidity by per cent. 
  • Specific and/or relative moisture content readings of representative materials and materials by per cent moisture content.
    1. The time and date of service and the company representatives present during service.

      What PPE do I need for cleaning or restoring my home?

      The selection of PPE depends on the anticipated exposure, types of microbial contamination, activities to be completed, and potential hazards of chemicals that may be used in the process. Owners should consult a professional restoration company or other specialized expert if they have questions regarding PPE selection. PPE should at a minimum consist of the following: a half or full mask respirator, eye protection, disposable coveralls including hood and booties, foot protection, hand protection, head protection, and where needed, hearing protection. 

      Can I just let my house or building dry out by itself?

      No. Flood water was contaminated and anything that came in contact with it must be decontaminated or removed. Once this is done drying should be initiated as rapidly as possible. 

      What do I do about materials that have come in contact with flood water?

      All materials that came in contact with flood water are contaminated and will need to be removed if porous or cleaned and de-contaminated if non-porous. Contaminated and damaged materials should be removed as quickly as possible to prevent mold growth and reduce humidity. More durable materials like concrete or solid wood studs should be sprayed down with clean water followed by a cleaning solution. If a biocide or antimicrobial is used, it must be applied in accordance with the manufacturer’s product directions and any precautions for the product in the MSDS information.

      How do I know when my house is dry enough to start repairing damage?

      It’s recommended that homeowners hire professional restoration companies to ensure all restoration work is only completed after damaged areas are confirmed to be sufficiently dry and mould growth does not occur and cause damage after your restoration.

      Previously damp materials can be confirmed to be sufficiently dry by comparing their moisture content to dry materials in the same structure with a moisture meter. Humidity levels should be checked and recorded the same way and should be measured room by room as the levels can vary depending on the location; 30%-40% relative humidity is “normal” in Fort McMurray and over 50% probably means there is a constant source of moisture raising the level, levels 60% and above will promote mold growth. To test moisture and humidity you will need a hygrometer and a moisture tester; just be sure to use the same tool every time to eliminate any variation among tools.

      What do I do to prevent my house from getting moldy?

      For more information remediating mould, visit Alberta Health Services website: Steps for Mould Remediation in Private Homes

      Can I remove moldy materials myself?

      It’s recommended a professional be consulted and retained for large areas of mould, but homeowners can remove and treat small areas of mould themselves. Anyone removing or cleaning moldy materials should at least first protect themselves with a full-face N95 respirator and disposable gloves. It’s also recommended that infants less than 12 months old, people with weakened immune systems, those with a chronic lung condition, or people with allergies stay out of the area. Porous materials like drywall, insulation and some composite wood products like particle board should not be cleaned, they should be thrown away. When cleaning mould try not to disturb the mouldy surface/material to decrease the spread of mould spores through the area. You can help prevent spreading the spores through the air by first misting (not soaking) the area with water. For all cleaning work, scrub surfaces with cleaning agents, (e.g., soap and water and/or bleach and water solutions). 

      For larger jobs the work area should be isolated with floor to ceiling plastic sheets with a slit entry and covering flap to contain dust/debris, and isolate unaffected ceilings, walls, or floors. Seal possible routes of cross-contamination, such as the HVAC system vents and grills and other openings or pathways that let air move. When you are done clean the work area and exit pathway well and once the remediation is finished leave all work areas dry and visibly free of contamination and debris. All waste with mould on it should be put into a plastic bag and be sealed for disposal. You can throw the bag away in a regular outdoor garbage bin for disposal as regular construction waste at the landfill.  Once the work is finished, HEPA-vacuum or clean the work area and surrounding areas with a damp cloth and/or mop and a detergent solution. Make sure all exposed surfaces that are part of the building are wiped dry.

      For more information on safely removing mould from your home, visit Alberta Health Services website: 

     

    How do I know if my home has asbestos?

    Without testing of specific materials, it is impossible to know. However, if your house was built before the mid-1980s it may contain asbestos materials. These materials include drywall mud, ceiling tiles, insulation, and floor tiles. Remember that in many older homes, materials may have been replaced over the years through renovations and may be newer than the mid-1980s. New materials are not likely to contain asbestos. The safest way to identify and remove asbestos materials is to hire an environmental consultant to assess the property, and have a qualified contractor remove any asbestos materials. Qualified contractors wear specialized personal protective equipment and have expert knowledge and techniques to avoid asbestos exposure. 

    Can I remove asbestos from my home myself?

