Crawl Space Water Damage

Most recently built homes in the area are built with a concrete slab as both the floor and foundation.  They can suffer from water damage to flooring and lower parts of the structure if there’s a plumbing slab-leak underneath.  But many, especially older homes, have a foot or more crawl-space between the interior floor and the ground.  That offers “easy” access to any under-floor plumbing and other utilities, but it has its own water damage risks.

What’s Normal?

Most homeowners rarely, if ever, take a look into the crawlspace so there can be serious damage before they notice any problem.  So it’s a good idea to take a look at water and dampness every few months.  You might catch a plumbing leak or even spot insects, rodents, or other pests.

A little water or dampness right after a rainstorm normal, but nothing should linger more than a few days.  If it does you’re likely to have trouble sooner or later.

Water Damage

A damp crawl space can lead to anything from a little mold to structural damage.  Pooling water or just damp soil raises the humidity in the crawl space and can lead to water-damage problems within that space and in the rooms above.

  • Mold shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere in the home.  Even if it’s under the floor spores, allergens, and toxins make their way into the living space.
  • With high enough humidity hardwood floors can cup or even warp and buckle.  Drywall can be damaged, and mold is more likely to grow inside the home, often hidden within the structure.
  • Floor joists and other exposed wood can develop bacteria and even rot.
  • Dampness also attracts insects and other pests.

This is serious enough that a moisture problem in the crawlspace is enough to keep any house being sold or bought from passing inspection.

Did you know?  In older buildings that have never been modernized as much as half the indoor air may have come via a crawl space or basement.

Where’s That Water Coming From?

The two most likely sources are plumbing leaks and rainwater.  Even long after any rain groundwater can seep to the surface underneath a building.  Less likely sources include sprinklers spraying through vents and condensation on cold services.  There’s also a remote possibility that a roof leak has made its way down inside a wall.  And that’s likely to mean serious hidden water damage all along the way.

Remedy

The first step is, as always, to stop the source if it’s a plumbing leak.  Then drain or pump out any standing water, and finally ventilate the space.

You may want to take care of this yourself.  But except for minor problems with immediate remediation success, calling in a water damage restoration expert is a good assurance that things won’t get terribly worse.  And if the problem is a sewer line leak professional services are an absolute must.  Most likely it will be necessary to use negative-pressure ventilation together with personal protection gear, disinfection, and soil treatments.

Tip 1:  If there are only small puddles they can be dried with old towels or newspaper.  But afterward, those materials must be thrown away — those puddles were teeming with bacteria after just a day or two.

Tip 2:  Drying is likely to require more than opening an access door.  Strong blowers and possibly even making other openings are needed to get enough ventilation to dry things out before damage sets in.

Tip 3:  If water was coming from a natural source, consider installing a sump pump or water alarm.  In some situations, it’s appropriate to install a thick plastic barrier or “encapsulate” the soil.  Consult a professional for advice.

Repairs

Finally, you’ll need to repair that water damage — replacing wood, drywall, and other materials to restore structural strength and appearances.  Hardwood floors can often be rescued by special drying mats followed by sanding and re-finishing.  But all materials infested with mold must be removed and replaced.  In some situations, the carpet might be salvageable, but padding should always be discarded.

Insurance

Will clean-up, drying, and repairs are covered by insurance?  Like most other water damage restoration it depends on the source of the water.  If it’s from a sudden pipe failure you’re probably covered.  Otherwise, it’s unlikely a claim would be approved unless you have flood insurance in addition to a regular homeowner’s policy.

 

Dehumidifiers for Water Damage

Had a broken pipe, burst water heater, tub, or toilet overflow?  You need to get everything dried out as soon as possible to avoid a mold outbreak and other damage.  For major incidents, you really need the expertise and equipment of a water damage restoration specialist  But for minor problems, fans and a dehumidifier may be enough to pull out moisture trapped within the building and flooring.

