By Sam Wasson
Updated Nov 3, 2022
By Sam Wasson
Updated Nov 3, 2022
There are few homeowner nightmares as terrifying as large-scale water damage. Spreading quickly and acting as a medium for mold and mildew to spread, water damage is extremely costly and hazardous. It can damage just about every part of your home, including:
Thankfully, there are several steps you can take to reduce water damage and prevent the further harm it can do. This article will go over some tips to help with water damage repairs while also providing some helpful information on hazards caused by water damage.
According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, there are three categories of contaminated water that can cause damage to your home: clean water (Category 1), greywater (Category 2), and blackwater (Category 3). Each kind of water has different associated risks and hazards, with some requiring a trained professional to remove it. Before beginning any DIY water damage repair, it is essential to identify which kind of water you’re dealing with and take appropriate safety measures.
Category 1 water, also referred to as freshwater or clean water, comes from rain, leaky pipes, snow runoff, or condensation. While not wastewater, clean water can still cause damage to your home. Clean water is, for the most part, devoid of any dangerous chemicals or hazardous substances. This form of water typically causes minor damage, such as from a leaky pipe, faulty seal, or overflow. However, clean water can result in severe damage in some instances, such as a water main bursting or leaving a faucet on overnight. This water is the easiest and safest for homeowners to clean up, meaning most DIY methods are on the table. If you decide to go with a removal or cleanup service, the average cost of removing clean water is $3.75 to $4.50 per square foot of water.
Greywater, sometimes spelled graywater, or Category 2 water, is wastewater from washing machines, sinks, showers, bathtubs, and dishwashers. Greywater carries some contaminants from the appliances it has run through, such as food particles or less harmful chemicals like detergents. The contamination levels of greywater can vary depending on its source. Showers, tubs, and washing machines produce cleaner greywater, called light greywater, while kitchen sinks and dishwashers produce dirtier, dark greywater. Greywater is cleanable by homeowners in both cases but requires more safety precautions than clean water. Protective attire like thick rubber gloves and safety glasses should be used when handling or cleaning it. If you decide to go with a service, greywater removal will cost you $4.00 to $6.50 per square foot.
The most dangerous kind of domestic wastewater is blackwater, which comes from toilets, sewage systems, and flooding from rivers and lakes. Blackwater contains dangerous contaminants such as:
This kind of wastewater poses a severe health risk and should only be handled by trained professionals with highly protective gear and proper equipment. Blackwater is also the most destructive form of water for the home. In blackwater floods, porous materials like drywall, carpeting, and upholstered furniture must be removed and replaced due to its unsanitary nature. Blackwater removal services cost between $7.00 to $8.00 per square foot.
When you discover a leak or flooding water, your first step is to locate the source and shut it off. For appliances or sinks, this is pretty easy, as there is often a water connection right behind the appliance with a corresponding shutoff valve. This process can be tricky for a burst pipe, especially one inside a wall, floor, or ceiling. If you can see the pipe, follow it until you find its shutoff valve. This usually looks like a small, red, circular wheel. Turn this wheel until you can hear the water flow stop.
You will need to turn off the house’s water main for unseen pipes or large water main leaks. Main shutoff valves don’t have a standard location but can often be found outside along the sides of a home, inside a crawl space, inside a garage, or next to the water heater. Once you find the valve, it will have a red or green knob that you can use to shut off the supply of water to your home. If the leak isn’t slowing, there is still water in your house’s system which the pipe is drawing from. In these cases, you will need to turn on all the faucets and showers in your home to pull the water from the pipes to reduce the available water for the leak.
Clearing out massive amounts of water in the case of a flood can be a significant challenge. Pool pumps are usually your best bet for large amounts of standing water, but a wet/dry vacuum or even a large mop bucket can work for small amounts. After most of the water has been removed, you can use fans or dehumidifiers to help pull the rest of the moisture and speed up the drying process in damaged areas.
It only takes 24 to 48 hours for mold to explode throughout a home in the right conditions, which a flood or severe water damage aptly provides. Many homes already have minor mold problems that can expand rapidly once exposed to more moisture from water. Once you have drained all the water from your home, keep an eye out for any mold growing where water damage occurs. Remember that mold can grow in difficult-to-spot locations, like under carpets, inside walls, or behind appliances and large objects. Certain mold can be toxic to humans, resulting in asthmatic inflammations, respiratory problems, memory loss, fatigue, and severe, long-term health problems.
