Water can cause harmful damage to your home, including mold, mildew, cosmetic damage, and harm to the structure. The most common sources of water damage include floods, sewer backup, storm damage, faulty water heater, or broken or leaking pipes.
If your home has suffered water damage, you must be sure that the area is safe before entering. Shut off the electricity and do not walk into flooded areas until they have been inspected for safety. If the source of the water is from your plumbing, turn off the water supply. Wet surfaces are slick and could cause slip and fall injuries, so be careful.
Depending on the source of the water, it could contain harmful bacteria that could make you or your family sick. Do not come into contact with dangerous water without proper protection. Boots or waders, gloves, protective eye gear, and face masks are necessary where water or mold is present.
Notify your Homeowner’s Insurance Company
Contact your homeowner’s insurance company immediately to file a claim. Take photos of the damage, as they may be necessary to document and prove your claim. If you are unable to safely stay in your home, you may have insurance coverage that will pay for a temporary place to stay while your home is being repaired.
Most severe water damage must be handled professionally; however, there are some things you can do as a homeowner to lessen the damage caused by water. You could:
- Turn off the water supply
- Remove excess water
- Dehumidify and use fans
- Remove soaked items
- Clear the room
- Use a wet/dry vacuum
- Put furniture on blocks to keep it dry
- Take pictures of the damage
As soon as water flow stops you can begin to clear and clean the area. Remove items such as furniture from the affected areas. If there are rugs in place they are likely ruined and must be removed as quickly as possible to avoid mildew. Use a wet/dry vacuum to remove as much water as possible. If there is standing water, it will require removal with a pump or hose. Open the windows or operate fans to circulate the air. Air circulation with dehumidifiers will help to more quickly dry out the room.
Water Restoration Services
Local and national companies are available that specialize in restoration services. You can find a restoration company through your insurance company, online, or through the phone book. Your insurance company may have a program restoration company available. You can search online for “emergency water removal services in (your city and state or zip code)”.
The process of water damage restoration includes of the following steps:
- Inspection of damages
- Water removal
When choosing a company, you need to find one that is located nearby, offers professional service, has experience with water damage, and is available quickly. Additionally, look for companies that have been certified through a professional association. One of the professional certification associations is the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification, IICRC. They can provide a list of water damage specialists in your area. Your insurance company may select a company for you.
Restoration companies are usually available 24/7 to handle emergency situations. The restoration company will need to inspect the home before providing an estimate. The thorough inspection needs to be handled by a professional, as water damage is not limited only to what you can see. Water seeps into the walls, floors, and furniture and could cause mold. Mold and mildew are the most harmful results from water damage. Your insurance company may also require that an adjuster visit your home for a personal inspection of damages. If so, they will send someone quickly, usually within 24 hours.
Time is of the essence when finding a company to provide water remediation and restoration services. There may not be time to get more than one estimate. However, you can find some online estimates available so you can make sure that the price you are provided is reasonable. Estimates for water damage repair typically include labor, materials and equipment.
The estimate is based on the number of square feet in the area that requires clean up. For example, if the room is 10 feet wide by 10 feet long, the room is a total of 100 square feet. Estimates broken down by cost per square foot allow you to more easily compare the prices of different companies.
If water damages are covered by your insurance policy, you must call them immediately and follow the procedures they provide. The source of the water may determine whether it is covered by your insurance. The insurance company may have a particular water removal and restoration professional they want you to work with. Alternatively, they may require you to pay for the removal and restoration services and they will reimburse you for the costs. A mitigation and restoration company may be able to help you with insurance coverage issues. Remember that your deductible will be subtracted from the amount that is owed to you, if applicable.
The water removal process needs to begin as soon as possible. According to FEMA, mold begins to grow within 24 to 48 hours from water exposure. A very informational brochure by FEMA regarding mold and properly taking care of it can be found at: https://www.fema.gov/pdf/rebuild/recover/fema_mold_brochure_english.pdf. A professional water removal company has equipment that extracts water using high powered pumps and vacuums. The sooner the extraction process begins, the better because the longer the water sits the more damage it will cause. Removal of water is not something that can be easily accomplished by the average homeowner without help from a professional. A flooded home could have thousands of gallons of water dispersed throughout. Water saturates fabrics, carpeting, and other porous materials, making them difficult to dry.
As part of the process, the water damage professionals may remove furniture and other items from your home. Any undamaged items are placed into a storage area until the restoration process is complete. This allows the room to be empty so that proper care can be performed on the area.
Drying and Dehumidification
The drying process is an extremely important step in the process of water removal. After as much water as possible has been extracted, the professional team begins to dry the affected area. Air movers and dehumidifiers are utilized to speed up drying. Remember that the water most likely seeped into and behind walls, under carpeting, and even into the structure itself. In many situations, parts of the structure need to be removed in order to get to the water-logged areas. For example, the carpeting, padding, and baseboards will likely be removed.
If the walls have been saturated they need to be completely dried out, as they can hold pockets of water. If left alone, mold will grow inside the walls and on other surfaces of your home. It is possible that the drywall may need to be cut away to expose the inside of the wall. Complete drying and dehumidification can be a lengthy process. Depending on the size of the area and the extent of damage, it may take several days or more to completely dry out. During this time you may need to find another place to stay. Check your insurance policy to see if it covers a hotel stay while your home is being cleaned.
Cleaning and Sanitizing
Mold begins to grow in wet and damp areas almost immediately. Mold spores are miniscule and cannot be seen with the naked eye until they multiply. Mold may look black or dark green in color. It is highly toxic and should not be handled without proper protection. Once the water is gone, mold starts and can spread very quickly. When mold dries it remains on the affected area until it is properly removed. During the removal and cleaning process, the dry mold is disturbed and loosened, allowing it to get into the air. Breathing in the tiny mold spores is dangerous and may cause serious and long term medical problems.
Special sanitation products are used on surfaces to remove mold and to make sure that it does not come back. Your belongings may have been damaged by water. Clothing may be able to be saved with proper cleaning. Other items must be thoroughly dried out to see if they can be salvaged. Papers and photos usually do not fare well when they have been exposed to water. Furniture such as sofas and beds may be able to be cleaned. When there is any question as to whether something is safe, it is best not to use it anymore. Your insurance policy may cover the expense to replace damaged furniture and personal items.
Only after the entire area is clean, dry, and free from mold can the restoration process begin. Restoration requires patching holes in walls, painting areas, replacing baseboards and areas of drywall, replacing and refinishing floors, replacing subflooring, and installation of new carpeting. The extent of the restoration required depends on the severity of the water damage, the water removal process, and the mold remediation that was necessary. Once your home is properly and completely restored, it is safe for you and your family again.
We would like to thank Jeff Burns of Viking Specialty Contracting for his providing his professional input for this guide.