Checking Your Home: Structural Elements

Checking Your Home: Structural Elements

If you had to leave your home, return only when local authorities advise that it is safe to do so. Do not cut or walk past colored tape that was placed over doors or windows to mark damaged areas unless you have been told that it is safe to do so. If a building inspector has placed a color-coded sign on the home, do not enter it until you get more information, advice and instructions from your local authorities.

If you have children, leave them with a relative or friend while you conduct your first inspection of your home after the disaster. The site may be unsafe for children, and seeing the damage firsthand may upset them even more and cause long-term effects, including nightmares.

Make a careful and thorough inspection of your home’s structural elements:

  • Check the outside of your home before you enter. Look for loose power lines, broken or damaged gas lines, foundation cracks, missing support beams or other damage. Damage on the outside can indicate a serious problem inside. Ask a building inspector or contractor to check the structure before you enter.
  • If the door is jammed, don’t force it open – it may be providing support to the rest of your home. Find another way to get inside.
  • Sniff for gas. If you detect natural or propane gas, or hear a hissing noise, leave the property immediately and get far away from it. Call the fire department after you reach safety.
  • If you have a propane tank system, turn off all valves and contact a propane supplier to check the system out before you use it again.
  • Beware of animals, such as rodents, snakes, spiders and insects, that may have entered your home. As you inspect your home, tap loudly and often on the floor with a stick to give notice that you are there.
  • Damaged objects, such as furniture or stairs, may be unstable. Be very cautious when moving near them. Avoid holding, pushing or leaning against damaged building parts.
  • Is your ceiling sagging? That means it got wet – which makes it heavy and dangerous. It will have to be replaced, so you can try to knock it down. Be careful: wear eye protection and a hard hat, use a long stick, and stand away from the damaged area. Poke holes in the ceiling starting from the outside of the bulge to let any water drain out slowly. Striking the center of the damaged area may cause the whole ceiling to collapse.
  • Is the floor sagging? It could collapse under your weight, so don’t walk there! Small sections that are sagging can be bridged by thick plywood panels or thick, strong boards that extend at least 8–12 inches on each side of the sagging area.
  • If the weather is dry, open windows and doors to ventilate and/or dry your home.
  • If power is out, use a flashlight. Do not use any open flame, including candles, to inspect for damage or serve as alternate lighting.
  • Make temporary repairs such as covering holes, bracing walls, and removing debris. Save all receipts.
  • Take photographs of the damage. You may need these to substantiate insurance claims later.
For information on safety and recovery after specific types of disasters and emergencies, please visit our Disaster and Safety Library.