What is Meant by Water Damage?

A variety of mishaps could lead to water pooling in your home. I’m often asked by homeowners and by insurance agents whether water spills and pools should be cleaned up by homeowners or by a qualified water damage restoration services company.Rob Villars, President, Advanced Restoration Services, LLC

My answer is Yes, if the water discharge amounts to a Category 2 or Category 3 problem.

3 categories of water damage

In the most technical sense of the term, any water that you don’t intend to have in your house in a controlled space is considered to be water damage.

There are varying degrees of water damage, depending on the category of water. Both the restoration services industry and the insurance industry grade water in three different categories:


Category 1  Clean water Examples: Broken water line to the refrigerator, ice maker, etc.
Category 2 “Gray water” Not really sewage, but it’s on its way. Examples: water discharged from dishwashers and washing machines.
Category 3 Sewage Can include ground water that enters a home.*

Source: Advanced Restoration Services, LLC, Bedford, Iowa

* Note on ground water: While it’s not true with every company, our firm treats ground water as sewage or Category 3 water. The reason is we don’t know what’s in the ground water, and so better safe than sorry. We think it’s best to assume any ground water that’s entered a home may be contaminated. It may contain everything from feces to pesticides. Even hydrocarbons from a nearby gas station can leach into the ground and be present in the water standing in a home. Whatever the case, we take ground water seriously.

The time factor

Each category of water damage contains a different amount of bacteria. Since bacteria has the potential to grow exponentially, standing water can quickly go from bad to worse. After 24 hours, bacteria growth can lead to significant problems for anyone exposed to the water, including discomfort and sickness.

Thus, due to the destructive nature of water, and the bacterial and chemical hazards that it can contain, the definitions for water damage change with time. The seriousness of a water damage problem, therefore, becomes a moving target:

  • After 24 hours: Any Category 1 water that has not been extracted is considered a Category 2.
  • By 72 hours: Any Category 1 water or Category 2 water that has not been extracted is considered a Category 3.


Each category of water damage has it’s requirements for cleanup and restoration. Here’s what you can expect:


Category 1 Responding within 24 hours You may be able to handle this cleanup yourself. However, if the amount of water is extensive and is pooling over a hardwood floor or carpeting, a qualified firm, such as Advanced Restoration Services, can extract the water and may be able to save the hardwood floor and damaged carpet and pad.
Category 2 Responding within 72 hours The carpet may be saved, but a restoration services company will be required to remove the carpet pad. The pad will have to be replaced with a new one.
Category 3 Responding as soon as possible You’ll need to hire a restoration services company. The firm will replace any affected drywall (though not the structural framing behind it) and any porous material the water has wicked into — carpet, pad, upholstered furniture, etc. These items will have to be replaced.

Source: Advanced Restoration Services, LLC, Bedford, Iowa

Of course, every water damage situation is different. The above tables represent only general guidelines. Be sure to consult a qualified insurance adjuster and, should you hire professional cleanup and restoration services, work with a reputable firm that stands by its work.