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What Is the Worst Type of Home Water Damage?

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020
home water damage

 If it’s your home that’s affected, there’s no such thing as good water damage. Even damage from a common source like a broken supply pipe is an emergency requiring professional intervention with proven, specialized techniques and equipment. But, of all potential water damage incidents, what’s the worst-case scenario? If you exclude events like catastrophic outdoor flooding from a hurricane storm surge, many homeowners might agree that a severe sewage backup is about as bad as it gets.  

What’s So Bad About It?

A significant volume of raw sewage—appropriately called “black water”—flowing backward into a home is an indoor toxic waste spill contaminating everything it touches. In addition to issues common with  Category 1 “clean water” damage, sewer backups also impose health hazards associated with bacterial and viral pathogens in sewage, noxious unsafe air, nasty odors, and the fact that saturated porous items—including structural materials like drywall—usually cannot be disinfected and must be disposed of. Often, the home will need to be evacuated until professional remediation is concluded.

Why Does It Happen?

Sewage backups typically result from two causes:

  • A blockage in the sewer line between the house and the street, causing wastewater to reflux back into the home.
  • A widespread event in the municipal sewer system such as inundation by heavy rain, causing city sewage to flow backwards into houses.  

How to Reduce the Risk

To avoid enduring the damage and disgust of a sewage backup, here are two strategies:

Get a sewer line inspection by a licensed plumber. An internal pipe inspection utilizing a video camera may reveal hidden issues that trigger sewage blockages and backups, including:

  • Tree root intrusion, the most common cause of sewage backups.  
  • An ongoing blockage caused by flushing inappropriate items, like paper that is not approved for sewage systems.
  • A collapsing sewer pipe.  

Install a sewer backflow valve. Typically placed in the sewer line just outside the house, this safety device permits sewage flow in only one direction—away from the home. Should the flow reverse for any reason, the backflow valve automatically closes to prevent raw sewage reflux into the house.

What to Do If You Find a Burst Pipe

Thursday, November 14th, 2019
Burst Pipe

Few home events produce panic and despair like a burst pipe inside the house. The sight of water unleashed where water’s never supposed to be is a crisis any homeowner dreads. And with good cause: water damage to a home can be extensive and expensive if the flow of water from a burst pipe isn’t stopped quickly.

What To Do First

  • Turn off the main water shutoff valve. Usually, it’s located somewhere near ground level on the front wall of the house, in a straight line with the water meter out at the street. If the house has a basement, the shutoff valve may be inside on a basement wall where the main water line enters the front of the house.
  • If you can’t locate the main shutoff—or can’t turn it because it’s stuck—call for emergency help. In some municipalities, the fire department will respond to indoor flooding from a broken pipe. City water departments frequently provide 24-hour emergency service to shut off water. Many plumbers also respond on an emergency basis to a ruptured indoor pipe.
  • Once the water flow is shut off, be aware of hazards inside the house. Electrocution danger exists in any room that has become saturated. Stay out of soaked areas until electricity is turned off at the main circuit breaker panel. Also, if ceilings or walls are affected, be aware that saturated drywall could collapse at any time.  

What To Do Next

  • If the water is limited to only minor pooling on a hard surface floor in a single room, and doesn’t extend under baseboards or leak into other areas, you may attempt to push the water out an exterior door, remove it with a wet/dry vacuum or mop it up.   
  • For any larger event, contact your homeowner’s insurance as well as a professional water damage recovery specialist. Make these calls ASAP as indoor water damage is an ongoing event. Even after the source is shut off, the clock is ticking as water continues to migrate deeper into the structure, spreading damage and triggering mold contamination in 48 hours or less. 

Drying out From Water Damage: Six Things to Know

Thursday, October 31st, 2019
home water damage

The aftermath of home water damage can be a confusing time. Drying out a wet house is a complex process and usually a project for experienced professionals. In fact, if the damage qualifies for homeowner’s insurance coverage, the policy usually stipulates that significant work must be performed by qualified, certified water damage experts. However, you can take certain basic but vital steps to begin the process of drying out a home yourself, before the pros take over.  

First And Foremost

Stay safe. Don’t enter wet areas of the house if electricity is still live in those rooms. Turn off power at the main electrical panel or contact an electrician to do so. Avoid any direct contact with contaminated water. If the damage results from a sewage backup or outdoor flooding, stay out of the affected area of the house and let qualified professionals remove the water.

Then What?

