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How Safe Is the Water in Your Water Damaged Home

Thursday, January 28th, 2021
water damaged home

Home water damage presents a threat to more than just the house structure and contents. In many cases, home water damage can also be a health hazard to occupants of the house. Water from indoor sources, or water entering from the outdoors, can rapidly become a potential contributor to physical reactions ranging from simple irritation to severe illness.  

Here’s a summary of hazards presented by water damage in the home.

Water from broken or leaking plumbing lines.

Water originating directly from a ruptured or disconnected household water supply line—known as Category 1—is initially sanitary and presents the least hazard if clean-up and drying occur promptly. This includes water lines leading to fixtures like faucets, sinks, dishwashers, washing machines, etc.

Water present for an extended time period.

If Category 1 water is present for 48 hours, active mold contamination becomes likely. Toxic airborne mold spores may cause physical symptoms and illness if inhaled. The extended time period also spawns the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms. As time elapses, toxins present in building materials like glues and solvents may become dissolved into the water, as well.

Water from unclean indoor sources.

Examples of mildly polluted sources of home water damage include soapy water from overflowing washing machines or dishwashers, toilet overflows, rain entering living spaces through roof leaks, or water inundation due to a malfunctioning sump pump. This Category 2 water could cause irritation and possible illness. Occupants should avoid direct contact with this water and also avoid affected areas of the house. Professional water damage recovery personnel will wear some personal protective equipment (PPE) around this water.

External toxic water sources.

Two sources of home water damage are always considered Category 3 toxic water, also known as “Black Water:”

  • Raw sewage backup into the house
  • Outdoor flooding entering the house

These sources containing both bacterial and chemical toxins are extremely hazardous and must be handled only by qualified water damage professionals equipped for the job. Occupants may need to be temporarily evacuated to avoid potentially serious illness from exposure to Category 3 home water damage.

Dealing With Water Damage in Winter

Tuesday, January 26th, 2021
water damage in winter

While summer may bring damaging rain, winter’s the season of home water damage related to frigid weather. During one recent winter, 49 of the 50 states experienced freezing temperatures at some point. Home water damage in winter routinely totals over $1 billion nationwide.

Here are two areas where home water damage frequently occurs in winter, as well as strategies to deal with it. 

The Pipes

Sustained temperatures below 25 degrees can initiate ice formation inside pipes that may eventually rupture the pipe. This may release hundreds or thousands of gallons of water into a house. To prevent home water damage due to frozen pipes:

  • Insulate all pipes located outside the heated enclosure of the home, for example, pipes routed through the crawl space and/or attic. Seal the openings in exterior walls that allow frigid outdoor air to infiltrate the structure and contact pipes.
  • If you’re leaving town during possible freezing weather, consider turning off the water supply to the house at the main valve.
  • If you have reason to believe a pipe has frozen, turn off the water at the main valve and call a plumber immediately.

The Roof

Ice and snow can trigger home water damage in two ways:

  • Ice dams forming along the lower edge of the roof prevent melting snow from draining into gutters. Standing water on the roof rapidly penetrates shingles and leaks into the attic. Ice dams are related to heat accumulation in the upper portion of the attic, melting snow at the roof peak more rapidly while the lower roof remains frozen. Prevent ice dams by eliminating heat infiltration into the attic. Verify that attic insulation is intact and meets current specs. Seal the cracks and gaps in ceilings to prevent heat transfer into the attic.
  • Snow accumulation on a roof can be heavy enough to damage the roof structure and trigger leakage. About 10 inches of snow exerts five pounds per square foot on roofing materials. If accumulated snow becomes deep enough, roof leakage due to excess weight may seep into the house and cause indoor water damage.

Water Damage: Dealing With Unpleasant Odors

Tuesday, January 19th, 2021
water damage unpleasant odors

Unpleasant odors are a frequent side effect in homes and other buildings affected by water damage. Contained within enclosed premises, the cumulative effect of chronic odors on occupants is often greatly intensified. Bad odors can also indicate an actual health threat present in the indoor environment, as well, from toxic contaminants such as mold. Here are two basic premises that can help you deal with unpleasant odors that result from water damage: 

  • Moisture is an activating factor. Water damage inside a structure commonly triggers chemical and bacterial reactions that result in the release of smells you’d rather not be living with. An odor-free house, conversely, is one of the many criteria utilized by water damage professionals to confirm that the home has been properly treated and fully dried. If you’ve attempted to dry out the house yourself without professional assistance, the continuing presence of unpleasant odors like mildew or chemical vapors should be a red flag that moisture still exists somewhere inside the structure.  
  • Mold is a major contributor. Without proper water damage remediation, residual moisture inside a home with a history of water damage usually triggers mold growth. Active mold, in turn, releases microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC) that produce pungent, earthy odors, often compared to the smell of dirty socks or decaying wood. Mold odor generally penetrates the entire house. Professional mold remediation includes air sampling and testing to determine the type of mold, the extent of contamination, and location. Complete removal of all mold accompanied by sterilization of areas where growth occurred is required to eliminate mold odors.

DIY attempts to eliminate odors associated with indoor water damage—commercial air fresheners, potpourri, etc.—are only cover-ups and ultimately ineffective. Identifying and eliminating all moisture sources is necessary to permanently eliminate odors from enclosed structures. In addition, professional testing for the presence of mold—along with proven remediation techniques if mold growth is confirmed—is essential to achieve an odor-free indoor environment.

