How Fast Water Damage Can Ruin Your Home and What To Do (2022)

To minimize water damage caused by a major leak or flood in your home, ideally, the restoration process should begin within 24 hours

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Whether you’re dealing with a leaky pipe or a flooded basement, identifying the source and stopping any further water escaping is the top priority. In fact, water damage can ruin your home faster than you might think. Within the first 24 hours of a leak or flood, mold development, damage to floors, walls, and electrics, and even structural issues can occur. This is why it’s always best to quickly hire a water cleanup pro near you for a consultation and repair.

How Bad Is Water Damage?

There’s no easy way around this. Water damage is bad and leads to all kinds of related consequences. First of all, there’s the water damage itself, which damages building materials, appliances, fixtures, and furniture as it sits and pools, with electronics being especially susceptible to damage. Also, mold thrives with water damage, and is a particular concern when the moisture hides behind walls and in other difficult-to-reach areas. Even scarier? Depending on where the water came from, water damage leads to health concerns, as sitting water often features all manner of germs and bacteria.

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How Quickly Does Water Damage Progress?

Even a seemingly harmless small leak can be problematic. Water spreads rapidly and absorbs into floors, walls, soft furnishings, and more. If you leave water damage too long, your insurance may not cover it, and the cost of water damage to your home could be hefty.

Within the First 24 Hours

As a leak or flood spreads, it will soak everything in its vicinity. This means that personal belongings, such as books and photographs, can immediately bulge and warp beyond repair. Soft furnishings and upholstery will soak through, and walls and floors will begin to absorb the water. Drywall, furniture, wooden doors, and window frames can swell. Plus, paint or wallpaper can peel or blister, and it can impact electrical systems.

If the leak is in your roof, the water could come through ceilings and cause damage to insulation and wooden beams. Most worryingly, though, mold can begin to develop within this timeframe.

Within the First Week

After that initial day, the water damage will develop further. Mold can spread rapidly and the site can become a biohazard. The damage to wood surfaces and walls intensifies, and metal surfaces can start corroding.

More Than a Week

If you leave water damage for more than a week, the timescales, costs, and effort involved in any restoration work will increase significantly. The spread of mold increases dramatically, and the risks associated with structural damage are greater.

How Much Water Does It Take to Cause Damage?

Water is an essential component of life, but not of the various materials in your home. In other words, you don’t need a whole lot of water to cause damage, though this depends largely on the impacted areas. Hardwood floors, for instance, damage with any amount of pooling water left to sit for a day or so, leading to buckling planks and other repair issues. Drywall fares a bit better, as there are processes to dry it out, but if the components retain more than one percent of moisture, replacement is necessary. As for mold, it starts growing within 24 hours after moisture is introduced into the air even with minimal water damage.

What Causes Water Damage?

There are a whole lot of issues that cause water damage, some sudden and some over time. Here is a list.

  • Flooding of any kind.

  • Inclement weather, especially if you have small cracks in the roof or if severe winds blow out a window or a related fixture.

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  • Leaks of any kind. These are especially dangerous as the leaks often occur behind the walls, leading to copious damage before it is noticed. Common leak sources include rusty and corroded pipes, high water pressure, extreme temperatures, broken water connectors, and more.

  • Sewage back up coming from your pipes and pouring out through your water fixtures.

  • Clogged gutters clog up the drains over time, leading to water damage.

  • Faulty or malfunctioning appliances like washing machines, dishwasher, and air conditioners.

What To Do When There Is Water Damage

When there’s a flood or major leak, there are some immediate practical and safety considerations. Here are the first things to do.

  • Remove pets and children from the house, especially if the damage is severe.

  • If possible, gather up any accessible valuables and work to contain the leak by addressing the initial cause.

  • Turn off the breaker box, but only if the box is located in a dry part of the home. Do not access the breaker box if it is anywhere near water damage to avoid electric shock. If it is wet or near water, call the utility company and ask them to turn it off from their end. If that’s not possible, ask for them to send someone out.

  • Contact your insurance company as soon as you can and be honest regarding the extent of water damage and the original cause.

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  • If the water damage comes from a backed-up sewer, or if the water is grey or black, wait for professionals before touching or dealing with the water in any way, as it is a serious biohazard risk.

Hiring a Pro for Water Damage

Once you establish it’s safe to reenter the home, the quicker any cleanup and water damage restoration takes place, the better. To minimize the spread of mold and the risk of serious structural damage, contact a water damage restoration pro within 24 to 48 hours.

