TEC Blog

What to Do When Faced With Water Damage: Before, During and After

Flooding is one of the most severe forms of damage that can befall your property. The results of water damage, if not mitigated, are lingering and can creep up on you with devastating consequences to your home or business. Water damage must be taken very seriously and acted upon as soon as possible to minimize costly repairs.

Flooding Consequences

The obvious effects of flooding are immediate and easy to spot, such as soaked carpeting and upholstery, damaged electronics and displaced possessions. The hidden aftereffects can be overlooked and are nothing short of disastrous. They include:

Structural Damage: Structural damage to the supporting members of your walls and floors can occur, which requires significant construction to fix.

Toxic Mold: Toxic mold can grow inside of enclosed spaces where moisture cannot escape, such as within your walls. This creates a health risk and may become costly if not immediately addressed.

Electrical Issues: The electrical circuits inside your walls can become compromised and put you at risk for short circuits, which could cause fires.

Soft Drywall: The drywall around your rooms can become soggy, damaging the aesthetics of your property, as well as affecting its security and durability.

Aside from being very costly to eliminate, structural damage and mold are two long-term effects that produce severe health and safety hazards to you, your family, your employees or your customers.

It is essential to both prepare for flooding by taking the appropriate preventative measures and with a swift restorative response after water damage has occurred. If you overlook these critical actions, you could be putting people's health and safety at risk.

The Three Tiers of Water Damage

Floodwater can originate from a variety of sources, which are broken up into three general categories:

Category 1 Water: This is relatively clean water that usually comes from a broken supply pipe. It does not inherently pose a significant health risk. Category 1 Water can still cause damage to your property through the methods mentioned above, but it will not make people sick upon contact.

Category 2 Water: This water is known as gray water and is not something people should be exposed to. Category 2 Water contains moderate concentrations of chemical, biological or other contaminants, which can adversely affect people's health. This water may come from toilet bowls, dishwashers, washing machines or pipes.

Category 3 Water: This water contains toxins or harmful organisms in significant concentration and should be avoided at all costs. Exposure to Category 3 Water can cause severe illness. Examples of Category 3 Water include raw sewage, standing floodwaters and ocean water.

Water damage can also occur when your roof develops a leak. This rainwater will not be as damaging as water that contains harmful chemicals, but it can still cause significant amounts of water damage to carpet, hardwood flooring or anything else that happens to be underneath the leak. If you notice this type of damage in your home, don’t wait — call a professional right away to repair the leak.

How to Prevent Water Damage Before It Occurs

If you want to avoid costly repairs, you need to take advantage of some useful tips for preventing water damage. Here are 13 tips ways you can avoid flood damage in the first place.

1. Get a Generator

Buy a new generator or schedule a maintenance check for your existing generator if you haven't already done so. During catastrophic flooding emergencies such as hurricanes, the power grid may be knocked off-line for several days or even weeks. It's also possible for water to short out your home's entire electrical system. Having your own generator will allow you to keep your lights on and appliances running while the normal power feed is unavailable.

When buying a new generator, always consult with a professional. You need to take several hazards into account for the safety of you, your family or your patrons.

In a flooding situation, there will be standing water, so it's always a good idea to use ground fault circuit interrupters to protect against short circuits and possible electrocution. Never route extension cords through standing water.

Also remember that generators exhaust carbon monoxide, which is deadly to humans. You never want to place a running generator inside an enclosed space without proper ventilation, as it can be detrimental to your health.

2. Be Prepared to Innovate

Be sure to have spare tarps, plywood, nails, hammers, shovels and sandbags on hand. Even if you don't feel like a handy person, you'd be surprised what you're capable of when the situation calls for it. Just remember, water runs downhill and can't penetrate most solid objects.

It's useful to have these items on hand so you can divert floodwaters away from areas you wish to keep dry. You can also use plywood to board up your windows and prevent pressure swings from breaking the glass.

3. Have an Escape Plan

When catastrophic flooding emergencies strike, things often get very chaotic, and people can become confused or panicked. It's good to have escape routes already planned out before the situation escalates. Everyone in your home or business should know the best routes of egress from every possible location on your property.

Emergency Escape Plan

It is good practice to specify a single gathering point on high ground in a safe area. Here, everyone can meet, and you can take a head count. This ensures you know everyone is safe and that no one is still in harm's way. If someone does not arrive at the muster point, you can alert authorities of a missing person more quickly.

4. Store Essential Items in High Places

Move critical equipment to elevated places and be wary of storing valuable items in the basement — they’re the first rooms to flood. Generators, for example, should not be in the basement. There have been historical instances of hospitals staging their backup generators in the cellar and losing them to water damage during a hurricane, which meant critical care patients had to be airlifted from the roof.

