Do I have to Replace Drywall After Water Damage?

water damage

Water damage is a common reason for drywall replacement in homes. While low cost and versatility make it a very practical interior construction material, resistance to water exposure is not one of drywall’s strong points.

Under certain limited circumstances, drywall can be retained after water damage. In many cases, however, replacement is indicated. The good news is, drywall is not a load-bearing material and can be quickly removed and replaced by qualified professionals without any consequence to the structure of the house. Here are some examples of different possible scenarios:

Minor incidents. Small amounts of water exposure for a brief time—such as splashes from an overflowing appliance or some other temporary incident—are often superficial and are not absorbed into the drywall if dealt with promptly. Wipe the wet portion immediately with absorbent towels, then point a fan at the affected area and run it for an extended period to ensure thorough dryness.

Heavy soaking. If water exposure is substantial due to flooding or other severe incidents that continue for an extended time, the gypsum in drywall inevitably becomes saturated. Typically, the material will deform—sagging, bulging or collapsing. Even if intensive drying techniques are applied, drywall usually does not return to its original shape: After drying, the gypsum core loses its solidity and crumbles easily. In these cases, drywall removal and replacement is a necessary part of professional water damage remediation.

Mold contamination. Drywall affected by water exposure may initially appear intact. However, a delayed consequence may still make replacement necessary. Moisture exposure from any source—acute or chronic—may trigger mold growth on drywall. This typically appears as dark spotting or blotches on the exterior of the wall. Surface decontamination of moldy drywall with effective biocides may eliminate mold growth while it is still superficial. However, once mold has penetrated below the surface into the porous gypsum material, replacement of part or all of the affected panel is usually the most practical recourse.

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