Effects of Water Damage
Water Damage Restoration in the Works
Water damage is a problem that most property owners dread. When it rains heavily or snow melts quickly, the risk of this type of damage increases. Water can cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage by damaging wood furniture, upholstery, electronics, household appliances, and plumbing equipment. Water damage also increases the risk of mold growth, which is a very expensive problem to remediate. Hiring a water damage restoration company can make the cleanup process easier to handle, as these companies employ experienced workers who know the best ways to repair or replace damaged items and help with water damage cleanup.
Causes of Water Damage
There are several possible causes of water damage. Leaky dishwashers, clogged toilets, broken pipes, broken dishwasher hoses, overflowing washing machines, leaky roofs, plumbing leaks, and foundation cracks are just some of the possible causes of water damage in homes and businesses. Floods, heavy snow, and heavy rain are other possible causes of this type of damage and can lead to having water in basements. Too much water can lead to minor problems such as water in basement areas, or it can lead to the destruction of homes and businesses. Once a home or business sustains water damage, it is important to start the water damage cleanup immediately. Starting water damage cleanup as soon as possible increases the likelihood of saving water-soaked furniture, carpets, rugs, clothing, and other items.
Categories of Water Damage
Assessing the severity of the damage is important for determining what is needed to start water damage repair and water removal. There are several different categories assigned to water damage. Category 1 refers to clean water, or water that does not pose a threat to humans. Possible causes of this type of damage include broken appliances or sink overflows. Category 2 water is also called gray water. This means that the water is contaminated and may cause sickness of ingested. This type of water contains microorganisms. Broken toilets, broken sump pumps, and seepage may cause category 2 water damage. Category 3 water is known as black water. This type of water is unsanitary, as it contains bacteria and other organisms that cause sickness. The possible sources of black water damage include sewage problems and contamination of standing water.
There are also several classes of water damage. The class of damage is important when assessing water damage repair options. Class 1 is the least harmful form of damage. Materials absorb very little of the water from this type of damage. Water damage repair is the easiest in this type of situation. Class 2 has a fast rate of evaporation, which means that carpets and cushions may be damaged. Water damage repair is more difficult when it involves class 2 damage. Class 3 has the fastest rate of evaporation. In this case, the water may come from broken sprinklers or other overhead sources, soaking the walls and furniture. Class 4 requires special water restoration and water removal procedures. This type of damage may affect hardwood floors, plaster, and concrete.
The water restoration process is an important one. Using the right procedures and materials can help people save cherished belongings and even prevent their homes from being condemned. Water restoration companies specialize in mitigating the effects of water, but the success for water damage restoration depends on the severity of the damage and the amount of water that caused the damage. Water restoration companies may hire outside experts to assess a property and determine a water restoration and water removal plan. These water restoration companies typically use high-tech equipment and well-documented procedures to control water damage. Water in basement areas may only require a short cleanup process, but water in other areas of a property will require extensive remediation.
It is important to hire one of these water damage restoration companies as soon as possible after water damage occurs. Moisture promotes the growth of mold and other organisms, increasing the risk for serious health problems. Mold exposure may aggravate allergy and asthma symptoms, especially in children and people with compromised immune systems. Exposure may also increase the risk for respiratory diseases and other medical problems. Cleaning up immediately can help mitigate the health effects of water damage on everyone in a home or commercial space.
Mold 101: The Effects on Human Health
Mold Inside Attic Home
Mold is a non-scientific term for many types of fungi - unwanted, unappealing patches of black, brown, yellow, pink, green, smelly, fuzzy growths. Countless species of mold are found both indoors and outdoors.
"Mold" and "fungus" have many connotations, most of them unpleasant: musty odors, damp basements, moldy carpets, water leaks, soggy drywall, athlete's foot, and poisonous mushrooms, among others. On the positive side, molds are also responsible for penicillin and blue cheese; yeasts are fungi (plural of fungus) used to make bread, beer, and wine; and some types of mushrooms are considered edible delicacies. And without fungi to break them down, the world would be buried in leaves, trees, grass, and garbage.