The extent of the problem is often more significant than it appears, as water damage hides behind walls and under floorboards. In other words, it’s best to seek the help of a reputable restoration service. They will assess the level of water damage and assess the amount of work needed to make your home safely habitable once again. There is plenty of work involved with water damage restoration, such as drying, and replacing flooring, drywall, and insulation.

Additionally, not all of your water-damaged belongings are salvageable, and pros will assess this damage as well. Depending on the level of water damage, count on spending anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to dry out the home and make the required repairs.

Tips to Dry Out the Home

Before any structural repairs take place, you will need to dry out your home. This is particularly challenging if the electricity is still off and you live in a humid region. For minor bouts of water damage, dry out the home on your home, but professionals are required for larger incidents of damage.

Here are some tips to dry the impacted areas of your home quickly, though it takes at least a two days for your home to fully dry out, with some jobs requiring weeks of active drying.

  • Start quickly, so as to minimize the chances of mold forming. Remember, mold appears within 24 hours of water damage and the spores easily spread to parts of your home not impacted by water damage.

  • Floor fans, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, and wet/dry vacs are all your friends during this process and all help to prevent mold on carpet after water damage. Start with these tools as needed. Place floor fans in bathrooms and near impacted drywall. Use a wet/dry vac on flooring and place dehumidifiers wherever they are needed.

  • Open windows and doors to get air circulating.

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  • Remove any drenched objects from the home, such as items of furniture. This prevents them leaking onto fixtures, flooring, and near walls.

  • Fan dry books and papers, wet page by wet page. If you don’t have time for this lengthy process, bag up the books in plastic bags and place them in the freeze. Retrieve them later when you have time.

Can You DIY Water Damage Restoration Work?

If you’ve only experienced a small leak under your sink, for example, it is easy enough to remove all the items affected by water damage to assess for salvageability. Then, drying out the space is just a matter of using the proper tools and time.

However, if the water damage is near the breaker box, appliances, or electrical outlets, call in an experienced pro to ensure safety. The same goes for major water damage, no matter the location. Restoration contractors can easily assess if there is any hidden damage that require repairs.

How to Prevent Water Damage Around Your Home

You can take a few preventative measures to avoid water damage to your house. Follow these essential steps to keep water from invading your home.

Clean Your Gutters

Your gutters protect your home from water damage by removing rainwater from your roof and away from your home’s foundation. If gutters become clogged, they’ll overflow, which can lead to leaks that cause water damage. Clean your gutters twice a year, or after a big storm with lots of debris, to keep the system working properly.

Check Your Chimney

A chimney sweep should inspect your chimney at least once yearly to look for loose mortar and bricks. Any cracks in our chimney could lead to troublesome leaks. If the pro spots damage, make repairs ASAP to avoid water leaking into your home.

Get a Sump Pump

Your basement or crawl space should have a sump pump to defend your home against flooding that could do major damage to your home. A sump pump is particularly important if you live in a flood zone, or an area that gets a lot of rainfall.

Get a Roof Inspection

A roofer should inspect your roof once a year to check for missing or broken shingles or cracks that could let water into your home. If the pro finds any damage to your roof, be sure to have them repair it immediately to protect against interior water damage.

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Caulk Any and All Cracks

Whether it’s outside or inside, cracks are an almost guaranteed entry point for unwelcome water. Focus on windows and door wells, and fill every crack you see with caulk. Proper caulking will seal off your home to prevent water damage—and a dry home is a happy home!


What should I do immediately after water damage? ›

5 Immediate Steps to Handle a Water Damage Emergency
  • Protect Yourself and Your Possessions. ...
  • Stop the Water Damage. ...
  • Contact Your Insurance Company. ...
  • Dry Things Out. ...
  • Clean and Restore Your Property.

How quickly can water damage happen? ›

Does Water Damage Happen Immediately? Water damage happens quickly, usually within 24 hours. If you notice any signs of water damage, it normally isn't something you can fix on your own.

How much water does it take to cause severe damage to a home? ›

3 feet+ of water

More than three feet of flooding can cause severe damage to a home's infrastructure, including its foundation and framework. This level of flooding can cause damage too severe to repair. Outside, water can cause lasting damage to water wells as well as sewage and plumbing systems.

How do you explain water damage? ›

Water damage describes various possible losses caused by water intruding where it will enable attack of a material or system by destructive processes such as rotting of wood, mold growth, bacteria growth, rusting of steel, swelling of composite woods, de-laminating of materials such as plywood, short-circuiting of ...

Will a one time leak cause mold? ›

Can a one-time water leak cause mold? Short answer: yes. People often believe that only extensive water damage leads to mold growth. However, this is not true.