What’s Happening

In natural evaporation, liquid water becomes water vapor in the air.  For indoor areas that means the relative humidity rises.  In a closed area, the humidity can become so high that the air can’t contain any more water vapor, and drying simply stop altogether.  Then in all likelihood, you’ll have a mold outbreak and flood damage to drywall and woodwork long before everything’s had time to dry out.

If it’s not humid outside, using fans to ventilate damp areas may be enough.  But even then, closing off the area and using a dehumidifier can really speed up the dry out process.

Dehumidifiers

Desiccant dehumidifiers use materials that absorb water from the air.  But they’re very limited in how much they can remove.  Refrigerant dehumidifiers are far superior.  Remember those drippy window air conditioners?  That’s how refrigerant dehumidifiers work.  They chill a coil to below the temperature where water condenses back out of the air (the dew point).  That lowers the humidity, allowing the building to continue drying quickly, literally pulling moisture out of the structure due to a difference in: “vapor pressure.”

The Right Stuff

Consumer dehumidifiers are designed for normal conditions, not flooding or a big spill.  They may not allow you to set the target humidity below 50%.  They’ll shut off when the air reaches that value, but a lower humidity would mean a faster dryer.  And their small tanks would require emptying many times per day.

So for big problems, you’ll need to hire a water damage restoration contractor or go for a commercial dehumidifier rental.  They’re capable of removing far more moisture per hour, and their large tanks need emptying far less often.  They’re rated in “grains per gallon” (a typical rating is 55) or the square footage they’re suitable for.  Suitable models also include HEPA air filters to remove mold from the air as well.

How Long?

Many commercial models can remove 500 gallons of water that are soaked into the building per day, bringing drying times down to as little as 12 to 36 hours.  They’re commonly run 24 to 48 hours non-stop until moisture measurements say the job is complete.

Consumer models are likely to take something like 2 to 8 days, if not longer.  And natural ventilation alone may take many weeks.  Since mold and other destruction can take as little as 48 options that’s not really an option.  You want to thoroughly dry everything in the fastest way possible.

TIP:  Don’t rely on surfaces feeling dry to the touch.  Tens or even hundreds of gallons can still remain trapped in wood, insulation, and other materials deep within the structure.  You probably don’t have access to a materials moisture meter.  But you can use a common humidity meter as a check.  Keep fans and dehumidifiers running 24 hours a day until room humidity falls to well below 50% and stays there for at least a day.

But First

If you think you can manage the situation yourself, the first step is removing all standing water.  Then use a shop wet-vac to pull as much moisture as you can.  Use fans to be sure all the air in rooms, nooks, and closets are circulating.  Leave closet and cabinet doors open, and open drawers in furniture.  Move any damp furniture to another area and dry it out separately.  Then get those dehumidifiers running, non-stop 24 hours a day.

Professional Services

All do-it-yourself projects carry some risk, and that’s especially true for flood recovery.  Unless you’re confident you can get all the right equipment and thoroughly dry everything within 48 hours you’re much better off hiring professionals.  Especially if you hope insurance will cover the effort along with any damage.

Service First has an arsenal of special-purpose equipment and supplies for the largest of disasters, including moisture meters, IR imagers, and specialized cleaning and disinfecting.  Plus a certified, well-trained, and experienced crew.

 

Water Damage: The Importance of Immediate Cleanup

It may be a bit surprising, but water has the potential to damage almost everything it touches in a home or business — carpet, wood, drywall, wiring….  Experts agree that the first 24 to 48 hours are the most critical in preventing the secondary harm of extensive mold remediation and other water damage restoration costs.  But why?  What happens during that time?

The First Day

In just a few minutes water makes its way through the tiniest of cracks then soaks deeply into any porous material, including concrete.  Some materials discolor immediately and may be impossible to fully restore.