Small patches and mold outbreaks are easily manageable, but a professional should handle widespread and severe mold problems. If you suspect or know of a significant mold issue, shut off airflow to a location, do not enter it, and call a local mold removal service.
In the event of a flood or other significant water damage, porous materials will need to be removed and thrown away. These materials absorb large amounts of water and either become damaged beyond repair or harbor mold and mildew. More often than not, these materials are beyond saving, especially in the case of grey or blackwater damage. Common porous materials in need of disposal include:
Small objects such as stuffed animals, clothing, pillows, and blankets are salvageable if cleaned quickly and thoroughly. But anything that cannot fit into a washing machine will harbor mildew and need to be thrown out.
Once everything that needs to be thrown away is disposed of, your next step is to disinfect every flooded surface thoroughly. Most of the time, a good bleach solution is your best bet. These are cheap, easy to make, kill bacteria and prevent mold growth on solid surfaces. You will need to wear gloves, a face mask, and safety goggles. Once you’re outfitted and have your bleach solution, wipe down each surface, rinse, and allow to dry. Remember that speed is critical here. You’re trying to beat the clock before mold spores have a chance to grow and spread, so don’t delay cleaning off surfaces.
After you’ve cleaned everything, the difficult part of the process begins. You will now have to assess the full damage to the flooded area. Water damage can be extensive and severe depending on the amount of water and the time it was allowed to sit and spread. You must be thorough in this process, as water damage can weaken hard-to-spot areas like floor joists.
Ceilings are the most immediate location in danger of structural damage when affected by water. As the water absorbs into the porous materials, the additional weight combined with gravity can quickly spell doom for a ceiling. Small leaks can lead to spots or minor sagging, while burst pipes can lead to holes, dips, or full-on collapses. When you spot water damage on a ceiling, you will need to find the source of the water leak and put an end to it before the damage spreads. Afterward, you will need to remove any damaged tiles, sheetrock, or drywall and apply a fresh coat of paint.
Flooring is, unfortunately, highly susceptible to water damage. In some situations, the damage is minimal and only warrants a quick cleaning. But, more often than not, portions of the floor will need to be replaced. From the carpeting to the joists, supports, and padding, just about every part of the floor is susceptible to water damage. The most expensive damage can come from the joists and supports. Since wood is a porous substance, it will absorb moisture quickly, leading to swelling, warping, and cracking.
To assess the total damage, you will need to remove the carpet and tear up the floorboards (which will also be badly damaged). However, if you have an exposed ceiling on the floor below, thankfully, you will see the damage clearly from down there. Replacing major flooring sections, especially wooden structures, can be dangerous, and you should consult a professional if you believe significant renovations are in order.
Once water seeps in, drywall is as good as toast – this is because drywall absorbs and holds moisture exceedingly well, which can lead to mold growth and sagging. Thankfully, drywall is easy and relatively cheap to replace. If only a portion of a sheet has been exposed, you can cut it out and replace it with a newly cut section. However, in the case of flooding, if the water level is below 2.5 feet, you will need to cut out 4 feet of drywall, and if it is over 2.5 feet, the entire sheet needs to be replaced.
Once you have new materials set in place, you will need to reseal and recaulk everything to reduce and prevent future leaking problems. Flooding can also damage the caulking and sealing of affected areas if they become wet enough, so it’s not a bad idea to check areas you have entirely replaced and reseal them as well.
Extensive flooding damage can be overwhelming and impossible to handle on your own. In the case of severe water damage, you should always consult your home insurance company to see what is covered. Significant, unforeseen events like burst pipes or broken water mains are likely covered, but more minor causes like leaky pipes or damaged appliances are not. Furthermore, floods caused by natural disasters, or “acts of God,” as insurance providers call them, are not covered by standard policies. However, you can purchase flood insurance as a separate policy. Either way, the right insurance policy can greatly help with water damage restoration and repairs.
Also, while home warranties won’t cover water damage or restoration services, they will often cover the cause of the damage, such as a leaky pipe, broken appliance, or faulty seal.
Water damage is easily one of the most costly and challenging problems for a homeowner. You must be fast-acting but cautious in these situations, as water damage poses as many health risks as structural problems. However, quick action, a cool head, thorough repairs, and a good insurance policy or home warranty can help you tackle even the nastiest water damage if the worst does happen.
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