By Sam Taff
We've all seen it before, the mold growing under the kitchen sink or the linoleum curling in the bathroom. For many homeowners, remediation is on their list of things to fix at home, but it often gets pushed to the side because of time or money.
Putting it off is the worst option. Not only are you hurting the structure of your home, you are putting your family at risk, said Robert Whitson, owner of Eye's Disaster Services in Basye.
Moisture breeds mold spores that release toxins that eventually become airborne and become part of the air we breathe every day. Those toxins can lead to headaches, colds, flu and even pneumonia.
Immediate action is key, Whitson said, but there are things homeowners can do to prevent costly damage from water:
1. Properly insulate pipes to prevent freezing. Frozen pipes can burst causing immediate and widespread damage.
2. Keep the gutters clean and free of debris. Standing water can overflow and leak into the roof line of the home.
3. Repair leaks in areas like the ice maker, toilet rings and sink traps. These types of small leaks don't appear to be much at the surface but they are out of sight and out of mind for many homeowners and can lead to further problems.
4. Keep mulch from flower gardens below the window wells in your basement. Water can over flow here and leak in through the window.
Basements usually get the most attention when you think of water damage. Homes without basements aren't out of the woods, Whitson said.
Water can penetrate the crawl space or the slab of any home. Whitson said it's important to know "70 percent of all air in the home comes from the crawl space. Just because you don't see it, mold can occur here." Since that air then circulates through the home, he said, the mold is then spread throughout the home.
Homes on slabs are not immune to water damage since most plumbing in these types of homes is in the attic. Leaks in pipes can permeate the walls causing some of the same problems found in more traditional homes.
There are no homes immune to water damage so what are the signs to look for?
"Fungal appearances," Whitson said. It is that fuzzy appearance under the sink. Homeowners try to wipe it up with towels, dry it with fans or clean it with bleach. All of these cures are superficial.
Whitson said to find the source of the water first and get it fixed or replaced.
"Eight out of 10 homes have a sink trap that is leaking and that leads to mold," he said.
Eventually that mold releases toxic gas. "People are poisoning themselves if they wait to get this fixed," Whitson said.
Using fans to dry the water "migrates the mold through the home and they eventually get a cold or the flu," Whitson noted.
Getting a jump on the water damage is important not only to keep the home and family healthy; it keeps costs down as well.
Most homeowners' insurance will cover initial damage, but continued leaks will make it more difficult to get payment from some companies.
Costs and time involvement in getting water damage fixed are driven by the amount of damage and structural drying time needed.
It's important to do this restoration the proper way, and the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification offers guidelines
"The IICRC is a not-for-profit training organization who wrote the first standard for water remediation in 1992. It's referred to as the S500. It is the Bible for water restoration," Whitson said.
There are a lot of businesses that work through insurance companies to restore property, but not all of them follow the S500 standards.
"It is important for customers to know they have the right to choose their remediation company," Whitson said. "They do not have to use the contractor from the insurance company."
There are no federal or state regulations on how water restoration should be done, so many homeowners end up having work done that doesn't meet the industry standard, leading to more work being needed in the future.
Whitson suggested getting at least five referrals, when trying to find a good company to restore your water damage, and avoiding companies who offer free estimates.
"Nothing is free," he said. "A reasonable price is $125 to $250 for a consultation and evaluation."
Without an evaluation it is difficult to determine the cost and time needed to fix a problem. There are three types of water remediation, all based on the water that caused the damage:
1. Fresh water -- broken pipes from clean water
2. Gray water -- freshwater after it has come in contact with the bathroom or kitchen floors
3. Black water -- toilet bowl water or sewage, which also includes any type of water from an outside environment like river water.
An assessment by a reputable firm should include thermal imaging and an assessment of the wicking of the walls. They should also determine the size of the dehumidifying equipment needed to dry the structure.
In all water restoration there is mold present. If this isn't removed properly it will continue to grow.
"It will continue to build to intolerable levels," Whitson said.
"[The homeowners'] immune systems are being challenged as their bodies try to fight off the [toxic] gases that are emitted from the fungals."
Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is common with homeowners who have lived in a home with mold and fungus.
"Usually this is the diagnosis from the physician as the immune system is weakened," Whitson said. Most homeowners notice sinus issues, itchy eyes and throat, and headaches.
Whitson has spent over 30 years helping homeowners clean up these issues. His work goes beyond that helping fight for insurance claim payment for his customers. He has also spent a lot of time working with homeowners and health care providers to determine environmental issues in homes where chronic health issues persist.
Whitson is quick to point out that homeowners just need to take care of a little problem before it becomes a bigger problem. A drip today could lead to extensive damage tomorrow, and every minute counts.
"We respond 24 hours a day," Whitson said.