Given just a few more minutes, that water has sunk in deeper to where normal evaporation can take weeks to get rid of it.  But almost immediately wood (baseboards and trim, hardwood flooring, even structural framing) starts to swell, warp, and split.  And drywall (sheetrock) softens and can soon sag, bulge, buckle, or collapse.  This secondary damage gets started almost immediately, but may take a few days before they become serious.

Likewise, mold spores start growing as soon as moisture is present, although it’s commonly 2 to 3 days before it becomes visible.  With flooding or large spills indoor humidity rises, and that can pose a mold risk to the entire building and its contents.

Worse Water

Worse still, the water can be contaminated by everything it comes in contact with.  For natural flooding that’s bacteria, viruses, and parasites picked up from the soil plus agricultural and industrial waste.  Water from a dishwasher or washing machine contains enough nutrients for bacteria to thrive, and so becomes a health hazard after just one or two days.  And any toilet or sewer backup is a serious health hazard that can become airborne from the very first minute.

Soon

Given a week or more even the strength of the building can be compromised, although with the exception of major flooding that’s a relatively rare occurrence.  But lesser damage can progress completely hidden inside walls, in crawlspaces and attics for weeks or months before it becomes obvious.  Without remediation mold growth spreads rapidly and becomes a health hazard.  It’s removal is unlikely to be covered by insurance in California.

Complete drying takes time.  It’s a tough race to reduce moisture fast enough to stay ahead of its damaging effects.  And if it’s a late start in that race, it may be impossible to catch up and expensive restoration becomes unavoidable.

It’s Time to Act

The longer you wait to take action the higher the risk of extensive damage to the building and the greater the odds of irreparable harm to furniture and other possessions.  Don’t forget that initially harm to the building may be hidden from view.  If there’s any doubt at all, it’s a good idea to have a professional inspection and assessment from a restoration services expert as soon as you encounter anything more than a small spill or overflow.

 

Leaking Roof Water Damage

We’ve talked about water damage from plumbing and floods before.  But roof leaks are another major cause.  It starts in the attic and can progress to major damage before you notice any signs inside your home.  So by the time you see water stains or mold on the ceiling, you could already be in for expensive repairs to roof decking, rafters, insulation, and more.  That’s why roof inspections every few years are such a good idea.  It’s also wise to take a look inside your attic a few times each year, looking for dampness and discolored wood.

Causes and Effects

It’s not just a matter of old or damaged shingles.  Improper installation may take many years to show up as a leak.  The same goes for the flashing around any roof opening, such as vents and especially chimneys.

The plywood under the shingles or roofing tiles is usually the first to begin decaying.  Weakened framing often follows.  Given time, or a major leak attic contents, insulation, and ceiling joists can get wet.  Water can even make its way down into walls and harm framing, drywall, wallpaper, and paint.  All the way down to the flooring.

Here are the 5 major types of damage from a leaky roof.

  1. decaying wood and structural weakening
  2. mold and mildew on ceilings and walls
  3. possible health hazards of toxic black mold, completely hidden in the attic or within walls
  4. fire hazards (!) from electrical wiring
  5. wet insulation increasing utility bills

Signs and Symptoms

And here are the 5 most common indications you have a roof leak.

  1. watermarks or other discoloration on ceilings or walls
  2. peeling or darkening paint
  3. cracked, bubbled, or warping drywall, including ceilings
  4. visible mold, or the musty odors of mold
  5. discolored wood or odd odors in the attic

What to Do

You’ll of course want to have the roof repaired to stop the leak.  Along with that, it’s important to call in a water damage restoration specialist such as Service First for all but the smallest of problems.  We’ll inspect and carefully assess the situation and recommend a specific course of action.

Remediation may range from simply airing out the attic for a few days to aggressively drying and sanitizing the attic, ceiling, inside walls, and even flooring.  And all that takes special training and special equipment for fully successful completion.  If necessary we can also provide professional mold removal, decontamination, and odor removal along with making repairs.  Plus provide documentation for an insurance claim.

Insurance?

It’s important to document any home or business damage and the actions you take to remedy it if there’s even a chance you’ll want to file an insurance claim.

