Homeowners face an ongoing list of maintenance tasks, most of them meant to prevent or avoid serious home damage issues. Even the most conscientious of homeowners can’t always avoid water damage, though. In fact, as many as 14,000 homeowners face a water damage emergency every single day.
Once you spot the water damage, the big question you must answer is: What next?
If you’re not sure what you should do in the face of water damage, keep reading for our guide to water damage and how you should deal with it.
Causes of Water Damage
Water damage can stem from several sources. One of the more common causes is a run-of-the-mill leaking pipe. Many pipes travel through your walls, which can let the leaking continue unnoticed for quite some time.
Another common cause is burst pipes. People normally think of freezing as the reason for burst pipes, and that is one reason they happen. Other reasons include damage to the pipe, pipe corrosion, and even unusually high water pressure.
You can also see damage from:
- Leaking water heaters
- Clogged gutters
- Malfunctioning appliances
- Leaky roofs
- Natural flooding from weather
Blocked drain pipes can cause backups that flood parts of your home and create damage.
Types of Water Damage
When it comes to water damage, it’s typically divided into three general categories. These categories don’t refer to the damage specifically, but the type of water that causes the damage. Those damage types are:
- Clean water damage
- Gray water damage
- Black water damage
While no water damage is great for your home, some kinds are worse than others. Let’s look at each type briefly.
Clean Water Damage
Clean water damage means that the water source itself is essentially sanitary. So, a water supply line for your sink that bursts will cause clean water damage.
Gray Water Damage
Gray water damage comes from somewhat contaminated water. This is water that can potentially make you ill from bacteria or microorganisms. Water from an aquarium or water that leaks from a dishwasher drain line cause this type of damage.
Black Water Damage
Black water damage happens when highly contaminated water enters your home. This kind of water damage poses a serious risk to human health. Flooding from a backed-up sewage line or from a nearby water source, such as a river, cause this type of water damage.
Since there are potential health concerns involved, it’s important that you identify the type of water causing the damage if at all possible.
Problems Caused by Water Damage
Of course, water damage goes beyond the mere type of water. Water damage can cause all kinds of problems inside the home itself, depending on where the water entered the home, the duration of the leak or flooding, and the amount of water.
One of the most common problems you see as a result of water damage is mold. Not only is mold unsightly, but it can trigger serious health problems.
You’ll routinely see swelling in any drywall that gets exposed to water for any length of time. In the event of flooding, you can generally assume that anything porous is a lost cause. Porous materials include things like carpeting, upholstery, clothing, and books.
Serious water infiltration like serious flooding can even cause structural damage in your home and potentially damage your electrical system.
With those essentials covered, let’s look at what you should do during and after water damage.
Turn Off the Power
In the event of something like sudden flooding that you can stop quickly, the first thing you should do is cut the power to the house. All it takes for serious damage is for the water to find a single exposed wire somewhere.
If you have water permeating a wall or running down a wall, it could easily find its way into a wall outlet. If water levels rise, the water could find its way into power strips on the floor.
While ground fault circuit interrupter outlets and circuit breakers can limit the damage, turning off the power can spare you from replacing some expensive electronics later.
In terms of actually cutting the power, the main breaker is your best bet. Don’t go near the breaker box if there is standing water near it. In that event, ask your utility company to cut the power.
Find and Stop the Source
Finding and stopping the source of the water is the next thing on your immediate to-do list. If the water starts with your own plumbing, you can often stop the problem with water cutoff valves or, if you’re unsure exactly where the problem originates, by turning off the water main to your home.
It’s the best way for you to prevent water damage or at least prevent avoidable damage.
If the problem is weather related, there isn’t much you can do about it other than ride out the weather and hope for the best. If the water is coming in through your roof, strategically placed plastic or tarps can minimize the flow of the water. Ultimately, though, you’ll need a professional roofer to fix that problem.
Contact Your Insurance Company
Once you’ve turned off the power and done what you can to stop the source of the water, it’s time for a call to your insurance company. Informing your insurance company as soon as possible means that they’ll send out a claims adjuster faster.
The claims adjuster will assess the damage to your home and determine how much the company will pay for restoration. The adjuster or company may also recommend a restoration company for the work, such as FastPro Restoration.
Many insurance policies will also provide coverage or partial coverage for personal belongings, such as clothing and electronics, for water damage claims. Make a list of damaged personal items you can submit as part of your claim. Always take pictures of the damaged personal items as support for your insurance claim.
Protect Your Family
Beyond turning off the power, you should also carefully inspect the interior of the home. Regardless of the water source, you should dress as though the entire area is contaminated.
Wear eye protection, such as goggles, long sleeve shirts, pants, boots, and waterproof gloves. This will help limit your exposure to any bacteria, viruses, or mold in the house.
As you inspect the interior of the house, watch out for danger signs, such as sagging floors or a sagging ceiling. Either could collapse beneath you or on top of you.
If you see these signs, break off the inspection and wait for repair specialists to arrive. They’ll know how to safely navigate in the house.
Assuming you don’t spot any immediate danger signs, you can move on to the next steps.
Protect Your Belongings
As far as you reasonably can, salvage any undamaged personal belongings from the water-damaged area. If there is an undamaged portion of your home, move the belongings there.
If you believe the water compromised the whole house, consider renting a storage unit. That gives you somewhere you can store your belongings until after the completion of any repairs.
Start Repairs Immediately
While there is a lot you can’t do in terms of repairs, you can at least get the process started. Gather up any belongings that are beyond salvaging and dispose of them in heavy-duty trash bags.
Clean up any remaining water as best you can. A wet/dry shop vacuum is helpful, but towels will do in a pinch. After that, you’ll want to clean the floor to remove any lingering dirt or debris.
At that point, you want to dry the area as well as you can. Opening windows, setting up fans, and turning on dehumidifiers can all help.
Call in Professional Help
In most cases, you’ll need a professional restoration service to handle most of the heavy lifting. These services are typically general contractors who specialize in water damage repair.
They can tear out old drywall, remove the damaged insulation, and even replace structural wood if necessary. Just as importantly, they know subcontractors they can call in to do repairs on electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems.
Most homeowners insurance policies will provide at least partial coverage for water, but only if the damage stems from a problem that is sudden and accidental. Think of a burst pipe or water damage that happens after a tree limb punctures your roof.
Most policies expressly exclude flood damage. If you’re in an area prone to flooding, you’ll want a separate policy to cover flood damage.
Water Damage and You
Water damage can leave your home in a sorry state. You can take steps to limit the damage. Turning off the power to your home and stopping the source of the water are a couple of the key steps.
You want to save whatever possessions you can and ditch the things you can’t after you document the damage. You can start the repair process by removing what water you can and cleaning the floors. Start the drying process with fans and dehumidifiers.
Looking for more home repair tips? Check out our Home & Garden section for more posts.