9 Steps to Save Photos from Water Damage

The Ogden River May 28, 2011, Ogden, Utah. Not near my home.

Because of the potential flooding problems in Utah, I’ve been quickly working on temporarily protecting our old photographs and family videos. I have not had time to scan pictures into my computer, but I want to safely store them away from water damage. Even broken pipes, a fireman’s hose or a leaking roof can cause water damage.

The old cardboard boxes

Our photographs and videos were in cardboard boxes; an awful storage container. Can you imagine water seeping into a box and destroying your child’s baby pictures?

Starting to remove the photo scrapbooks

And the kids scrapbooks were on the bottom of the bookshelf in our basement family room; the perfect place for contact with a few inches of flood waters. My wedding album was on the floor as well. Yikes!

These videos and games are replaceable. Doesn’t the shelf look nice and neat!

Putting albums into totes on pool table. Later I moved to the kitchen table.

And flooding isn’t the only disaster that could happen. A sudden evacuation because of fire, chemical spill or earthquake could happen as well. So, it was time to take action. The other day I did a picture hunt to gather all of the albums, photographs and videos. Then I spent time organizing and finally moved items into dark blue plastic totes. It took several days and I’m still not done! But I thought I would share the process.

Look how pretty the bins are. Need some labels. 

Here are a few things to think about when protecting photographs from water damage:

1. Which pictures are the most precious or valuable to me? All of them of course! No really. The MOST precious.
2. Which 2 totes would I take in an evacuation? You can’t take 24 totes! You take your family, and if possible your 72-hours kits and emergency supplies, and a few other items.
3. When do I plan to scan the pictures and upload videos onto my computer? My teen daughters are doing that this summer.
4. Which large pictures or artwork on the walls of my home should I photograph? You can’t take large framed pictures or artwork in an evacuation, because people are more important. So take pictures of pictures.

Yikes! As you go through your home you will begin to feel a bit overwhelmed and somewhat panicked, because you know you are not ready. You’ve told yourself you would scan them, but have not. Get over the panic and the guilt, and start moving.


Step 1: CHOOSE A TIME Do you have a few hours each day for one week? This project will take time. But it is worth it.
Step 2: CHOOSE A PLACE Use the kitchen or dining room table. Realize no one should eat where you are working for several days. I started on the pool table, then moved to the kitchen table.
Step 3: THE HUNT Bring all boxes of photographs and videos into the same room as this will make the job easier.
Step 4: ORGANIZE There are two ways to do this depending on how much time you have.
Lots of time – Group by year, then by month if possible. Just guess if you don’t know the date. It won’t really matter when you make those wonderful movies from your pictures later. Use cardboard photo boxes with dividers to organize pictures, and put them in totes.
Less time – If you are in a hurry, put each person’s name on a Ziploc bag to quickly divide photos. That way they are ready for you to scan this summer when you have more time to organize by date. I had many pictures organized already, but I sorted the scattered pictures into Ziploc bags and it worked well. It is a temporary placement, but another barrier from water. I wrote these catagories on the bags: Family (group pictures), the Albrechtsen relatives, the McCune relatives, each child’s name, and give aways I would later send to others.
Step 5: TRASH As you sort, throw away the what-in-the-world-is-this photographs. Yes, it’s okay to throw them away.
Step 6: BUY TOTES/BINS I bought my 6 and 12 gallon Sterlite latch totes from Walmart. I wanted the latches in case the bins were dropped. The 6-gallon are evacuation bins and the 12 gallon are for other items. My bins are blue to protect items for light, but you could store clear ones in a closet. Solid colors are cheaper than clear.
Step 7: CHOOSE EVACUATION BINS Choose what items are most precious and put in a few evacuation bins. Three bins have the kids scrapbook albums dated Brith – 1st grade. (I plan to photograph each page.) And 1 bin has wedding and mission items, some small family video tapes and group pictures. Your decison may be totally different. If you have not scanned the pictures, you need to choose.
Step 8: LABEL Label each bin. Then put an inventory sheet in the bin if needed. I made labels on 8 1/2 x 11 full-sheet labels for my printer, then cut them to size.
Step 9: STORAGE Where is the safest location to store bins in your home? Upstairs. Basements can become inaccessible in floods and earthquakes. But if that is the only place you can store them, then store them high on shelves. Put Christmas decorations on low shelves. My four evacuation bins are in the emergency coat closet by the front door.

You will not feel the panic after you scan your pictures and store them on a hard drive, and/or on a photo website. This post is all about quick, temporary storage. Emergency preparedness will bring peace of mind.

Water Damage Restoration

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