Indoor Air Quality – Top 10 Questions About Water Intrusion and Microbial Contamination

Water and buildings don’t mix. From structural damage to respiratory problems, the after-effects of water intrusion pose a threat to the people who live or work there and expose the building’s management to steep building code violation fines as well as costly repairs. Here’s what you need to know to recognize and minimize damage from water intrusion.

Question #1: Why Is Water Intrusion So Harmful?

Water may seem relatively harmless, since we drink it and bathe in it. But when water gets into buildings, it’s extremely destructive. Considered a universal solvent, water can dissolve most materials used in construction, cause microorganisms to grow and thrive, and carry dangerous biological and chemical contaminants as it flows.

Question #2: Isn’t All Water the Same?

While all water intrusion is damaging to buildings, some types of water present more health risks than others. There are three main categories of water:

  • Clean water poses no health threat to people; it’s water from an overflowing bathtub, sink, or appliance.
  • Gray water is contaminated and can make people sick if they come in contact with it or drink it. Contaminants can be chemical or biological.
  • Black water is very dangerous to people because it’s highly contaminated. This type of water can be from floods, rivers, sewage, and other sources.

Even clean tap water will become gray or black water over time. Once the water is in contact with building materials, the existing microbes will begin to flourish and contaminate the water.

Question #3: What Are Some Common Causes of Water Intrusion?

There are several common causes, including:

  • Floods
  • Hurricanes
  • Burst or leaking pipes
  • Appliance malfunctions
  • As the result of a fire being extinguished
  • Clogged, broken, or missing gutters
  • Roof and siding leaks
  • Structural and waterproofing defects in a basement or crawl space
  • Construction flaws with vapor barriers
  • Surfaces with frequent condensation

Question #4: What Are Some Signs of Water Intrusion and Microbial Contamination?

While it’s best to have an indoor air quality professional perform a routine comprehensive inspection of your building, a diligent facility manager should be able to recognize the early visible signs of a problem:

  • Mold or fungal growth in the building
  • Standing pools of water that don’t disperse quickly after wet weather
  • Rotting wood or concrete
  • Damp or wet floors and walls
  • Persistent odors

Question #5: What Areas Are Most at Risk for Water Intrusion?

No area of your building is safe from the risks of water getting in but some areas need to be watched more closely than others. Be vigilant to recognize hidden signs of a problem:

  • Leaking pipelines in the basement
  • Peeling wallpaper or paint
  • Condensation on walls or windows
  • Musty odors
  • Dampness in carpets
  • Damaged or missing caulk around windows and seams
  • Gaps in flashing around windows, roof lines, chimneys, decking, skylights

Question #6: Can Waterproofing Help?

Preventing losses from water intrusion begins with waterproofing. By sealing potential leaks in your building’s roof, walls, basement, windows, and doors, you can help prevent water from getting into the building in the first place. Proper waterproofing also allows for good ventilation. Ample ventilation protects against microbial contamination from water-borne microbes, protecting the building’s indoor air quality even if water does get in. Long-term, adequate waterproofing also prolongs the service life of your HVAC system and the structure itself.

Question #7: How Can You Prevent Water Intrusion?

The best way to prevent damage from water is to anticipate every possible way water could get into your building, then to set up a barrier system to keep it from happening. Basements in particular are vulnerable to condensation and ground water seepage, and benefit from professional waterproofing to create a water-tight barrier. Systems can also be designed to protect the structure in other areas to repel or even channel water and protect against damage.

Question #8: What About Waterproofing a New Building – Or an Old One?

Preventing water intrusion damage is an ongoing job. During construction the building’s designers should include a barrier system for protection. If any major changes are made to the structure or if you have an emergency situation that causes water damage, a new waterproofing system should be designed and installed to ensure continued protection. The waterproofing system should also be inspected during routine maintenance.

Question #9: What If Water Gets In Anyway?

Floods, broken water lines, a leaking roof, or rising water tables can cause a disaster in just minutes. Mold will begin growing if the problem isn’t detected and the area not dried quickly. Porous construction materials absorb a tremendous amount of water along with any contaminants in the water, and mold spores can begin germinating within just a few days.

If you notice mold, unpleasant odors, water stains, or discover that people using the building are experiencing frequent illness, act fast. Have an expert perform a thorough inspection of the property and make recommendations for fixing the problem.

Question #10: What’s Involved in Water Damage Remediation?

If you notice water damage, contact a professional for a thorough inspection inside and out. An expert can determine whether the structure is safe to enter and use. You’ll also want to:

  • Contact your insurance provider.
  • Document any damage discovered during the inspection.
  • Contract with a water removal and dehumidification expert quickly to help salvage your property.
  • After the water has been removed, have the air tested and the building inspected again to ensure it is safe.

Water damage that goes undetected and untreated creates an unhealthy and unsafe environment. The longer the delay in detection, the greater the damage. In fact, if standing water is removed within 24 hours and dehumidification is initiated, it is very unlikely that microbial amplification will occur. Regular maintenance and inspection will help ensure your building is safe and healthy for everyone.

Written by