How long does it take for walls to dry? ›

There is no hard and fast answer because it depends wholly on the extent of the damage and the wall itself, as well as the core issue. It could take a few days, or it could take a few weeks. The most important thing is to check damp walls early on and begin the drying process as soon as possible.

How long does it take for a house to dry out? ›

newly-built home

Over time this moisture will gradually disappear and, as shown in the diagram below, you should expect your new home to reach a moisture- balanced state within 18 months to 2 years.

How long does it take ceiling to dry after leak? ›

The necessary period to dry out the ceiling will vary based on just how wet the ceiling got. It can take a minimum of two weeks, but sometimes up to four weeks.

Does homeowners insurance cover water damage? ›

Water damage to your property is usually covered as a standard feature in your buildings insurance policy. Often referred to as 'escape of water' by insurers, it can be caused by several issues, from burst pipes due to freezing temperatures, to a leaking dishwasher or an overflowing blocked toilet.

How much damage can 1 inch of water do to a home? ›

Just 1 inch of water can cause $25,000 of damage to your home. As floodwaters rise, so do the costs of repairing your home and replacing the things inside of it. This summer, when heavy rains lead to flash flooding, make sure you're covered—invest in a flood insurance policy.

How long does it take for water to damage drywall? ›

Once it gets wet, porous drywall quickly becomes a breeding ground for mold growth. The process can take as little as 24 hours, but you might not see the damage for a week or more.

How long should a fan run after water damage? ›

Ideally, within 48 hours. 1) If the weather is not humid - open those windows and let the outside air help you to dry out those walls. 2) Use an oscillating fan pointed towards the affected walls. Run these fans for as long as needed.

What considered accidental for water damage? ›

Your coverage includes protection against sudden and accidental water damage caused by events, such as (but not limited to): Heating system rupture. Plumbing system rupture. Sprinkling system rupture.

What does early water damage look like? ›

A: If you suspect a leak, the first sign of water damage will likely be a stain on your walls or ceilings. Signs of water damage in your walls can be light-brown or beige spots. You could also find a spot of peeling or flaking paint that's caused by excess moisture.

How long does it take for a water stain to appear on a ceiling? ›

Look for mold. Moisture creates a hospitable atmosphere for bacteria, and materials such as drywall, carpeting and insulation are especially friendly to fungal growth. If bacteria has had time to set in, it means the water spot has been on the ceiling for at least two or three days.

Should you replace drywall if it gets wet? ›

Heavy Soaking

If left untreated, heavily soaked drywall can deform or even collapse. As a result, a drywall replacement is the best bet to protect the integrity of your home.

Will dehumidifier dry out damp walls? ›

Dehumidifiers can help remove moisture from the air, which indirectly removes it from the walls, too. To speed up evaporation, remove molding and baseboards to prevent moisture from entering behind them.

How do you dry a house after a water leak? ›

Water Damage: 8 Ways to Dry Out and Move On
  1. Move Air Naturally. If humidity isn't too high, open windows and doors to start air circulating. ...
  2. Move Air Mechanically. Rent or buy high-powered fans to rev up air circulation. ...
  3. Dehumidify. ...
  4. Pump Water. ...
  5. Wet/Dry Shop Vac. ...
  6. Remove Sodden Objects. ...
  7. Freeze Papers. ...
  8. Absorb Moisture.

Will water damage dry on its own? ›

The Time it Takes to Dry Out Water Damage? On average, excess water in a home will traditionally dry up within a week or two on its own. The problem with leaving it alone for that long is there is a greater risk that mold and other health hazards will develop.

How long does a flooded house take to dry? ›

Once you have pumped out all the standing water you can begin to dry your property out. In cases of severe flooding it can take weeks or months to dry out the fabric of a building.

How long does it take for dehumidifier to dry house? ›

If you've taken your time and gotten everything up to par, the room you are attempting to dry should return to normal in about two days. Almost all dehumidifiers come with a built-in auto-off feature that will cause the unit to power down once the desired humidity level has been achieved.

How long does it take for mold to grow on wet drywall? ›


Mildew (mold in early stage) and molds grow on wood products, ceiling tiles, cardboard, wallpaper, carpets, drywall, fabric, plants, foods, insulation, decaying leaves and other organic materials. Mold growths, or colonies, can start to grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours.

Can leaking ceiling collapse? ›

If you are experiencing a roof leak, this is a sign that you have water pooling between your ceiling and roof. This pooling water puts added weight and stress on your beams, drywall, and insulation, causing sagging or drooping which could lead to a collapse.

