Water Damage Restoration: FAQs

Water Damage: Site Assessment in Emergency Mitigation Process


Water damage is hazardous to your health and dangerous for your home or business. Therefore, time is of the essence. If treated quickly, you can minimize damage, reduce restoration costs, prevent mold growth and other contaminants. When performing emergency mitigation services involving water damage, the goal is to control the water source, contain the damage, dry the structure and contents, and prevent additional secondary damages.

Before mitigation begin, the damaged location should be evaluated to determined the cause of the problem, the extent of the damage, and all other factors likely to influence remediation of the problem. Before exposing other workers, potential safety hazards (i.e. released toxic chemicals) must be identified and dealt with.

Before the physical process begins, an emergency work authorization order that is signed by the property owner or policy owner must be obtained. The emergency work authorization should not include permission to perform restoration or reconstruction procedures, as processes of restoration or reconstruction should be awarded under a separate contract.

Water damage usually requires the use of professional drying equipment when the interior atmospheric humidity exceeds 40% or when the moisture content of building components or content items exceed recommended moisture levels. When interior and exterior humidity are in equilibrium, or the interior humidity is dryer than the exterior, a closed drying process should be performed.

The following procedures should apply when drying a structure:

  • Every effort should be made to prevent secondary damages. 
  • Electrical power should be turned off when there is equipment in standing or  runoff water.
  • Standing and runoff water should be extracted, mopped or drained.
  • Contents should be moved to a dry location or placed on foam blocks or protector pads.
  • Loose plaster and drywall on ceilings should be secured or posted as dangers.
  • Temperature, humidity, and dew point readings should be taken
  • High moisture (humidity) areas should be isolated from the balance of the structure to prevent secondary damages and reduce drying time.
  • Extracted wastewater should be disposed per local ordnances. 
  • Drying equipment left for extended (overnight) period of time should be inspected at least once in a 24-hour period.



Contractors should have a safety program in place, highlighting and pertaining to water loss mishaps and mold including on-site MSDS sheets for all chemicals and materials. To prevent electrical shock or electrocution, electrical power should be turned off at the breaker panel or fuse box before persons attempt to remove electrical equipment, appliances, etc. in standing or runoff water.

When equipment and extension cords are equipped with a three-prong plug and the ground prong is missing, they should not be used and lockout and tagging procedures for electrical power should conform toOSHA regulations. Equipment should be plugged into GFCI breakers.

The water damaged site should be considered a health hazard until the water source category has been established and classified. The ATSDR - Emergency Response Department should be contacted when water has been exposed to the hazardous substances listed in the Finalized Toxicological Profile developed by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)

If mold (fungi) formations are discovered, the mold formation or room that contains the mold formation should be isolated from the balance of the structure to prevent cross contamination.

When food is exposed to water hazards, it should not be consumed.  This includes foods that have been exposed through HVAC infiltration and cross contamination.

Equipment and tooling used after water mitigation, mold remediation or sewage clean-ups should be decontaminated before being put-back in storage or re-used.

Every effort should be made to prevent cross-contamination during mitigation or remediation. Already cleaned, disinfected and sanitized areas should be posted as cleaned and sanitized. The prevention of cross-contamination should include persons (foot traffic), clothing, equipment, tooling, chemical, and material packaging.

When working in contaminated areas, the contaminated area should be sealed off by means of vapor barrier to limit the possibility of airborne contamination.  HVAC systems should be closed off or shut down from the balance of the structure until the mitigation or remediation process is completed.

Persons working in water loss environments should be protected against water related hazards through immunization.

  • Persons with open cuts and sores should not be exposed to contaminated water or equipment.  Preferably, persons with open cuts and sores should not mitigate #3 Black Water or sewage losses until cuts and sores have healed.
  • Children, elderly and persons with respiratory complications should be warned of possible airborne contamination or when mold (fungi) formation is discovered.

Time is the enemy in water damage mitigation. Conditions will change from bad to worse over time, as   water can transform into a biological nightmare if not treated in an expedient, proper and systematic fashion. Within:

  • 24 to 48 hours: Clean (potable) water can grow mold and bacteria and porous materials will absorb moisture.
  • 48 to 72 hours: Mold can start feeding off organic materials.  Based on the temperature, molds can form and germinate, while porous materials can reach full absorption and secondary damages can occur.
  • 72 + hours: Clean water will saturate and destroy building components and contents, while mold and its associated musty odor can accelerate into all areas of the structure.

