The Ultimate Water Damage Survival Guide for Homeowners

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: May 18, 2022

There’s no way around it. As our weather gets more unpredictable every season, the chances of facing serious water damage in your home increases too. When homes flood, it can take days and weeks to get things back to normal.

Do you know how to deal with water damage on your property after it’s been soaked from floor to ceiling?

Recovering from any type of water disaster isn’t easy and may require professional services. Whether you’re facing wet carpet from a burst pipe or rain pouring through a hole in the roof, you need to be ready. That’s why we’ve put together this water damage survival guide for homeowners.

How to Deal with Water Damage: What You Need to Know

chicago storm
The weather here in Chicago, IL can be extremely unpredictable

Our rainy season starts in the spring, and we usually stay wet through the end of summer. During a normal year, Chicago’s rainfall averages more than 33 inches. It doesn’t take a lot to push that number up and over into serious street flooding and dangerously backed-up drainage systems.

You’ve seen what happens when the city’s aging infrastructure fails. While storm flooding can be devastating, any water disaster creates serious problems in your home. Drywall water damage sets up an unhealthy environment that breeds mold, and soaked framing and subflooring threaten your property’s structural integrity.

If you try to tackle these situations without a solid plan, you can actually make things worse. It’s our goal to arm you with the information you need to be prepared for big water disasters and ready for small cleanup jobs too. We help Chicago homeowners recover from water damage every day, and we want to make a positive difference (but these tips apply to more than just Chicago homes!).

Understanding Your Insurance Coverage

chicago homeowners insurance
Homeowners’ insurance typically does not cover flood damage

If you believe homeowners insurance covers all damages from flooding, it’s a good idea to talk with your agent. While your policy covers different types of water damage, flood insurance has to be purchased separately. Home insurance protects you in case of plumbing problems and frozen burst pipes, but it doesn’t cover natural flooding events.

You want the best homeowner’s insurance you can afford. Most agents are happy to work with you developing a policy that fits your house and budget. Now is the time to take a good look at your coverage and discuss the details with your agent. He or she may advise you to update important information or make changes that could save money.

Even individuals who are tenants can protect their belongings with renter’s insurance. However, a separate policy is still required in case of storm flooding. If you don’t currently have flood coverage, the National Flood Insurance Program is an excellent resource for both renters and homeowners. Depend on your insurance agent to help you make the most of all the information provided on the NFIP website.

Different Types of Water Damage

A leaky pipe under the kitchen sink doesn’t usually threaten your home’s structural integrity, but it can result in drywall water damage. Flood water in the basement leaves you facing very different problems. Most insurance agencies and restoration companies rate water damage according to these three criteria:

1. Low Level Damage

leaky water pipe
A leaky faucet can easily be fixed and does not pose significant health risks

When clogged drains or leaking pipes are taken care of right away, your property damage risk stays low. Simple repairs go quickly, and you face minimum cleanup.

2. Medium Level Damage

roof leaking water
This type of water can cause structural damage to your home

Frozen burst pipes and roof leaks are examples of scenarios that cause medium level water damage. In these cases, soaked materials complicate and slow down repairs.

3. High Level Damage

Natural disasters like severe storms and flash floods are responsible for high level damages. Repairs and cleanup problems range from flooded basements to sewage backup in the house.

No matter what type of water damage occurs in your home, you have to take care of the situation as soon as possible. A restoration company handles some plumbing repairs, but big jobs require calling in a licensed plumber. Your restoration contractor can recommend someone who has the necessary experience for your job.

Different Levels of Danger

clean grey black water
The water that damages your home can be categorized by different levels of contamination

A second category of water damage refers to the level of danger posed by contaminants in the water. It’s important to understand these categories so that you don’t risk exposure to waterborne chemicals or pathogens.

1. Clean Water

In terms of personal safety, water is considered clean if it isn’t contaminated at the source. Leaky faucets or broken water lines coming into the house rarely pose a serious health threat.

2. Grey Water

Clean water becomes grey water when it begins to breed bacteria. This often occurs if the water source is a broken disposal, dishwasher or washing machine. Grey water often contains harsh chemicals.

3. Black Water

Black water carries disease-causing pathogens and microorganisms that cause serious illness and even death. Flood waters and backed-up sewer lines can push black water through your home’s plumbing and into the house.

