What is Water Damage?


The Basics of Water Damage 

During the last year, we have been subjected to several storms that have caused severe water damage as well as destruction throughout the United States and overseas. These storms have damaged or destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of property, and have caused homeowners to investigate how to effectively repair the damage.

What basic elements of water damage should homeowners be aware of, prior to embarking on either hiring a professional contractor or attempting to perform the repair and reconstruction themselves?

  • Any material that is porous will absorb water. This includes wood, sheetrock and even plaster. This absorption of moisture and water will cause the material to expand and in many cases weaken.
  • The intrusion of water within common wood framing members caused the member to literally grow. Like freshly cut lumber, water fills the openings between the wood fibers and swells these fibers. This swelling of the wood framing member will cause plaster, sheetrock, tile, stone or other material that is attached to the framing member, to move and crack. If this is a tiled wall, the swelling can cause the joints in the tile face to crack. and the tiles to loosen from the walls.
  • The intrusion of water into a sheetrock panel will basically deteriorate and destroy the panel. Sheetrock is made of gypsum that is susceptible to moisture. The moisture will

dissolve the bonds within the gypsum, and cause the sheetrock panel to deteriorate.

  • Water infiltration into an insulated wall, depending upon the type of insulation will render the insulation useless. For example, fiberglass insulation requires the air spaces between the fiberglass strands to maintain its insulating value by remaining dry and open. If these strands become wet, and stick together, the insulation losses its insulating qualities.

What type of damage can occur, if the water not only enters the home and saturates the material, but is actually a flowing force of water, that occurs over a period of time.

  • Like a stream-bed that is subjected to running water, the force of water will cause deterioration in the form of structural forces on the homes supporting foundation, steel beams or wood framing. Water when flowing is exceptionally strong and will move masonry walls or even steel columns off their foundations. Flowing water produces a lateral ( horizontal ) force that will place a pushing force on any structural member in its way. This lateral force can break the bonds of the structural element, causing it to fail.
  • Flowing water can also cause erosion of the earth around the home and the foundation. Flowing water due to its ability to push the small individual particles of sand, earth, or even rocks, will eventually cause erosion, that will undercut even the deepest of foundations. Flowing water is a very powerful force, especially if this water is flowing for a substantial period.

The longer the flow of water, the more material will be moved and deposited in other parts of the homeowner’s yard.

  • The total amount of water, in terms of height, is extremely important in terms of the forces that are laterally produced on vertical walls or structural members. Flowing water will produce horizontal forces, however the total height of the water or head of water. is the depth of water that has built up. This head of water, due to its inherent weight, causes vertical and lateral forces to be created. A cubic foot of water is a section of water that is one foot wide, one foot long and one foot high. If the water builds up to a total of four feet, the lateral forces of a one-foot wide water column is over 196 pounds of lateral force. In many instances, a foundation wall is not designed to withstand this amount of lateral force and will fail or yield to this force.

Once the water has receded and the storm is over, what are some of the expected issues that will occur due to the presence of the water?

  • If the water remains within the material, mold will develop. Mold is a condition that occurs due to the growth of mold spores which are stimulated by moisture and darkness. If the material remains saturated for any length of time, mold will develop. The negative effects of mold on the inhabitants of the home is discussed in separate articles within this website.
  • Continued deterioration of the structural integrity and the actual sustenance of the material can be expected if the material remains wet. Gypsum will continue to deteriorate and the bonds within the material will continue to weaken. This advancement of weakening will slow as the water succeeds in breaking the bonds within the material.
  • If the material is allowed to remain wet for any length of time, depending upon the material, there will be staining of the surface. Water stains are seen in most store ceilings, where the roof has leaked, or mechanical equipment has caused water to drip on the ceiling.

Water is a very destructive element and if allowed to enter a structure, will cause substantial damage. Unfortunately, the damage and destruction caused by water infiltration does not stop upon the exiting of the water. If elements are allowed to remain wet, the continued deterioration and possible development of mold will cause additional issues.