But will insurance cover it all?

The answer is generally yes if the problem was sudden, such as after a storm.  Most policies will cover damage resulting from windstorms and hail, including water damage, provided you address the problem immediately.  But claims will be rejected if they’re a result of negligence, such as not keeping up with maintenance.  Including not replacing a roof after its expected lifetime.  That is to say, leaks caused by normal wear and tear won’t be covered.  Another example would be water seepage from gutters that you haven’t kept clean.  There are also likely to be specific exclusions such as earthquakes and mold remediation.  As with all insurance, also keep in mind that there is a deductible which you’ll need to pay yourself as well as coverage limits (the maximum amount the insurance company will payout).

 

 

Hardwood Floors: 5 Types of Water Damage

Just as the source of water can range from a spill at the dining room table to inundation by floodwaters, water damage to hardwood floors can range from minor discoloration to total destruction.

Despite a protective finish, any source of moisture — even high humidity — can lead to a wood floor’s deterioration.  Water makes its way through the tiniest of openings to be absorbed and then trapped.  The wood swells and mold may invade.  When that happens you’ll want to protect your investment in your home or business and take action to rescue and restore those gorgeous floors.

The Damage and What to Do

The first step, of course, is to stop the source of water then remove as much of it as possible.  The extent of damage then depends on how quickly you were able to act and the extent of flooding, and the type of finish.  The latter can range from “old school” waxes to oils and other penetrating finishes to urethane and other contemporary protective coatings.

  • Stains and Discoloration White-ish spots are likely limited to the finish itself and may go away on their own if left to dry for a few days.  If not, a good rub-down with your usual floor polish should do the trick.  Dark areas are a different matter.  Scrubbing with a toothbrush and a little oxalic acid (a bleach for wood) may be enough.  Or it may be necessary to lightly sand or use steel wool to get past the finish first.  It might even be necessary to sand into the wood a bit, bleach, and re-finish.  In the worst case, the affected area may need to be replaced.
  • Mold can cause its own staining.  In addition to dealing with the discoloration, it’s important to thoroughly decontaminate the area.  And that’s likely to involve sanding, drying, and refinishing.
  • Cupping and Crowning Floor planks can swell from wetness or even high humidity in such a way as to make their long edges curl upwards or downwards.  The first step is to solve the dampness problem.  Given time (several weeks or more) for the planks a well as the underlying sub-floor to dry, cupping and crowning may go away on its own.  Otherwise, it will be necessary to sand and refinish the hardwood floor.
  • Warping along the length of boards can lift them a bit off the sub-floor  It may be possible to flatten slightly warped floors with heavy objects, or to nail them down and hide the nails with caulk.  More severely warped floor sections will need to be replaced.
  • Buckling Warping, cupping, and crowning can be severe enough to lift boards well above the sub-floor  Replacement is likely the only option.

A Few Details

The above actions are just a quick outline of the actions that need to be taken.  If you don’t call in a water damage restoration specialist you’ll need to research them in detail.  Here are a few more things to dig into.

Wood color changes naturally with age and sun exposure, so a sanded area may have a slightly different color.  It takes a lot of skill and experience to apply a wood-stain product to match, so it’s common to sand and refinish the entire floor so that the restored area doesn’t stand out.  That’s part of good long-term hardwood floor maintenance anyway.

Lightly sanding removes the finish and allows the wood to dry out faster.  But final sanding should be performed only after the floor has returned to its proper moisture content.  Otherwise cupping, crowing, and warping may be “reversed” as things return to their original shape.  Full drying without special equipment can take anywhere from a week to as long as 6 months.  Drying too quickly can cause wood to crack and need replacing.

Also, with flooding make sure the sub-floor is also dried, disinfected, and repaired as necessary before replacing and refinishing the flooring.

The Big Picture

The key to keeping water damage to hardwood floors to a minimum is to immediately remove the water then aggressively dry the floor.  Anything more than a spill or small leak can require special training and advanced equipment (such as commercial-grade humidifiers and drying mats) to dry things out quickly enough to prevent mold and further damage.

