Home, Plumbing, Repairs

How to deal with a water damage emergency

how to deal with a water damage emergency

What should you do about water damage? It happens a thousand times a day around the world: hose lines and water pipes burst, washing machines suddenly let water or light wells rain and pour down into the basement. The worst case scenario for furniture, floors and walls. If you react quickly and correctly, you will soon feel comfortable again. Our guide outlines how to deal with a water damage emergency.

The guest mattress is completely soaked, the potato supply is no better and the wallpaper comes off the walls. All this is because the washing machine’s inlet hose slipped unnoticed from the tap and no water stop was installed. The moisture penetrated into the core of the walls within a very short time and moistened the floor including the insulation layer. After a short time, the floor coverings swelled, the plaster bloomed and wood was soaked with water. Where steam or moisture barriers are installed, the water is enclosed in the insulation layers or in the masonry.

Even with vapor-tight floor coverings and layers of adhesive, the moisture that has penetrated cannot usually vent off by itself. Then the consequences are fatal: Insulations lose their effect and the moisture forms the ideal breeding ground for health-endangering molds . The typical musty smell is omnipresent. The moisture in the masonry rises further due to capillary forces. Ultimately, the statics of the building are at risk .

You need to act swiftly to deal with a water damage emergency. When a “disaster” is discovered, every minute is precious : some belongings can perhaps still be brought to safety. The faster the damage control is started, the better the consequential damage can be limited – the effort and cost of drying as well.

Deal with a water damage emergency: leak detection and elimination of causes

Deal with a water damage emergency

So that drying does not become a Sisyphus task, the cause of the damage must first be found and eliminated . If the hose of the washing machine has broken off, this is not difficult. However, if a constant rain has made its way into the building due to a previously undetected building damage or if the underfloor heating is defective, this is not always apparent at first glance. Then a leak detection specialist is required from a specialist company.

Water damage: dry old storage cellar

In many old cellars, the bottom surface is not sealed against moisture. This means that there is no risk of water getting inside and causing undetected damage. Here it is possible to tackle moisture through surface and room air drying. The principle of “heating properly – ventilating properly” as in the bathroom does not work if there is a large amount of water damage. This is where condensation dryers – sometimes also called condenser dryers or dehumidifiers – are used.

The principle of operation of these devices is very simple: First of all, they suck in the humid room air via a built-in fan. This is passed over a cooling section, the condenser, and then cooled down so suddenly that the temperature falls below the dew point. The cold air, however, only stores a small amount of moisture, which is condensed on the cold surface and collected in a water container or discharged directly via a hose system. The energy that is released during water condensation is converted into heating energy, which now heats the dried air so that it can absorb moisture again.

Drying by condensation dryers can be accelerated by specifically heating wet areas and additionally generating a very strong air circulation by means of a turbo blower. However, these devices are noisy and consume a lot of electricity .

Anyone can of course rent a condensation dryer at the hardware store and set it up and maintain it correctly using the operating instructions. However, water damage is only on the safer side with professional help : Depending on the volume of the room and the humidity, a specialist company can determine exactly how many devices with which power are required. And: The layperson can only check the room humidity by using a hygrometer . (The value should be between 40 and a maximum of 60 percent, also near the wall and floor.) The specialist, on the other hand, controls the humidity in the room as well as in the walls and floor.

Water damage: Dry the basement properly

The conditions in a living room such as a hobby cellar or a sauna are much more difficult : here the floor is made up of several layers. Under the floor covering is the screed, underneath an insulating film, then the impact sound and thermal insulation. The technical drying measures that need to be carried out here depend on how deeply the water has penetrated. This can best be assessed by an expert, who is usually sent by the responsible insurance company.

First of all, the floor covering and the screed itself are carefully examined. Sometimes it is necessary to remove the floor covering together with the adhesive residues so that the moisture from the screed can then be released via room air or top drying. This works in a similar way to draining a storage cellar .

However, moisture cannot escape from the insulating area under the screed without technical support, since there is no air circulation . So-called side channel compressors or adsorption dryers are used here: core screeds are drilled through the screed into the dampened insulation layer . Pre-dried air is then blown into the insulation layer at high pressure using a hose system .

There it is enriched with moisture and, due to the overpressure, it returns as moist air either through the screed expansion joints at the edge or via relief holes . Then it is dried again using a dehumidifier, passed on to the blower and reintroduced into the sub-floor until the moisture is completely absorbed. In the case of large areas of moisture, condensation dryers are installed in addition to technical drying.

Where there is underfloor heating installed in the screed, the pipe routing must be known exactly so that the holes can be drilled safely. If there are no detailed plans, the lines are made visible using a so-called thermographic camera or an infrared measuring device.

