Rebuild Your Home After A Flood: Step By Step

Now is the time to rebuild. Hurricane Harvey was a devastating storm, and the most expensive storm in US history. Now that Houstonians have caught some sun and are able to look around and prepare for the clean-up, many will be doing their restorations on their own to cut costs where possible.

Here you can find the rebuild process broken down into the steps: Demolition, Drywall, and Finishing. Make sure to do your research before jumping into a reconstruction project, and be prepared with all of the tools you will need. You can refer to this guide for steps and tool checklists to be sure you are ready to start. Good luck, and be safe!

First: Be Safe

If the water reached the electrical outlets and the power was not shut off before the flood, you may have wiring issues. Turn off your electricity from the breaker before doing any work or using the outlets, as the wires may still be wet and could become a hazard. To shut off the power to your home, go to your circuit breaker or fuse box and flip off the main breaker, which is usually a double-width switch on the top of the panel.

Wear gloves and a mask when doing demo work. Flood water carries all kinds of germs, including raw sewage and decay.

Flood Repair Tool Checklist:

The Demolition

  1. Remove water and furnishings. Use a submersible pump to remove any standing water that is inside your house. You have the option to rent these at hardware stores. Remove carpet, carpet padding, rugs, bedding, and absorbent furnishings like mattresses and sofas. Use a a utility knife and crowbar to remove carpet. Be careful to watch for tack strips when removing carpet. They can be cleaned and reused if undamaged, but they are sharp. Get all waterlogged items outside as quickly as possible, since mold starts to grow within 24 hours.
  2. Find the water line and mark a line on the wall at LEAST one or two feet above the water line. Water soaks up in the drywall, so don’t take any risks. Drywall comes in 4-foot sections, so if you can cut four feet from the ground, it will be easier to install the drywall. Always draw your cut line at an even number – 2 feet, 4 feet, 6 feet, or 8 feet from the bottom up.
  3. Cut the drywall. Be sure you are wearing a mask. Watch for electrical wires, water lines, and gas lines behind the drywall. You don’t want to accidentally cut them. Demo all the way to the studs. Use contractor bags to throw out drywall.
  4. Remove wet drywall and baseboards. Get rid of soggy insulation. Be sure you are still wearing your mask and wearing gloves.
  5. Place dehumidifiers and fans around the house, rotating them around the studs to completely dry everything out. Set your air conditioning down lower than you normally would to suck the moisture out of the air. This process will take some time—a few days to almost a week depending on the temperature inside (the cooler the better).
  6. Spray the walls down with a mold-killing solution. Bleach does not kill mold on non-porous surfaces. Use a biocide to kill the mold and trap existing mold into the wood. Spray the biocide on the wall cavities and let dry. Repeat a few times. Optional: Spray a deodorizer on the wall cavities.

The Rebuild

Add the Insulation

  1. Use this insulation calculator to determine how much insulation you will need to buy.
  2. Wear gloves. Insulation can leave small cuts on the skin.
  3. With rigid foam insulation:
    1. Measure the insulation board to fit between the studs on the wall.
    2. Cut the insulation board to length with a handsaw.
    3. Place the insulation board inside the stud bay.
    4. Tape or glue the board in place.
  4. With blanket insulation:
    1. Measure the height of the stud bay. Mark your insulation to the needed height.
    2. On a plywood surface, cut the insulation to size using a utility knife and a straight edge.
    3. Place the insulation in the stud bay. Use the previous insulation on the wall as a guide on whether or not the vapor barrier should face the wall or face the room. Generally, the vapor barrier faces the “warm” side of the wall, which in Houston, is usually on the outer-most side of the wall.

