If there was a flood or major pipe leak in your home, it is likely that in addition to the water damage to the floors, the walls have been affected, too. There are instances when the water damage to the walls is noticeable but oftentimes, the damage is unseen and cannot be easily detected by the average homeowner.
If the flood or leak entered a room from the ground level, the floor including the carpeting, if there is any, will be covered by water which will then start to create vertical wicking in the walls. The degree of this reaction will rely on several factors such as the amount of water and how high the water level reached on the wall as well as the wall construction.
Drywall is very absorbent because its core is made of gypsum and both of its sides are made of a type of paper similar to a cardboard. Because of its porosity, you can expect water to wick up on a drywall to more than two feet. Both sides of the drywall will be wet but the inside part will contain more water for the simple reason that water would not quickly evaporate from that side. Sometimes, signs of moisture from the inside of the wall are not visible.
For a professional trained in water damage restoration, the process of restoring wet walls starts with finding out how badly-damaged the walls are. There is a wide range of professional metering devices that can be used by a restoration expert to help assess water damage. Noninvasive devices are among those widely-used by experts such as a moisture meter that checks for moisture in the wall using radio waves and an infrared (IR) imaging camera that also detects moisture since a damp wall would be cooler than a dry wall. These devices are noninvasive because there is no need to create holes or do anything with the wall material.
After the restoration expert has identified which walls have been water damaged, the drying process will begin aided by several drying equipment. If the wall has no insulation, drying can be done without having to remove the baseboard or making holes in the wall. The restoration expert will use equipment called air movers to remove the molecules of water from the wall surface and allow the water to evaporate quickly. An air mover will be positioned along the wet wall for, approximately, every ten linear feet. During this process, more water is drawn to the surface of the wall as moisture evaporates from that particular surface.
Another important and state-of-the art device used by water damage restoration professionals is a dehumidifier, which is installed to reduce the level of humidity in the walls and help stop the formation of mold. More than one dehumidifier may be used as necessary.
A special drying system for the inner walls can also be installed if the restoration expert sees it appropriate. This system involves directing air to enter the wall cavity above the sill plate by creating holes in this area. According to studies, this is the quickest and most effective way of drying water-damaged walls.
In some instances, the inside or outside wall has some material or coating over it that acts like a barrier that restricts the movement of moisture in the walls. If this is the case with the walls in your home, the restoration expert will perform a different process of drying that will depend on the wall coating or covering. Latex paints, for instance, are not moisture barriers because they are porous. Glossy paint can lock in a certain amount of moisture but enamel paint and vinyl coverings retain moisture completely.
In the last case, the restoration expert will have to perforate the wall covering to let the water molecules escape in order for the walls to dry. He would also need to remove the wall if the inside has plastic or foil because the wall will not dry properly otherwise and will surely encourage mold development.
Having wall insulation is another factor to be considered in the drying method. If the material used for insulation is paper-backed fiberglass, then the drying technique described above for inner walls can be used. However, if the fiberglass has foil backing, or if the insulation material is Styrofoam or blown-in cellulose, then it would be more difficult to dry the wall. In this situation, the damaged section of the wall needs to be removed together with the insulation to facilitate quick drying and prevent mold growth.
Whatever restoration method or technique that restoration crew performs, homeowners should be aware that the equipment to be used for the drying process must be operating continuously throughout the entire process. To insure that drying equipment is functioning properly, the expert will perform multiple checks everyday and make any necessary adjustments.
During the daily checks, the restoration expert will also measure the moisture level in the materials to determine if the drying process is successful. To determine complete and proper drying of materials, their moisture level is compared with similar materials in the wall structure that were not water-damaged. Once the moisture level is the same between the affected and unaffected materials, then the drying process is complete and the crew will remove the drying equipment.
Proper drying of water-damaged walls may take several weeks. If the walls are not dried properly, mold and mildew growth will continue and this will eventually damage the structures of your home or lead to other unpleasant outcomes such as repainting your walls, replacing wall coverings, or worse, family illness.
If the water damage is not extensive and you are confident that you can manage the restoration on your own, you can do so with some simple methods. The first thing you need to is to extract the water from your home as soon as possible, including water-soaked furnishings. After removing the water, clean the flood-soiled walls from debris and mud before the walls dry out. All you need to do this is a sponge, mop cloth and hose. Begin washing the wall from the highest point reached by the flood and work your way downwards.
Remove the wallboard as well as the paneling and plaster up to at least the level of the flooding. Wallboards are highly absorbent so if it is exposed to floodwater, which obviously contains all sorts of contaminants, then it becomes a serious health hazard and must be removed. If the water damage is from rain water, however, you can just cut a section about four-inches up to a foot from top and bottom of the walls. Doing so will force air to enter that side of the wall for quicker drying.
You may not need to replace the plaster but drying it takes a lot of time. You may also be able to salvage some wall paneling by drying them slowly. If you have wall insulation and it has also been water-damaged, you may need to get rid of it because it will retain moisture for months after.
When cleaning water damaged walls or any other surface, make sure you wash and disinfect them thoroughly, including all exposed sections. Using a good disinfectant is necessary to inhibit mildew growth. A good homemade cleaning solution is a simple mixture of chlorine bleach (1 cup) and water (1 gallon). You can add half a cup of mild detergent to the mix if you want to make it soapier. Don’t forget to wear gloves when washing.
If you will be washing walls that have already dried, start from the bottom up so as not to produce streaking. Use clean water because dry walls may absorb the water and if it’s dirty, then it would be very difficult to remove the stains.
Your next task is to get all the moisture out of the walls as well as from absorbent materials like wood or plaster. Cut out the wet sections so air can begin circulating. Provided the weather is good, open the windows and doors of your home to aid moisture evaporation. This will also help get rid of odors. However, you must keep an eye on the weather because if it suddenly becomes considerably more humid outside than inside then you must close up your house. Similarly, keep windows and doors closed throughout the night if the temperature drops and opening them will only draw moist air inside.
If the level of humidity outside is high, you may want to use a home dehumidifier to quicken the drying process. If moisture is still present after 12 hours, you may have to cut a bigger hole in the wall to let more air in. You need to keep an eye on the drying process and check the level of moisture to ensure that mold does not develop. Mold growth can start even before the walls dry out completely so this is actually one major concern why many homeowners choose to hire professional water damage specialists since natural drying does take longer than professional methods.
You may consider renting commercial-grade dehumidifiers that can effectively remove moisture up to four times than ordinary dehumidifiers. Remember to close the windows and doors when you are using this equipment. If the extent of damage caused by the flooding is severe and calls for commercial drying equipment, it would be best to simply hire a water removal and water damage restoration crew to do the job. There are companies that can complete the job within a week or less.