Discovering Standing Water in Your Home
Discovering standing water in your home or business can be a very stressful event. With standing water, your health and safety are paramount.
The first thing you want to do when discovering standing water is to physically take a few steps back. If water has come in contact with electrical outlets, extension cords or circuit breaker boxes, there is a chance that electricity could be flowing through the pooling water.
If you aren’t sure, call an electrician if available. If not, call emergency services.
How to Know if Water Is Contaminated
When starting to clean up pooling water, it’s crucial that you determine how dirty or clean the water is. This is done by identifying the source of the water leak and also by what the leaking water has come into contact with.
Water is categorized into three types. The category of water determines which personal protective equipment (PPE) to use and whether to hire a professional, such as one certified by the IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification).
Clean Water — Category 1
If you have determined that the source of the water leak is from a domestic or potable (drinkable) water source, and the pool of water has not come into contact with anything containing bacteria, cleaning products or dangerous materials, then it is considered category 1 or clean water.
Clean water is considered water that won’t get anyone sick if they were to come in contact with it or ingest it. With clean water contamination, building materials and furniture can often be preserved if they are dried out quickly enough.
Clean water can also include:
- Melting ice or snow
- Falling rainwater that hasn’t picked up any contaminants from the ground
- Water from the back of a toilet tank that has not gone into the toilet bowl
With clean water contamination, building materials and furniture can often be preserved if they are dried out quickly enough.
Category 1, or clean water, will only remain clean water for 48 hours in a standing pool until it will be considered category 2, or gray water. Bacteria and mold can begin to grow, and dangerous chemicals from building materials can start to dissolve into the standing water.
Because clean water is not harmful to touch and even ingest, no personal protective equipment is technically required, although you will probably want to wear rubber boots and rubber gloves to make the cleanup job more comfortable.
Gray Water — Category 2
Category two, or gray water, is defined as water that contains a significant amount of contaminants such as bacteria, mold, mildew or chemicals.
Gray water can cause illness to people if they come into contact with it and especially if it is ingested.
Sources of gray water include:
- Dishwasher or washing machine water
- Aquarium leaks
- Waterbed leaks
- Water from a clean water source that has been sitting for longer than 48 hours
At minimum, consult a professional water damage remediation company when dealing with gray water because of the health concerns. If you decide to tackle the clean up process yourself, use personal protective equipment including rubber gloves, boots and a face mask.
With gray water contamination, dispose of building materials that tend to absorb water, such as carpeting, insulation, ceiling tiles or drywall. This includes furniture such as couches or other upholstery, even if they can be dried out quickly, as the potential for pathogen growth is high.
Black Water — Category 3
Category three, or black water, is defined as water containing pathogens, toxins or other contaminants that can cause serious injury, illness or death.
Most commonly black water is water containing fecal matter, such as from a toilet backup, leaking sanitary or sewage pipe or leaking septic system. Standing water can also be considered black water if it contains animal feces, decaying ground debris or fertilizers.
Contact a professional water damage restoration service be contacted if you suspect the water source is from a black water source or has come into contact with any of these dangerous materials.
Anyone cleaning up standing pools of black water must use full PPE, including an N95 respirator mask.
When dealing with black water contamination, all building materials that absorb water or allow water to collect in its surfaces must be disposed of. Furniture such as couches and upholstery must be replaced as well because the bacteria contained in the black water will begin to grow dangerous and potentially deadly pathogens very quickly.
How to Remove Standing Water
After you’ve determined the area is safe to enter, contact a water damage mitigation company as quickly as possible, as the longer the water remains in the space, the more damage it will do. This damage can include weakening and destroying building materials and the eventual growth of mildew, mold and other harmful pathogens.
If the affected area is relatively small and the water has not had a lot of time to soak the building materials, such as drywall and subfloor, then it’s possible that you can perform a DIY cleanup.
If the affected area is larger and the water has had more than 1-2 hours to be absorbed by the building materials, then it’s probably in your best interest to at least have the damage surveyed by a water restoration service company.
If you decide to tackle the water removal process yourself, then you must be able to identify the source of the water contamination or the materials the water has come in contact with to make sure the water is clean water, rather than gray water or black water.
DIY Water Removal
When tackling standing water removal, the first thing you want to do is ensure you have appropriate PPE. This will ensure you are safe and comfortable while performing your work.
Next, if you have a small amount of water, a bucket should sufficiently scoop up and remove it from the area. If you have a larger amount of water, up to 4 or 5 inches, you can use a wet/dry shop vacuum or a pump. Determine if your vacuum is capable of sucking up water, otherwise, you run the risk of electrocution or destroying your vacuum if it’s not suited for water.
If you are dealing with large amounts of water, above 4 or 5 inches, such as due to a burst pipe in a basement, it’s better to use a pump. Pumps typically have an attachment for a hose that directs water well outside the area.
If the standing water is the result of a recurring flooding problem, such as a basement with foundation leaks, then it’s important to install a permanent sump pump. Sump pumps are typically permanent installations and located at the bottom of a sump or pit and collect water slowly over time. They automatically turn on and push the water out of the pit as they fill up.