Hang the Drywall

  1. Put on a dust mask, safety glasses, and gloves. It is important to avoid getting dust particles in your lungs or eyes. Turn off the air conditioning and fans to prevent dust from moving around the room.
  2. Measure the width of the wall and determine how many sheets of drywall you will need to cover the entire wall. Cut the sheet so that it is about ¼ inch shorter than what you measure on the wall. Position the sheet tight against the wall. You’ll want the end of your drywall to end up in the middle of a stud, so cut accordingly.
  3. If you have to place more than one panel (i.e., if you had to cut higher than 4 feet out of your wall during the demo process), start hanging your drywall at the top and work your way down to the floor. Leave a slight gap between the floor and the drywall so that the drywall is not touching the floor directly.
  4. Drive screws in the middle of the panel first to secure the drywall in place. The screws should lightly dimple the drywall, but not tear the paper coating. Drywall guns are much easier to use than drills or power screwdrivers, as a drywall gun will perfectly countersink every screw without much effort. Place your first screw in the center of the panel and work from the center towards the edges of the panel, putting in a screw about 6 – 8 inches apart into the wall studs. Make sure no screws are sticking out. Tip: Hang your drywall horizontally to reduce the amount of taping required.
  5. Cut your drywall around outlets/fixtures. You can measure out where to cut for the outlet box or fixture, hang the drywall, using fewer screws (just enough to keep the drywall in place), and use a spiral saw to cut around the box. Alternatively, you can rub the edges of the outlet box with a dry-erase marker or lipstick, put the drywall panel in place and rub/push down where the outlet box is. Remove the drywall panel and simply use a handsaw to cut along the marks on the back of the panel. Reattach the panel and add drywall screws as necessary. Tip: Measure twice, cut once.
  6. To go around corners, cut the drywall so that it hangs over the corner of the wall. Trim it with a spiral saw after it is in place. Do the same with the other side of the corner. Get a metal corner bead (either a straight edge or curved edge) and cut it about ½ inch shorter than needed from the ground. Nail the bead in place (don’t screw it, as it will distort the bead), and space your nails about every 9 inches. Note: If you’d rather add the corner beads while you are putting on joint compound to cover the seams, that works too. In that case, cover your drywall outside corners with joint compound, fit the paper bead on top, and use a trowel to knife away any excess compound. In this case, skip step 12 in the “Coat the Drywall” section.
  7. Where the drywall panels meet horizontally, cut a V-groove into the short, non-tapered edges with a utility knife. This will help hid the joint when you get to the taping stage.

