Water Damage

Quick Summary

Water damage can be devastating but quick action will help you minimize the damage to your home. With the help of a professional, start the water restoration process immediately to reduce the impact on your home, family and life.

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Water Damage – Causes, Types, Health Risks & Restoration

The damage from water is often caused when a problem goes unnoticed. It may take weeks or even months before the damage shows up.

Time is of the essence when dealing with any type of damage from water, and the key is to act fast.

Not only can it 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 disrupting your normal routine could greatly impact your way of life. Having to stay in a hotel or at a friend’s home isn’t how 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 Damage

Sewage Cleanup

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 human, animal, or biological waste have contaminated. 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.

Structural Damage

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 collapse. Non-structural drywall destruction to the drywall and ceiling damage can also wreak havoc on your home.

Broken Pipes

Burst or broken plumbing pipes can cause significant damage and must be dealt with immediately. You may need to work with a plumber in addition to a water restoration company.

Insurance claims cover some broken pipes, but burst pipes that result from aging or neglect are typically excluded from homeowners’ insurance policies.

A building or product warranty may cover damage from leaking or malfunctioning water heaters.

Water Damage Causes

Many things, including leaky roofs, broken pipes, or gutters can cause water damage. 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.

Sometimes, water destruction is entirely beyond your control, resulting from storms, flooding, or other environmental incidents. Understanding the cause can help you stop the water and prevent additional damage.

Leaky Roof

Leaky roofs can allow water 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. 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, dishwashers, 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 contamination in older and newer homes but can easily be ignored for months or years.

Condensation occurs when air conditioning units leak, malfunction, or aren’t properly drained and maintained. Over time, condensation can penetrate walls, ceilings, and floors and lead to mold.

Water Damage Classifications

The IICRC categorizes water and flood damage into one of four classes that indicate the damage 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 cleaning.
  • 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 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 absorption has likely occurred.
  • Water evaporation in Class 3 homes is time-consuming.
  • Class 3 damage may occur if a water main breaks or a home leaks 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:
    • Plaster
    • Wood
    • Concrete
  • 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 require additional specialized equipment and a longer drying process.

Water Contamination Categories

Water categorization helps restoration companies determine contamination levels within a home or building.

All water contains microorganisms, but the quantity and type determine whether it is safe to consume, inhale or touch. Water can be contaminated at the source, contamination can occur afterward when it enters a contaminated space or microorganisms can multiply over time.

Category 1 Water Damage

Category 1 water has had minimal contamination and comes from a sanitary water source in the surrounding environment.

Melting snow and ice, rainwater, and toilet tank water are also likely to fall within Category 1.

It is typically safe and originates from a home’s water supply line or water heater.

Category 2 Water Damage

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 Damage

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 Risks of Water Damage

Water destruction poses many risks to homeowners and can take its toll financially, emotionally, and physically.

Property Damage

The most immediate risks are 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 and 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, 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

Several types of dangerous mold spores can multiply after the water has damaged your home, including:

  • Black Mold
  • Pink Mold
  • Aspergillus Mold

Black 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 issues, 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 respiratory problems. Inflammation, infection, allergic reactions, and lung problems can occur with these molds.

Dangerous bacteria strains can also grow after water contamination, leading to various health concerns, including respiratory issues like asthma.

Pests and Bug Infestation

Many pests love moisture, and unaddressed water destruction invites 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 various 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.

Financial Risks

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 quickly discover and mitigate water devastation help minimize the financial burden.

Responding to Water Leaks and Damage

The faster you respond, the better your outcome will be. Ignored water infiltration will worsen, resulting in more damage and higher costs than if remediated immediately. Therefore, responding to the damage is crucial as soon as you notice it.

You need to call a restoration company as soon as you identify any damage in your home. Hire a company that will prioritize you and is available within the next few hours. The water restoration company will visit your home to assess the damage and develop a clear action plan.

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 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 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

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 the job requirements’ complexity.

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 damage’s extent, budget, sanitation requirements, and any unforeseen outcomes and challenges.

Water Damage Restoration Process

Water damage restoration services are customized for every homeowner but tend to follow a very similar series of steps.

The process begins after a professional water restoration company 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 first step is removing 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 pull out 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 using industrial restoration equipment like dehumidifiers and air movers. However, in some extreme cases, such as 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, 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 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 Damage Restoration Service

Repair can be overwhelming, 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 depends on your local area and insurance policy. Check with your homeowners’ policy to determine your water deterioration coverage. 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.

Water Damage Advisor

The Water Damage Advisor content team is made up of multiple contributors, writers, and editors. We are your resource hub for anything related to water damage, mold and restoration needs that you may be challenged with facing.

15 References
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