Water damage comes in all shapes and sizes, and homes can receive water damage from a variety of different sources. The type and severity of the flooding has a huge influence on which elements of your home can be restored and which can be replaced, as well as the methods used to address the damage. While many people think of water damage as something that occurs only as a result of a catastrophic event, serious damage can occur from relatively minor leaks if they go unnoticed for long enough.
Flooring can be especially vulnerable to water damage no matter how serious the event leading up to it is, so understanding the signs of water damage and your options for addressing it is an important step in keeping your home in great shape.
Know the Type of Water Damage
Water damage is generally divided into three categories based on its source: clean, gray, and black water. Clean water is any leak that originates from a treated, uncontaminated source. If you a supply pipe in your home is leaking, for example, then any resulting damage can be considered clean. By contrast, black water damage results from untreated wastewater, such as overflowing sewage. Gray water is a middle ground. This type of damage results from water that may have come into contact with a contaminated source (such as a toilet bowl), but that is not itself "dirty."
The type of water that has caused damage to your flooring is important when determining the first steps needed for restoration. While clean water can simply be allowed to dry out, surfaces which have come into contact with black water should be cleaned and disinfected by professionals before any additional work is performed. Grey water should be cleaned with disinfectants and dried before restoration work commences, but usually professional cleaning is not necessary. Be sure to wear gloves when dealing with possibly contaminated water, however.
Identify the Amount of Damage
How likely a section of flooring is to be damaged by water depends largely on the severity of the leak and the type of flooring. Hardwood flooring is extremely vulnerable to water damage and is likely to require repair for even minor leaks, while tile or stone is generally fairly resistant to small amounts of water. Vinyl, carpet, linoleum, or laminate flooring tend to fall on the middle of the scale in terms of their vulnerability to water damage, and often the severity of the problem will depend on whether the water has infiltrated to the subflooring.
In general, when evaluating water damage, you should be on the lookout for any signs of discoloration, warping, swelling, or bulging. For laminate or vinyl flooring, pay special attention to the edges of planks or sheets. Often water damage will cause warping in these areas and the floor will appear to be peeling away. As a simple rule of thumb, any discoloration that was not present before the leak occurred likely means that the flooring has suffered some amount of water damage.
Minimize Additional Damage
One of the most important things you can do if you believe that your flooring has suffered damage is to rapidly dry it out in order to minimize any additional damage. If the damage is the result of a sewer leak or other wastewater source, never attempt to clean and dry the area yourself. Contamination is a serious issue and leaks of this kind should be dealt with by specialists.
Assuming the water source is clean, however, you should begin by using fans and dehumidifiers to dry the area after using a wet & dry vacuum, mops, towels, or anything else available to clean up standing water. The longer that water is allowed to sit on an area, the worse the damage is likely to become. This is especially true for flooring surfaces where the water may not be able to immediately make its way to the lower layers. Acting quickly can potentially save you an expensive subflooring repair job.
Use a Professional to Evaluate the Damage
Once the area is cleaned and dried, the best next step is to hire a professional water damage restoration contractor to evaluate the damage. While it can be tempting to do this sort of work yourself, water has a way of making its way into unusual places and a professional is best equipped to both evaluate the damage and provide the most cost-effective repair.