Coat the Drywall

  1. Prepare your mud. For larger projects, buy the ready-mixed joint compound (or “mud”). Prepare about 1 gallon of mud for every 100 square feet of drywall. You will need an “all purpose” mud for your base coat and a lightweight mud for the final coat. For the final coat, you may also use a topping, or “brown” mud. This type of mud is least likely to bubble. If you buy a pre-mixed mud and there is a layer of water on top, slowly mix it with a mixing paddle until the compound is blended and smooth. Don’t mix it too quickly, as you don’t want to create air bubbles in the joint compound. Note: If you are using mesh tape, apply the mesh tape to the joints first – and then apply the compound.
  2. Get a trowel and putty knife. Ensure your tools have smooth edges, and are clean.
  3. Mix a bit of water in your first coat of mud, as the first coat should be slightly wet. Using a 5- or 6-inch trowel, scoop up a few inches of mud onto the blade. Tip: Your first coat should have the consistency of watery sour cream.
  4. At a 45° angle, press the mud into the seam between the drywall boards. As the blade is drawn down the wall, sharpen the angle until the blade and the wall are nearly parallel. This will squeeze the mud compound into the joints. Don’t worry about smoothing the mud out, yet. For this first layer, it is better to have too much mud on the wall than too little.
  5. Completely cover the seams, pressing the trowel in to the paper. Make sure there are no air bubbles in the seam. The long edge of the drywall (the tapered sides) should be completely covered as well. An easy way to is to apply the mud into the joint with a downward motion, then move your trowel horizontally over the mud to smooth it out.
  6. Once the seams are filled, take your trowel and make one single pass over the sections to smooth out the compound. Don’t take off too much compound so that the joint is dry or too thin—just get the joint ready for the tape.
  7. Cut the paper tape the same length of the seam, with a little extra on each end. You have the choice of soaking the paper tape in some water, which will increase the messiness of your project but may get the job done a bit faster (as wet tape is less likely to form air bubbles once placed).
  8. Press the tape into the mud, keeping the tape’s center as even as possible the seam between the drywall panels. The tape can be slightly dimpled in the center where the seam is, so the seam is easy to locate.
  9. About halfway down your joint, hold your trowel at a 25° angle and press the tape firmly into the mud. In one long stroke, pull the knife outward along the seam and smooth the tape as you go. If the tape folds, simply pull it at one end of use your hand to flatten it out. Start again from the middle and go in the other direction.
  10. If your tape bubbles anywhere, use a knife to cut the bubbled tape away and re-mud. This may be tedious, but any bubbles will be very visible on your finished product. Put fresh mud where the missing tape is. Watch this video for applying tape to drywall joints.
  11. Tape your inside corners. With a 5-inch knife, cover at least two inches of your corners with mud, and cut the tape at the full length of the corner. Fold the tape in half, and press it into the corner. Seal with your knife by starting halfway down the joint, smoothing one side of the crease towards the edge. Then, once smooth, start back in the middle and smooth out to the other edge. Don’t place too much pressure in the corners to avoid cutting through the tape.
  12. Tape your corner beads. Apply mud on one side of the bead, smoothing it into the bead and the drywall. You can put the edge of your trowel at the corner of the bead and smooth down the mud in as few strokes as possible.
  13. Go around your drywall and fill in all of the screw holds with mud, applying a small amount of joint compound on your trowel and smoothing out the dimples.
  14. Let your first coat dry overnight. You want your first coat to be completely dry – even the inside corners. You’ll be able to tell when it’s completely dry, as there will be no dark spots in your mud. The joint compound at this point should be completely white. Houston is humid, so this can take up to or more than 24 hours. Throw some fans on the walls overnight to speed up the drying process.
  15. Apply your face mask. Take a large trowel and knife off any excess compound from the tape and screws, scraping them away with a light motion. If you see bumps in your dried compound, take a sander and very gently sand down the joints. Use a medium-grit sandpaper on a pole sander and apply a gentle, even pressure. You can use a block sander or corner sander, but be careful when sanding the corner joints. You do have the option of sanding once all layers are applied or between each layer. Here is a helpful video to help you properly sand your joint compound.
  16. Apply your second coat of mud. This time, the layer is a bit thicker, and cover all joints and screw heads. Your first coat was a bit more watery, but this coat is thicker and more solid. This coat will have the greatest quantity of mud, and will require a bit more concentration to feather the mud out smoothly. Use a down stroke to place the mud on the wall, then smooth the mud over with horizontal strokes. Feather out the edges of the compound completely. Your feathers will get larger with each layer. Tip: To get a more natural-looking feather along the joint, apply a bit of a heavier pressure on the outside of the knife as you pass over the joint. Pass over the joint and feather the compound out, thinning out your layer as you move from the tape. Continue to pass over the joint in this way until the air bubbles are removed. Here is a helpful video for applying the second coat.
  17. Let dry overnight. Re-sand again once dry, using a fine-grit sandpaper. Shine a light on the wall to expose any bumps or humps or joints that need some extra attention for the final coat.
  18. With the third and final layer, you will be focusing on smoothing out your wall and feathering away from your joints further from the tape. You may also add a bit of water to the mud to thin the mixture, making it easier to smooth the compound onto the wall. With this final coat, use a larger trowel, such as a 12-inch compound knife. Let the compound dry again overnight and sand down any problem spots again the next morning. Remember to use your brown mud for this final coat, if desired. Here is a helpful video for applying the final coat.


Finishing Up

  1. Texture your drywall. You can do this by applying joint compound all around the wall and pressing a sponge or textured roller into the compound repeated, or you can use a hopper gun to blast texture onto your walls. Just make sure you keep the hopper moving so you don’t overdo the texture in one area of the wall. In our opinion, the second option sounds a lot more fun.
  2. Paint your wall. Make sure the compound on the wall is completely dry before applying paint. If it isn’t, small holes will form, and that doesn’t make for a pretty wall.
  3. Stand back, admire your wall, and think about how amazing it is that you just built a part of the wall. Good job!