Water damage comes in many shapes and forms, and can leave lasting damage to not only
your property but your health as well, if not dealt with correctly. One of the first steps to
relieving your property of potential water damage is to determine what kind of water
damage you are dealing with. According to the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and
Restoration Certification (IICRC) there are three types of water damage, which they outline
in their Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration (the
S500). Water damage is categorized by its source, length of time in the structure, history of
the structure, and other impactful factors like chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers,
animal feces, fuel, detergents, rat poison, etc.
The first type of water damage they outline is Category 1, which includes burst water pipes,
leaking appliances, and small amounts of rainwater. The defining characteristic of Category 1
water is that it is clean at the source, and therefore does not pose a hazard if consumed by
people. Category 1 water requires much less equipment and time to remedy.
Types of Category 1 water damage include, but are not limited to burst water pipes, failed
supply lines on appliances, falling rainwater, melting snow or ice, broken toilet tanks, or toilet
bowl over flow that does not contain any contaminants. While this type of water damage is not
necessarily hazardous, if it is not dealt with it could turn to category 2 within 24 hours. That time
period could be sped up if the right conditions for microorganism growth are present such as
stagnant air, humidity, and moderate temperatures (68-86 degrees Fahrenheit).
Category 2 water damage, or gray water, is characterized by beginning with some amount of
contamination at the source, or Category 1 water that has been neglected as mentioned before.
This type of water damage is moderately dangerous, and could cause some degree of sickness or
discomfort for people or animals if exposed.
The most common types of Category 2 water damage are discharge from washing machines or
dishwashers, toilet flow overflow with urine but no feces, sump pump back-up, hydrostatic pressure
seepage, washing machine overflow, broken aquariums, and puncture water beds. These
instances of water damage may contain chemicals, bio-contaminants, and other forms of
contamination that are hazardous to human health. Health effects are as follows: allergic asthma,
allergic rhinitis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis (lung tissue inflammation), burning eyes, skin
irritation, inflammatory response, nausea, headache, and fever. Again, time and conducive
temperatures allow for deterioration to a Category 3 within 48 hours.
The final and most dangerous type of water damage is Category 3, or black water. Black water is
highly contaminated, contains pathogens, and can cause serious illness or even death in extreme
conditions. Any person with a weak immune system, respiratory illness, allergies, or young children
should remain away from the structure for the duration of the infection and clean-up.
Examples of this type of damage include sewage, ground surface water intrusion, toilet backflow
from beyond the trap, and flooding sweater/rivers/streams that have entered the premises. Flooding
water brings in silt and other organic matter, that may already have bacteria growing in it, and
resting stagnant in your home will only provide a more suitable environment in which
microorganisms can grow. Negative health effects from black water are numerous, and include
bacterial infections from E. coli, salmonella, and shigella, soil organisms like Streptomyces,
saccharopolyspora, thermonospora, viruses like rotavirus, hepatitis, and echovirus, and even
parasites such as giardia, cryptosporidium, and others. In any situation, black water is very serious
and needs to be dealt with immediately.
Besides categories of water damage, there are also 4 classes per the IICRC.
Water damage is divided into class based on the rate of evaporation required.
Often the type of material that has been affected is the determining factor.
The water loss has been limited to only a partial room area, and the materials effected are of low porosity (water
is retained on the surface). There is little or no wet carpet or cushion.
The entire room is affected, as well as the carpet and cushion. Water has wicked up the walls 1-2 feet. Moisture
remains in the structure of the building.
The slowest evaporation rate and water may have come from above. Ceilings, walls, carpet, cushion, and subfloor is all saturated, and will require ample time to dry.
Class 4 comprises wet materials with low porosity or permeation such as hardwood, concrete, stone, brick, or
plaster. Water has formed deep pockets of saturation and will require special equipment that creates an
environment of very low humidity.