Drying with an adsorption dryer is also possible if there is a floor covering on the screed: carpet or plastic coverings can be opened in the edge and butt joint area, individual tiles can be lifted up without being destroyed.

Comparable insulation drying systems like those in the floor area are also ideal for drying walls – for example in the eve

Comparable insulation drying systems like those in the floor area are also ideal for drying walls – for example in the event of water damage behind wall cladding, built-in cupboards or when it comes to drying the insulation layer within a house partition between double or row houses.

If drywall is installed in the basement , which is embedded in the screed insulation layer and the screed, these will absorb plenty of water in the event of a flood . For technical drying, the professional will remove the skirting boards in order to drill core holes in this area. Pre-dried air is blown in through these holes. It flushes through the insulation layer inside and thus also ensures the dehumidification of the planking made of plasterboard. Infrared devices or microwaves are rarely used for drying after water damage in private homes and always require the use of a specialist company.

Aftercare for water damage

When you deal with a water damage emergency, you also need to do follow-on care. If the moisture values ​​are correct again and all devices are often dismantled after weeks, more or less extensive renovation work will follow depending on the damage. Even if everything feels dry again, increased ventilation may still be necessary for months. And even after that, ventilating with three to four times a day of five minutes of draft should be a must.

Deal with a water damage emergency: first steps

  • To avoid a short circuit or electric shock, you must disconnect electrical devices from the mains , for example by removing the fuse.
  • If possible, turn off the source of water damage . For example, in the event of line damage, shut off the water supply at a shut-off tap or the main water tap.
  • To prevent environmental damage, stop or prevent the spread of pollutants such as oil or chemicals.
  • Remove standing water as quickly as possible, for example with a pump or a wet-dry vacuum cleaner . If you cannot manage the flood alone, call the fire brigade or a water damage emergency service (for a fee) for help.
  • Remove pieces of furniture and, if necessary, separate them from the damp surface with foils. The floor must still be able to ventilate!
  • Inform affected third parties (e.g. your neighbors in the other half of the semi-detached house) and your insurance company.
  • Photograph and document the damage – if possible also the cause.
  • Vacuum the remaining water or wipe it up with a damp cloth.
  • Clear the affected area as completely as possible so that a lot of air gets to the damp surfaces . Remove soaked wallpaper.

Every extensive drying campaign costs money. And you usually don’t know how long it will take. Compare the services and costs including energy consumption before you rent equipment or hire a specialist company! Ask for discounts for the weekend and flat-rate packages!

Water damage and insurance: tips for claims settlement

The home insurance replaces the replacement value of movable furnishings (eg furniture), by “inappropriately” leaked tap water were destroyed. In rented apartments, this also includes damage to wallpaper or laminate, which the tenant has installed himself, for many insurance companies.

The homeowners insurance of the house owner carries damage to the building, including all firmly connected objects (eg plaster, firmly bonded carpet, wallpaper). Tenants should inform their landlord as soon as possible. As long as these damp spots on the walls are not removed, the resident may reduce the rent. Neither household insurance nor residential building insurance cover damage caused by flooding or heavy rain .

They are cases for extended elementary damage insurance . This can be taken out as an add-on to household and / or building insurance and pays for damage caused by groundwater, floods and rain. Some insurers also provide replacement if water is pushed up by a backwater in the sewage system and does damage in spite of a functioning backwater safety device.

If a flood is foreseeable, the insured must bring his belongings to safety, otherwise the insurance can refuse to pay due to gross negligence. The catch with the extended elementary damage insurance: residents of a region threatened by flooding often do not get a contract.

If the water damage is caused by a stranger, their private liability insurance applies . However, it only replaces the small current value of the destroyed belongings. Stiftung Warentest therefore recommends that victims should take out their own household insurance in order to maintain the replacement value. Depending on the damage situation, the household contents insurer will then try to get the money back from the person who caused it.

Water damage : the right way to settle claims

In any case, the insurance should be informed immediately after a storm damage . Anyone who reports the damage in writing should do so by registered letter with acknowledgment of return. Anyone who is looked after by an insurance agency should also inform them immediately. Photos should be taken for documentation. An exact list of the damaged objects should also be drawn up. Witnesses can also be helpful. Under no circumstances should an expert be appointed.

The insurance only bears the costs for an expert commissioned by it. Damaged items should never be disposed of without the express (written) consent of the insurer. The policyholder has the duty to reduce the damage as much as possible, for example to seal a broken window or to bring household items from the flooded basement to safety.

Photo by Syed Qaarif Andrabi

gerhardt-richter Gerhardt Richter is a writer and a trainer at trade technical colleges, specializing in carpentry, plumbing, mechanics and construction.