Water Damage – Causes, Types, Health Risks & Restoration
Time is of the essence when you are dealing with any type of damage from water, and the key is to act fast.
Not only can the water ruin your carpets, ceiling, and furniture, but it can also destroy precious family possessions, important documents, and irreplaceable, personal items.
You may need to vacate your home during the repairs, and the disruption of your normal routine could really have a huge impact on your way of life. Having to stay in a hotel or at a friend’s home isn’t the way you want to spend your week, or sometimes, weeks.
Moving quickly increases the chance that your belongings can be saved or restored.
Common Types of Water Damage
Sewage cleanup may be required when toilets or sinks are backed up. Sewage spills result in the seepage of toxic black water or gray water, which has been contaminated by human, animal or biological waste. Sewage cleanup is a messy part of the restoration process that can pose a health risk and should always be completed by a trained professional.
Water can cause structural damage to your home, making a previously safe environment inhospitable.
Water seepage inside walls, the foundation, or wood or concrete framing can weaken your home or property’s structure and potentially lead to collapse. Non-structural water destruction to the drywall and ceiling can also wreak havoc on your home.
Some broken pipes are covered by insurance claims, but burst pipes that result from aging or neglect are typically excluded from homeowners’ insurance policies.
Additionally, damage due to leaking or malfunctioning water heaters may be covered by a building or product warranty.
Causes of Water Damage
Water damage can be caused by many things, including leaky roofs, broken pipes or gutters. Homes that aren’t properly maintained or ventilated are particularly susceptible to a type of damage that will lead to mold—especially in often neglected areas like crawl spaces and basements.
In some cases, water destruction is entirely beyond your control, resulting from storms, flood water or other environmental incidents. Understanding the cause can help you stop the water and prevent additional damage.
Leaky roofs can allow water to get into your home, causing significant damage. Aging roofs and roofs with existing damage may result in water deterioration. Many older or damaged roofs will seem adequate until a particularly bad rainfall or heavy snowfall.
In other cases, the damage will occur slowly, over time, and homeowners may not notice for months or years.
Broken Pipe or Gutter
Broken pipes can damage your home via a slow leak, a sudden gush or a combination of the two. Plumbing issues vary depending on the amount of water.
Broken pipes can become apparent quickly, for instance, when the toilet or sink pipes back up, outdoor gutter systems fail, or faucets, dishwasher and washing machine hoses burst. But broken pipes can also cause problems that develop gradually, starting with slow dripping from worn parts.
Condensation is one of the most common causes of water contamination in older and newer homes alike, but can easily be ignored for months or years.
Condensation occurs when air conditioning units leak or malfunction or aren’t properly drained and maintained.Over time, condensation can penetrate walls, ceilings and floors and lead to mold.
Classifications of Water Damage
The IICRC categorizes water and flood damage into one of four classes that indicate the degree of damage done to the property. These classes allow restoration companies to estimate the amount of water in your home, the extent of water absorption and damage and predicted drying and repair times.
Class 1 Water Damage
- Class 1 damage occurs when minimal water absorption has occurred
- Highly porous materials are only present in 5% or less of the impacted space
- Water is potable and uncontaminated.
- The origin of the damage is often from clean.
- The remaining low evaporation materials have minimal moisture.
With Class 1 damage, the area will dry with minimal evaporation once the water is removed.
Class 2 Water Damage
- Class 2 damage occurs when 5-40% of the materials in the impacted area are porous.
- This type of damage commonly occurs after a burst or broken pipe within walls or floors with drywall or insulating materials.
- The amount of time required to remove and evaporate it is greatly increased.
Class 3 Water Damage
- Class 3 damage is determined when porous materials comprise more than 40% of the impacted area.
- Significant water absorption has likely occurred.
- Water evaporation in Class 3 homes is time-consuming.
- Class 3 damage may occur if a water main breaks or if a home is leaking from storm damage or flood water.
Class 4 Water Damage
- Class 4 damage occurs when water is deeply absorbed into non-porous materials such as:
- Class 4 damage is often caused by flooding.
