How Fast Can Water Damage Ruin a Home?

Gemma Johnstone
Written by Gemma Johnstone
Updated July 20, 2021
Water leaking onto hardwood floor
Sompetch Khanakornpratip /

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 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 Quickly Should You Hire a Pro After Water Damage?

Once you establish it’s safe to reenter the home, the quicker any cleanup and water damage restoration can take place, the better. To minimize the spread of mold and the risk of serious structural damage, water damage repair should start within 24 to 48 hours.

The extent of the problem can often be more significant than it appears. Usually, it’s best to seek the help of a reputable restoration service. They will assess the level of water damage and establish the amount of work required to make the home safely habitable again. Drying is a big part of the process, and, sometimes, flooring, drywall, and even insulation may need to be removed.

You’ll have to determine which of your water-damaged belongings are salvageable, and furniture and other items will need drying out. Depending on the level of water damage, it could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to dry out the home and make the required repairs.

Can You DIY Water Damage Restoration Work?

If you’ve only had a small leak under your sink, for example, it should be easy enough to remove all the items affected by water damage to assess for salvageability. Then, you should work on drying out the space. 

However, if the water damage is near the breaker box, appliances, or electrical outlets, it’s best to call in a pro who can handle this situation safely. And for major water damage, it’s always best to call in the professionals. They can assess if there is any hidden damage that they will need to repair.

Drying Out the Home Is a Priority to Prevent the Spread of Mold

Before any structural repairs can take place, you will need to dry out your home. This can be particularly challenging if the electricity is still off and you live in a humid region.

Floor fans, dehumidifiers, air conditioning, and wet/dry vacuums can all help with the process and help prevent mold on carpet after water damage. However, professional restoration contractors can make an assessment and speed things along. The quicker you can dry the home out, the less risk there will be of major mold developing. 

Mold can appear within the first 24 hours of water damage. Once established, it's challenging to eradicate, and the spores can spread, contaminating previously unaffected areas of your home. Mold exposure can lead to a variety of health problems, especially respiratory issues.

The time it will take to dry your home out completely will vary depending on where you live and the amount of water damage. It could take anything from a couple of days to a few weeks, but, generally, further restoration work can start within one week.

Immediate Steps to Take After Water Damage Occurs

When there’s a flood or major leak, there are some immediate practical and safety considerations. Family and pets should leave the house. Then, if it’s safe and possible, contain the leak and gather up accessible valuables. 

If the breaker box is in a dry location, turn off the electricity. If it’s wet or you have to stand in water to access it, call your utility company to request they turn it off. Water is a conductor and electricity can travel through it easily, increasing the risk of serious shock or even death.

It’s also a good idea to contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Also, wait for the professionals if the leak is from a backed-up sewer or the water is black rather than clear. This could present a potential biohazard risk, contaminating anything it comes into contact with.

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