  • If home water damage originates from a non-contaminated source like a broken plumbing pipe, rainwater, or an overflowing appliance, you can use a broom or floor squeegee to push pooling water outside through an exterior door. In rooms without an exterior door, use a wet-dry vacuum if available to pick up and remove water, or simply a mop and bucket.
  • Opening windows lets in air to ventilate wet areas. Run fans to move air in affected rooms, too.  If the HVAC system is not damaged, turn on the system and switch the fan setting at the thermostat to “On” (instead of “Auto”) in order to circulate air continuously.
  • Water-saturated rugs, upholstered furniture, mattresses and other absorbent items should be hauled out of the house, ASAP. 
  • If a powered dehumidifier is available, keep one or more running in affected areas of the house to accelerate drying and prevent secondary damage resulting from high levels of indoor water vapor.
  • Have valuable paper items such as documents and photos gotten wet? You can temporarily interrupt the process of deterioration by freezing these items in a home freezer until professional document recovery services can be accessed. 

Water Damage Claims and Your Insurance Company

Thursday, October 24th, 2019
water damage claims

Water damage ranks as the #2 most frequent cause of homeowner’s insurance claims (wind and hail damage are #1) and it costs insurance companies $2.5 billion per average year.  Therefore, the industry at large imposes fairly consistent standards for what constitutes water damage versus what doesn’t in homeowner’s insurance policies. Reporting requirements and background issues such as maintenance also impact coverage. Here are some common particulars that apply to most cases.

Is my water damage covered? Maybe. Water damage from typical indoor sources like a broken pipe, ruptured water heater or overflowing washing machine is usually covered by homeowner’s policies. Damage resulting from outdoor sources like flooding, however, isn’t.  Sewage backups into the house typically receive no coverage in standard policies. However, a rider adding sewage coverage is usually available at increased cost.

Maintenance matters. Coverage also depends upon whether negligence is a factor. While sudden pipe ruptures are covered, for example, ongoing water damage from a leaky pipe that was ignored and not promptly repaired isn’t.  Same goes for damage due to a leaky roof. If the incoming water is the result of an immediate cause such as storm damage to the roof, you’re in luck. If it’s due to existing roof leaks that have simply been neglected, you’re not.  

How about mold?  Mold contamination is almost a slam dunk following most indoor water damage incidents. Homeowner’s insurance typically covers professional mold remediation services if the damage resulted from one of the covered causes mentioned in the above examples. Other causes that also trigger mold contamination, such as high indoor humidity, flooding or a preventable leak aren’t covered.

What to do first. If water is still flowing from a broken pipe or other source, contact a plumber first for emergency service. Make your very next call to the insurance company to ensure that the policy’s requirement for promptly reporting the incident is fulfilled. Don’t throw out any damaged items yet. Compose a list of all items that were affected by water. Take photos to document the incident before any water damage recovery procedures are initiated.

Four Main Causes of Home Water Damage

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

The typical home provides a number of opportunities for water damage to strike. Maybe that’s why more than one-third of the homes in the U.S. have already experienced losses due to water damage at one time or another. The average homeowner’s insurance claim for water damage is nearly $7,000—and that doesn’t count claims due to outdoor flooding that isn’t covered by standard insurance.  Water is a destructive force whenever and however it’s turned loose inside a home. From the common to the catastrophic, here are four principle causes of home water damage.

  • Plumbing failures. Broken plumbing pipes wreak the most water damage in houses. The damage potential from plumbing defects exists in everything from supply lines leading to sinks or toilets to washing machine hoses, ice makers, water heaters, etc. Any leakage or seepage from pipes or appliances is a red flag that should not be ignored. Contact a qualified plumber immediately.  
  • Roof issues. Damage from roof leakage is often unseen and limited to the attic—at first. By the time it becomes obvious in living spaces below, substantial structural damage as well as other issues such as mold contamination have already taken their toll. Scheduled roof inspections by a professional and occasional trips to the attic to look for signs of leakage are the best preventive measure to avoid or limit water damage.
  • Ground water intrusion. If you live in an area with a naturally high water table, damage may occur as water rises up through the foundation or crawl space beneath the house. Installation of a sump pump in the basement or crawl space is the best recourse to remove ground water before significant damage occurs. In more difficult cases, underground drainage systems may need to be installed.
  • Weather-related disasters. Know your risk. Check FEMA flood risk maps to determine the potential for flooding in your area. Make sure you carry adequate federal flood insurance to receive compensation for flood water damage (standard insurance policies do not cover it).  If you live in hurricane country, take steps to reinforce the home against wind and a deluge of water.