If you have any reason to suspect black water has contaminated your property inside or out, call a restoration contractor immediately. The situation is very dangerous. Your DIY options are limited.

What You Can Do

diy water cleanup

Unless you’re dealing with sewage backup, you can take care of most small cleanup and restoration projects on your own as long as you get started right away. But even small jobs take time, so be patient as you follow these five steps.

1. Identify and Repair

You have to wait for flood waters to recede, but most plumbing problems can be quickly identified and fixed. If you can’t put your DIY repair talents to work immediately, call a plumber.

2. Remove the Water

If you’re dealing with an inch of water or less, extract as much as possible from floors with a wet vacuum. Pull up carpets and padding so that the subfloor can thoroughly dry.

3. Dispose of Damaged Materials

Badly soaked carpets, baseboards and sheetrock aren’t worth saving. Whatever can’t be salvaged must be torn out and disposed of safely to reduce the risk of fungal contamination.

4. Get the Air Moving

Set up big box fans to generate cross currents of fresh air, and back them up with large dehumidifiers. The drying process takes three days or more.

5. Start Cleaning Up

Don’t begin this step until everything is completely dry. Clean all affected areas, sanitize surfaces, and use special disinfectants on sheetrock to discourage mold.

It’s important to take care of water damage cleanup as soon as possible. Otherwise, the lingering damp encourages unhealthy mold growth, and it can threaten your home’s structural integrity. If you can’t address repairs and cleanup right away, reach out to a restoration company for help.

What You Shouldn’t Do

chicago homeowner fixing ceiling
Water damaged ceilings can collapse and pose a significant hazard to you and your family. Never attempt cleanup on your own

Although you can tackle some small repairs and water damage cleanup on your own, some problems are better handled by a restoration company especially in cases like these:

• Flooding affects your home’s electrical system. An experienced water damage contractor works with licensed electricians who restore safety inside and out.

• Water-soaked ceilings begin to bulge and buckle. They need immediate professional repair to prevent the danger of cave-ins and restore structural integrity.

• More than an inch of water in any area wicks into walls and framing. Water damage specialists detect and remove hidden moisture with state-of-the-art equipment.

• Cleanup delays cause mold growth in as little as 24 hours, and it quickly spreads throughout the house. A restoration contractor starts water extraction, drying and cleanup processes right away.

• Dangerous sewage water contaminates floors and walls as it backs up into your home. Industry certified technicians use advanced equipment and techniques to repair the source and sanitize all affected areas.

If you ever have second thoughts about taking care of repairs and cleanup, don’t hesitate to call in a water damage restoration company. Protect your property and your personal safety by letting professionals take care of the job.

How to Plan Ahead Now

water restoration expert customer

You can’t control torrential downpours or how well the city’s drainage system holds up. You can’t predict a burst pipe hidden behind a wall or a ruptured washing machine hose in the basement. You can develop a plan that puts you in the best position possible to handle water damage emergencies.

• Talk with your insurance agent about your homeowner’s policy. Discuss the details of your property’s water damage coverage including flood insurance options.

• Check the house inside, out and on the roof for problems that might make it vulnerable to flooding. Put this routine on your spring and fall list of home maintenance chores.

• Locate the main cut-off valve for your home’s water supply, and make sure it’s working properly. Inspect washing machine hose connections and small valves under sinks.

• Keep the sump pump in good shape with routine cleaning every several months. Double check it when the forecast calls for severe weather.

• Work up an evacuation plan in case you have to leave the house during street flooding. Determine the safest routes out of your neighborhood.

Planning ahead helps minimize property damage from floods and plumbing disasters, and it also gives you important peace of mind. When heavy storms hit or a frozen pipe bursts, you know both your family and your home can weather any type of water disaster because you’re prepared.

Proud to Do Our Part

chicago water restoration team

We work closely with homeowners and insurance agents all across the city, and we’re proud to do our part making the water restoration process a little easier.

From flooded basements to soaked ceilings, our teams stand ready to tackle any job 24/7. We’re proud of our reputation as the most trusted water damage restoration company in Chicago and the suburbs, and we’re always here to respond to your first call.

When you find yourself facing more than you can handle alone, you can always count on ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba: 773-647-1985