My House Has Water Damage

Photo of Dr. Sharol with a big smile in oval photo frame
Photo of mold growing on building materials in wall.

How To Start

I have been through water damage, mold damage and mold removal. Although not an expert remediator, I can tell you things that I, or others have done, and suggest other people, or organizations that can be of help to you.

Much of the data on this page comes from United States EPA and CDC recommendations. If you want to review all their extensive data, go to this CDC link. I have attempted to take their recommendations as well as other data that I think is important to know and compile it here on this page. It is a work in progress. I also add my comments in various places. Please realize that this is not an exact science and a lot is being learned about how to find and correct water damage so as to lessen the likelihood of your home becoming moldy. This page is about cleaning up after water damage, it is not about cleaning up a moldy home.  You can read about  finding, and correcting mold damage at "Finding Mold In Your Home". There is also an article on testing moldy homes here.

Mold is everywhere. You can't eliminate it completely or permanently. Mold is also necessary, as if we did not have mold, we would not have compost, nothing would ever decay, and we'd all be so buried in junk, and debris that nothing could grow on the earth. But we don't much like to see mold indoors, and certainly not on our walls, ceilings, or furniture.

These guidelines are for damage caused by clean water. If you know or suspect that the water is contaminated with sewage, or with chemical or biological pollutants, then PPE and containment are required by OSHA. An experienced professional should be consulted if you or your remediators do not have expertise remediating in contaminated water situations. Do not use fans until you have determined that the water is clean or sanitary.

Keep in mind a simple rule as you make decisions. If moisture has been on a building material that is porous for more than 48 hours or there is mold on it, throw it out.

Before I start here, I want to give you a link to someone who can be a good consultatnt to call on if you don't know what to do. Check out this site for very good assistance: survivingremediation.com

Causes of Moisture Issues

Moisture problems can have many causes. Some moisture problems have been linked to changes in building construction practices since the 1970s. These practices led to buildings that are tightly sealed but, in some cases, lack adequate ventilation. Without adequate ventilation, moisture from daily living may build up indoors and mold may grow.

Additionally, the building materials used are easily moistened and most of them tend to hold moisture once they are wet. Then to top things off, they are terribly toxic.

A building must be properly designed for climate, site location, and use, and its design must be accurately followed during construction or the building may have moisture issues. I constantly see people build on wetlands, at the base of hills that have springs in them and many other conditions that make me wonder if the contractor is crazy, stupid or simply does not care.

Mold/bacteria can grow due to undiscovered or ignored moisture problems. Delayed or insufficient maintenance can also lead to mold/bacterial growth. Moisture problems in temporary structures, or structures used infrequently are more likely associated with mold problems.

Where to look for common moisture problems

  • Leaking roofs.
  • Leaking or condensing water pipes, especially pipes inside wall cavities.
  • Leaking fire-protection sprinkler systems.
  • Landscaping, gutters, and down spouts that direct water into or under a building.
  • High humidity (> 60% relative humidity).
  • Unvented combustion appliances such as clothes dryers vented into a garage, an attic or a crawl space. (Clothes dryers and other combustion appliances should be vented to the outside.)
  • Some moisture problems are not easy to see. For example, the inside of walls where pipes and wires are run (pipe and utility tunnels) are common sites of mold growth.
  • Mold is frequently found on outer walls in cold corners behind furniture where condensation forms.
  • Poorly draining condensate drain pans inside air handling units.
  • Porous thermal or acoustic liners inside duct work.
  • Roof materials above ceiling tiles.
  • The back side of drywall (also known as gypsum board, wallboard, or sheet rock®), paneling, and wallpaper.
  • The underside of carpets and pads.
  • Basements
  • Around sinks and showers/tubs

 

Many buildings incorporate vapor barriers in the design of their walls and floors. Vapor barriers must be located and installed properly or the building may have moisture problems. A vapor barrier is a layer of material that slows or prevents the absorption or release of moisture from or into a wall or floor. Additionally if a building was built in the rain, moist studs may not be able to dry out due to the vapor barrier keeping moisture inside the wall cavity. Vapor barriers can prevent damp or wet building materials from drying quickly enough to prevent mold growth. Mold spores are everywhere and mold starts to grow in 24-48 hours, even if you don't yet notice it.

 

Investigating Hidden Moisture

This can be difficult and may require a professional with experience investigating water and mold-damaged buildings. Specialized equipment such as bore scopes and moisture meters, infrared meters and in some cases special sampling techniques, may be helpful in locating and identifying hidden mold areas. Investigating hidden moisture requires caution since disturbing a possibly moldy area may spread mold throughout the building. Personal protective equipment is sometimes needed when looking for moisture and mold. If mold might be released into the air, investigators should use protective equipment to reduce exposure. This can include masks or respirators, and full body suits.

