Often, when I’m working in homes, I’m asked about different types of water damage. It’s normal for homeowners to ask if their situation could have been worse. While every flood is a catastrophe in its own right, and for its own reasons, there are 3 types of water damage. Fresh water, storm or ground water, and sewer or contaminated water. Each of the 3 types of water damage holds its own power of destruction and mayhem, but let’s get into each type and how they differ when it comes to you and your home.
1) Fresh Water – Municipal Water
Fresh water, also known as category 1 water is the cleanest of the 3 types of water damage you can have. Typically resulting from a burst pipe or overflow, fresh water is the easiest in terms of general health to clean up. While most items can be dried in place, such as furniture or drywall, fresh water can still be very destructive to your home. Most freshwater damage is the result of a failure in one or more parts of your homes plumbing infrastructure. Most commonly, we often find burst copper lines and vinyl supply lines to be the majority of our freshwater losses, though the occasional leaky dishwasher may also make an appearance.
Due to the fact that freshwater damage is most often the result of failed or compromised plumbing, that water is under pressure from the main water line. This means that if no one is home or if the home is vacant, that fresh water will continue to pour in and saturate any building material is comes into contact with. Most often in our fresh water damage jobs, we find pipes in ceilings and walls that have proceeded to saturate whole entire levels of the home before falling into the basement to find more building material to damage.
Fresh Water Damage – Worst Case Scenario
All water restoration professionals have that one project in the back of their mind that created damage so far reaching that they will never forget it, as it will always stand out as unique.
Such is the case with a property we serviced during a very cold Michigan winter. We came upon a home that had not been visited in a few weeks due to the homeowners being out of the country while their home was up for sale.
While they were gone the temperatures had dropped well below zero and their furnace had had enough and quit when they needed it most. The temperature drop resulted in 14 separate breaks in their copper water lines, saturating the entire first floor and basement and leaving an ice wall on their front door 4 inches thick!
After chipping away and getting into the home we found fallen drywall and icicles hanging from the ceiling. While the water damage done was all fresh water, the scope of destruction and saturation forced us to completely gut the first floor and basement down to the very studs they were built on.
While fresh water may be clean, it is often times the most destructive of the 3 types of water damage due to its tendency to be wide spread and pressure fed.
2) Storm Water – Ground Water
Picture this, you’ve come home from a long day of work. You take off your coat, throw your keys on the table and go to let the dog out the back door. As you turn to walk back into the kitchen to grab yourself a meal you see your reflection in the basement floor, or maybe notice that the carpet seems to be a darker shade of gray than normal. As you descend the basement stairs it slowly hits you, your basement is flooding. As you run to grab your mob and bucket and get the plumber on the line you might stop to wonder what’s happening and why.
Basement floods can happen for a plethora of reasons, but the most common is definitely storm water. Of the 3 types of water damage, storm water is typically the easiest to handle, if not the cleanest. Storm water damage typically happens when a sump pump has failed, when a cities storm system is overwhelmed or when a homes foundation is damaged allowing ground water to seep into the home.
The most common that professional flood restorers tend to see are those related to sump pump failure. Sump pumps are submersible pumps that are installed in basements and help move storm water out of and away from a home’s foundations. The reason these pumps fail is innumerable.
Some due to age and wear, others do to mineral or clay build up and still others may have a faulty float mechanism. When these pumps fail, the water building up around the home has no where to go and, using pressure from the water building up above it, is forced into the home through the sump well, cracks in the basements floor and foundation, or through the footer and the base of the basement walls. Another reason for a pump malfunction could be power loss, either from a blown circuit or a full power loss.
Sump Pump Failure Prevention
Regardless of how the malfunction happened it’s important to have your sump pump looked at by a plumbing professional every other year during a normal plumbing maintenance checkup. Because these pumps are mechanical and subject to wear and compromise over time it is recommended to have them replaced after 7 years.
Equally important is manually engaging any type of backup system you may have each season to assure it will function when called upon. If your backup system is a water powered backup, then unplug the primary and pour water into the well allowing the water to rise high enough to engage the water backup system. Once it comes on and removes the water you can be at ease and plug back in the primary. Spray all interactive components with some penetrating oil to keep them free of corrosion.
If you have a battery powered backup system then make sure the acid levels are optimal as required and test the alarm making sure it goes off. Again make sure to spray all components with penetrating oil. Because these systems may sit unused for years they will easily corrode and seize up failing to engage when called upon should the primary someday fail.
Protocol for Cleaning After a Sump Pump Failure
When it comes to storm water damage, most building material can still be saved. Carpets can be dried in place and steam cleaned using hot water extraction methods, though carpet padding must always be removed and discarded. Base moldings and drywall can be properly dried in place and repainted.