Don’t leave valuable items susceptible to water damage in vulnerable areas. Seal important documentation, especially personal identification and insurance documents, in waterproof casings and store them up high. You might also want to consider elevating your desktop computer tower off the floor.

5. Keep Emergency Supplies Stocked

When major disasters strike, you might have to stretch resources dangerously thin, and help can become difficult to find. Store plenty of non-perishable food and clean, sealed drinking water stored in a safe location on your property. You should also have a complete first aid kit stocked with non-expired essential items. Store your first aid kit in an easily accessible water-safe location.

6. Maintain Plumbing Properly

Your toilets all connect to the city sewer, your cesspool or your septic tank. A back-flow from these pipes can be harmful to your property, which can be accessed and cleaned only by highly trained hazmat personnel.

This outcome is highly undesirable for any property owner. Remember, raw sewage is classified as Category 3 Water and poses a serious health risk to anyone who comes in contact with it — it’s a severe biohazard.

Have a plumber inspect your toilet outflows to make sure they’re all equipped with working back-flow preventing devices — not just elbows — known as check valves. It's also smart to install an accessible manual valve you can shut off in the event of an over-pressurized sewer pipe.

7. Inspect Sump Pumps Annually

You should inspect all sump pumps and drains at least once a year. Make sure all gutters and downspouts are clear, especially in the fall. Sump pumps require yearly inspections and possibly an oil change to ensure they aren’t going to fail when you need them most.

A straightforward way to test sump pump operation is to fill the sump with water until the float switch engages. If the sump pump engages and pumps out the water, you know you have a working system. A more detailed mechanical inspection is desirable, but not always practical. If you don't feel comfortable performing this type of preventative maintenance, hire a professional to inspect the pump for you.

8. Ensure Proper Grading

Proper grading, which prevents floods from occurring on your property, is not something you should have to concern yourself with — the engineer who built your property should have made sure of this. However, if the ground around your building is not sloped correctly, it could cause you a lot of trouble in terms of water damage.

You always want to make sure the ground is sloped away from the exterior walls of your house or building. A good rule of thumb is that it should be sloped down six inches for every 10-foot lateral span. An easy way to test for proper grading is to spray a garden hose and see which way the water drifts.

9. Dispose of Grease Properly

Everyone says this, but few people listen. You should never pour grease or oil down the drain. Pouring that frying pan full of bacon grease down the kitchen sink one morning might seem harmless, but habitual disposal of oil-based liquids down the drain will lead to clogged pipes and can cause water to back up. This is easy to avoid. Put used grease into a container and let it congeal in the refrigerator. Then, dispose of it in the trash.

10. Clean Your Gutters Regularly

If you live in a temperate climate with a beautiful autumn, you know what it's like to clean gutters — or at least have someone in mind to hire for the job. Leaves, pine needles and birds’ nests are all common objects that will impede the flow of rainwater from your roof into the downspouts. The resulting consequence will be water leaching into your walls as it drips down the side of your house or building.

If you begin cleaning your gutters only to realize that they’re damaged and need to be replaced, don’t hesitate — it’s not the kind of problem you want to let go. Instead, commit to fixing it before it causes trouble for you. If you’re in need of a gutter replacement, contact the Exterior Company right away.

Fix and replace damaged gutters

11. Keep an Eye Out for Roof Leaks

While roof leaks might not exactly qualify as a source of flood water, they’re still very capable of causing some serious water damage. If the leak is in a part of the house you don’t use very often, you might not even notice it before a hefty amount of water damage has occurred. When you notice your roof is leaking, don’t wait. Make the necessary repairs immediately before the damage gets any worse.

12. Watch Your Water Bill

If you pay for metered water city-water, you should always keep an eye on your water bill for anomalies. Higher-than-usual consumption could mean you have a water leak somewhere. A leaking pipe could be slowly oozing into a void space in your wall, gradually building up pressure, or it could be soaking into your drywall. Even worse, it could be saturating your wooden beams or joists.

13. Plant Trees Carefully

Be careful of where you plant trees and what types of trees you plant. Some tree species have very aggressive roots, like weeping willow trees. In fact, tree roots are one of the most common causes of pipe failure on residential properties. As the roots grow, they can wrap around underground piping and slowly crush the pipe until it fails.

What to Do When Flooding Is Inevitable

Sometimes Mother Nature is so determined to take her course she doesn't care if your house is in the way. Other times, mechanical failures cause water to gush into your property, and there is nothing you can do about it.

Once flooding is inevitable, there are some flood control methods you should exercise. Take the following steps:

• Try to isolate the flow of water by closing the appropriate valve. If you can’t stop water flow, contact a plumber immediately.

• If you can, keep the indoor temperature below 70 degrees. This helps to prevent microbial growth.

• Put foil or plastic below the legs of your furniture to stop rust or furniture stains from forming on your flooring.