 

Humidity

Sometimes, humidity or dampness (water vapor) in the air can supply enough moisture for mold growth. Indoor relative humidity should be kept below 60 percent — ideally between 30 percent and 50 percent, if possible. Low humidity has also been shown to discourage pests (such as cockroaches) and dust mites.

Humidity levels can rise in a building as a result of:

  • Use of humidifiers
  • Steam radiators
  • Moisture-generating appliances such as dryers, and combustion appliances such as stoves.
  • Cooking
  • Showering
  • Washing dishes
  • Washing clothes
  • Drying clothes
  • Cooling
  • Even breathing and sweating adds to humidity, especially when there are many people in the building.

Remove humidity from the house. This can be done with exhaust fans and ventilation. Make sure all fans and vents are going to the outside of the building and not into the attic or crawlspace.

Prevent moisture from condensation: Reduce the potential for condensation on cold surfaces (i.e., windows, piping, exterior walls, roof, or floors) by adding insulation.

If you have a moisture problem that is not being fixed at least use a de-humidifyer.

One function of the building heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system is to remove moisture from the air before the air is distributed throughout the building. If the HVAC system is turned off during or shortly after major cleaning efforts that involve a lot of water, such as mopping and carpet shampooing or cleaning, the humidity may rise greatly, and moisture or mold problems may develop.

Humidity can be measured with a humidity gauge or meter.

Hygrometer: Relative Humidity Gauge

Tells you how much moisture is in your house. You can find these in an electronic gadget store. This is one I have used and had good luck with.

Look for Condensation

Condensation can be a sign of high humidity. When warm, humid air contacts a cold surface, condensation may form. (To see this, remove a cold bottle of water from a refrigerator and take it outside on a hot day. Typically, condensation will form on the outside of the bottle.)

Dehumidify The Air

Dehumidify the air if you have high humidity in your house. (Check with a hygrometer.)

HVAC Systems

Mold growing near the intake to an HVAC system indicates potential ventilation humidity problems. An HVAC system that is part of an identified moisture problem may also be a site of mold growth. Experience and professional judgment should be used when working with the HVAC system; consult a professional if needed.

If the HVAC system has insulation on the inside of the air ducts , and the insulation gets wet or moldy, it should be removed and replaced because the material cannot be cleaned effectively. (Personally, insulation inside an air duct that can get moist just seems silly. I would not buy such ductwork.) Please note that there are no antimicrobial products or biocides approved by EPA for use on lined duct work.

 

Control Moisture In The HVAC System- A Key Issue

Controlling moisture is the most effective way of keeping mold from growing in air ducts.

Steps To Control Moisture In Ductwork Include
  • Promptly and properly repair any leaks or water damage.
  • Remove standing water under the cooling coils of air handlers by making sure the drain pans slope toward the drain and the drain is flowing freely.
  • Make sure ducts are properly sealed and insulated in all non-air-conditioned spaces so moisture due to condensation does not enter the system and the system works as intended. To prevent condensation, the heating and cooling system must be properly insulated.
  • Operating and maintaining any in-duct humidification equipment strictly according to the manufacturer's recommendations. (These systems worry me. I would not use them in my house.)

Crawl Spaces

Crawl spaces where relative humidity is high are common sites of hidden mold growth, particularly if the crawl space has a bare earth floor. The soil will wick moisture, through capillary action, from moist to dry areas. The relative warmth of the crawl space will dry the soil by evaporation, adding this moisture to the air in the crawl space where it can cause mold to grow. Also, in areas where the water table is high and weather conditions are suitable, ground water may enter a crawl space.

The moisture that accumulates in a crawl space may also enter another part of the building and contribute to mold growth there. Moisture can pass from a crawl space into a building through cracks in walls, floors/ceilings.

Crawl spaces should be designed specifically to avoid moisture problems. Most crawl spaces are vented. However, the new thought is that conditioned crawl spaces are a better way to go. These too have problems though.

Crawl spaces should be designed and constructed to be dry. Crawl spaces should control rainwater, groundwater and provide drainage for potential plumbing leaks or flooding incidents. There should be a drying mechanism. One of the most effective ways to provide a drying mechanism to a crawl space is to condition a crawl space by heating and cooling the crawl space as if the crawl space is included as part of the home. Air must be supplied to the crawl space from the home in order to provide this conditioning. Although some contractors suggest returning this air back to the home, I would have it exhausted to the outside unless I was assured by the encapsulation system in the crawlspace that there was no way there would be any type of mold laden air in the crawl space returning to the inside of my home. (So far, no one can convince me of this.) Most homes do better with actively conditioned air to the crawl space from a heating system in the house. This becomes unnecessary if the house is in a dry climate or if the crawl space has free air flow with a conditioned basement space. (Basements often have issues of moisture and mold by the way.)