- Water removal is time-consuming, complex and expensive to resolve.
- With Class 4 damage, water restoration companies will require additional specialized equipment and a longer drying process.
Water Contamination Categories
Water categorization helps water restoration companies determine the contamination level of water within a home or building.
All water contains microorganisms, but the quantity and type of those microorganisms determine whether the water is safe to consume, inhale or touch. Water can be contaminated at the source, or contamination can occur afterward when water enters a contaminated space or microorganisms can multiply over time.
Category 1 water has had minimal contamination and comes from a sanitary water source by the surrounding environment.
Melting snow and ice, rainwater and toilet tank water are also likely to fall within Category 1.
This water is typically safe and tends to originate from a home’s water supply line or water heater.
Category 2 water is often contaminated and can potentially cause illness.
Category 2 water is commonly discharged by dishwashers, washing machines and other appliances, and aquariums, waterbeds and toilets with urine.
Category 3 water is highly contaminated and may contain toxigenic, pathogenic or other highly harmful agents such as pesticides or chemicals. Category 3 water can cause people to become significantly ill after exposure.
Examples of Category 3 water include sewage, seawater floods, water that rises from rivers and wind-driven water from tropical storms or hurricanes.
Common Water Damage Risks
Water destruction poses many risks to homeowners and can take its toll financially, emotionally and physically.
One of the most immediate risks is to your property, possessions and family heirlooms. It can be incredibly difficult to see these items ruined.
Water can rapidly destroy your belongings, including furniture, important papers, carpets and rugs, clothing and electronics. It can also damage key structures in your home as well as cosmetic structures such as drywall and flooring.
Toxic Health Risks
The health concerns associated with water contamination can be long-lasting and devastating. Mold and bacteria growth are the most prominent health concerns, but water destruction can also attract pests and deteriorate air quality. Therefore, water damage repair must be done quickly and effectively to keep you and your family safe.
Here is a detailed look at some of the health risks of water contamination in the home:
Mold Growth and Bacteria
There are several types of dangerous mold spores that can multiply after water has damaged your home, including:
- Black Mold
- Pink Mold
- Aspergillus Mold
Black Mold (Stachybotrys chartarum) is a strain of mold notorious for being dangerous and with good reason. This toxic fungus has been connected to numerous serious health problems, including breathing problems, mental impairment and organ damage.
Black mold sometimes has a greenish tinge and flourishes under the flooring or behind cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms.
Pink Mold and Aspergillus Mold
While pink mold and aspergillus mold aren’t as dangerous as black mold, they can still cause health issues and are particularly harmful to people with existing respiratory problems. Inflammation, infection, allergic reactions and lung problems can occur with these types of molds.
Dangerous bacteria strains can also grow after water contamination, leading to an array of additional health concerns, including respiratory issues like asthma.
Pests and Bug Infestation
Many pests love moisture, and unaddressed water destruction is an invitation for these critters to join your home and cause further damage. Cockroaches, carpenter ants, silverfish, pillbugs, earwigs and centipedes are all unwelcome pests attracted to moisture in your home.
Air Quality Danger
High humidity can negatively impact air quality, putting people with respiratory illness or other lung problems at risk. People in homes with lower air quality may be more susceptible to asthma attacks, wheezing and coughing.
The air quality in your home may also be impacted by mold, bacteria and other moisture-related contaminates, leading to an array of other health issues.
Water contamination that’s left unattended can also lead to serious health risks. Mold and bacteria flourish in damp environments, leading to unsanitary living conditions.
Mental Health Vulnerability
Many people also struggle with mental health and stress when living in a home with mold due to water seepage, knowing their well-being could be at risk. The adverse health effects are particularly hard on children, seniors and pets.
While damage is discovered and remedied, families can also struggle with the sudden changes in routine. It can impact school, work and recreational schedules, making it harder to meet commitments and deadlines, while adding stress to families.