Personal items must be wiped down and set into a previously cleaned area to avoid cross contamination. While, of the 3 types of water damage, storm water damage is not the worst, it’s also not the cleanest. We consider storm water to be living water as it is replete with millions of colonies of molds and microorganisms.
While fresh water is delivered to our homes after passing through a water treatment plant, storm or ground water has passed through the ground around your home, picking up contaminants, bacterium and microbes along the way. Any item that has come into contact with storm water needs to be thoroughly cleaned and inspected for additional water damage.
Storm water damage should always be treated seriously and handled, when possibly, by professional water technicians certified in water damage restoration by the IICRC. While storm water damage is a nightmare on its own, lets get to the worst of the 3 types of water damage.
3) Sewer Water – Black Water
You walk in the door and it hits you. If you’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to smell it, you’ll never forget it. I’m talking about sewer water.
Of the 3 types of water damage, this one is definitely the worst. Also known as category 3 or “black water” this type of water damage loss is an unstoppable force. Almost anything it touches it destroys.
So why does it happen? Many reasons. Those with kids will understand that once their child realizes that things can be flushed it means that everything can be flushed. Toys, whole entire rolls of toilet paper, magazines, G.I. Joe, you name it, they’ll try to flush it. Often times the source of sewer water damage is a blockage of the sewer line. When one of the kid’s toys ends up laying sideways in a sewer stack it end up collecting whatever it can that passes it by, typically toilet paper.
After weeks and month of grabbing paper and closing more and more of the pipe the water ends up with no where to go. So when you decide to take a shower at the end of the night, all of that water ends up in your basement or, what we found in the course of one of our jobs a few years back, out of the toilet of your first floor.
The Destructive Nature of Migrating Water
Water will always find the path of least resistance. Whether that means through a crack in the wall like we discussed in ground water, or through the lowest sewer line opening. Sometimes, however, sewer water damage can happen through no fault of our own. If you live around an older city, maybe in the city itself or one of the suburbs, your sewer and storm systems are tied together.
What that means is that if you have what appears to be a storm back up in your basement, it’s likely to also contain sewer water. So, what does that mean for you? In our line of work, we don’t make assumptions. We treat every storm backup with a tied sewer system as if it were 100% sewer. There would be no way to determine where the sewer water started and ended. Let me walk you through my own experience with this.
Professional Restorers Experience & Perspective
My city went through the process of replacing all of the water main lines for our street in the summer. That meant heavy machinery up and down our street, front yards dug up, noisy workers starting at 6 am every morning. You may ask how this has anything to do with water damage? Well, the city planners identified my home as the perfect spot for a fire hydrant. While not ideal aesthetically, protecting our homes and our neighbor’s homes from fire was important so the next day they were busy tearing up the boulevard in front of my home for the hydrant.
Fast forward to winter. Remember the visual I gave you earlier? Letting the dog out and seeing your reflection in the basement floor? That was me. As I ran down the stairs to confront the water that was accosting my basement, I hadn’t put a second thought to that hydrant, now nestled into the fresh grown grass in my front lawn.
As my wife relayed to me while the plumber tried unsuccessfully to clear what I was sure was a blockage in our storm line, it turned out to be that the construction company hit my sewer line as they were installing our new hydrant.
When the rain fell that night and the water table rose, it flooded my basement, mixing ground water and sewer water alike. At that point, it was all sewer water and we went to task pulling all affected building material. Wood paneling, a bathroom vanity, a cedar bar I had built with my own two hands were piled up and thrown away. It had to be done.
Sewer water damage is the most unhealthy of the 3 types of water damage you can find. Sewer water can be home to millions of viruses and bacteria. When it comes to storm water damage we can at least clean most of the items the water comes into contact with but that is not the case when it comes to sewer water damage.
In my basement, the wood paneling could have been saved if it were only storm water but, because it was sewer, it all had to be cut out to avoid getting anyone in the home sick. The only way to save porous items such as wood or some papers is to encapsulate them in an oil or plastic. Oil based primers are often used to encapsulate wood substrates after a sewer flood has been mitigated. I personally used one to encapsulate the cement walls of my basement after the paneling had been removed.
Time Changes Everything When it Comes to Water Damage
All 3 types of water damage can progress to the next, more severe type. Fresh water, if left to its own devices can promote bacterial and mold growth. The same is true with storm water, also known as category 2 water. There isn’t a category worse, however; than category 3 or sewer water damage.
Time is always the enemy when It comes to water damage of any kind. Water is a boundless energy source. All water needs to be destructive is a cellulose source of energy and time. Once those two meet it begins a symphony of destruction only stopped with quick and direct mitigation methods. So, what are those methods, and what should you do when you’re confronted with any of the 3 types of water damage we discussed here.
The Proven but often Overlooked Method for Drying Water Damaged Property
The most effective and efficient method of mitigation is through airflow and exposure principles. Exposing wet material to rapid air flow effectively accelerates evaporation and encourages drying. Adding a dehumidifier or two to the mix will help manage the relative humidity in the air and let the fans continue their work.