Preparing Your Home for Fall – These Tips Will Prevent Possible Water Damage

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019
Water damage

While the potential for home water damage is not limited to any particular season, sources of possible damage do shift somewhat as the calendar advances. Fall is a transitional period, a good time to check for damage that might have occurred during severe summer storms as well as prepare for the coming winter season. Getting these things done now is preferable to waiting until the first cold snap strikes, when conditions may be far less favorable. Here are some items to check off while the weather cooperates:

  • Clean the gutters. Gutters clogged by falling autumn leaves will overflow during winter rains or melting snow on the roof. Overflowing gutters may allow water to penetrate exterior siding and leak into walls, triggering internal water damage and mold.  
  • Insulate exposed plumbing. Household water supply lines routed through unconditioned zones like the crawl space or attic should be insulated to prevent freezing and possible rupture during the coming winter. Also, seal any openings to the exterior of the house that may allow frigid outdoor air to contact plumbing.
  • Seasonal roof inspection. Summer sun and storms are particularly hard on roofing. Any roof defects should be identified and resolved now, while good weather lasts. If you don’t feel safe accessing the roof yourself, now’s a good idea to schedule a roof inspection by a qualified roofing contractor to check for any defects that may permit leakage into the attic. 
  • Cut back trees. Large overhanging limbs that may not withstand the weight of winter ice need to be trimmed back to prevent damage to the house. It’s a good idea to have at least a three-foot safety margin around the house where no breaking limbs can strike the roof or walls, allowing water to penetrate. Also, if any trees appear to be diseased or dead, now’s a good time to have them removed.
  • Review hurricane preparations. If you reside in an Atlantic or Gulf state that is at risk for hurricanes or tropical storms, fall is the season to get prepared. Evaluate your home for hurricane readiness and follow proven procedures to minimize damage. 

So There is Moisture in Your Walls…

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

Nothing good comes from the presence of moisture inside wall cavities — the number of damaging consequences that can happen to a home is extensive:

  • Toxic mold growth
  • Rotting wood structure
  • Stained swollen drywall
  • Peeling paint or wallpaper
  • Ruined insulation
  • Insect infestation
  • Continuous odors

Moisture inside a wall is typically a result of some fault or failure in the construction or maintenance of the house. It also will never get better on its own. Instead, things will get progressively worse. Here are reasons why and how wetness can seep into areas where it doesn’t belong.

  • Condensation. Gaps and cracks in exterior walls may allow cold outdoor air to seep into the warmer interior wall space. This cold air will naturally form condensation on surfaces inside the wall cavity, creating a perpetually moist environment trapped inside the wall. Careful review is required to locate and seal external cracks and gaps that allow outdoor air to infiltrate exterior walls.
  • Plumbing leaks. Water supply lines routed through wall cavities may have tiny pinholes due to deterioration and/or seepage at joints. These may leak continuously or intermittently, soaking insulation inside walls, saturating wood structure and drywall. Uninsulated copper cold water pipes may also “sweat” condensation in amounts sufficient to cause damage inside walls, particularly if structural cracks and gaps allow humid outdoor air to infiltrate the wall cavity.
  • Penetrating rainwater. Exterior siding resists showers and splashes, not water flowing continuously down the wall. Clogged gutters overflowing during rain frequently cascade water down exterior walls. Water penetrating siding may also infiltrate the wall void, triggering internal moisture damage.

Drying Out

If external signs aren’t obvious, eliminating suspected moisture inside walls requires determining its exact location. Moisture meters that utilize needle probes can identify presence of moisture inside wall cavities without drilling large holes. Once moisture is pinpointed, the wall can be opened for drying, treating mold contamination, repairing any plumbing leaks and removing saturated insulation, if present. Rotted wood can also be replaced.

Using qualified professional services to identify the cause and make the repairs will be safer and more cost-effective in the long run.

Your Apartment Flooded: Next Steps

Tuesday, May 7th, 2019

Flooding from any source in an apartment is a concern for both the tenant and the property owner. Even though you may be only renting, an apartment’s still your home and the place where your personal possessions are kept. To minimize water damage to your valuables as well as the building’s structure—and to ensure you receive any compensation you are entitled—here are some suggestions in the event of a flooded apartment.