 

That Water Damage: Old Or New?

You’ve seen some signs of water damage.  But is it from something new that needs immediate attention to prevent further damage?  Or is it something old that still needs looking into?  Not sure why you haven’t noticed it before?  Has it always been there?

Your 5 Best Guides

Water can come from a range of sources.  Pipes, drains, a leaky roof, window, or door….  And small leaks can take months to “show through.”

Here are our top 5 guides to deciding if a sign of water damage is from something new or old.

1 The Material Affected

Hard materials such as brick take a long time to show damage.  So whether currently damp or not, the problem has probably been around for a while.  For other materials, the problem could be old or new.  Wood may warp, split, or buckle.  You’ll probably notice that immediately for hardwood floors, but it may be a while before you spot problems inside cabinets and in other out-of-the-way places.

2 Dampness

For softer materials such as drywall (also called sheetrock, and also used for ceilings), acoustic tile, and wood damage could be recent or from long ago.  Drywall softens with extended exposure, so if it’s still solid the problem is probably very recent, possibly ongoing.  If it’s soft and crumbly it’s been wet for a while.  Large areas may sag or warp, and a ceiling could even collapse.  If an area feels damp the time to act is now.

3 Mold and Odors

Mold indicates ongoing damage to the carpet.  But other materials, including wood and drywall, can also harbor mold.  Mold typically takes 24 to 48 hours to become noticeable after an area becomes damp.  So if you see gray, black, green — or any color — mold the water damage incident most likely began at least 2 days earlier.  Mold can occur on just about any building surface, including those hidden inside walls, inside crawl spaces, and so on.  So your only clue may be a musty odor.  Water damage can also include wood decaying due to bacteria growth.  That too has its distinctive odor.  Either way, it’s time to go looking for visible signs of water or water damage.

4 Water Stains

You’ve probably seen water stains on the ceiling in old buildings.  But they can happen on the walls and ceilings of structures of any age.  Their exact appearance is a pretty good indication of when, and how, they happened.

  • A single dark area with no surrounding discoloration indicates a single incident, usually recent.
  • Lighter yellowish, brownish, white, or chalky stains suggest older leaks.
  • Several rings indicate repeated incidents, probably over some time.  That’s generally the case for building leaks as rains come and go. But some plumbing problems can be intermittent as well.  The number of rings is a good indication of the number of leak/dry-out cycles.
  • The size of the affected area suggests the severity of a leak, not necessarily how long it’s been going on.

5 Expert Inspection

Calling in a water damage restoration specialist for an inspection is the best way to know for sure how long ago a leak caused a problem.  While there they can track down the exact location of any recent source of water or dampness.

In Summary

Water damage costs American homes and businesses some $2.5 billion every year, each claim averaging nearly $7,000.00.  So it doesn’t matter if the damage is old or new — you want the original cause corrected.  If the leak is ongoing, immediate action can reduce or even eliminate the cost of water damage restoration and repairs.

 

Water Damage From Air Conditioning?

You may be surprised to hear that your air conditioning is a possible cause of water damage.  But if you’ve ever seen a window A/C dripping outside on a hot, humid day you can see why.

Just like dew on a cool morning, it’s common for an air conditioner’s coils to be cold enough to condense humidity out of the air.  And that needs to be channeled out of your home or business.  Worse still, coils can ice-up and then release a lot of water all at once as the unit cycles off and that ice melts.

Any excess dampness quickly leads to mold, and further water damage can progress over time until you have to repair drywall or warped floorboards.  In one reported case a central air conditioning unit in an attic caused the ceiling to collapse… because of a simple clogged air filter!