Although mold and its spores are literally everywhere, active mold growth requires moisture. Whether on visible surfaces or hiding behind drywall, in attics, or under carpets, indoor mold grows in the presence of excessive dampness or water. Also found in damp indoor environments are:
- dust mites;
- break-down products of bacteria and molds, such as proteins, cell-wall particles (glucans) and volatile organic compounds (the actual cause of the musty odor associated with mold);
- airborne chemicals, gasses, and particulate matter caused by destruction of materials by growing molds.
Indoor mold may be unsightly and smelly, but the potential problems are more serious than that. By definition, actively-growing mold damages the material it lives on, thereby impairing structural integrity. In addition, mold is associated with some untoward health effects in humans, including allergies and infections. (Some health effects attributed to mold may in fact be caused by bacteria, dust mites, etc., found in mold-colonized environments. So-called "toxic mold" has been claimed as the cause of "toxic mold disease"; this syndrome remains undefined and "toxic mold" as a cause remains unproven. "Toxic mold" is also unproven as a cause of the various symptoms associated with "sick building syndrome".1,2)
Mold growth in homes, schools, and businesses should be eliminated for the sake of human health, structural integrity, and quality of life. Cleaning up small amounts of mold can be done by homeowners. Eliminating mold from large areas requires expertise and protection both for the removal specialists and occupants of the affected space.
Fungus and mold
Fungi comprise a vast world of organisms, perhaps as many as 300,000 species. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines funguses, or fungi, as "types of plants that have no leaves, flowers or roots." Fungi include such seemingly unrelated substances as poisonous and non-poisonous mushrooms; organisms that can cause athlete’s foot, fingernail infections, and some types of pneumonia; molds found in cheese, peanut butter, mulch, hay, grains, and spoiled foods; and the black material growing in bathroom grout.
Fungi reproduce by means of spores which are spread through the air but land and survive on surfaces. Many spores can remain dormant for long periods under dry conditions, but typically develop into fungi in the presence of moisture.
Outdoors, fungi break down organic matter, including leaves, grass clippings, and dead trees. The fungi themselves constitute a large mass of material with many types of spores. These spores vary with the material on which they are found, the season, and the weather. At any given time, the same types of spores are found indoors because they enter through doors and windows and on clothing and shoes.
Molds are fungi. Homes and structures often provide many opportunities for mold spores to grow, even in the absence of frank water leaks: seepage through foundation walls and cellar floors, dehumidifiers and air conditioners, window condensation, defective plumbing, damp bathrooms, air filters, and potted plants. Different types of mold spores thrive on different surfaces; for example, the "yellow slime" found on hardwood mulch won’t be found growing in a tiled bath enclosure.
Common indoor mold species include Aspergillus, Alternaria, Acremonium, Cladosporum, Dreschslera, Epicoccum, Penicillium, Stachybotrys, and Trichoderma. Specific types of molds can be tested for and identified. This allows comparison of indoor and outdoor mold species at a given location and time. If the two don't correlate, at least roughly, it is possible that indoor mold colonies have developed. Even if they're not in a visible location, such molds can release spores and other material into the indoor air.
The presence of molds or mold metabolites does not necessarily correlate with human illness, though. Tests identify the presence of these substances at a moment in time, and not necessarily the time frame in which individuals are exposed and illness develops. Also, the presence of these substances does not necessarily mean exposure: the fact that they are present doesn't necessarily mean they were inhaled.
Note that identification of specific mold spores is not necessary when cleaning up indoor mold colonies. It may or may not be useful when treating health effects of mold exposure, depending on the circumstances. In any case, the role of testing for indoor mold is undefined, because as yet there are no standards for interpreting these tests.
Health effects associated with exposure to indoor damp spaces and mold
Molds and other fungi grow easily in damp indoor environments. People who spend time in such environments sometimes complain of respiratory effects, headaches, and other physical symptoms. In addition to visible or hidden mold, damp spaces likely harbor mold break-down products, dust mites, bacteria, and chemicals, gasses, and particulate matter released from the materials on which molds are growing. Given the difficulties in testing for all of these elements, hard evidence of precise cause-and-effect can be elusive.
