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Classification of Storm Water Damage

  • After the recent hurricanes we have found ourselves faced with the misclassification of rain water from the hurricane as Category 3 water (Cat 3).  The classification of water is defined by the IICRC S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration as either Category 1, 2, or 3.

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  • After recent named storms many restoration contractors have been opportunistically categorizing rainwater from the storms as Category 3 water.  This benefits the restoration contractor.  With the classification of Cat 3 water the contractors can now remove substantially more building material that would otherwise be necessary.

  • To be clear there will always be Cat 3 water with named storms and flooding.  However, the recent abuse of the Cat 3 water is simply a means of extending the area of loss and increasing the cost to restore.  Don’t get me wrong here.  There are times when it is far more cost effective to bulk remove building material to accelerate the restoration process.  However, there are times when building materials that were wet and then dried, and then classified as Cat 3 with the recommendation of removal.  Double dipping.

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    For example, a 5-story condo building that had no surface water flooding and only wind driven rain entering the sliding glass doors.  The areas that were wet were quickly dried.  The restoration contractor then classified all wind driven rain at the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors as Cat 3, grossly contaminated.   The recommendation was to remove the lower 2 feet of drywall from all the condos.  There was no supporting evidence that the water was grossly contaminated.  The vast majority of the units were occupied during and after the hurricane.  The damage was limited to very small and localized areas at the sliding glass doors.  Yet the restoration contractor recommended the full evacuation of the building so the “Cat 3 Grossly Contaminated” drywall could be removed.

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    So how could the classification of water be so abused?  It’s all in the IICRC Category 3 definition.  It’s a wording issue.  As you read below the definition clearly states that Cat 3 water can include wind driven rain from hurricanes.  That doesn’t mean that wind driven rain is Cat 3, just that like all water it could be Cat 3.  To establish the presence of Cat 3 water samples of the suspected area of the 3rd floor drywall would need to be collected.  The method used could either be by culturing a sample for bacteria or with the use of ATP.  Either way the presence of Cat 3 water at the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors would need to be confirmed.

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    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 the trap regardless of visible content or color; all other forms of contaminated water resulting from 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 if they carry trace levels of contaminants (e.g., pesticides or toxic  organic substances).

     

    Rain is liquid water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then becomes heavy enough to fall under gravity. Rain is a major component of the water cycle and is responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on the Earth.  It provides suitable conditions for many types of ecosystems and crop irrigation.

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    Collecting and using rainwater can be a great way to conserve resources.  Some people collect and use rainwater for watering plants, cleaning, bathing, or drinking.  The issue with the collection of rainwater is the method of collection and storage.  If rainwater is collected from a roof for example it can contain contaminants that accumulate on the roof.

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    The rain itself isn’t Category 3.  Rainwater is predominantly evaporated water from a variety of sources such as lakes, rivers, and oceans.  According to IICRC S500, atmospheric rainwater is defined as Category 1.

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    “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.”


  • Rainwater is Category 1 Water.  Therefore, rainwater associated with tropical storms or hurricanes is predominantly evaporated water from a variety of sources and according to IICRC S500, falling rainwater is defined as Category 1.

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    The restoration contractors defining wind-driven rain as Category 3 water either haven’t read the S500 or are specifically abusing their misinterpretation to their benefit.  As shown above the IICRC S500 clearly defines rainwater as Category 1 and clearly states that Category 3 water can include wind driven rain from hurricanes.  I think that is pretty clear even to the layman.

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    For the wind driven rain to be categorized as Category 3, the water must have been grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed. 

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    If rain is to be classified as Cat 3 water we’re all in trouble.  How many times do we see a TV weather forecaster leaning into the wind driven rain of a hurricane as he or she blurts out the weather?  Wind driven rain in Florida takes place virtually every day somewhere. 

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    Clearly there are times when wind driven rain can be classified as Cat 3.  The IICRC recognized that and included the possibility in the standard.  To be Cat 3 the wind driven rain must be contaminated from something that was grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents.  There is also the possibility that Category 1 or 2 water deteriorated to Category 3 water over time.  The IICRC S500 addresses that possibility as well.

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    “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, Category 1 water that flows into a contaminated building can constitute an immediate change in the category.”

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    Clearly the interior of an occupied condo is not a contaminated building.

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    “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 washing1 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 1 and 2 water can to deteriorate in category.  That fact remains undisputed.  However, the method of establishing the category of water appears to be the issue.  It would appear that the opportunistic restoration contractors are assuming that the wind driven rain water is automatically Category 3 or the length of time that the Cat 1 or 2 water remained wet deteriorated the Cat 1 or 2 water to Category 3.

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    The reality is both are nothing more than an unproven hypothesis.  To establish the Category of water that is grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed.  The assessor or restoration contractor would have to confirm the if water has trace levels of contaminants (e.g., pesticides or toxic organic substances).

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    In the example provided earlier we talked about a 5-story condo building that was reportedly “grossly contaminated” by Category 3 hurricane rain.  No confirmation of the category was provided.  There was however a substantial estimate for drywall removal and sanitization of the grossly contaminated condos that were continuously occupied during and after the storm.

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    We provided a second opinion on the property and conducted onsite ATP sampling of the reportedly Category 3 contaminated drywall.  We used the Bio-Reveal Protocol for Sampling of Category 1, 2 and 3 Water Loss.  The Bio-reveal® bio-contamination detection system is designed to evaluate the level of surface cleanliness and sanitized hygiene in the indoor environment. This system will not detect specific strains of bacterial, viral or other micro-organisms, rather will measure and document the total surface or liquid conditions where these types of pathogenic organisms may be detected or harbored as a result of dirty, unhygienic or where direct impaction of Category 1, 2 or 3 water contamination may have occurred.  Additionally, the Bio-reveal® bio-contamination detection system can be used to generally quantify the total bacterial concentrations of Category 1, Category 2 and Category 3 water as referenced by the IICRC S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration.

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    All areas sampled were found to be well below the “Final hygiene goal for water loss restoration or remediation of building materials or contents to be salvaged.”  The condo owners did not evacuate and the drywall was not removed.  The total savings to the building were significant.

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    The trend of categorizing hurricane rain or wind driven rain as Category 3 needs to be nipped in the bud.  Do not allow a restoration contractor or mold assessor to declare rain water damage from a hurricane as Category 3 just because it came from the sky during a hurricane.  This assumed gross contamination only benefits the restoration contractor as it substantially increases their fee.

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    I hope this helped to clarify the Category of a water loss and prevented the unnecessary removal of building material that could otherwise be restored at a lessor fee. 

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  • John P. Lapotaire, CIEC
  • Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
  • Indoor AIr Quality Solutions, IAQS
  • Microshield Environmental Services, LLC
  • www.Microshield-ES.com  www.CFL-IAQ.com
  • www.FloridaIAQ.com
  • http://www.microshield-es.com/moldinspectiontesting.html 
  • http://www.orlandomoldinspection.us/
  • http://www.microshield-es.com/nuisanceodor.html
  • http://www.floridaiaq.com/moldremediationprotocol.html
  • http://www.floridaiaq.com/moldclearancetesting.html 


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