How do I make a successful water leak claim? ›

How to Get Insurance to Pay for Water Damage
  1. Determine the source of the water; take (reasonable) measures to stop it from flowing.
  2. Determine if your water damage is covered by your home insurance policy.
  3. Call your insurance agent and report the claim.
  4. If needed, hire a professional water damage clean-up company.

What 3 things does homeowners insurance cover? ›

Key Takeaways. Homeowners insurance policies generally cover destruction and damage to a residence's interior and exterior, the loss or theft of possessions, and personal liability for harm to others. Three basic levels of coverage exist: actual cash value, replacement cost, and extended replacement cost/value.

Why is water damage not covered by insurance? ›

If there is a water damage that is caused due to unresolved maintenance of any problem related to water tank, rusty pipelines or plumbing issue will not be covered under the policy. The exclusions varies from insurer to insurer. You can always consult with your insurance provider about the exclusions in detail.

What damage can it cause in your home? ›

1 thing most likely to damage your home - MarketWatch.
5 most common causes of homeowner's insurance claims.
Exterior wind damage25%
Non-weather-related water damage (i.e. plumbing and appliance issues)19%
Weather-related water damage11%
6 Apr 2016

How common is water damage? ›

Water damage (including damage from freezing) is one of the most common and most costly types of homeowners insurance claims. Every year, about one in 50 homeowners files a water damage or freezing claim, accounting for 29% of all homeowners insurance claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

What causes water damage in homes? ›

There are many causes of water damage, including clogging of gutters, clogged drains, exposed water supply lines, leaking water pipes, faulty appliances, and septic tank overflow. Preventing water damage from occurring will save you a lot of money and time.

Will drywall mold if it gets wet? ›

Wet drywall will lose its structural integrity and if left alone for long enough will develop mold spores, between the insulation and the drywall. It's easy to think it's not a problem because out of sight out of mind, but it does need to be handled.

What happens when water gets in your walls? ›

Signs of Water-Damaged Walls and Ceilings

Peeling, flaking, or bubbling paint. Warped walls. Mold or mildew growth. Stains on the ceiling or walls.

Does water damage get worse over time? ›

The fact of the matter is that the longer you leave water damage, the more it's going to cost to repair. Fixing the problem right away could be relatively quick and easy, but if you leave it, it could just get worse and worse.

Does a fan work as a dehumidifier? ›

Using fans

Fans are really useful in speeding up the drying process as they keep air circulating. Air can hold moisture but as it cools the moisture will evaporate so moving moisture away from a wet area will help it dry faster. Fans can be used in conjunction with heaters and dehumidifiers or by themselves.

How long does it take for subfloor to dry? ›

If your subflooring is undamaged and the affected area is dry within 24 to 48 hours, you may be able to repair the damaged flooring. Before attempting a repair, ensure the floor is completely dry. Use wet vacuums to clear big water puddles, and set up fans and dehumidifiers to dry out the rest of the moisture.

How do you fix a minor water damaged drywall? ›

If drywall panels only show water stains but aren't structurally compromised, they may be repairable by cutting out the damaged portion. When cutting out around the damaged area, use a keyhole saw to cut the hole into a square or rectangular shape. You can then make a patch with another piece of drywall for the repair.

Does home insurance cover water leak in wall? ›

Dwelling coverage: Your policy's dwelling coverage clause insures the structure of your home, such as its roof, walls and floorboards. If part of your house is damaged by a covered leak or if you have to remove a part of a wall in order to repair a leak, your dwelling coverage will reimburse you.

Does insurance cover plumbing issues? ›

Here's what you should know about coverage for plumbing:

Plumbing systems require maintenance to function properly. Home insurance covers damage caused by sudden, accidental events. Therefore, most plumbing problems aren't covered by insurance. Your policy can cover water damage caused by bursting pipes.

What is sudden and accidental? ›

Sudden and accidental means an abrupt, fortuitous event which is unintended from the perspective of a reasonable person.

How long does it take for a leak to cause water damage? ›

TLDR: It takes about 72 hours for areas affected by water damage to dry completely. But, it only takes about an hour for the water to begin causing damage to your home. For this reason, you should contact a water damage restoration company like Steamy Concepts as soon as possible.

How long does it take for water damage to show? ›

As discussed previously, some forms of water damage can show almost instantly. Within just a single hour, drywall can bulge and break. Furthermore, metal surfaces may begin to tarnish, and your furniture may swell and crack after one day of water exposure. By the end of the first week, the damage compounds.