• Shut off the electricity to any affected rooms. If water compromises the breaker panels themselves, do not attempt to operate them.

• Place draperies on coat hangers and hang them on the rod to avoid water circles.

• Be careful on wet, slippery floors.

• Take items off the floor in affected closets.

• Remove any wet rugs.

• Don’t use a household vacuum, as this may cause an electrical shock.

• Try not to walk on wet carpeting, as this may spread water throughout the house.

If you are experiencing a sewage back-flow, the situation takes on an elevated level of severity. Remember, raw sewage is Category 3 Water, which poses a serious danger to human health. If possible, take the following steps:

• Avoid the affected area until decontamination is complete.

• Put on rubber gloves if you absolutely need to touch contaminated materials.

• Leave the area until the cleanup and decontamination process is finished.

Recovering From Flood Damage

If flood damage has befallen your property, act quickly to ensure its more insidious aftereffects do not begin to take hold. Mold can start to grow as soon as 48 to 72 hours after the flood damage has occurred. If standing water remains inside an enclosed space, it may seep into your walls or wooden structural members, causing drywall rot and structural damage to your home.

While you’re recovering from flood damage, take the following steps:

Notify Your Insurance Company: The first thing you should do is take pictures of the damage and call your insurance company. You’ll want to be in contact with your insurance adjuster before making any significant changes to your property. The last thing you want to do is violate some unknown term of your insurance plan, then get stuck with the bill. Traveler's Insurance offers a helpful checklist of things to do before, during and after a flood.

Notify your insurance company of water damage

Remove the Standing Water: If the amount of water is small, you can use a standard industrial wet/dry shop vacuum cleaner to accomplish this task. However, if the volume of water is more significant, you’ll need to buy a portable sump pump from a local hardware store. These are relatively inexpensive — anywhere from $100 to $600 — and will be suitable for most de-watering jobs.

Avoid Electrical Appliances: Do not operate an electric vacuum cleaner or pump from a wall outlet if there is standing water in your house. If you are powering your equipment with an external generator, make sure to route all extension cords across dry surfaces and use ground fault circuit interrupters to protect yourself from short circuits.

Wear Protective Equipment: It is essential to keep in mind that standing water is usually quite toxic, especially when it's part of a more extensive floodwater system. Biological growth makes floodwaters very hazardous to human health. Toxins, diseases and even flesh-eating bacteria can be found in such waters. Always wear adequate personal protective equipment, such as rubber boots, gloves and even a mask or respirator. Keep children and pets away from standing floodwater. Even if the water is clear and has not come from a larger body of floodwater, you should still assume it’s not safe for contact and wear personal protective equipment anyway.

Dehumidify the Air: Ventilation is crucial immediately following a flooding incident. You want to dehumidify the air inside of your property as much as possible. The best way to do this is with good circulation. If you can, buy fans made for this purpose. It's better to blow the air out of your doorways and windows than through your ductwork because too much moisture flowing through your ventilation ducts can initiate the onset of mold growth. If mold has begun to grow in your ducts, stop ventilating through them. This will cause the spores to spread into other areas of your house.

Eliminate Anything Wet: As discussed by HouseLogic, you will need to remove all wet contents immediately to prevent the growth of mold. This includes carpeting, betting, upholstered furniture and anything else that has absorbed water. If an item has been wet for less than 48 hours, a professional cleaner may be able to salvage it. However, this is not cheap, so it's wise to consider whether it's worth it to have these items cleaned and dried. Large pieces of furniture, such as couches, are difficult to dry and should probably just be thrown away.

What to Do If Mold Contamination Has Begun

It is possible to prevent the growth of mold on surfaces by using a non-ammonia-based surface cleaner or pine oil with 10% bleach — do not mix bleach and ammonia, as this produces a toxic and deadly gas.

However, if mold has already contaminated your home or business establishment, take the following steps:

• Block off the area until a qualified professional can inspect it.

• Call a restoration company as soon as possible to evaluate the suspected growth.

• Do not disturb the mold growth — this may release spores into to them and spread them throughout the house.

• Do not use fans or other equipment to direct air toward the growth, as it may cause it to become airborne, as well.

• Do not try to clean up mold without proper training, as this can worsen the contamination worse and negatively impact your health.

• Once you’ve determined the degree of contamination, your mitigation specialists will develop a plan to remove the mold and decontaminate the area safely.

Getting Professional Help

If your home or business has suffered water damage, you shouldn't leave the long-term outcome up to fate. The Exterior Company has years of experience in helping you restore your home’s exterior, and we have all the tools and expertise necessary to ensure your property is restored completely and cost-effectively. We are also your go-to source for gutter replacement and installation in the area.

Contact The Exterior Company for professional help

If you have any questions about water damage recovery or are interested in roofing and other exterior improvement services, don't hesitate to contact The Exterior Company for more information.

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