Water regularly damages homes and commercial buildings. According to the Insurance Services Office, leaks are the second most common type of insurance claim, after wind and hail damage.
Not all types of water damage are the same, though. That’s why the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) developed three categories of water damage. These specify the different types of water damage and the type of restoration work they require.
An Overview of The Different Types of Water Damage
Water damage categories depend on the water source and contaminants in the water, such as what the water came into contact with, and what was mixed with it before it reached the site where it caused damage. The cleanliness of the water is important because it indicates the degree of risk that it poses to building occupants.
The IICRC is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) member and standards developer in its own right. Categories of water damage, it says, are no longer official designations. Instead, they refer to both:
- The quality of the water as measured at its originating source
- The quality of the water after having come into contact with materials and substances at the job site
The Three Categories of Water Damage
According to the IICRC’s S500 procedural standard that describes the restoration process following water damage, there are three categories that renovators must consider.
Category 1 – Clean Water
Category 1 refers to “clean” or “sanitary” water. This type of water should not cause harm following exposure. Water comes from a sanitary source and does not mix with any potentially dangerous chemicals on-site. There is no substantial risk from dermal contact, inhalation, or ingestion.
Clean water is not the same as treated mains water. Examples of clean water include melting ice and snow, rain water, uncontaminated toilet bowls, and water supply lines.
In many situations, restoration specialists can salvage materials damaged by category 1 water. Dry wall, hardwood flooring, carpet, and other furnishings can be dried and then reused.
Category 2 – Gray Water
Category 2 water, also called “gray water,” is significantly contaminated, meaning that it could cause substantial sickness or discomfort if humans are exposed.
Good examples of gray water include:
- Water runoff from water beds
- Aquarium tank water
- Contaminated toilet bowl leakage
- Washing machine overflow
IICRC guidelines recommend that restorers and renovators dealing with gray water remove any contaminated materials and disinfect the affected area. Anyone coming into contact with gray water should use PPE to protect against infection and dermal reactions.
Category 3 – Black Water
The IICRC defines “black water” as water that has been “grossly contaminated” and is believed to contain harmful substances, toxigenic components, and pathogens that may cause severe adverse reactions and illness. Examples of black water include sewage, seawater, waste lines with backflows, flood water, and even wind-driven rain from tropical storms.
Black water restorers should remove all affected materials and either dispose of them, or use approved cleaning methods. It may be possible, in some cases, to rescue material using a combination of HEPA vacuuming and anti-microbial sprays.
What To Consider When Restoring Water Damage
Here are some of the considerations that restoration workers need to take into account when restoring water damage.
Salvaging And Protecting Belongings
Water has a tendency to spread out and fill any container. Therefore, water-soaked materials can cause subsequent damage to household belongings.
During water damage, building users should move their possessions to a safe place. Items exposed to water, particularly clothes, can quickly develop mold and become damaged. Taking action within the first 48 hours is essential to avoid long-term issues.
Ensure Health and Safety of Occupants
Water damage can be potentially dangerous. Therefore, it is critical to consider the health and safety of the occupants. Try to identify what type of water damage you are dealing with. If you have a gray or black water situation, it may be wise to move people out of the building (whether that’s your family or colleagues) to a safer place.
Reduce The Spread of Damage
Lastly, if you can locate the source of the water damage, you may be able to contain it. For instance, if you have a burst pipe, shut off the mains supply to your building. This action will prevent further damage.
The Bottom Line
Knowing the three common categories of water damage tells you the threat that you face. Clean water is not a hazard to human health, but gray and black water are.