Can you tell how old water damage is? ›

Look for Rings: If you see a darker spot with zero rings around it, this indicates that the damage generated by water is new. Older damage generated by water will have rings around it, and just like a tree, the more rings shows the age.

How do you check for water damage in walls? ›

Pay close attention to the wall texture. Peeling paint is a prime indicator of moisture problems, along with warping or buckling surfaces. Push on the wall slightly to see how it feels. Moisture-damaged drywall will feel soft and spongy, while wood-sheathed walls may feel slightly solid even with a moisture problem.”

Can you just paint over water damage? ›

Make sure that the water stain is dry, then simply paint over it using a brush or roller and leave to dry. Feather the edges so that the paint blends with the surrounding area. One coat should be enough. Once dry, you can then apply your emulsion for the final coat to hide the stain.

What does water damage look like on drywall? ›

You can detect wall water damage by looking for softened drywall, bubbling, or discoloration. All three of these signs indicate that there has been water damage to your drywall.

How long should you run fans after water damage? ›

Ideally, within 48 hours. 1) If the weather is not humid - open those windows and let the outside air help you to dry out those walls. 2) Use an oscillating fan pointed towards the affected walls. Run these fans for as long as needed.

How long does a water leak take to dry out? ›

It takes about 72 hours for any affected areas to completely dry-up; this only applies to a room to room basis. Larger areas affected by water damage need longer drying times.

How long does it take to dry out a house after a flood? ›

Drying out a house after a flood typically takes 24 to 72 hours. You can speed up the process of drying your home by: Pumping the water out. Start moving air naturally by opening windows and doors.

How long does it take for a floor to dry out after a leak? ›

Depending on the extent and nature of the damage, it may take anything from two days to a number of weeks to completely dry out the damage done by a flood or leak.

How long does it take for a water stain to appear on a ceiling? ›

Look for mold. Moisture creates a hospitable atmosphere for bacteria, and materials such as drywall, carpeting and insulation are especially friendly to fungal growth. If bacteria has had time to set in, it means the water spot has been on the ceiling for at least two or three days.

How long does it take for a house to dry out? ›

newly-built home

Over time this moisture will gradually disappear and, as shown in the diagram below, you should expect your new home to reach a moisture- balanced state within 18 months to 2 years.

How long does it take for drywall to dry after a leak? ›

Seal, Fire Up, and Monitor. Make the room as airtight as possible by taping plastic sheeting over doorways and windows. Fire up the equipment, keep a close eye on the dehumidifier's collection well, and regularly check progress with your moisture meter. On average, it takes three days to completely dry wet drywall.

How fast does mold grow after a water leak? ›

mildew and mold will develop within 24-48 hours of water exposure. Even worse, it will continue to grow until steps are taken to eliminate the source of moisture, and effectively deal with the mold problem.

Do you have to replace drywall if it gets wet? ›

While drywall isn't the most resistant to water, it can still withstand small amounts of moisture. For example, if you spill a glass of water on your drywall, you probably don't need a replacement. However, you should deal with any spills right away.

What happens when water gets in your walls? ›

Signs of Water-Damaged Walls and Ceilings

Peeling, flaking, or bubbling paint. Warped walls. Mold or mildew growth. Stains on the ceiling or walls.

What kills mold after a flood? ›

Use no more than 1 cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water when you're cleaning up mold. If you are using stronger, professional strength bleach use less than 1 cup of bleach per gallon of water. ALWAYS protect your mouth, nose, skin, and eyes against both mold and bleach with an N-95 mask, gloves, and goggles.

Should I open windows after flood? ›

If you already have a dehumidifier (and the flood is a small area) what you can do is use the outside air as a natural dehumidifier. Check your local weather forecast, if there is a day when the relative humidity is very low, open up all of your windows.

What happens if water gets under vinyl plank flooring? ›

Vinyl flooring can either be glued to the subfloor or it can float on top of it, and either way, moisture underneath it causes problems. Moisture weakens glue bonds and causes the edges to lift and bubbles to form in the middle. It also deteriorates and softens the vinyl and promotes the growth of mold.

What to do if water gets under hardwood floors? ›

To dry beneath wood floors which have been flooded, first you should remove any wet floor coverings such as rugs or carpet. Next, dry the floors completely by pumping out standing water, then mop and towel the surface dry. Use fans to circulate the air in your home, and have patience as your floors dry.

How long should you run a dehumidifier after a leak? ›

How Long to Run a Dehumidifier after a Water Leak?
  1. It can take anywhere between 24 and 48 hours for a commercial dehumidifier to service a water leak.
  2. How high the humidity level is where you live will also affect how effective your dehumidifier is.
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