Crawl spaces must have a ground cover that prevents evaporation of ground moisture into the crawl space. One of the most common is 6 mil sheet polyethylene that has taped/sealed joints and that is attached to the crawl space perimeter walls. This ground cover must be continuous through piers and supports.

Crawl space perimeter walls, steps, rim joist areas and any other concrete or exposed masonry should be insulated with an insulation that prevents moisture in the air from accessing these surfaces and creating condensation. However, this must be done in a manner that does not cause mold to grow inside the insulation up against the joists and get trapped by the insulation.

See the vapor barrier section below for more details on protecting crawl spaces.

Drying Buildings, Building Materials, and Furnishings

Buildings and building furnishings will often get wet. They must be dried or "allowed to dry" quickly (within 24-48 hours) in order to avoid mold growth. In general, increasing air circulation and temperature will increase the speed of drying.

Commercial firms that do mold remediation work or work on water- and fire-damaged buildings often use large fans, dehumidifiers, and other equipment to dry wet buildings and items quickly before mold has a chance to grow. This action can save money and your health in the long run, because if the building or furnishings are dried completely and quickly, mold will not grow, and a mold remediation will not be needed. I would warn you to check out their equipment. Ask them how they clean the equipment from location to location. You don't want them bringing mold spores and mycotoxins from the moldy building they just came from and depositing them with the fan all over your space.

Floods

During a flood cleanup, the indoor air quality in your home or office may appear to be the least of your problems. However, failure to remove contaminated materials and to reduce moisture and humidity can present serious long-term health risks. Standing water and wet materials are a breeding ground for microorganisms, such as viruses, bacteria, and mold. They can cause disease, trigger allergic reactions, cause chronic inflammatory response syndrome and continue to damage materials long after the flood.

Buildings that have been heavily damaged by flood waters should be assessed for structural integrity and remediated by experienced professionals.

 

Equipment to locate hidden moisture

Sometimes your eyes and nose are not enough to find hidden moisture.

Moisture Meters

Many investigators use moisture meters to find wet areas where mold may be growing. These meters measure the moisture in many types of building materials. They also can monitor the process of drying these materials. A moisture meter typically has a thin probe that can be inserted into the material to be tested or pressed directly against its surface. Moisture meters can be used on carpet, wallboard, wood, brick, and concrete. Because mold often grows where moisture is high, a moisture meter can help an investigator locate hidden areas of mold growth.

 

Infrared Thermal Imgaing

This tool can scan areas of wall surface looking for moisture that is behind it. It works by looking for cooler and warmer areas. Wetness in the wall begins evaporating as soon as it is on the wall. The evaporation cools the area ad the camera sees this cooler area. Other things like cool air from a window can also create cool spots, but the person using the meter should be trained to know which cool spots are more likely due to a leak. This is a good tool to give you an idea of possible issues without opening the wall. Next you can look with a borescope or open the wall to peak.

Borescopes

Some investigators use borescopes to look for mold growth behind walls without significantly damaging the drywall. (A borescope is an optical probe, inserted through a small hole drilled into a wall, that lets an investigator inspect a small portion of the wall without causing extensive damage.) High humidity in a building can lead to mold growth, so humidity gauges may be useful for checking or monitoring humidity throughout the building.

 

Remember that you can also have mold in a wall cavity that was caused by a leak from long ago that has been fixed but the mold and mycotoxins are still there since it was not remediated properly.

 

Water Clean Up

For clean up ideas on mold and toxins go to cleaning up homes or cleaning up  your stuff.

