Water Damaged Insulation Dry Or Replace?

It only takes a little water to do a lot of damage to your home or business.  As little as one inch of water can cause damage totaling in the thousands of dollars.  What’s worse, when water gets within the walls of the structure, there sets the stage for all kinds of new problems, namely with air conditioning, heating systems, electrical, as well as the insulation in the home.

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Wet cellulose insulation in ceiling

It is vital to inspect the type of insulation present in order to determine whether it can be dried or will need to be replaced. Of course this is assuming we aren’t talking about category 2 or 3 water damage as that should always be replaced. Attic insulation and insulation under a floor in a crawl space can easily be evaluated to determine whether it can be saved or not. Insulation in the wall can pose more of a problem as it’s not immediately visible. Small holes should be drilled into the wall to determine the type of insulation as well as its moisture content. In most cases, the insulation should be removed and replaced, since repairing or restoring it is all but impossible, and leaving it in your home will only cause further problems.

Water damage is usually very evident, but in cases where it is not immediately visible, it is usually indicated by staining, discoloration, sagging, or warping of wall coverings, sheet rock, and drywall.  Wet cellulose insulation can absorb some water with no ill effects, but once it has become saturated, replacement is the only viable option.

Cellulose insulation may also sag under the weight of excess water, effectively compromising the structure’s R-value ratings.  Sagging creates gaps and holes and allows heat to escape, rendering the insulation pretty much useless.

Water damaged insulation may also contribute to a higher fire risk for the home.  As odd as that sounds, consider, cellulose insulation contains boric acid as a fire retardant.  Water damage rinses this solution away, leaving it vulnerable to fire damage.

In addition, many of the chemicals used to treat cellulose insulation may become corrosive when wet, able to eat through wiring and other delicate materials.  It may even compromise the integrity of support structures such as nails and fasteners.

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Types of insulation

Some insulation types can be saved. Glass fiber batt insulation can be dried depending on the level of water damage and amount of water damaged materials surrounding it and the length of time it’s been wet. Polystyrene pellets are another type of insulation that can be dried since they absorb very little water when wet. Drying insulation within walls can be achieved by using structural cavity drying systems (SCDS), but that be expensive if it takes a while to dry. Other options include partial demolition and then dehumidification and drying or full demolition.

There is also of course the age old water damage problem of mold and mildew, either of which may occur within 48 hours of water damage and completely destroy insulation of any type.

In most cases, drywall will need to be removed in order to access all of your damaged insulation.  Damaged insulation will need to be bagged and properly disposed of in a facility designed to accept such material.

Before installing any new insulation, the water damaged area will have to be thoroughly dried out, cleaned, disinfected, and sanitized.  Installing new insulation and skipping this step will only serve to cause additional long term problems.  Remember that the operative term in any water restoration process is “dry”.

Allow all wall and ceiling cavities to dry thoroughly….in some cases it may take as long as 1-2 weeks for everything to dry out.  Resist the urge to rush the project.  Rushing will only mean additional expense and headaches down the road.

If your home is located in an area that is prone to flooding, Styrofoam rigid insulation may be your best choice in order to avoid expensive insulation repairs and replacement.

About Dan Camara

Dan Camara is the CEO of PuroClean Home Rescue in Sacramento. We have been helping the good folks of Northern California with water damage dryouts, mold removal and fire cleanups for nearly 5 years now. Connect with me on Google+
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