What Causes Water Heater Failure?

Thursday, December 31st, 2020
water heater failure

A water heater failure is a frequent cause of home water damage. At least 75% of water heaters will fail before 12 years of operation. The average cost of damage caused by a ruptured water heater tank exceeds $3,000. For these reasons, most plumbing experts advise preemptive replacement of water heaters when a unit reaches eight to 10 years old.  In addition to the age of the unit, other predictors of potential water heater failure include:

  • Water gets warm but never hot enough
  • Unit makes a rumbling sound when heating
  • Hot water appears rusty or mud-colored
  • Minor leakage beneath the unit

Some causes of water heater failure may be preventable, others are issues you can only stay aware of and be prepared to replace the unit before tank failure and subsequent water damage occurs. Here are some issues that affect the incidence of water heater failure:

  • Internal rust and corrosion. Water heater tanks are subject to internal corrosion that may accelerate eventual water heater failure. Most heaters incorporate sacrificial anode rods to reduce corrosive effects inside the tank. However, anode rods may dissolve before the typical lifespan of the unit has expired and thus need to be replaced. A qualified plumber can check these internal tank rods and replace them if necessary.
  • Sediment accumulation. Dissolved minerals naturally present in hard water commonly accumulate in a layer at the bottom of water heater tanks. This causes the water heater burner to run excessively long cycles to maintain water temperatures, overheating the tank itself and eventually triggering water heater failure and subsequent water damage. Water heaters should be flushed out at least once a year to remove mineral deposits.
  • High water pressure. Residential water pressure should ideally remain in the range of 40 to 60 p.s.i. and never exceed 65 p.s.i. Higher pressure stresses water heater tanks and may make premature water heater failure more likely. A plumber can check household pressure and, if necessary, make necessary adjustments at the pressure reducing valve on the incoming supply line to prevent damage to the water heater, pipes, and other fixtures.

How to Make Flood Cleanup Less Overwhelming

Tuesday, December 29th, 2020
flood cleanup

Flood cleanup after home water damage can be a daunting proposition. What to do first? What next? Minute by minute, water damage keeps getting worse if effective flood cleanup is delayed. Yet, pressure and uncertainty make decisive action difficult. An effective antidote to feeling overwhelmed by a crisis is to set priorities, make a list, and follow it. If water damage strikes, here are some suggestions to make flood cleanup less stressful and more efficient.

1. Shut off the source. If it’s a ruptured pipe or overflowing appliance, turn off the water to the house at the main shutoff valve. Call a plumber for emergency service if you can’t turn off the water. It’s a good idea to rehearse the process to shut off the water in advance.

2. Keep children and pets away from water.

3. Turn off electricity to affected areas. If standing water is present in certain areas, stay out of those rooms until electricity is shut off at the main circuit breaker panel. If the circuit breaker panel is in a wet area, call an electrician to do the job instead.   

4. Save the most valuable items first. If you can do so safely, access the most irreplaceable items, including jewelry, family heirlooms, photographs, important documents, cash, etc., and move to a dry area of the house, ASAP.

5. Get standing water out.  Mop up smaller pools. For larger, deeper water accumulation, use brooms, a floor squeegee, or other objects to push water out of the house through exterior doors. 

6. If weather permits, open windows and allow fresh air to continuously circulate during flood cleanup.

5 Signs of Water Leaks Inside Walls

Tuesday, November 24th, 2020
water leaks inside walls

The problem with hidden water leaks inside walls is the “hidden” aspect. Household water supply lines routed through walls are usually 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch pipes under a typical residential water pressure of 40 to 60 pounds per square inch. A total rupture of a supply line inside a wall becomes conspicuous very rapidly and typically warrants emergency service by a qualified professional plumber.

On the other hand, slow seepage and drips due to leaky pipe joints, internal pipe corrosion, and other small sources may continue unnoticed and unabated for some time. Eventually, however, these initially minor leaks may progress to a major rupture that can’t be ignored.

Unseen water leaks inside walls don’t mean that significant damage isn’t already ongoing. Potential consequences of ongoing water leaks include:

  • Rotted internal wooden structure
  • Deteriorated drywall
  • Ruined insulation inside the wall
  • Damage to electrical wiring and other components
  • Toxic mold growth that spreads contamination to other parts of the home

Here are five initially subtle signs that may indicate water leaks inside walls:

  • Musty odors. Wet wood, drywall, and insulation inside the wall cavity rapidly become a starting point for toxic mold. One of the characteristic signs of mold contamination inside walls is a pungent musty odor that pervades the immediate area and doesn’t go away.   
  • Visible mold on walls. Drywall is absorbent. Moisture absorbed from hidden leaks inside the wall may permeate the material and trigger visible mold growth on the exterior surface of the wall. Mold may appear as a mottled discoloration on the wall.
  • Unexplained stains. Water permeating drywall from the inside may also create noticeable stains or darkening of the wall surface.   
  • Peeling paint or wallpaper. Chronic moisture present inside the wall deteriorates paint and dissolves wallpaper adhesive on the outside of the wall. Peeling paint or wallpaper that no longer adheres in a certain spot can be a giveaway of water leaks inside the wall.
  • Wall deformation. As saturation from hidden water leaks spreads throughout drywall material, the wall may appear to sag or bend. At that point, the drywall may be structurally unsound and in danger of collapsing.

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.

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.

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.