Water Damage at Home: What to Do Immediately After Discovering It

Water damage can turn your home into a nightmare almost instantly. From destroyed belongings to structural issues, it leads to costly repairs and restoration work. Whether caused by burst pipes, roof leaks, appliance failures or flooding, immediate action is key to controlling the damage. This comprehensive guide covers the crucial response steps when water damage strikes your property.

Water Damage at Home: What to Do Immediately After Discovering It

Stop the Flow of Water

As soon as you notice flooding or leakage inside your home, the priority is stopping additional water from accumulating. This might mean:

  • Turning off water mains – Locate the main shut off valve for your home’s water supply (often in the basement or garage) and switch it off. This will stop flowing water from burst pipes or appliance leaks.

  • Shutting leaky fixtures – If it’s a single leaky pipe or appliance overflowing, shut off the individual water supply to that fixture.

  • Blocking entry points – For flooding due to heavy rain or rising water tables, use sandbags to block gaps in foundations, doors, windows, etc. to stop more water entering the property.

Getting the water supply under control minimizes both damage and restoration work later. But remember, don’t attempt to reach electrical panels or outlets that are submerged – call professionals.

Get to Safety

Assess if there are any risks to your household’s safety:

  • Electrocution – Water and live wires are extremely dangerous. Switch off electricity supply to affected areas but don’t take risks reaching submerged panels/outlets.

  • Contamination – Flood water may contain sewage, chemicals or other hazards. Avoid direct contact and wear protective clothing for cleanup.

  • Structural instability – Water can destabilize foundations and make floors, walls or roofs prone to collapse. Stay clear of severely flooded areas indoors.

If you discover extensive flooding, quickly evacuate everyone in your household to safer locations. Call emergency services if needed.

Inform Your Insurance Provider

Contact your homeowners insurance provider immediately after discovering damage. Inform them accurately about:

  • Type of water emergency

  • Likely extent of property damage

  • Steps taken so far for safety and damage control

Provide contact information and request next steps for filing a claim and availing coverage. Ask about recommended water damage restoration vendors they work with.

Remember: standard home insurance policies don’t cover flood damage. You need special flood insurance for that.

Document Proof of Water Damage

Take date/time-stamped photos and videos showing water accumulation and resulting damage throughout your property, both inside and outside. Capture these details clearly:

  • Source of leak/flooding

  • Water level measurements

  • Condition of walls, floors, doors, windows

  • Damage to furnishings, appliances, possessions

  • Basements, crawlspaces and attics

Thorough photo/video documentation will be vital for your insurance claim down the road. Also save receipts for any emergency repair supplies purchased already.

Remove Excess Water Damage

Before professional water extraction services or water damage restoration arrive, you can start removing some standing water using:

  • Buckets and mops for small-scale flooding

  • Wet vacuums for soaked carpets/rugs

  • Sump pumps for basement water removal

This quick response helps minimize further structural damage and additional moisture enables faster restoration later. Reduce health risks by wearing waterproof boots, gloves and N95 masks during manual extraction.

Dry Out Affected Areas

To inhibit mold growth, start drying out wet spots immediately using:

  • Industrial dehumidifiers – These quickly suck moisture from air and surfaces. Renting heavy-duty dehumidifiers is recommended for drying large water-damaged areas effectively.

  • Fans and blowers – Position fans directed away from wet regions to improve air circulation. Don’t aim fans towards moisture-laden areas as that spreads microbial growth.

  • Windows and doors – Open these up to utilize natural ventilation if weather permits. This removes dampness alongside dehumidifiers/fans.

The goal is bringing down moisture levels rapidly before mold colonies start forming. Drywall, wood, carpets and insulation at over 70% relative humidity are at high risk for fungus and bacteria spread. Measure moisture levels using humidity gauges.

Call Water Damage Restoration Professionals

While you can take emergency measures initially, professional water damage restoration services are vital for proper remediation. Qualified technicians have industrial-grade equipment plus expertise to:

  • Pump out large volumes of water – Powerful truck-mounted vacuum units remove endless gallons quickly.

  • Dry flooded materials thoroughly – Commercial dehumidifiers paired with air movers dry most building materials within 48-72 hours.

  • Sanitize properly – Disinfectants and antimicrobial treatments kill dangerous pathogens left by unsanitary floodwaters.

  • Prevent mold issues – Applying EPA-registered biocides prevents mold growth on structural materials.

  • Restore belongings – Deep cleaning and dehumidifying techniques rescue various household items from further ruin.

Look for reputed local companies offering professional restoration services with modern gear, qualified technicians and stellar customer service.

Remove Affected Materials

After the bulk of water has been extracted, damaged sheetrock, insulation, carpets and wood flooring will need removal to prevent worsening:

  • Drywall – Floodwaters can cause drywall to swell and disintegrate. Remove lower wallboard at least 12-16 inches above water lines.

  • Insulation – Soaked insulation loses R-value and traps moisture so should be discarded. Includes fiberglass batts, cellulose and foam.

  • Carpeting – Thick carpets hold enormous water leading to assured mold growth later on. Waterlogged spots must be pulled out.

  • Wood flooring – Hardwood and laminates warp and deteriorate when flooded. Replace if damage is extensive.

Depending on how long flooding persisted, such materials may need removal further up walls/floors. Always wear waterproof PPE during removal work.

