Water Damage Restoration Basics

Water can be both a blessing and a curse.  It is a blessing when we are thirsty and are looking for a big glass of cold water to quench our thirst or a long hot shower after a terrible day.  The curse begins when water intrudes into our home, and what should be dry becomes wet.  The nature of water intrusion and the damage that follows is progressive.  What is damp today is likely to cause swelling or distortion to building materials.  If it remains wet tomorrow, the excess moisture could bring odor and microbial growth.  If the elevated humidity remains, mold problems will likely take root.

Whether it comes from internal plumbing, the sky or the ground, preventing water damage to your home is close to impossible.  Most building materials can be restored after getting wet, even when they are saturated.  Humidity and time are critical factors in water damage restoration, as they will determine the extent of the damage.  The good news is with professional water damage restoration, we can control those factors.

Three Phases of Water Damage Restoration
  • Emergency Mitigation – This first phase includes the initial water extraction and ambient air drying.  Our technicians will remove as much physical water as possible, identify areas of concern, and set up specialized drying equipment.  Phase one typically takes one to two days to bring the humidity of the ambient air to acceptable levels, though in some circumstances may take longer.
  • Structural Drying – This phase includes drying of ceilings and wall cavities, as well as drying of hard to dry building materials such as plaster, hardwood flooring, etc.  This can take an additional one to two days or longer in the case of hard to dry building materials or unique situations.
  • Finishing Services – This may involve deodorizing, carpet cleaning, resetting furnishings, rug cleaning, or air duct cleaning.  This can also at times incorporate bringing in sub-contractors to assist with re-stretching carpet or re-installation of building materials such as baseboard or drywall.

Whether you are insured or are paying out of pocket, your goal should be 100% restoration of your property.  Short of that, you risk a more significant environmental problem.  You should have a professional water restoration company evaluate your problem, then offer solutions to correct the situation.  Have them explain in detail what they see as damage and their plan to fix it.  Ask for an estimate of the costs associated with the restoration of your property.

If your insurance company selects a preferred vendor, realize that you may be left out of the decision-making process.  Coordination of the project quickly changes to your insurance company’s representative and their vendor contractor, leaving you out of the loop.

Considerations for DIY

As property owners we always ask ourselves; “can I do it myself and save money”?  Many times, the answer is yes, even if the results are less than 100%.

There are many projects that we look at that the average homeowner can do themselves and others that challenge us.  Take an objective look at your situation and evaluate your options, while being fair to yourself and knowing your limits.

I can do it myself:

  1. I can rent equipment and save money.
  2. I understand the basic concepts of drying.
  3. Extract water, place fans for air movement, use dehumidifiers to keep the air dry.
  4. I have been successful with much more significant projects.
  5. I have a high insurance deductible.

Call a professional:

  1. Can I do a thorough job of extracting water?
  2. Can I rent professional equipment?
  3. How will I know if my walls, subfloor, or structure cavities are wet?
  4. How do I monitor the drying process?
  5. If hardwood flooring is wet.
  6. If ceilings or multi-levels of the structure are involved.
Avoiding Secondary Damage

Inaction or slow drying of a water intrusion event can result in damage to materials that were not initially wet.  This is known as secondary damage.  Secondary damage can be a wood floor that has buckled, it can mean mold spores have taken root and have started to colonize, or a variety of other issues.  Most building materials and personal property are not replaced because they got wet, they are replaced because they remained wet far too long.  Prolonged high humidity will change and complicate your indoor air quality and will cause damage to peripheral surfaces that were not initially wet or damaged.

Avoiding a mold issue begins with an understanding that mold spores are already in your home or workspace.  These seed-like spores blow in and out of your structure daily, as they are part of a normal indoor environment.  As water or moist air invades our living spaces, the excess moisture becomes a trigger for the mold spores to germinate.  Moisture that is trapped will eventually dry, but the longer the area is wet, the greater chance you have of mold developing.  Quick and thorough drying is imperative to maintaining healthy indoor air quality.

Damage from water intrusion is progressive, and time is not on your side.  Most building materials can be wet for a short time and then dried without any lasting problem.  Water damage will develop an odor as the environment remains wet, as bacteria will quickly multiply in standing water.  It is also recommended not to keep wet boxes, as they may lead to odor and mold growth.

When it comes to hardwood flooring, we know that normal conditions will allow hardwood flooring to absorb and release ambient moisture throughout the year, but water intrusion is a different situation.  Hardwood flooring absorbs moisture quickly and releases it at a very slow rate, making this material hard to dry.  If it is not dried properly the excess moisture can change the wood’s shape.  Wood does have a natural resistance to mold growth, but if left in a damp environment long enough hardwood flooring and subflooring materials can evolve into a mold problem.

Our teams use a combination of high-velocity air movers and dehumidification, as well as air scrubbers and other specialized equipment to quickly and thoroughly dry all affected areas.

Professional Water Restoration

From a client’s standpoint, what should professional restoration look like?  A good start is a professionally answered phone and a reasonable time frame for a return call if a message is left.  A professional restoration business will have company lettered vehicles and provide well-trained, uniformed employees when responding.

Unless widespread local flooding is present, you should expect a crew on-site within 1-2 hours of your call.  This response is expected whether it is after-hours, weekends, or holidays.  True water damage professionals provide a 24-hour emergency response, 365 days a year.