    The safest way to identify and remove asbestos materials is to hire an environmental consultant to assess the property, and have a qualified contractor remove any asbestos materials. Qualified contractors wear specialized personal protective equipment and have expert knowledge and techniques to avoid asbestos exposure. Anyone working on asbestos removal should follow the protocols and procedures found in the Alberta Asbestos Abatement Manual found here. 

    How do I know if something needs to be replaced or just decontaminated? 

    Each material responds differently to moisture and humidity and should be evaluated to determine the need for replacement or decontamination. Materials that deteriorate like drywall or insulation should be thrown away. More durable materials like solid wood or concrete can be spray washed and sanitized.

    Here are some tips on how to assess damage and the need for replacement:

    Material

    Recommendation

    Ceilings

    Check ceiling for sagging and with a moisture meter.Saturated, sagging drywall ceilings are safety hazards and are not salvageable. They should be removed as soon as possible.

    Paneling, plywood, or particle board

    Careful inspection of the paneling material, substrate and the method of installation are important in determining both likelihood of successful restoration and the appropriate method to use in drying the paneling and substrate. To determine if paneling is restorable, both dimensional changes in the material and the visual effects of the moisture on the finish should be evaluated. Flood affected materials must be either washed and decontaminated or removed.

    Oriented strand board (OSB)

    Depending on the length of time it was wet, OSB can be sensitive to water and susceptible to deterioration. Owners should carefully evaluate the material for swelling/distortion and start drying as quickly as possible.

    Insulation

    Glass or organic fiber insulation is considered porous and if it has come in contact with flood water it cannot be realistically cleaned and must be replaced. If you have rigid foam insulation and flood water got behind the insulation it will have to be removed and any surfaces behind it cleaned/decontaminated.

    Cabinets

    A complete inspection of cabinets for moisture usually requires drilling holes in inconspicuous areas and evaluating levels of moisture and drying options.Intrusion of contaminated water beneath or behind built-in fixtures usually necessitates removal, decontamination, and in some situation’s replacement.

    Decking or Subfloor

    Generally, the more porous the subfloor material (e.g., particle board), the greater the rate of moisture absorption and the potential for damage. Flooring and the sub-structural assemblies should be inspected to determine the extent of moisture migration and/or damage.

     

    Owners should check for trapped moisture between decking and subfloor materials, or on the vapor retarder over batt insulation in basements or crawlspaces installed between joists, and directly under subfloors.

     

    If a floor has layers and moisture has gotten between the layers, the top layer will need to be removed so it can dry out and the substrate must be decontaminated.

    Laminate Flooring

    Laminate flooring systems are essentially non-porous. However, moisture can seep underneath, between seams, and around the perimeter. Check for subsurface moisture using an appropriate meter.If there is trapped moisture present in cushioning material or the subfloor, the flooring material should be replaced.

    Resilient Vinyl Flooring

    Resilient vinyl flooring is generally non-porous. However, moisture can seep underneath, between seams, and around the perimeter. Check for subsurface moisture using an appropriate meter.If there is trapped moisture present in cushioning material or the subfloor, the flooring material should be replaced.

    Vinyl Composition Tile (VCT) flooring

    Solid vinyl tile flooring is generally non-porous. However, moisture can seep underneath, between seams, and around the perimeter. Check for subsurface moisture using an appropriate moisture meter.

     

    Consider the presence of asbestos in VCT squares (usually 8” to 12” square), sheet vinyl backings and adhesives.Asbestos-containing material (ACM) shall be handled with appropriate asbestos abatement procedures. Refer to theAlberta Asbestos Abatement Manual.

    Carpet

    Carpet that has been saturated with contaminated water must replaced.

    Concrete and stone

    These materials are porous and can absorb moisture but are not usually damaged by water intrusion.

    Particle board

    Pressed wood particle board is highly sensitive to water and susceptible to rapid deterioration. Restorers should carefully evaluate particle board and consider replacement if damage is evident.

    Plywood

    Depending on the grade (interior or exterior) and porosity, plywood can remain wet for several days before damage occurs. Owners should carefully evaluate plywood for swelling/distortion and start drying as quickly as possible.

    Drywall

    Drywall should automatically be replaced when contaminated with flood water. Always replace if you see damage (e.g., swelling, seam sagging, separation), if fungal growth is present on paper coverings on either side, or when insulation materials behind the drywall have likely been contaminated. Evaluate walls using a moisture meter to inspect from the bottom of the wall upward for moisture wicking.

     

     

     

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