What to Do After Water Removal
After you’ve removed the standing water, there are other precautions you need to take. Because moisture collects deep into buildings materials, water damaged areas tend to grow mold and bacteria.
If you’ve finished removing standing water, your job isn’t quite over yet. You still need to dry out the space and sanitize the area, being sure to discard materials that aren’t salvageable.
Dry out the Wet Area
Once the standing water is removed, open windows and doors to allow for proper air ventilation. Air flow helps to reduce the indoor relative humidity level, causing excess moisture to evaporate.
For extra help, use several fans to move air dehumidifiers to promote fast drying.
Clean and Sanitize
While the area is drying out, the next step is to sanitize, especially if the water is gray or black water.
Here are some tips on cleaning water damaged flooring or walls after you’ve removed standing water:
- Begin by using hot water and laundry or dish detergent to agitate the surfaces and release any solids. After that, disinfect the surfaces using a 10% bleach solution. This is usually 1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water, depending on the concentration of your bleach.
- If water has been standing for longer than 48 hours or there is a visual presence of mold or mildew, it’s crucial to use a disinfecting product for mold removal. You can use the same bleach mixture, and add a small amount of dish soap to increase the cleaning power of the solution.
- Leave the bleach mixture on the surfaces for 30 minutes, as the killing power of the bleach is good insurance for keeping fungus away.
- Always wear an N95 mask when cleaning mold or mildew as these fungi can be toxic, especially when exposed to them for a long time.
If HVAC systems, including furnaces and ducting, have been exposed to the water, it’s very important that they get inspected by a certified professional and the ducting gets cleaned.
Remove Damaged Materials
Materials such as carpeting, subfloor and upholstery should be removed unless you just have a small amount of clean water and it hasn’t been standing longer than 48 hours.
If you decide to salvage carpeting, rugs or upholstery, you can use upholstery and carpet steam cleaners and extractors. These tools are often cheaper to rent than buy and provide excellent cleaning ability.
Continue to employ proper ventilation and dehumidification. Dehumidifiers tend to leave behind moisture themselves, so they need enough time to dry out, even after remediation is done.
How Long Does Water Removal Take?
The process of water removal depends largely on how much water is present and which tools you use to remove it.
Mild Water Removal
If there is a small amount of water, you can typically use a bucket and/or wet/dry shop vacs to clean up the water, then open windows to dry out the space.
Mild water removal and cleanup shouldn’t take more than 1-2 hours, along with a couple days to sufficiently dry out the space.
Moderate to Severe Water Removal
If there is large amounts of pooling water, such as 4 or 5 inches with carpet and subfloor saturation, then you’ll require pumps to remove the water quickly. This cleanup likely requires you to remove carpeting, drywall and upholstery, so you’ll also need to use air scrubbers and dehumidifiers to prevent mold problems.
You can expect extensive water removal, cleanup and restoration to take 1-2 weeks.
It’s often a good idea to immediately contact a water damage cleanup company and discuss the situation with them. If the water damage is minimal, they can advise you as to how you can mitigate the damage yourself.
If substantial damage repair is repaired, professionals will know what actions to take to expedite the drying process and prevent mold growth.
How Much Does Water Removal Cost?
DIY water removal is almost always more cost-effective than hiring a professional. The problem, however, with DIY water removal is that often homeowners or renters don’t have the proper tools or know how to solve the problem completely.
People may mistakenly think that the water is all cleaned up, however, harmful bacteria or pathogens could still be present in the flooring, walls or ceiling and develop harmful health problems over time. Additionally, building materials may continue to degrade and weaken even years after the initial flooding.
If you choose the DIY route to clean up flooding, you might consider the following costs:
- Protective gear: At minimum, you’ll need to purchase some rubber gloves, towels, a mop, cleaning products and buckets.
- Wet/dry vacuum rental: If the amount of water is not suitable for a bucket, wet/dry shop vacuums are available for rental at most equipment rental stores for around $40 to $70 per day.
- Dehumidifier rental: It’s also a good idea to rent air movers and dehumidifiers to remove excess moisture. These typically rent for $25 to $120 per day each.
If you already have fans and an air conditioner, you can certainly make use of them. Air conditioners work like dehumidifiers in removing moisture from the air.
Does Insurance Cover Water Removal?
Insurance coverage largely depends on your policy plan. Typically the cause of the water damage has to be sudden and accidental.
There are actions you can take to increase the likelihood that the insurance company covers the repair costs:
- Take lots of pictures, videos and detailed notes
- Think of anything that might explain what happened
- Keep track of the actions you took to fix the problem and prevent further damage
If your plan covers flood damage and the insurance company tries to avoid paying for the repair costs, your pictures, videos and notes will go a long way in recovering costs.
There are different types of insurance plans to cover water damage. These include dwelling coverage for homeowners and personal property coverage, typically for renters.
If there have been any unresolved maintenance issues or you’ve failed to repair or replace the source of the water damage (such as burst pipes or a broken dishwasher), insurance companies tend not to cover the damage costs.
Additionally, flooding due to natural disasters is usually not covered by homeowners insurance and must be purchased separately. Even if you have flood damage insurance and expect the insurance company to cover the damages, it’s critical that you get water damage experts involved as soon as possible.