Top 5 Problems to Look Out For

The terms can be a bit confusing but the outside condenser coil gets hot and the inside evaporator coil gets cold, those coil names referring to what the refrigerant is doing as it’s pumped around inside the air conditioner.  “Dew” condensing is actually a good thing, reducing humidity and making it even more comfortable indoors.  So there’s a condensation pan to catch drips and a drain line to route it outdoors to where it can’t do any harm.  But if anything goes wrong you’ll have a leaky A/C and the likelihood of at least minor water damage.

Central Air Conditioners

With central air, problems can remain hidden in utility closets or attics until the damage is severe and expensive to repair.  So it’s worth your time to be pro-active and stay on the lookout for problems.  There are basically two issues to be aware of:  normal condensation not being drained properly and situations that cause the evaporator coil to freeze up.

  • Is the drain pan catching all the drips?  Or is it out of place?  Cracked?
  • Is the drain line flowing freely?  Blocked?  Leaking?  Disconnected?
  • If there’s a condensate pump, is it working properly?
  • Is the air filter clogged?  If the airflow is reduced the evaporator gets colder and can freeze up.  The same filter is used for central heating, so it should be changed every 3 to 6 months, year-round.
  • Is the unit low on refrigerant?  That can also cause freezing.

Note:  Although rare, there can also be condensation in the ductwork.

A Word About Window Units

Window air conditioners should be leveled so that water flows in the right direction, away from the building.  If that’s not the case, or if drain holes or drain lines are blocked, water can damage the window sill or cause damage inside the wall.

What To Do

It’s easy to ignore major appliances until they break down.  But don’t.  That leads to poor performance and wasted energy.  And often to leaks or condensation that causes hidden but progressive water damage that begins within hours.

So keep an eye out and seriously consider an annual A/C inspection and tune-up as preventive maintenance.  And at the first visible sign of mold or water damage, call in an expert.

A Word On Insurance

Most insurers will deny claims where reasonable maintenance was neglected, and many policies explicitly exclude mold remediation.  But you may be covered if the incident was “sudden and accidental.”

 

5 Steps to Rescue Water Damaged Carpet

Knee-deep flooding is clearly a major problem.  But just a fraction of an inch of water can destroy carpet, and the larger the area affected the more likely that’s going to happen.  So any large leak, overflow, or spill spells carpet trouble.

It’s important to understand what can happen and what to do about it.  Depending on the situation there can be issues with mud or other contamination, but in nearly every case the number one concern is mold.  A serious outbreak can get going in as little as 24 to 48 hours, so you have to act fast.  And the primary task is drying out the carpet and flooring beneath.

A Little Background

What needs to be done is determined by three factors — the cleanliness of the water, how long things have been wet, and the size of the area that was soaked.

  • With water directly from clean sources (such as a burst water pipe) or relatively clean sources (such as a washing machine overflow or dishwasher), there shouldn’t be an immediate health hazard.  But if the water has been in contact with soil, or worse yet sewage, it’s an immediate and serious health risk.  It’s advisable to hire a water damage restoration specialist and materials such as carpet will most likely need to be thrown away.
  • After lingering for a couple of days water and wetness from any source are likely to be loaded with disease organisms and really need to be treated as hazardous waste.  So the carpet is usually not salvageable.  Not sure when the flooding or leak occurred?  If there are any odors it’s probably too late for a rescue.
  • Small spills usually aren’t a problem.  But if more than a small part of a room is affected it can take weeks to fully dry out. That’s plenty of time for mold and bacteria to get out of control, so aggressive drying is needed to reduce that time to just a few days.

5 Steps for Small Problems

If only part of a room was flooded with clean water for at most a day, there are 5 not-too-difficult steps for carpet recovery.

  1. Step 1 is really a no-brainer.  Identify the source of water and put a stop to it.
  2. Use towels to blot up as much moisture as possible.  Using a shop wet-vac is even better.
  3. Set up fans to circulate air within the room as well as in and out of the room.  Open windows if it’s not humid outside.  This airing-out may be necessary for several days, with fans running 24  hours a day.
  4. Steam clean the carpet to remove contamination, including mold spores, as well as help, kill bacteria.  Using a color-safe anti-microbial cleaner is a good precaution.
  5. Sanitize other room surfaces to help prevent mold and mildew.

