How to Handle Water Damage Restoration

By Beth Krietsch
Peeling paint on an interior ceiling a result of water damage caused by a leaking pipe dripping down from upstairs a result of substandard plumbing completed by an unqualified plumber. A common house insurance claim.

No matter how prepared you think you are, water damage can still happen. And it’s never easy to deal with. Regardless of the size, placement, or cause, water damage is often difficult, time-consuming, and costly to repair. These water damage restoration tips can help you identify the proper steps to take to handle the issue and repair your home. You will get through this—we’ll show you how.

DIY or call a professional?

When water damage occurs, you need to act quickly. But when do you need to call a professional, and when can you take steps to resolve and repair water damage on your own? Here are the nine most common water damages experienced in the home and the factors you need to consider in determining if you need professional assistance:

1. Ceiling leak

Ceilings that have been exposed to water damage are dangerous, thanks to gravity. You’ll need to identify the source of the leak or the damage and resolve that underlying issue prior to fixing your ceiling. For small spots caused by a leaking roof or a tub overflow, you may be able to remove and patch the drywall. Calling in a professional handyman for larger jobs is the safest option.

2. Plywood or drywall damage

As with any damaged wood or drywall, locate the source and cause of the damage as you fix the damage itself. Drywall damage to side walls typically happens around plumbing—in bathrooms, kitchens, or piping connecting levels. This can be fixed and patched—there are good DIY instructions for dealing with water-damaged drywall available—but many people prefer to call a handyman. And here’s how to repair water damage to plywood flooring.

3. Windowsills

Catching water damage to the sill early is the difference between a simple DIY project and a full-scale replacement. One early sign of water damage to a windowsill is peeling paint. Another is cracks in the wood. By the time you spot a sill rotting, you’ll need to replace it. To repair water damage to a windowsill, try using an epoxy sealer and filler.

4. Water rot

If you spot rot, call in a professional. Depending on the location and severity of the rot, you may consider hiring a company with a structural engineer on staff. An engineer can help assess damage and make a recommendation on how to repair without compromising structural integrity.

5. Leaking water heater

If your water heater is leaking, it might be caused by the temperature and pressure valve. If the water comes from an issue with pressure, you’ll need to check the wiring and the settings. But if it’s a leak from the tank or due to a broken valve, that’s way more serious. Shut off your water supply immediately and then consider your options. Hiring a professional could make sense—expect to drain your water heater for any repair.

6. Overflowing toilet

Toilets overflow when they have minor issues that develop, like when they don’t stop running or aren’t draining properly. Most toilet overflow issues can be resolved quickly without calling for help. Before you attempt any repairs, turn off the water valve behind the toilet.

7. Clogged drains

Clogged drains aren’t a major issue—unless the basin overflowed and caused severe water damage. The priority is to clean up any water that has overtopped the basin. Then you’ll want to empty as much water from the basin into another drain or outside. You can DIY a clogged drain—here’s how to unclog a drain.

8. Burst pipes

If you have a burst or broken pipe, your first step needs to be to turn off the main water valve to prevent further damage. For anything more severe than a simple plumbing leak, call a professional as soon as possible. While a 24/7/365 emergency service might not be necessary, by calling a professional, you’ll be able to assess the urgency of the situation and determine the best course of action.

9. Flooding

Widespread flooding is an urgent situation and requires professional help. Call a professional as soon as possible.

Indoor flooding in bathroom

How to manage flood damage

When flooding begins, act quickly—doing so will help rescue furniture and prevent further damage from occurring. Always call for professional assistance. Many service companies that deal with flooding are available around the clock, though you may incur an emergency fee. It’s typically worth it—the more time that passes without working to mitigate the water damage, the harder it becomes to resolve.

As a first step, when you notice flooding, see if there’s a clear cause. Is the water coming from a system within your house or is it external? How does the water look, and what is in it? Surprisingly, not all water is the same. There are actually three types of water—clean, gray, and black. Here’s more information about the types of water that could damage your house:

  • Clean water—Relatively harmless and possible to clean up on your own for small amounts of water. Clean water comes from rain, condensation, leaky pipes, and other clean water sources and systems. For larger clean water cleanup conducted by a service company, expect to pay $3.75 per square foot of floor space.
  • Gray water—This water type is slightly dirty—think used. This includes water from household appliances like dishwashers, washers, toilets, and more. There may be contaminants in this water. You could clean on your own—a professional company will charge $4.50 per square foot.
  • Black water—Black water comes from sewage and from external streams, rivers, and lakes experiencing flooding. Black water requires professional help—it contains waste byproducts, bacteria, and other contaminants you’ll need to steer clear of. Expect to pay $7.00 per square foot for cleanup.
Industrial Fan For Water Damage In Kitchen

What will water damage restoration professionals do?

When you call in a professional, they’ll arrive and quickly get to work. Here are the five steps they’ll take to restore your house from water damage:

  1. Inspect—Upon arrival, your service technician will assess the situation and determine how to best tackle the damage. Usually they’ll bring along equipment like pumps, vacuums, and fans that are capable of removing and drying large amounts of water and detecting hidden moisture.
  2. Extract—With a plan in place, the professional will next focus on water removal. This may require removing furniture and other belongings inside the home in order to eliminate all standing water.
  3. Dry—Once water has been extracted, your technician will set up fans and dehumidifiers to dry out your space—wood floors, carpets, walls, upholstery, and anything else that retained water during flooding. This is a critically important step because drying your home and possessions after flooding will help you avoid future mold and mildew problems, which not only look and smell bad, but can also damage your health.
  4. Clean—When your home is dry, it’ll need to be cleaned. Every job is different based on the extent and location of the water damage. Often, cleaning jobs are quite large. Professionals use a variety of cleaning methods—wet, dry, immersion, foam, and more—and will also sanitize and deodorize your possessions. The company that conducted your water removal typically handles this aspect, though some companies will instead recommend someone else for the job.
  5. Repair—Depending on the extent of the damage, you may need to repair parts of your home. Focus on ceiling damage first. You may also find that you need to replace carpets, floors, drywall, or furniture.

Plan to be on site for as much of this process as possible, as you may wish to ensure that all water is removed, the cleaning process is thorough, and the repairs are correct. But if a professional advises you to leave the premises due to safety or health concerns, listen to them.

Water damage restoration doesn’t always require professional help, but when it does, treat the restoration service as you would any other contractor making home repairs or servicing your appliances. Get written estimates when possible. Always make sure that you’re given the opportunity to ask questions prior to the work beginning. If you plan to stay on site while the work is being completed, have a clear understanding of where is safe and what you’re expected to do or not do to assist the crew.

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