The aforementioned time frames are based on clean (potable) water.  In situations containing #2 Gray Water or #3 Black Water, the damages can intensify within the above time frames.

Chemicals: The water category, surface types and post-condition of the structure and contents will determine the type and the quantity of chemicals needed. Chemicals, paints, etc. should be secured or removed from the premises at the close of business daily.

Disinfectants and Sanitizers: Disinfectants are only effective after a surface has been thoroughly cleaned, and are best applied and most effective when sprayed.  Fine misting is not as affective as a thorough soaking, especially on porous surfaces. Organic soils can neutralize disinfectants and jeopardize their productions; thus, the mop and bucket method of applying disinfectants should be avoided due to possible pre and post cross-contamination. 

Approved disinfectant should be applied to affected areas after a thorough cleaning, while an application of an approved disinfectant can be applied before cleanup begins to lower volatile organic compounds (VOC's) and curtail microbial growth.  Pre-disinfecting will not reduce contaminates to safe levels and all safety precautions should apply. When using bleach as a disinfectant, bleaches should be diluted using clean water to achieve their highest pH reading possible. 

When cleaning with a pre-mix cleaner/disinfectant, a second application of the pre-mix should be applied. Disinfectants should be allowed adequate time to infiltrate and destroy contaminates as described on their product label, while 10 minutes is the minimum recommended period for some disinfectants to react.  Moreover, when disinfecting surfaces, disinfectants should be applied at levels acceptable to public or private health officials. When using disinfectants, the manufacturers’ mixing, use practices, safety precautions, and disposal recommendations should be followed. 

When handling, transporting and applying disinfectants, all compliance and safety precautions set forth by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) should apply.

Water Source Category: Water losses should be categorized into three categories:

  • Category #1 Clean Water
  • Category #2 Gray Water
  • Category #3 Black Water

Category #1 Clean Water: will be from a broken water (pipe) line, appliance water line, sink or tub overflow, broken toilet tank, rain water, etc.  As clean water pass through or over building materials, its condition can change to a category #2 Gray Water or category #3 Black Water. Clean potable water poses no direct threat to humans.

Category #2 Gray Water: will be from an aquarium, appliance waste line, waterbed, toilet bowl, etc. This water can contain chemicals, contaminates or bio pollutants such as; fungi, bacteria, viral and algae.  Category #2 Gray Water should be treated as a contaminate since microorganisms can cause sickness and disease, and Category #2 Gray Water can turn into a Category #3 Black Water if not treated in a timely manner.

Category #3 Black Water: will be from rainwater that has passed over a contaminate, sewage backup or floodwaters and can contain sewage, chemicals, algae, protein, etc. Category #3 Black Water is highly unsanitary and can cause serious illness or death to humans. 

Sewage Back-Flow by Situation Classification: Sewage is threatening to human health and health complications can develop through transmissions; Inhalation, hand to mouth, open cuts, sores, etc. All water losses involving sewage should be of a serious concern to all involved and/or exposed.  The amount of sewage, whether or not the affected area is confined, and the types of materials affected will determine its classification.

Situation #1: will be from of a bathroom overflow that is confined (limited) to the bathroom, and the following should apply:

  • Short exposure period
  • Affected structural components, will be solid, non-porous, surface
  • Exhausting fan system is operable and the HVAC ventilating system has positive pressure

Situation #2: will be from of a bathroom overflow containing sewage that went beyond the confines of the bathroom and affected an adjoining room, and the following should apply:

  • Short exposure period
  • Affected structural components and contents will be both, solid surfaces and absorbent, porous surfaces
  • HVAC ventilating system is operating as positive and negative, possibly allowing some airborne contaminates to expose other areas of the structure

Situation # 3: will be a sewage main line backup or overflow, that penetrated the indoor environment of a structure, saturating its components and contents, and the following should apply:

  • Short to moderate exposure
  • Affected structural components and contents will be of both, solid surfaces, and absorbent surfaces, and is widely spread contamination
  • HVAC ventilating system is operating as positive and negative, possibly allowing some airborne contaminates to expose other areas of the structure, and/or infiltrated with solid contaminates.

When performing remediation after a sewage back-flow, the EPA  working document --- "Suggested Guidelines for Remediation of Damage from Sewage Back flow into Buildings" should be followed.

Water damage sites have an extensive amount of variables and unknowns, and although it may be impossible to formulate an absolute perfect drying equation, a proper water damage site assessment and psychrometric principals, when combined with drying experience, constant monitoring and changes as needed, will produce positive drying results.

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