Whether it’s from a flash flood or a broken pipe, water damage can be one of the most devastating home disasters a homeowner will face. Water-damaged possessions are often unsalvageable, cleaning up the mess can be back-breaking, and the threat of mold development can linger for weeks. But with quick action and a smart plan, you can make your water damage recovery as painless as possible by getting off on the right foot.
Put Electrical Safety First
Whenever you’re dealing with water damage near outlets or wiring, your first concern should be electrical safety. The precautions you take should be proportionate to the extent of the damage. If you have a minor leak affecting a small area, you should shut off the circuit breakers that power all wiring and outlets near the leak. Multi-room damage from a major pipe break will necessitate shutting down the entire circuit panel. If you’re recovering from a widespread flooding event and have standing water in your home, you’ll want to have your utility company completely remove the electrical meter before wading into flooded areas.
If you can’t safely access your electrical panel or have any doubt about the electrical safety of water damaged areas of your home, contact your electrical utility or a licensed electrician before proceeding.
Stop the Flow
If the water is coming from your household plumbing, the damage could be getting worse by the second. That’s why it’s important to know exactly where your home’s main water shut-off valve is, and to make sure you’re able to turn it.
In many homes, the valve is in the basement, close to where the main water supply enters the home. If you’re not sure where this is, check outside your home for the location of the water meter, as the main water supply leads inside from there. In other homes, the shut-off valve may be outside the home, beneath a water meter grate. These valves will often need to be turned with a special long-handled tool called a water key. If you don’t have one, pick one up at your local hardware store.
The shut-off valve can also be sticky if it hasn’t been turned in several years. If this is the case with yours, now is a good time to give it a try and grease the threads with lubricant if necessary. When you need to turn this valve in a hurry, you won’t want to be fighting with it.
Cover Your Assets
Once you’ve eliminated the risk of electrical shock and the flow of water, your next move should be to call your homeowner's insurance company to report the damage. In many cases, homeowners' insurance will cover damage from a burst pipe but not from a natural flood. Flood insurance is typically sold separately, often from different carriers. If you’re not sure what your insurance covers, look into it now before you have a water damage incident.
You should also plan to take photos of all the water damage in your home before beginning cleanup. Failure to do so could result in contested claims that may cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Call for Help
If you’re willing to put in lots of hard work and do a thorough job, you can perform most of your water damage recovery tasks by yourself. But because of the nature of this work and the mold risk associated with missteps, many homeowners will hire a water damage remediation company to assist.
You might be able to get a team in your home on the same day as the incident if you have a plumbing leak. But when you’re recovering from a widespread flood, water remediation services book up quickly. Call as early as you can to get on the books.
That’s a lot of work to do before you even start dealing with the water, but it’s finally time to start drying out.
Remove any standing water with an electric pump and/or a wet/dry shop vac. Take all water damaged items out of the home and sort them into salvageable and unsalvageable piles. Carpeting, carpet padding, paper products, food products, and many electronics will be a total loss. Valuable upholstered furniture and rugs may possibly be saved but will require prompt attention from remediation experts.
Open all windows in damaged areas and use fans to blow damp air outside. If you have water trapped in the gaps inside your wall, punch holes in the drywall to allow it to escape. All water-damaged drywall will need to be replaced anyway.
Water damage recovery is a long haul, and these are just the steps you should take within the first 24 hours. If you ever need professional help recovering from a plumbing breach -- or if you need help preventing one -- contact your local Benjamin Franklin at (800) 259-7705 without delay.