In an extensive 2004 report, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) did not find enough evidence to identify health effects which were definitely caused by spending time in damp indoor spaces. However, the experts found that being in damp indoor spaces seemed related to respiratory illnesses: nose and throat [upper respiratory] symptoms, cough, wheeze, and asthma symptoms. They also found limited evidence that these environments can be associated with shortness of breath, the development of asthma in people who did not previously suffer from it, and lower respiratory symptoms (coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath) in healthy children. Based on available research, IOM was not able to substantiate claims of numerous other symptoms such as skin irritations, fatigue, cancer, lung disease, or respiratory infections. There was enough evidence of health effects overall, though, that IOM identified damp indoor spaces as a public health problem that needs to be addressed.
Publications in 2007, 2010, and 2011 did not substantially change those findings. They reiterate that there is evidence to support an association between damp spaces, indoor mold, and respiratory illnesses. Therefore, whether the precise cause is mold or an accompanying indoor contaminant, spending time in places damp enough to support the growth of mold is a potential cause of ill health. Whether or not mold is actually seen, finding and fixing the sources of excess moisture are important for health and to keep the structure from being further damaged. Researchers note that, if dampness and mold could be confirmed as a cause of ill health, controlling these conditions would make a substantial contribution to public health.
Commercial vs. Residential Fire
Commercial vs. Residential
There are three main reasons why we must approach commercial fires differently than residential fires.
Building construction: The average house has many compartments and at least some fire protection for the ceiling support members in the form of the drywall ceiling. In contrast, most modern commercial structures include lightweight open bar joist trusses that span a large, open area designed for retail or office use. Because commercial buildings lack the compartmented features of a house, the fire has the potential to grow much larger, much faster.
Consider this: In a 2,000-square-foot house with one or two involved rooms, the walls may limit fire spread to a few hundred square feet. In a 2,000-square-foot commercial building without such “compartments,” a small fire is more likely to grow at a much faster rate. Hence, buildings of the same overall size may produce vastly different sized fires. Add to this the open nature of many commercial roof assemblies, which are often unprotected from direct flame contact, and you get buildings that will fail faster than residential structures.
Hidden fire: The second major difference between residential and commercial structures is that moderate or large commercial structures can conceal a large fire without showing the classic indications of a working fire. One example: A fire in a 1,000-square-foot house will probably fill the house with a smoke layer that’s close to the floor. The same size fire in a 5,000-square-foot commercial structure may present with smoke only at the ceiling level. It’s the same amount of smoke; it’s simply dispersed over a larger area. We tend not to feel threatened by smoke that’s 12 feet above us; however, the roof assembly is directly exposed, increasing the potential for collapse.
This example shows why we cannot treat a commercial building the same way we treat a house. Moderate smoke showing from a 3,000-square-foot house may lead us to take an offensive approach. The same presentation from a commercial structure probably indicates a much larger and more dangerous fire. If we use the same offensive approach, we’re likely to get into serious trouble. Add to that the inherent difficulties in finding and attacking the fire in a large building, and you can see where the risk becomes compounded. It takes more personnel with longer, larger lines a greater amount of time to attack the fire. Plus, the bigger the fire and the longer it burns, the more likely it is to bring down the structure.
Access, egress & ventilation: The third significant difference between residential and commercial structures is the ease at which we can access, egress and ventilate the buildings. Doors in commercial buildings are grouped in a way that benefits the retailer in their effort to control the customer. They are typically located in a single area and are designed for easy egress only once you reach them. They are not evenly spaced around the structure. Have you ever been out the back door of a Wal-Mart? Although the exits are required to be large enough for the customer traffic, they were never intended to be spaced evenly enough for firefighting access or egress.
As for ventilation, even the most well staffed fire departments will find it a challenge to cut holes large enough or fast enough to keep up with the volume of smoke produced by a significant working fire in a commercial structure.