  • Report any incident of water damage and/or flooding to the apartment management or property owner immediately.
  • If a ruptured pipe, toilet overflow or other ongoing event is flooding the apartment and you are unable to get immediate response from maintenance personnel or the property owner, call a plumber yourself and request emergency service to stop the water. Keep records, you will have good grounds to deduct the expense from your rent.
  • Make sure the premise is safe to enter. A flooded or wet indoor environment can pose electrocution hazards if power is still on. Ask management or the property owner to have an electrician verify that power is disconnected at the meter.
  • Take photos of each affected room as well as all damaged possessions as soon as you enter the premise. Don’t wait until after clean-up begins.
  • If you have renter’s insurance, contact your agent to determine whether coverage will apply. Generally, renter’s insurance doesn’t cover flooding from external natural events such as overflowing rivers or severe storms. However, if the indoor flood was caused by a ruptured plumbing pipe or other defect, you may be covered.
  • Toxic mold growth is an inevitable after-effect following flooding or other water damage. If you intend to continue to inhabit the property, ask the property owner to verify that professional mold remediation is included as part of the water damage recovery process.
  • Always report any conditions, no matter how minor, which might lead to flooding or water damage to the apartment management or property owner as soon as they are noted. This would include dripping plumbing pipes, roof leakage during rain, unexplained wet spots on ceiling or walls, sewage issues, etc.

Effective Ways to Prevent Flooding in Your Home’s Garage

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019

flooded homeA typical house sits atop a raised slab or foundation that positions it above the level of accumulating groundwater during inclement weather. The garage, however, is generally several inches lower and nearly even with ground level. In times of heavy rain or snowmelt, garages may experience flooding, from temporary puddles that are a nuisance to several inches of standing water.

Since many garages today are not just a vehicle parking place but also serve as storage space for belongings, valuable items may be at risk from water damage. Likewise, wooden garage structural components may deteriorate due to repeated water contact and toxic mold growth may also be an issue.

Here are some suggestions to keep the garage dry even when its wet outdoors:

  • Maintain the garage door. Make sure the rubber or vinyl weatherstripping along the bottom of the door is intact, pliable and forms an effective seal. If it’s worn or stiff with age, replace it. Also verify that that the garage closes properly and tightly seals against the floor surface. If a gap exists, have a garage door technician make adjustments or repairs as necessary.
  • Seal foundation cracks. Small cracks in the concrete garage foundation are common and may provide a route for water outside to seep into the garage. Sealing small cracks with commercial sealants or even just waterproofing paint may be sufficient to stop minor influx. If there are large cracks, talk to a contractor about more permanent remedies.
  • Install French drains. Also known as perimeter drains, these are basically perforated pipes buried in a narrow trench filled with gravel. The system collects groundwater and effectively conveys it away from the structure. Installing French drains reduces the amount of pooling on the ground adjacent to the garage and helps eliminate water intrusion.
  • Alter the landscape. If the contour of the ground in your yard directs pooling water toward the garage during rain, flooding may be a common event. Talk to a landscaper about re-grading portions to divert water toward another part of the yard and/or create berms or install retaining walls to block the flow.

The Four Degrees of Water Damage and How to Deal With Them

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

water damage cleanupWater damage incidents differ according to the origin of the water, the scope and spread of damage inside the house and the materials affected. In order to properly evaluate water damage as well as develop systematic procedures for fast, effective recovery, the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) along with the insurance industry have developed a standardized method to classify water damage. While there will naturally be variations in some cases, broadly speaking, most water damage events will fit into one of the following four classes:

Class One

These are the smallest events, limited to one room. Spillage is often simply a brief overflow of a sink, or a leaky pipe, and is pooled on a hard, non-absorbent floor. Water has not seeped beneath baseboards and entered wall voids or penetrated into adjoining rooms. Clean-up and drying are usually uncomplicated if the situation is noted and resolved promptly.

Class Two

This class includes water damage that has affected an entire room, contacting absorbent materials that may include wood flooring, saturated drywall, and wooden structural components inside walls. In cases of a flooded basement, this class includes water that does not exceed a depth of 24 inches. Rapid response is required, including professional mold remediation to prevent contamination that is usually triggered within 24 to 48 hours.

Class Three

In this scenario, water damage has affected multiple rooms, Typically, inundation originates from a source such as a ruptured plumbing supply line that has released a large volume of water. Associated events often include collapsed ceilings, damaged electrical components or other structure. Entering and/or working inside a house with Class Three water damage may be hazardous and should only be handled by qualified professionals.

Class Four

In these most severe cases, a house might be declared a total loss. Class Four events include deep inundation of the structure due to weather-related flooding that likely includes toxins such as raw sewage and chemicals. Most of the house has generally been submerged to some extent, often for an extended period of time, and structural integrity has been severely and perhaps permanently compromised.