Specific Types of Water Damaged Materials & Ideas on how to Dry them.
  • Books/Papers: The best thing to do is toss them if they are soaked, but you can try drying them out if you have a way to hold them open and place heat and a dryer on them.
  • Carpet and pad: I suggest throwing them all away generally as they are so hard to clean and dry properly. However some people use water extraction vacuum and reduce the humidity created with a dehumidifier. Fans and heat can also be used to speed the process up.
  • Ceiling Tiles: Discard and replace.
  • Cellulose Insulation: Discard and replace.
  • Concrete or Cinder Blocks: Remove water with water extraction vacuum. Dehumidifiers, heaters and fans can speed up the process.
  • Fiberglass insulation: Discard and replace
  • Hard surface porous flooring ( linoleum, ceramic tile, vinyl): Check to make sure the underflooring is dry. If not, it has to be dried also. If unable to dry quick enough, it will all have to be discarded. Vacuum or wipe up water as needed, use cleaner and scrub as necessary.
  • Porous substances such as sheetrock or drywall should often be removed, but small areas with little damage may be dryable in 48 hours or less. Dispose of it if it is wet for more than 48 hours. This is a touchy area. It depends on if just the outside of it is a bit moist or if there is water inside the wall. If water is in the wall, the wall cavity will need to be opened, and dried. If the wall cavity is dry and you can dry the entire wallboard all the way through in 48 hours, then go for it by using dehumidifiers, heaters and fans.
  • Nonporous, hard surfaces (plastics, metals): Vacuum or damp wipe with water and mild cleaner and scrub if necessary. Allow to dry.

Dry items before mold grows, if possible. In most cases, mold will not grow if wet or damp items are dried within 24-48 hours.

Carpet

I personally would throw out any wet wall to wall carpeting as they are prone to growing mold from cleaning with water that is normally done. A flood in a room with wall to wall will be worse than a carpet cleaning usually. If however all that is wet is the carpet and backing, and you want to dry it, this is the procedure. To dry carpet and backing within 48 hours, remove water with a wet vacuum, pull the carpet and pad off the floor, and dry them using a fan to blow air over them. A dehumidifier can be used to reduce the humidity in the room where the carpet and backing are drying, while fans can be used to accelerate the drying process. If you need to dispose of the wall to wall carpet, I suggest you do not put it back in your house again as it is a source of all sorts of toxins, not just mold

Concrete Or Cinder Block

Water can be removed from concrete or cinder block surfaces with a water-extraction vacuum. The drying also can be accelerated by using dehumidifiers, fans, and heaters.

Linoleum, Tile, and Vinyl Flooring

Hard surface flooring (such as linoleum, ceramic tile, and vinyl) should be vacuumed or damp wiped with a mild detergent and allowed to dry. They should be scrubbed clean, if necessary. If the under-flooring is wet, it should be dried using a vacuum or by exposing it to the air as needed to dry it in 48 hours.

Plastics And Metals

Non-porous, hard surfaces such as plastics and metals should be vacuumed or damp wiped with water and mild detergent, then allowed to dry. Scrubbing may be necessary to thoroughly clean the surfaces.

Furniture

Water should be removed from upholstered furniture with a water-extraction vacuum. Fans, dehumidifiers, and heaters may be used to accelerate the drying process. Completely drying upholstered furniture within 48 hours may be difficult, so if the piece is valuable, you may consider consulting a restoration or water-damage professional who specializes in furniture.

Drywall, Gypsum Board Or Gypsum Wallboard, or Sheetrock

Drywall, also known as gypsum board or gypsum wallboard, or Sheetrock may be dried in place if there is no obvious swelling and the seams are intact. Otherwise, removal is necessary. The wall cavity is the most difficult area to dry, and it should be ventilated if drywall is left to dry in place. (Drywall is not made out of boards of wood; traditionally, drywall is made of the mineral gypsum with a layer of heavy paper on the outside and inside. Commercial gypsum boards and drywall are also available with a variety of outside layers and coatings. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a typical new home contains more than 7 metric tons of gypsum.) To dry behind the drywall without removing it, usually the bottom base board is removed and holes are drilled behind it to allow heat and air from fans to penetrate. I would warn you if there is much moisture in the wall cavity, you may need to remove the dry-wall to dry it in 48 hours. If it is going to take longer, ask yourself if you want to take the chance of growing mold? Unless the damage is small, drywall is often thrown out to avoid mold growth.

Drapes

To clean water-damaged window drapes, follow the manufacturer's laundering or cleaning instructions. They need to be dired in 24-48 hours to avoid mold growth.

Wooden Surfaces

To clean wooden surfaces, remove moisture immediately and use dehumidifiers, fans, and gentle heat to dry them. (Be very careful when applying heat to hardwood floors.) Treated or finished wood surfaces can be cleaned with mild detergent and clean water, then allowed to dry. Wet paneling should be pried from the wall for drying.
Some water-damaged items, including ceiling tiles, cellulose and fiberglass insulation, drywall and gypsum board, and books and papers, usually have to be discarded. If valuable or important books, documents, or other items are moldy or water damaged, you may wish to consult a restoration, water damage, or remediation expert.

What If I Could Not Clean UP And Dry Out The Moisture In 48 Hours

I suggest you read "Finding Mold In Your Home" and "Cleaning A Moldy Home"

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