Water damage is one of the most common types of damage suffered by homes in the US, accounting for nearly a quarter of all homeowners’ insurance claims. According to the Insurance Information Institute, an average water damage claim costs over $10,000, bringing the total yearly loss to homeowners to billions of dollars.
Because even a relatively small amount of water has the potential to devastate a house, homeowners are advised to have insurance that covers water damage. A typical homeowner’s insurance policy will cover clean water damage that results from defects such as bad plumbing or a leaky roof; however, coverage for sewage damage usually requires an additional rider. Additionally, flooding caused by an outside source—everything from an overflowing river to excessive runoff—must be addressed by a separate flood insurance policy through a private provider or the government-run National Flood Insurance Program.
Regular inspections and maintenance can drastically reduce the possibility of water intrusion. Periodically check for leaks, cracks, or water stains in bathrooms, kitchens, and basements. Consider installing a water usage monitoring device or water sensors in your home. Change the hoses and check the seals on appliances that use water, like the dishwasher. Temperature extremes can cause plumbing parts such as seals and wax rings to wear out faster than normal. If you live in an area with very hot or very cold weather, be diligent about plumbing inspections. On the home’s exterior, keep the gutters clean and make sure that runoff flowing away from the house is not impeded by debris. Ensure that outside walls and foundations have not developed cracks that could allow water to seep inside. Also, locate and label the main water shutoff valve.
It is also wise to create an emergency file with copies of critical documents, including your insurance policy and your agent’s contact information; an inventory of your possessions with photos and any other documentation; and receipts from major purchases. Store the copies at home in a waterproof container, and place the originals in a safe-deposit box or other secure location.
When water intrusion happens suddenly, first try to determine the source of the water. If the water is coming from a broken pipe inside the house, shut off the water supply at the main valve before calling a contractor. Help should be on its way soon; companies offering emergency service will not take long to send out a specialist who will survey the damage and offer a written estimate of the expected costs of the water extraction and drying procedures.
After removing the standing water, the technician will be able to determine if there are any spaces where there may be trapped water and then identify the best tools to promote a quick and thorough drying process.
Even after the standing water has been removed, some surfaces may still be damp. Materials such as drywall and wood are porous, so even if water can’t be seen from the outside, it could still exist below the surface layer.
If dampness persists, toxic mold may eventually develop, especially on cellulose-based building materials. Under the right conditions, a mold colony can begin in as little as 48 hours. In addition to the danger of mold growth, retained water can cause significant damage, such as warping, swelling, and cracking, to building materials.
To make the drying process quicker and more efficient, water damage specialists use powerful fans and dehumidifiers that will completely dry any wet or damp areas—even those that are hard to reach. These large fans and industrial-grade dehumidifiers work more quickly than the average fans and dehumidifiers found in a home improvement store, so there is less time for mold growth and damage to materials to begin. During the drying process, the technicians will monitor affected areas with moisture meters to make sure everything is drying as it should.
Your home and belongings may need to be cleaned in addition to being dried. Most water damage specialists have a variety of cleaning techniques, including antibacterial and antimicrobial treatments, that they can employ based on the type of damage that has occurred and the specific material that needs to be cleaned. Since standing water and wet materials often take on a less-than-pleasant odor, technicians can use air-scrubbing machines and deodorizers to remove any unpleasant smells.
The ultimate goal of water damage repair is to return your home to its original condition. If the damage your home sustained is severe, you may need to take advantage of restoration services in addition to the drying and cleaning services that will fix the most pressing problems. Restoration services could involve additional steps, such as moving your belongings into a storage facility so that construction can take place. It may also be necessary to replace and repaint drywall or to repair, reinstall, or completely replace flooring. Most water damage specialists are able to perform these services as well, so you will not necessarily need to seek out and schedule more contractors.
If water damage causes mold growth, a mold remediation specialist should isolate any infected areas to prevent the spores from spreading to other parts of the home. Mold exposure can cause serious health problems, including infections, breathing difficulties, skin irritation, and allergic reactions. For this reason, you should not attempt to clean mold by yourself. Contact a mold remediation specialist and stay out of contaminated spaces until you receive confirmation that the mold has been removed.
Verify that the mold remediation specialist you hire has the appropriate training. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends contacting professionals who are either affiliated with or certified by the American Council for Accredited Certification (ACAC), the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), or the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). Some areas require licensed contractors to perform mold remediation services, so check your city or county regulations.
Although there are currently no regulations governing water damage restoration procedures, the IICRC has set standards that most companies follow. The IICRC S500 and S520 guides outline water damage and mold remediation procedures, respectively. More information on these standards is available from the IICRC website at www.iicrc.org.