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Bianchina: When water invades your home

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The water that flows through the pipes in our homes is something we pretty much take for granted. That is, as long as it remains safely contained within the pipes.

But picture yourself waking up in the middle of the night to find that an ice maker line has come loose, or coming home from work to discover that a washing machine hose has burst. Or worse yet, you return home from a two-week vacation to find that a water pipe froze and split open while you were gone.

When those things occur, that benign water that we take for granted becomes something quite different: a destructive force, insinuating itself everywhere and doing more and more damage by minute.

Take action

No matter the source, water damage in your home is something that needs to be dealt with quickly and correctly. Improper or incomplete drying can result in a variety of unpleasant consequences, now and well into the future.

Thankfully, most water damage situations, with the possible exception of floods and other ground water, are typically covered under your homeowner’s insurance policy, and also under many renter’s insurance policies.

But understand that you can’t just sit back and wait for someone else to take care of things. You’re required by your policy to “mitigate the loss,” which in plain English means you need to do whatever you reasonably and safely can to minimize the damage. And you need to do it right away.

Your first step is always to find and stop the source of the water. If the toilet or washing machine line is leaking, you can shut off the valve that supplies that fixture and stop the leak. If a pipe has broken, it will probably be necessary to shut off the water to the entire house until the leak is repaired.

Next, do what you reasonably can to minimize the water damage. This may be as simple as sopping up the water with towels, or using a wet-dry vacuum to suck up standing water.

Also as soon as possible, move contents above or away from the water, either by moving them to another room or by lifting them and setting plastic or even small blocks of wood underneath.

Pay particular attention to cardboard and paper products, which absorb water rapidly, and also to wood furniture. Much of today’s furniture is made with a thin wood veneer over a core of particleboard, and this material will rapidly absorb water.

Another problem is staining; metal furniture legs will rust and stain carpets, and antique furniture will often bleed stains and dyes onto carpet that cannot be removed.

What you shouldn’t do

If your toilet overflowed or you had any other type of sewage spill, DO NOT take steps on your own to deal with the liquid or solid waste. The bacteria present in sewage spills can be dangerous, and needs to dealt with using proper protective equipment.

If a storm has damaged your roof — for example, shingles have blown off, or a tree limb has come down and punctured the roof — and now water is coming in, DO NOT go up on the roof and attempt to cover it, especially in a storm.

You don’t know the structural condition of the roof, and you can seriously injure yourself and possibly do additional damage to your house. Instead, take steps to move contents or put tarps or plastic over them to protect them from water leakage until a professional can cover the damaged area.

Another common mistake is to crank up the heat in an attempt to dry things out. Excessive heat can suck the moisture out of surfaces much too quickly, resulting is secondary damage such as cracking, splitting, and warping.

This is particularly true with artwork, antique furniture, and musical instruments that have a low moisture content to begin with. All of these items will absorb moisture more rapidly, and are even more vulnerable to the effects of heat and rapid drying.

Get help from pros

In addition to taking whatever steps you can to mitigate the damage, you’re going to want to call an experienced restoration contractor as quickly as possible. In all but the most minor water losses, getting help from a trained pro with the proper equipment can make a huge difference in what can be salvaged.

In a typical water-loss situation, restoration contractors use high-speed, non-heated air movers to evaporate the moisture off the surfaces and into the air. Air movers may be placed under carpets or on top of hard floors, or the air may be directed into enclosed wall cavities or under cabinets using special hose attachments.

As the air movers evaporate the moisture off of surfaces, high-capacity dehumidifiers are used to remove it from the air. Professional dehumidifiers utilize special pumps and drain lines to then move the water they collect safely out of the building.

This combination of air movement and dehumidification without excess heat will safely dry most surfaces, and can be used to salvage structural framing, carpet, drywall, wallpaper, wood cabinets, and a host of other materials.

Restoration contractors can be found by searching online, or in the Yellow Pages under “Water Restoration” or “Fire Restoration.” Your homeowner’s insurance agent will also have a list of qualified people available to suggest.

Have a home repair or remodeling question for Paul? He can be reached by email at improvingyourhome@ykwc.net.

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