Pipes can rupture or burst for several reasons, including a sudden increase in pressure, corrosion over time, poor installation, general disrepair, and most commonly, the expansion that accompanies freezing water. Whatever the reason for the rupture, the consequences are the same: potentially massive property damage and, if left unaddressed for too long, conditions conducive to mold growth. The process of mitigating water damage and restoring your property are also similar despite the cause of the rupture.
Stop the flow, remedy the cause
The first order of business is of course to stop the flow of water, by shutting off the main water valve. Once this has been done and a plumber has been summoned to make any necessary repair, you can turn your attention to making the requisite calls to your insurance company or a water damage specialist. Your insurance company may have a water specialist that they recommend, but the choice is ultimately yours as the homeowner. Most homeowner's policies cover the repair of water damage from burst pipes, and water damage cleanup and restoration pricing is relatively uniform across the industry among certified specialists.
Extract the water
Once you've identified the restoration company to perform the work, their immediate priority will be to extract excess water from the area. To achieve this they'll use industrial extractors and powerful wet-vacs. Some extractors pull water into a tank which is then emptied, while others pump water off-site, perhaps to a truck. The key is to remove the water as quickly as possible, since the longer it remains, the more likely it is to degrade to a more severe category of water.
Create a "moisture map"
Once excess water has been removed from the area, the restoration specialist will use a series of instruments, including a thermal imaging camera, thermo hygrometer, and moisture meters, to determine the source and extent of the damage and the areas affected. He'll determine the origin and movement of the water, what's wet and what's not, and just how wet the wet things are (e.g. completely saturated or merely damp). With this information he'll create what's referred to as a moisture map, which will serve as a guide throughout the process and aid in directing drying resources to where they're needed most.
This detailed assessment and measurement will arm the specialist with the information necessary to determine what's salvageable and what's not. Items that are beyond saving, including any saturated furniture, carpet and carpet padding, drywall, etc., will be discarded into a dumpster. Before that, however, all unsalvageable items will be fully inventoried and photographed for the purpose of documenting the work and to satisfy insurance requirements. Items and fixtures that are salvageable are treated with an antimicrobial agent, applied evenly, before drying.
Dry it out
The last and longest step of the process is drying. Powerful equipment such as air movers and commercial dehumidifiers will be used to dry the affected area as quickly as possible in order to prevent mold growth. Initial measurements are taken of the moisture content of the building materials (wood studs, drywall, etc.), as well as the temperature and humidity of the air in the affected room. These figures are recorded and used to measure progress against subsequent measurements in the days that follow, until acceptable moisture levels are observed.
As with any water damage restoration project, the key to successful mitigation is speed. Quick intervention and timely cleanup will minimize damage to your property and limit the potential for the cultivation of mold.
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Many thanks to our water-damage specialist Zach C for lending his expertise to this article.