Water damage can affect any space at any time. It can be caused by general leaks, faulty plumbing, burst water mains, torrential rain, severe weather conditions, fluvial and coastal flooding. There is also often water damage to areas following fires, as sprinklers or the fire service might use water to kill the flames.
With 2.4 million people living in areas considered a flood risk, statistically one in six homes is at risk of flooding in the UK. The concerns are not just domestic - up to 40 per cent of businesses never re-open after suffering from flood damage alone. It can also cost the economy £100,000 per hour if major roads are affected.
According to the fire and rescue services statistics for the year ending June 2020, a total of 549,913 incidents were attended by the FRSs in the UK. Around 28 per cent of those incidents were fires, while 67,720 were primary fires (dwelling fires, other building fires, vehicle fires and outdoor primary fires), not including those categorised as chimney fires.
Just under three billion litres (660 million gallons) of water is lost to leaks every day concerning water mains incidents across England and Wales. This is equivalent to 1,180 Olympic swimming pools. However, in 2018/19, 15 out of 18 companies matched or beat their annual regulatory leakage targets. The overall volume of water being leaked is down by 10 million litres per day.
Water damage can be mild, or it can be severe. Either way, it can be devastating, time consuming, expensive and have a huge impact on our mental health.
The most common consequence of water damage following leaks and floods is condensation, damp patches, mildew and mould. These issues can be easily ignored, but condensation can penetrate walls, flood, ceilings and window frames over time. It can cause wood to expand, lead to mould growth and eventually rot and deterioration.
Mould brings obvious visual issues, such as odours, slimy surfaces and a generally unpleasant appearance. However, it can also pose health risks, as breathing in mould spores can lead to shortness of breath, congestion, fatigue, headaches and coughing. Some types of moulds can cause far more serious symptoms. Pathogenic mould that can spread infection and toxigenic mould, which can affect anyone and make them ill.
Excess water can also cause structural damage. Standing water can cause metal to rust and corrode. It can cause wood to warp and rot. Also, it can even affect concrete bearings. Water damage can make buildings inhabitable and unsafe. If the water damage to a structure is significant enough, it can weaken the structure entirely. This kind of damage can be incredibly expensive, even irreparable. Structural water damage can affect homes, businesses and much more.
Water damage can spoil and destroy personal possessions, documents, artwork, photographs and other items of sentimental significance. While some personal artefacts may not have much monetary value, they can be incredibly valuable to the owner and could be irreplaceable.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to water damage restoration, as every case can differ vastly. That said, there are best practices for most situations and the process can usually be split into phases.
The first step is moisture mapping. During this phase, a contractor will examine and analyse the area to discover the cause of the water damage and its severity. Moisture mapping gives you the opportunity to measure and document the level of moisture within the area to determine the best method of drying and track the progress of any drying.
Next is the stabilisation phase, where a contractor will stabilise the area to prevent any further damage. During this period, contractors will proceed with any strip outs, additional surveying and administrative responsibilities. During this phase, a compression dehumidifier is introduced to reduce the air's relative humidity so that condensation does not form on surfaces.
Following the stabilisation of the area is the structural drying phase. As a dehumidifier has already been present, drying the ambient air, this step includes drying materials, surfaces and objects. At the same time, surface temperature, WME (Wood Moisture Equivalent), in-depth humidity and REL (Relative Scale) will be monitored to track progress and determine the worst affected spots. This is when the appropriate drying equipment and the most efficient methodology can be introduced. Some of the most popular equipment and common approaches are explained below.
Refrigerant dehumidifiers are the most commonly used appliances for flood restoration drying. They use a fan and refrigerated coils to draw the humid air in, pass it over the cold coils to lower its temperature below the dew point and cause the water it holds to condensate. The condensate drips off into a tank or outlet, while the dried air is heated slightly and recirculated to collect more moisture. Refrigerant dehumidifiers work well in areas of high humidity and when temperatures are above freezing, around 3-30℃. They can work quickly and efficiently, drying out walls, ceilings, floors, exposed wood, furniture and more.
Desiccant dehumidifiers use a system of fans, a reticulated mesh of absorbent material on a rotary wheel and a heating element. They draw the humid air in and pass it through the desiccant wheel, so it can collect moisture. As the wheel turns, a section of it is heated. Any water it absorbed can be removed as vapour and the dried air is recirculated around the space. Desiccant dehumidifiers are more effective in colder temperatures and can work in temperatures below 0℃. Desiccant dehumidifiers are ideal for drying vacant spaces during colder weather and for unheated areas. However, they do consume more energy than refrigerant dehumidifiers and they do need to vent water vapour out of the space via ducting or an exhaust.
Air movement is used to break the surface tension and lift the water vapour that sits on the surface of materials into the air, so a dehumidifier can collect it. Using fans, along with other equipment, can help speed up drying times. They can also help reduce the number of airborne contaminants within the space, such as dust, mould spores, bacteria and odours.
Heat drying is not regularly employed for water damage restoration. However, when used in conjunction with dehumidifiers and air movers, heaters can contribute to an efficient drying system. Warm air can carry more moisture. When the air in a water damage space is heated, a dehumidifier can work more efficiently. Drying with a heater can elevate and speed up the whole process - especially when the ambient and surface temperatures are low.
It is important that you use the correct type of heater that produces clean, dry heat. Gas heaters and direct fired diesel heaters produce moisture as the fuel is burned, so they are counterproductive in these situations. Indirect fired heaters and electric space heaters are ideal solutions.