The Long-Term Dangers of Ignoring Household Leaks

The Long-Term Dangers of Ignoring Household Leaks

Unlike in many countries, most residents of the United States enjoy easy access to clean and safe freshwater. Water is an integral part of our lives, as data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that American families use an average of 300 gallons each day. The EPA’s annual Fix a Leak Week in March reminds homeowners of the importance of minimizing leaks. Water leaks may create a variety of problems including higher utility bills, substantial property damage, environmental harm and legitimate risks to human health.

Understanding Residential Water Damage

To define and categorize types of water damage, the Institute of Inspection Cleaning & Restoration Certification (IICRC) established helpful metrics based on the type of water involved and the nature or extent of the calamity. The water is first categorized into three groups according to how unsanitary and potentially harmful it is. The water damage “classes” are four groups defined largely based on the volume of water involved and the costs and difficulties needed to repair the problem.

water damage at crown molding and ceiling

Categories of Water

Clean Water

Water containing no harmful material is simply referred to as “clean.” Common sources might include rainfall, snowmelt, faucets or damaged appliances. Typically associated with lesser damage, clean water may create substantial damage in large volumes. If problems with clean water are not promptly addressed, it can transition into greywater or blackwater. 


Wastewater from types of household appliances is commonly called greywater. This category of water might contain minimally harmful chemicals or particles of food. Home occupants who have minor exposure to greywater are at minimal risk; yet, it is generally dangerous if ingested.

“Light” greywater contains soap or detergent, which is typically from bathtubs, showers or washing machines. “Dark” greywater is a type of wastewater usually from kitchen sinks and dishwashers. In most cases, people can safely clean up greywater themselves when equipped with rubber gloves and protective eyewear.


The most hazardous type of household water is blackwater, which often contains harsh chemicals or dangerous pathogens. Blackwater is wastewater from sources including septic tanks, toilets or sewer-line backups. Based on the risks, homeowners should seek assistance from qualified professionals to manage blackwater damage.

Classes of Home Water Damage

Based on the findings of an assessment or evaluation, home water damage severity is typically grouped into four classes.

  • Class 1: Very minor water damage from leaks or intrusions is considered within Class 1.
  • Class 2: Usually the result of moderate leaks, Class 2 water damage often involves exposure to flooring, carpeting or drywall. Inside a home, damage with water levels below two feet is generally Class 2.
  • Class 3: Here, the water levels either exceed two feet or have soaked a home’s structural or support materials. Class 3 water damage often ruins floors, subfloors or ceilings.
  • Class 4: The most severe type of water damage involves standing water that is trapped inside a home with parts of the structure submerged.  In these instances, specialized equipment is typically necessary to remove the water.
mold growing on wall

The Possible Dangers of Home Water Damage

Slip-and-Fall Accidents

Walking on wet surfaces increases the likelihood of enduring a dangerous slip-and-fall incident and may result in icy conditions in exterior areas such as stairwells and walkways.

Mold Growth

Excessive moisture and humidity inside your home also may result in foul odors and poor indoor air quality that trigger harmful reactions among those with allergies. The development of mold poses health risks as tiny, toxic particles become airborne.

Structural Collapse

Water damage hinders the integrity of many structural materials used in homes. Excessive moisture can degrade floors or ceilings and window and door frames. In extreme cases, water damage may erode the home’s concrete foundation or cause support beams or joists to rot, which may have dangerous consequences. 

Termite Infestation

The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) explains that homes with water damage are susceptible to hungry termites. Some species of these “ant-like” pests are drawn to water-damaged wood. Annually in the U.S., termites create more than 5 billion dollars in property damage.

Electrical Shocks

Water leaks may create safety concerns when exposed to electrical devices or wiring. Consider shutting off the power in any rooms with significant water leaks and remember that returning power could trigger an electrical shock or an electrical fire.

industrial fan at corner with dry wall cut out from water damage

The Potential Economic Consequences of Home Water Damage

Utility Expenses

Homeowners with leaks often recognize a notable increase in their water bill. For example, a running toilet may result in wasting hundreds of gallons of water per day.

Damage to Hardwood Flooring and Ceilings

Floors and any ceilings below are often water-damaged. For example, according to a report from Forbes, hardwood floors that incur water damage commonly need $500 or more in repairs.

Drywall Damage

In many instances, water-damaged drywall must be replaced. The cost of replacing drywall often exceeds $2 per square foot and painting is also typically needed. 

Homeowner’s Insurance Coverage

Most homeowner’s insurance policies will cover water damage that results from sources inside the home, such as plumbing. However, damage resulting from floods usually requires separate, specialized insurance coverage.

Possible Environmental Concerns

Water lost from leaks may harm the environment, contribute to climate change, and waste this critical, and often scarce resource. A massive network or infrastructure exists across the U.S. to pump, transport, heat, treat and otherwise handle water. Most of these activities consume energy, often driven by fossil fuels, which generates carbon emissions.

Other water leak effects involve lowering the water levels in our rivers and lakes, which alters the habitat for types of wildlife and can strengthen pollutants that would otherwise be diluted. 

Best Practices and Solutions for Homeowners

While homes throughout the U.S. will inevitably develop water leaks, substantial progress is attainable if individuals each do their part in preventing, identifying and resolving the problems on their properties.

Indoor water leaks are detectable by turning off the home’s water supply and checking the water meter for any active flow. Identifying the location (source) of the leak is vital. Some of the most obvious signs of a leak include pools of standing water or stains on walls, floors or ceilings.

Homeowners should consider taking a proactive approach to water leaks. Innovative solutions, such as the Flume Smart Home Water Monitor, will check your home’s water system in real-time and promptly detect any leaks.

"The Long-Term Dangers of Ignoring Household Leaks" Text with picture of water damage at crown molding and ceiling


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