Dry Out Flooded Areas Further

After clearing out damaged wallboard, carpets and such, use air movers and dehumidifiers to dry out the exposed wall/floor cavities aggressively. This prepares the way for rebuilding:

  • Run dehumidifiers with hose attachments that drain condensation automatically. Monitor humidity levels using gauges.

  • Use blowers and air movers round the clock till moisture readings are below 50% or ambient levels.

  • Maintain temperatures above 70° Fahrenheit using portable heaters to facilitate drying.

Don’t attempt premature repairs without properly drying as trapped moisture worsens future water damage and mold growth. Expect 2-3 days of active drying before rebuilding.

Clean Up Contaminated Water

Floodwaters often carry a slew of pathogens, chemicals and contaminants depending on the source. Flooded homes require extensive sanitization of:

  • Walls/floors – Use antimicrobial cleaners, bleach or peroxide solution to disinfect. Rinse afterwards.

  • HVAC ducts – Air ducts distributing contaminated air also need cleaning and sanitizing by professionals.

  • Appliances – Refrigerators, washers and other appliances holding polluted water need expert cleaning before reuse.

For severe black water flooding (sewage water), specialized remediation is essential to neutralize dangerous bacteria. Professionals have hospital-grade disinfectants for this.

Prevent Mold With Biocides

In damp conditions after flooding, mold spores germinate in as little as 24-48 hours. To prevent extensive mold infestations requiring remediation, apply these protective measures:

  • Anti-microbial coatings – EPA-registered products like Concrobium or Benefect botanical disinfectants applied to structural materials prevent mold.

  • Borates – These natural antimicrobials used as wood preservatives stop mold internally within damp wood studs.

  • Chlorine dioxide – This gas penetrates porous materials, killing mold, bacteria and other fungi present internally.

Your restoration contractor should use commercial-grade biocides to protect against future microbial outbreaks. Follow application guidelines carefully.

Repair Structural Damage

Floodwaters often compromise walls, floors, foundations and various structural elements which requires repair:

  • Slap board/insulation – Water-damaged plasterboard and insulation removed earlier needs replacement to restore thermal/noise barriers and fire resistance.

  • Flooring – Permanent flooring like concrete, wood or tiles usually need replacement after severe flooding due to extensive swelling and warpage.

  • Foundations – In serious cases, flooded foundations develop cracks allowing water intrusion which requires injection epoxy sealing.

  • Electrical – Electrical systems exposed to water need assessment for replacement since insulation damage poses electric shock/fire risks.

Structural drying techniques should be followed before rebuilding flooded areas. Work with qualified contractors to ensure repairs meet local building codes and standards.

Tackle Secondary Damage Issues

While addressing direct water damage, don’t overlook secondary issues that often crop up:

Mold outbreaks – With high leftover humidity, unchecked mold infestations necessitating professional remediation are common.

Warped furniture – Wooden furniture often twists irreparably unless dried and restored properly immediately.

Rust formation – Exposed metal structures, pipes and appliances develop accelerated rust corrosion that spreads if neglected.

Rotting wood – Wet wood elements like cabinetry, trims and doors experience faster rot damage that compromises integrity.

Restoration technicians are trained to catch and address such secondary moisture damage concerns. Take help as needed.

Replace Damaged Possessions

Despite best efforts, some valuables end up too damaged to salvage after water disasters. Know what to discard and replace:

  • Upholstered furniture – Couches, mattresses and other thick padded furnishings tend to harbor moisture and mold permanently.

  • Electronics – Floodwaters can instantly fry sensitive devices like televisions and computers beyond repair.

  • Appliances – With critical motor/electrical failure after water exposure, replacement is usually the practical option for appliances.

  • Clothing/textiles – Absorbing high water content causes irreparable stretching and staining in most fabrics.

Check if your homeowners insurance coverage includes reimbursements for damaged personal property. Either way, prepare for sizable restoration costs.

Prevent Future Flood Damage

After extensive flooding, it’s wise to assess and address what went wrong to avoid repeat incidents:

  • Inspect foundations – Check for cracks/gaps in poured concrete or block foundation walls allowing water intrusion. Use injection epoxies or external sealants to close such openings.

  • Improve drainage – Ensure downspouts direct rainwater away from the structure’s perimeter and ground slopes downwards away from your home.

  • Install backflow valves – Plumbing backflow prevention devices stop sewage/drain water from backing up during floods.

  • Consider French drains – These perforated pipe systems around basements channel away subterranean groundwater seepage.

  • Flood-proof essentials – For vulnerable finished basements, look into flood vents, barriers and waterproofing paint. Or store valuables upstairs.

With global warming, extreme weather events are increasing so smart flood-proofing protects your property from repeat devastation.

Water damage brings miserable, costly consequences but prompt, smart response minimizes the impact significantly. Follow these key steps to take control of the situation and facilitate smooth restoration of your home. Stay safe as you navigate the turbulent aftermath!


Duration depends on damage severity. Could be a few days for minor leakage up to months for extensive flooding requiring mold remediation or major structural repairs.

Only if the property is completely safe – no health hazards from contaminated/stagnant water or collapsing structures. Temporary relocation may be needed.

Costs vary based on damage extent, local labor rates and special services needed (mold removal, structural repairs etc). Expect insurance to cover a sizable portion.

Standard policies don’t include flood coverage – need separate flood insurance for that. But damage from plumbing leaks, rain and appliance issues is often covered. Check policy terms.

Ill-advised without proper equipment and expertise which professionals have. Attempting DIY repairs often worsens damage and health/safety risks.

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