TIP #1:  Avoid walking on wet carpet as much as possible to avoid crushing its fibers.

5 More Steps for Big Problems

Large areas of soaked carpet require aggressive drying, and Step 3 above becomes it’s own 5 steps.  Since things will remain damp for several days and may become hazardous you’ll need to protect yourself by wearing a mask, gloves, and boots whenever you’re in effected areas.  Even if the source was clean.  Before starting, if furniture or other items in the room are damp, remove them.  They’ll dry out more quickly themselves and won’t add to indoor humidity that would slow down the drying of the floor.

  1. Remove as much moisture as you can using a rental shop wet-vac or carpet cleaner.  Use long slow strokes and many passes, not like regular vacuuming.
  2. Lift the carpet so that it can dry from both sides.  This also helps the sub-floor, whether concrete or plywood, dry more quickly as well.
  3. Throw away the padding.  It’s literally a sponge and is inexpensive to replace.
  4. Set up lots of air circulation using ceiling fans, room fans, window fans and/or blowers — anything you have, can borrow, or can rent.  If it’s not humid outside, set up fans in the windows to exhaust humid air from the room, pulling fresh air from open windows elsewhere in your home or business.  Otherwise, rent a commercial dehumidifier.  It’s critical to get everything thoroughly dry in just a couple of days.
  5. Once the sub-floor and carpet are completely dry you can replace the padding and re-install the carpet.

TIP #2:  If there’s a smell, there’s a problem.  If you notice the musty odor of mold and mildew or a foul smell (bacteria) then things didn’t get dried out quickly enough.  There’s little chance you can rescue that carpet, and you’ll have to disinfect the area.

TIP #3:  If you don’t want to risk an even bigger problem, call in a water damage restoration expert right from the start.

 

Does Water Permanently Ruin Electronics?

You know that water and electronics don’t go together.  But exactly what happens when you drop your phone into the pool… or worse?  What about home and business electronics after flooding, a major leak, or fire-sprinklers?

The real question on most people’s mind is “can wet electronics be rescued?”  Let’s consider that, leaving the fate of major appliances for another time.

The Damage Done

Absolutely pure water is a good insulator, causing little or no lasting damage.  In fact, many companies wash printed circuit boards in highly-purified water after manufacturing them.

But such purity is rare outside the factory.  At the opposite extreme, saltwater (such as seawater) is a great conductor.  And corrosive.  Most water sources, including “clean” drinking water, lie somewhere in between.

So wet electronics frequently lead to short circuits.  That can cause components to burn out and be permanently damaged.  Or the device may simply not function properly.  If moisture makes its way into batteries, displays, or disk drives the odds are that they will be unrepairable.  Otherwise, even after the liquid evaporates salts, minerals, and other contamination is left behind.  Corrosion can continue and mechanical switches and knobs can become gritty and damaged.

Water damage almost always voids the warranty, but rescuing electronics might be covered as part of water damage restoration.

Recovery

The most important thing to remember is:  don’t turn the device on to see if it’s still OK.

That could trigger the short-circuit damage scenario.  Tempting as it might be, testing must wait until the item has been thoroughly cleaned and dried.

Cleaned?  Yes, particularly if it’s been exposed to dirty water.  Without cleaning contamination is likely to remain, potentially still causing shorts, corrosion, and/or mechanical problems.  Full drying includes taking care of moisture that may have crept past tiny crevices and then become trapped.

Even with these measures, the device may need electronics repair, such as replacing a few components.

Do-It-Yourself

If a single device has had an accident involving clean water you might be able to rescue it yourself.

First, drain away any liquid and unplug or remove as much as you can.  Use a soft cloth and Q-tips to clean and dry as much as you can.

