All You Need to Know About Water and Water Damage

The cleanup has begun in disaster regions across the country where catastrophic hurricanes ripped through coastal communities, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake. Debris, chemicals, damaged buildings, and floodwaters all present new dangers to areas working around the clock to rebuild some semblance of modern society.

If you are volunteering to help or were affected directly by the storms, chances are you will be exposed to floodwater. Water is critical to supporting life, but it can also endanger it. Authorities use the IIRC Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration to classify water. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Category 1

“Clean water” that poses no threat if consumed by humans and is assumed to be untainted from the source. It can become contaminated as it reaches soils on the floor, or mixes with building components, such as walls, decking, and subflooring. As time and temperature interact with Category 1 water, it can cause the quality to degrade and promote the growth of bacteria and other hazardous microorganisms.


  •      Burst water pipes in residential areas
  •      Broken supply lines on appliances
  •      Vertically falling rainwater
  •      Tub or sink overflow

Category 2

“Grey water” that contains some level of contamination, and would probably cause discomfort, even sickness, if ingested by humans. Sources of corruption include chemical, biological, and physical contaminants. Time and temperature also affect the level of contamination, and will eventually become more dangerous.


  •      Toilet bowls with urine (no feces)
  •      Seepage as a result of hydrostatic failure
  •      Water discharge from household appliances, such as dishwashers and washing machines
  •      Sump pump failures, commonly found in basements

Category 3

“Black water” which is highly contaminated and if consumed by humans, will result in death or serious illness. This type of water contains extremely unsanitary elements, such as toxic bacteria and fungi, and creates unsafe conditions for indoor environments.


  •      Sewage
  •      Seawater
  •      Rising surface waters from rivers, streams, and creeks
  •      Storm surges flowing through homes
  •      Standing floodwater
  •      Toilet backflow from beyond the toilet trap (regardless of color)
  •      Category 2 water that has remained stagnant and not removed in a timely manner

Cleaning crews responding to water-damaged homes use these categories to determine the level of contamination within the water and to assume the level of destruction. Water damage is challenging to identify, and it takes a trained professional to properly investigate potential losses. After wet disasters, it takes more than just picking up debris. The process requires drying and restoring substructures within the property that high levels of moisture can ruin. Plaster, drywall, wood, concrete and metal are all affected by water damage, and mold will quickly develop if not addressed. If left unattended, plaster and dry will crumble, metal rusts, and the wood will rot, destroying the integrity of the structure and creating the possibility of collapse. Moisture that is not properly and completely removed will eventually destroy a building. Skilled repair crews are necessary to accurately assess the situation and develop the best plan to fix the problem. After the type of water is categorized, these professionals will also assign the damage to a class of destruction.

Class 1

The lowest amount of damage and the easiest to fix due to a slow evaporation rate. Only small areas of the building are affected such as materials with a low rate of permeance, like concrete and plywood. Carpet has very little or no water damage.

Class 2

 Fast evaporation rates increase the seriousness of the situation and affect the entire room. Carpets are wet, and the moisture is being absorbed up the walls by at least 12 inches. Moisture is present and will remain in the structure’s materials.

Class 3 

The fastest evaporation rate is ongoin, and has saturated the ceiling, walls, insulation, carpet, cushions, and sub-floor materials. Water damage from overhead sources is usually this level of damage.

Class 4: Special circumstance resulting from extended amounts of time and liquid that have saturated low-permeance materials, such as hardwood, brick, and stone.

Household microorganisms that pose a threat to water-damaged structures typically require five conditions to originate, develop, multiply, and spread:

  1.     Organic food source, such as paper and wood, commonly found in construction materials
  2.     Moisture or high humidity
  3.     Mild temperatures (68-86 degrees F)
  4.     Stagnant air
  5.     Time, as little as several hours

Any attempts to minimize these ideal conditions will help prevent microbes from quickly invading properties damaged by water. These efforts can successfully prolong the time it takes for microbes to grow, and can help repairs move more quickly. When dealing with this type of damage, some safety considerations apply:

  •      Integrity of the structure – Storm damage and water damage can significantly increase the chances of a building collapsing. Always consider the impacts of wind and moving water surrounding the structure. If there are any doubts, licensed builders and structural engineers should be advised.
  •      Ventilation within the building – One of the optimal conditions for mold and mildew growth is little to no airflow. Fresh moving air will keep toxic spores from concentrating in the confined space and poisoning the air. The windows and doors should be opened, and ventilation should be maintained during the restoration process. Inhaling microorganisms and their byproducts are considered hazardous to human health.
  •      Risk of being shocked – Electricity is undetectable without equipment unless it is too late. To limit the risk of being shocked, turn off the electricity by contacting the utility provider or flipping the circuit breaker. Continue to be cautious, and anticipate the sudden recurrence of electric potential.
  •      Wear protective gear – The best way to stay safe is by using protective clothing, gloves, eye protection, boots with steel toes, and a hard hat. Contaminated materials should not touch open skin, and can cause severe irritation if it contacts soft tissue, like the eyes. In most instances, it is also recommended to use an organic vapor respirator to prevent unintentional inhalation of microorganisms.

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