What do I do now?
First things first it’s important to access the type of water damage you’re experiencing and no, I don’t mean which of the 3 types of water damage. You need to first ask yourself, is this water ground water from a drain backup or can I hear a main water lining feeding my flood. Sometimes this answer will be easier to find than others. Most importantly if your basement is finished and the water is everywhere, call the professionals.
- Read our article on the 6 steps to choose the best water cleanup company.
The Illusive Nature of Water Damage – Why a Professional is Best
We’ve sometimes come across a water damage claim that seemed to be ground water but turned out to be a failure in a water back up attached to the sump pump. Sometimes we’ve found water we felt at first glance was potentially storm water that turned out to be sewer water on closer inspection. Often times we can access the type of water loss you are experiencing just by asking a few questions over the phone, which bring us to the next step. Call a local water damage restoration company.
A certified water damage restoration company will be able to send out an IICRC certified technician, typically within the hour. That technician will be able to guide you through the next steps in how to attack your water damage problem and give you a detailed plan on how they should proceed. They’ll be able to inform you on which of the 3 types of water damage you may be experiencing, and how to deal with any problem that may arise.
You will also want to begin talking with your insurance company, depending on the type of flood you are experiencing and the particulars of your insurance policy. Most freshwater damage claims are covered through your normal homeowners’ policy.
That means any water that runs through your plumbing system is almost always covered. Your flood technician should be able to walk you through the steps in dealing with your insurance company and, while not an expert in insurance policy, should be able to inform you on types of coverage and whether or not you qualify.
When it comes to storm and sewer water all policies were not created equal. Most insurance companies will require a rider when it comes to storm and sewer water damage typically labeled “back up of sewer or storm” coverage. This coverage is capped at a certain coverage limit with 5, 10, and 15 thousand being the most common coverage caps.
The Protocols for Water Damage Cleanup Depend on its Type – 1,2 or 3
Fresh Water Cleanup
Once you’ve determined the source of the water, which of the 3 types of water damage you are dealing with and decided on a water restoration company, it’s time to let your team get to work. If you’re dealing with a freshwater restoration job, your crew is likely wearing typical work-related clothing.
Depending on the extent of damage the fresh water did; you may have certain items removed from your home. Just recently we completed a freshwater job relating to a malfunctioning dishwasher that required us to remove multiple granite counter tops and a few cabinets along with an engineered floor covering.
Some building material, like that floor covering, needs to be removed regardless of which of the 3 types of damage you’re experiencing. That’s because certain types of floor coverings are not breathable and tend to trap water beneath them. The only way to remove water from below a floor like this is to, unfortunately, remove the floor.
Ground Water Cleanup
When dealing with storm water damage your crew may be wearing gloves and waterproof boots to protect themselves. Often times the storm water will have affected some of the fiberglass insulation found behind the drywall and will have to remove up to 2 feet of drywall to treat that area.
They may wear protective respirators while cutting through the gypsum board and handling the fiber glass insulation. All padding under carpeting must be removed but many personal items and contents can be saved by simply washing them in an anti-microbial solution.
Sewer Water Cleanup
Finally, if you’re dealing with the worst of the 3 types of water damage, sewer, your crew may be dressed in head to toe protective covering. Haz-med suits and respirators are common, along with elbow length gloves and boot coverings.
Most crews, regardless of your flood situation will lay out floor covers to prevent cross contamination into your home, but it is especially important that they do so in the event of a sewer flood. Our entire goal in regard to cleaning a sewer flood is to contain the environment and get it clean.
That means any material that is absorbent must be removed from the home and discarded. Any floor coverings that may be trapping water must be removed and we must use a product known as an air scrubber or negative air machine. This machine will run the air in your home through a 3-stage filter. A large particulate filter, able to grab dust and debris, a small particulate filter, and a HEPA filter.
The industry’s drying system pushes air all over the place and an air scrubber will help protect you and your family. Everything in a sewer water flood must be cleaned with an antimicrobial solution and floors should be high pressure steam cleaned to remove even the most stubborn particulate from the floor surfaces.
How Can We Help?
Action Extraction has been in this game for over 30 years. We have the tools, knowledge and expertise to handle any of the 3 types of water damage you may find yourself confronted with. All of the examples above were pulled from real world jobs we have completed. Whether dealing with storm water from a faulty sump pump, fresh waster from a burst copper pipe, or sewer water from a back up or blockage, we’ve seen it all and cleaned it all.
Our crew of professional water technicians will be able to access your flood disaster quickly and professionally leaving you with a sense of control in an often hectic situation. Now that you know what the 3 types of water damage are and how to handle them, we hope that you’ll consider Action Extraction for any of your water damage repair needs.