Client expectations for professional water restoration

  1. An accurate initial inspection of all affected areas is critical when developing a drying plan. The water damage technician will need to have a full understanding of how the moisture got from point A to point B, and make sure that all those moisture paths are identified for drying.
  2. Upon request, a client should be presented with a ballpark estimate of price and explanation of the restoration plan or goals.
  3. Thorough extraction of all affected areas using specialized tools designed for water damage mitigation is critical, and drying equipment designed and manufactured for the water restoration industry should be used or placed on job sites.
  4. Daily monitoring of the drying process is a part of the water restoration industry standard. Technicians should provide daily inspections and monitoring.  This service should be performed with tools designed to identify moisture, giving property owners some assurance that the restorative drying plan is working or is completed.
  5. Air scrubbers or Air Filtration Devices (AFD) should be incorporated into every drying plan as a means of protecting occupants within the structure from airborne microscopic contaminants.
  6. Client advocacy: The professional restorer must promote and protect the property owner’s interest, and actively advocate for and recommend professional restoration industry standards.
  7. Communication: A client should be advised by the restorer if any third-party initiates or suggests minimizing the scope of the damage, cutting corners on repairs, or compromising the quality of the job.

Possible red flags:

“Let’s let it dry on its own and see how it does” … mold can germinate in as little as 24 to 48 hours

“I’m trying to keep costs down” …. Unless you, as the property owner are the one dictating frugality, cutting corners to keep the cost down should be secondary to solving the problem

“You can trust me I’m certified” … There are many options for certification, passing a test may earn a certificate, which alone does not make anyone a professional.

“We don’t have to use meters to monitor drying” … Water restoration professionals will have “tools” to monitor drying.  Do not let anyone guess when or if the drying is complete.

“Air scrubbers are not needed on a water restoration project” … Every structure will have pre-existing dust, allergens, mold, etc.  The drying equipment will stir the air and may temporarily complicate indoor air quality.

“We only do what your insurance company tells us to do” … A true professional will recommend solutions based on training and experience, independent of the insurance company.

Other Considerations

Sewage Backflow

Sewage water back-flowing from a drain line should be considered as highly contaminated and has the likelihood of having disease-carrying microorganisms.  Even with a lack of distinct color, visible debris, or noticeable odor, this biohazard contamination may still be present as it cannot be seen without significant magnification.

Our typical protocol for sewage backflow consists of removing the contaminated physical water, initial decontamination by applying a disinfectant/deodorizer to all the affected areas, removal of wet carpet and pad, demolition of saturated building materials, and controlled pressure-washing of all contaminated wall cavities.  Next, we will apply the second round of decontamination to flooring and wall cavities, and then install specialized equipment to begin the drying process.  Once the structural drying has been completed, to ensure the wholesomeness is restored to your living space, a thorough and complete final cleaning and disinfection is recommended.

Pre-Existing Mold Contamination

Many times, we run into situations where our clients have had a repeated or unknown water intrusion event.  If this is the case, there may be pre-existing mold contamination.  Pre-existing or established growth may start to flourish with an influx of new moisture.  In the event pre-existing mold contamination is discovered, we will inform our clients of the situation as soon as we become aware of it.  Once the mold contamination has been identified, we will attempt to avoid cross-contamination of unaffected areas.  Our emphasis at this point will be to thoroughly dry the building structure, reducing the overall humidity quickly to discourage further mold growth.

Drying environmentally contaminated structures can be a slower process while controlling the contaminated air and may require your written approval or waiver to continue.  If your structure has been identified as having a potential mold problem and you would like to consult with one of our Certified Mold Remediation Specialists about remediation, please advise the water restoration technician.

Insurance Claim Pitfalls

Some insurance companies have established a “preferred vendor” network to do all their repair work as a way of reducing their overall costs.  As an independent contractor, our approach is different.  You are our client, and we work for you as your advocate.  You will know and be a part of every decision, and if needed, we will help guide you throughout the entire restoration process.

Many times, in a rush to get you to sign up for a vendor program, you may not feel like you have options.  Although it may not be expressed to you, you have a right to choose who does the work on your property.

Another practice to be on the lookout for is third party adjusting.  Over the last several years, insurance companies have been referring their claims handling to outside companies for claim adjusting.  These Third-party claims companies help them reduced their claims cost by cutting office space, salaried employees, etc.  Third-party adjusting gives your insurance company a certain amount of deniability when there is a dispute handling a claim.  Realize when you have a dispute with the Third-party claims company, they are just enforcing the rules provided by your insurance company, and your insurance company can override the Third-party company.

Final Observation

The best way to avoid long-term damage and environmental problems is to quickly and efficiently identify the entire scope of water damage.  Decide quickly if your project is doable for you or if you need to call a professional.

You may not be able to prevent water intrusions into your home or business, so when it happens, you need to be the catalyst to ensure the drying is efficient and complete.

  • Water damage is progressive, the problems and repair dollars increase with each passing day of inaction. Water damage transforms into mold damage quickly, and time will transform freshwater intrusions into contaminated water situations as bacteria levels multiply.
  • Water damage and sewage back-flows are different problems and should be handled accordingly.
  • Thorough extraction is critical to an efficient drying process.
  • Even a small amount of water damage can cause irreversible damage to the entire finished area of your living space. Porous materials will absorb excess room moisture and can cause a secondary damage problem on surfaces not initially wet.
  • Be wary of electrical hazards in deep water situations, do not walk into deep water areas.
  • Seek professional restoration help when the scope of the damage is beyond your capabilities.
  • Be your own advocate to ensure that the restoration work was performed correctly on your property.
  • When hiring a professional, you should be the client, not just the job. If you hire a professional, ask questions; What is wet?  What is the drying plan?  How will you know when it is all dry?  How will they confirm the drying with you?

At Chavez Inc, we respond to water damage 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Our water restoration technicians are trained to identify problems, mitigate damage, then quickly and efficiently put your life back on track.  We pride ourselves on professionally restoring our client’s property while meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations.  It is more than just our philosophy; this is a daily practice at Chavez Inc.