Time is of the essence in water damaged buildings! The reason is the resulting damage does not stop suddenly. It is progressive. The longer the water flows or stays around, the more is absorbed and the greater is the recovery problem. Merely stopping the source of the incoming water does not stop further water damage, though it is an obvious and critical first step.
The free-flow of water by gravity is the first stage of water damage. Gravity will level out the available water and cause it to find cracks in the floor, plumbing penetrations and many other openings. This I,pacts the floors below as well as other adjacent spaces. Quick action at earlier stages of water damage will reduce the costs and resulting cleanup. On the other hand, delaying action increases both exponentially.
The wicking of moisture into materials that are in direct contact with water is the second stage of water damage. Damage continues to increase as long as free-water touches gypsum board, wood floors, furniture and documents due to the tendency of materials to draw in moisture through capillary action. This damage is mitigated by quick and thorough water-extraction as it will remove the free-water and stop the wicking. Effective action at this stage will drastically reduce the time and effort to dry-out the wet building materials.
The third stage of water damage is high humidity damage. This occurs when the moisture on and in the wet materials begin to evaporate, saturating the surrounding air. Previously unaffected materials now take on moisture. Early signs of high humidity damage include condensation forming on walls, ceiling tiles sagging from high moisture content and paper stock taking on moisture to the point it cannot be used for copying. This damage is mitigated by controlling the relative humidity inside the building through the use of high capacity dehumidifiers. Quick action at this stage will keep the moisture content of the building material and contents below the threshold at which they will support microbial growth.
The fourth stage of water damage is active microbial growth. This begins when materials have taken on sufficient moisture to be able to support mold and mildew. The threshold for most cellulose-based material (i.e. wood, documents and the paper-covering of gypsum board) is when their moisture content exceeds 20%-25% of their weight. Reducing this damage is accomplished by controlling three key conditions of the building's air: relative humidity, temperature and air circulation. Controlling these will create an environment that will rapidly dry the materials back to their pre-loss moisture content. Effective action at this point will generally confine the damage to the area that was directly affected by the water damage event.
The fifth stage of water damage is the spreading of microbials (i.e. mold, mildew, odors, and other pathogens) to other areas of the building; areas not originally affected. The spread of microbials may eventually occur due to unchecked microbial growth in the affected area, people movement throughout the building, air circulation systems and/or elevator movement from floor-to-floor. If this stage of water damage occurs, a comprehensive plan must be put together involving various indoor air quality professionals and contractors.
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