Then place the device in a closed container together with a desiccant for at least 48 hours.  It may be as long as a week before it’s safe to turn it back on and give it a try.  Uncooked rice isn’t good enough.  Ask your local home improvement store for desiccant packets.  Or in a pinch, you can use silica gel kitty litter.  Should you decide to use heat instead, keep things warm but not hot.  Temperatures that are uncomfortable to the touch can damage electronics components.  And, again, drying can take several days.

Important Tip:  Tests have shown that using rice to absorb moisture is less effective than simply leaving the device out in the open air.

Professional Restoration

Professional water damage restoration companies have specialized equipment to tackle a whole household or office full of wet gear and recover many items that would otherwise be a total loss.  Besides ultrasonic cleaners and drying chambers of all sizes, they’re likely to have deionized water and special cleaning products.  And above all, they’ll have extensive training, expertise, and experience.

Professionals are also the best judges of what can and can’t be recovered, ready to help with balancing the cost of recovery against the cost of replacement.  Nothing’s for sure, but you best chances of recovering any water-damaged electronic equipment are with professional services.

 

Water Damage and Insurance

Wondering if water damage is covered by insurance?  Yes, it’s part of most homeowners’ policies, but with some important exceptions.

First, quite reasonably, insurance, in general, is intended for sudden, accidental, out-of-your control incidents.  So if you’ve been negligent and skipped basic home maintenance, ignored signs of a leak, or failed to act promptly after any sort of leak, plumbing failure, or appliance failure your claim is likely to be denied.

Second, only a special flood policy will cover widespread flooding as certain areas are at high risks while others have such low risk you probably don’t need to buy flood coverage.

What’s Covered

Water damage is the 2nd most common property damage claim, following wind and hail.  According to https://www.investopedia.com/terms/w/water-damage-insurance.asp that’s 5 times more likely than theft and 7 times more likely than fire.  And the average claim is $9,600 so it’s no small issue.  In general homeowner, policies should cover removing water and drying out the building, repairing the building, and replacing destroyed possessions.

Here are a few examples of causes that should qualify for reimbursement.  But that doesn’t include the original cause, such as repairing a burst pipe or replacing a washing machine.

  • burst washing machine hose
  • plumbing leaks or burst pipes
  • roof leaks
  • ruptured water heater
  • tub and toilet overflows
  • water damage from putting out a fire

Also, keep in mind that you’ll have to cover the deductible amount yourself.  And a claim may be rejected or reduced if you fail to take immediate action to head off further damage.

Flood vs Basic

People are often confused about what’s covered by a homeowner’s policy and what requires a special flood policy.  We can’t go into all the often picky distinctions insurance companies make, but here’s the key distinction.  If the source of water was “internal” to your property it should be covered.  If it came from off your property it’s only covered if you have a special flood policy.  Examples include rainstorms and extended periods of rain as well as overflowing ponds, creeks, and so on.

As another way of looking at it, the National Flood Insurance Program has a definition of flooding as a temporary general condition where 2 or more acres or two or more properties that are normally dry are inundated by water or mud.

Common Exclusions

Most policies exclude specific conditions from coverage.  The most common include the following.

  • Ground seepage into a basement.
  • Sewer backups.  This situation can often be added to a standard policy.
  • Mold remediation may be covered by some policies if it’s the result of covered water damage.  Some may include a “rider” or other extensions to include mold.  But coverage is often limited to $5,000 to $10,000 (or less).  That’s an important consideration as the cost of mold removal and related repairs can exceed $30,000.

5 Tips to Avoid Water Damage

Here are some tips to avoid water damage in the first place.

  1. Keep an eye out for any signs of leaks.
  2. Keep up with the maintenance of the roof as well as sealing around windows and doors.
  3. Have an older house inspected by a plumber every 5 years or so.  That’s a good time for a professional roof inspection as well.
  4. Use steel-braided washer hoses and turn off the supply when you’ll be away for an extended time.
  5. Don’t use the dishwasher or clothes washer when no one will be at home.