Steps FMs can take now to mitigate the risk of water damage

By Tim Fagan, president of 1-800 WATER DAMAGE, Blue Kangaroo Packoutz and 1-800-BOARDUPWhen most people hear about flooding, their minds take them to natural disasters like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or the flash floods Brooklyn experienced last fall.

But to a facilities manager, flooding is more likely caused by internal damage to the plumbing or to the fire suppression lines. And the floods that result from these events are more of “when” than an “if” scenario.

water damage remediation

They need to have a plan, make friends with their local restoration contractors and mitigate, mitigate, mitigate. Image courtesy of BELFOR Franchise Group

Water supply lines can fail. Not only do they age, but they can also be damaged when the land shifts or by cold weather events. There are even times when an unsuspecting worker accidentally knocks the head off of a water sprinkler with the ladder he was using to hang decorations. The possibilities are endless.

And, when you have buildings like hospitals that have water access in nearly every room, the chances for damage increase.

But as a facility manager, it is your job to mitigate the risks of water damage, no matter how many ways it can happen.

From simple spills to floods

Because water is one of the most common causes of damage in both residential and commercial buildings, it has been divided into four distinct categories, depending on the severity and types of water damage.

Categories of water at its source are:

  1. Category 1: This is clean water spills or floods from a sanitary source, like the main water lines to a sink. This water does not pose any serious risks.
  2. Category 2: This is what is sometimes called “gray water,” but is really dirty water that has unsafe levels of bacteria, viruses or mold. This can come from toilet bowls containing urine only, dishwashers or washing machines with dirty items, or hydrostatic pressure seepage, which is when ground water penetrates a basement or slab.
  3. Category 3: The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) defines Category 3 water as water that is grossly contaminated with pathogens, toxins or other harmful agents such as sewage, waste line backflows, or rising water from external water sources like rivers or ocean water.

In many cases, Category 1 spills can be cleaned up using equipment many facilities managers have on hand, but when the water damage is created by dirtier water, every manager needs to have a plumber or water restoration company on speed dial.

Be an important client

As a property or facilities manager, you oversee all aspects of a building’s functions while guaranteeing its occupants’ safety. But you also have to be persistent when it comes to keeping in touch with your contacts in the commercial contracting industry.

FMs need to have a reliable plumber, restoration company and other skilled tradesmen at the ready when their buildings experience flooding events.

If the weather has been extremely cold, you can rest assured that pipes are freezing and bursting all over town. If you don’t already have a relationship with your plumber or restoration company, you won’t be put at the top of the list when you need help.

You can develop processes — a very important aspect of a facilities manager’s job — and have them all in place, but if you can’t get the outside assistance you need to mitigate the damage, you are missing a key component of your role.

Some restoration companies do have contracts that are specifically designed for building managers and entitle them to priority service when a disaster hits. As a facilities manager, you should inquire about these kind priority service agreements with your local contractors.


Since losses from water damage are some of the most common causes of property insurance claims, it’s important that FMs:

  • Install or know how to locate water shut-off valves.
  • Understand how to isolate water leaks.
  • Create a schedule for regular maintenance on the plumbing and fire suppression lines.
  • Ensure that sump pumps, sewer lines and other methods of water removal are kept in good working condition.
  • Create a plan for emergencies and a call list for who to contact during these emergencies.

Most insurance companies also place the responsibility of mitigation on the policyholder. That means it’s the owner’s responsibility to abate the loss, which is probably one of the many reasons they have hired a property or facility manager.

According to the most recent statistics, the average cost of water damage restoration in a home is between $1,300 and $5,600. That number increases to $8,500 for commercial buildings. These figures grow as water continues to leak or isn’t properly removed.

And, once you add on the downtime your building may experience as a result of this water damage, the cost continues to rise. Unfortunately, many companies will go out of business after experiencing a major water loss. If your customers have to wait to get the services they have depended on for years, they will eventually find your competitors and start doing business with them.

The better your mitigation plans, the quicker you can respond to water damage and the faster you can reopen your business.

What to expect

Once you have contacted a remediation company, you can expect the following process:

  • The initial inspection and assessment. This first phase includes immediate mitigation steps, such as covering and raising furniture and other equipment, and other steps to limit further damage.
  • Water extraction and removal. Your restoration company will use truck mount extraction units, pumps, wet vacuums, portable water extractors, fans and dehumidifiers to remove the water from your building.
  • Once the standing water has been removed, the restoration company will begin to employ a scientific process that calculates the level of humidity, the airflow and the temperature to begin drying out the affected area.
  • Once the area is dry, then your restoration firm will begin cleaning and sanitizing the area. Any contaminants have to be cleaned from your building, furniture and equipment.
  • If it’s determined that there is structural or other damage as a result of the standing water, then reconstruction must be completed once all the other steps have been completed.

This process can take three to 10 days or more if reconstruction is necessary. And that is after the insurance company processes your claim.

That’s why facility managers need to be at the top of their game when it comes to water damage. They need to have a plan, make friends with their local restoration contractors and mitigate, mitigate, mitigate.

About the Author

Tim Fagan headshot

Tim Fagan is the president of 1-800 WATER DAMAGE, a property restoration company; Blue Kangaroo Packoutz, a contents restoration company; and 1-800-BOARDUP.  All are part of the BELFOR Franchise Group family of brands. With more than 25 years of experience in the industry, Fagan got his start working part-time at his father’s carpet cleaning business. He has managed emergency losses in residential, hospital, university, business, manufacturing, multifamily and K-12 school facilities. Fagan is a licensed builder as well as a Restoration Industry Association Certified Restorer (CR) and Water Loss Specialist (WLS) — the highest level of training and certification available in the restoration industry.