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Categories of Water Damage

There are three basic categories of water damage, based on the level of contamination as referenced from the IICRC S550 and are defined as:

Category 1: Category 1 water originates from a sanitary water source and does not pose substantial risk from dermal, ingestion, or inhalation exposure. Examples of Category 1 water sources can include, but are not limited to: broken water supply lines; tub or sink overflows with no contaminants; appliance malfunctions involving water-supply lines; melting ice or snow; falling rainwater; broken toilet tanks, and toilet bowls that do not contain contaminants or additives.

Category 1 water can deteriorate to Category 2 or 3. Category 1 water that flows into an uncontaminated building does not constitute an immediate change in the category. However, 1 Category 1 water that flows into a contaminated building can constitute an immediate change in the category. Once microorganisms become wet from the water intrusion, depending upon the length of time that they remain wet and the temperature, they can begin to grow in numbers and can change the category of the water. Odors can indicate that Category 1 water has deteriorated.

Category 2: Category 2 water contains significant contamination and has the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if contacted or consumed by humans. Category 2 water can contain potentially unsafe levels of microorganisms or nutrients for microorganisms, as well as other organic or inorganic matter (chemical or biological). Examples of category 2 water can include, but are not limited to: discharge from dishwashers or washing machines; overflows from washing machines; overflows from toilet bowls on the room side of the trap with some urine but no feces; seepage due to hydrostatic pressure; broken aquariums and punctured water beds. Category 2 water can deteriorate to Category 3. Once microorganisms become wet from the water intrusion, depending upon the length of time that they remain wet and the temperature, they can begin to grow in numbers and can change the category of the water.

Category 3: Category 3 water is grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed. Examples of Category 3 water can include, but are not limited to: sewage; waste line backflows that originate from beyond any trap regardless of visible content or color; all forms of flooding from seawater; rising water from rivers or streams; and other contaminated water entering or affecting the indoor environment, such as wind-driven rain from hurricanes, tropical storms, or other weather-related events. Category 3 water can carry trace levels of regulated or hazardous materials (e.g., pesticides, or toxic organic substances). Regulated, hazardous materials, and mold: if a regulated or hazardous material is part of a water damage restoration project, then a specialized expert may be necessary to assist in damage assessment. Restorers shall comply with applicable federal, state, provincial and local laws and regulations. Regulated materials posing potential or recognized health risks can include, but are not limited to: arsenic, mercury, lead, asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), ethylene glycol, pesticides, fuels, solvents, caustic chemicals and radiological residues. For situations involving visible or suspected mold, refer to the current version of ANSI/IICRC S520 Standard for Professional Mold Remediation. Qualified persons shall abate regulated materials, or should remediate mold prior to restorative drying.



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The class of water damage is important in the assessment and determination of how to proceed with removal, cleanup and repair of a water damage loss. The ANSI/IICRC S500 references the classes of wate