Water seepage is also a serious risk to financial security. The costs of repairing water damage can add up quickly, while the inconvenience can interrupt work and impact your earning potential.
Fortunately, people who discover and mitigate water devastation quickly help minimize the financial burden.
Responding to Water Leaks and Damage
The faster you respond, the better your outcome will be. Water infiltration that’s ignored will worsen, resulting in more damage and higher costs than if it’s remediated immediately. Therefore, it’s crucial to respond to the damage as soon as you notice it.
As soon as you identify any damage in your home, you need to call a restoration company. Hire a company that will make you a priority and is available within the next few hours. The water restoration company will visit your home to assess the damage and develop a clear plan of action.
In the meantime, you should take several immediate actions while you wait for the restoration company to arrive:
- Turn off electricity in the affected areas, if safe
- Stop the leak at the water source
- Assess, take photos and document the damage
- Check for mold growth
- Remove any possessions or valuables that can be saved
- Contact your insurance company to confirm policy coverage
- Perform water removal by draining standing water, if possible
- Start drying out your home
The restoration company may have additional actions for you to take. You must follow their instructions and work with their team to minimize the damage as much as possible.
Restoration after Water Damage
Restoration is a service that will remove the water from your home and then fix, repair or replace impacted materials. Many homeowners try the DIY approach only to realize how extensive the job requirements are.
Professional restoration services may include:
- Thoroughly drying carpets
- Replacing drywall and other building materials
- Remediating ceiling mold and mildew
- Fixing structural damage to the foundation, framing or roof
- Using industrial equipment to deep clean
The details of your repair depend on many factors, including the extent of the damage, your budget, sanitation requirements, and any unforeseen outcomes and challenges.
Water Damage Restoration Process
The water damage restoration process is customized for every homeowner but tends to follow a very similar series of steps.
The process begins after a water restoration technician visits your home in person to assess the damage and determine the extent of restoration services required. Then, the restoration company follows a 4-step restoration process:
Step 1: Remove Standing Water
The very first step is to remove standing water, which may or may not be visible to the homeowner. Water restoration technicians will use industrial vacuums and specialized machines to remove any standing water in the home.
Step 2: Dry Out Flooring
Water restoration technicians will then rip up wet carpet, flooring and subflooring to assess and deal with the damage that wasn’t immediately visible.
In most homes, the flooring can be dried out using industrial restoration equipment like dehumidifiers and air movers. However, in some extreme cases, such as with mold growth, the flooring may need to be entirely torn out, disposed of and replaced.
Step 3: Salvage Furniture, Appliances and Electronics
The next step in water restoration is to dry out damaged furniture, appliances, electronics and other possessions.
While many appliances will continue to work, the water restoration specialists can advise which are no longer safe to use and should be replaced. Other belongings and valuables may also be saved during this step.
Step 4: Disinfect and Restore Damage Site
Finally, restoration companies will thoroughly disinfect and clean the damaged site, especially when sewage backup is involved. Due to the potential health impacts, this step must be performed by a trained professional with proper protective equipment.
In addition to sanitizing your home, the restoration specialists will also help you with preventive measures. For example, if basement water contamination has resulted from a broken or leaking sump pump, restoration professionals will install a new sump pump with adequate capacity for your property’s wastewater needs.
Once the home or building is thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and restored, it will be safe for your return.
Hiring a Water Restoration Service
Water damage repair can be an overwhelming undertaking, but, fortunately, experienced professionals are ready to help. Restoration companies return your home to its former state quickly and effectively.
The exact water damage repair cost will depend on your local area and your insurance policy. Check with your homeowners’ policy to determine what your coverage is for water deterioration. If you’ve experienced flood damage, be advised that flood insurance is almost always a separate policy.
Licensed, trusted and experienced repair professionals will have your family’s best interests at heart in such a difficult time. They will work with you and your insurance company to reduce your cost and disruption as much as possible. With some expert help, your life will return to normal before you know it.
If you’re ready to address the water destruction in your home, find an IICRC-certified water damage expert near you.