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How to Protect Your Building from Water Damage

Water damage can diminish the value of your commercial building or manufacturing facilities and result in increased maintenance costs, lower productivity and a decline in indoor air quality (a potential liability).

The best way to protect your commercial property from water damage is to ensure the building components that enclose your structure, or the building envelope, are water resistant. You also want to ensure your current manufacturing processes don’t allow excess water to accumulate and make sure that all plumbing and ventilation systems—which can be quite complicated in commercial buildings—operate efficiently and are well maintained.

Finding and Repairing Water Damage

Identifying, and repairing, leaks and cracks is usually the key to water-related issues. Below are common building-related sources of water damage to be aware of.

  • Windows and doors—Check for leaks around your windows, storefront systems and doors.
  • Roof—Improper drainage systems and roof sloping reduce roof life and become a primary source of moisture intrusion. Leaks are also common around vents for exhaust of plumbing, rooftop air conditioning units or other specialized equipment.
  • Foundation and exterior walls—Seal any cracks and holes in exterior walls, joints and foundations. These often develop as a naturally occurring byproduct of differential soil settlement.
  • Plumbing—Check for leaking plumbing fixtures, dripping pipes (including fire sprinkler systems), clogged drains (both interior and exterior), defective water drainage systems and damaged manufacturing equipment.
  • Ventilation, heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems—Numerous types, some very sophisticated, are a crucial component to maintaining a healthy, comfortable work environment. They are comprised of a number of components (including chilled water piping and condensation drains) that can directly contribute to excessive moisture in the work environment. Additionally, in humid climates, one of the functions of the system is to reduce the ambient air moisture (relative humidity) level throughout the building. An improperly operating HVAC system will not perform this function.

Preventing Water Intrusion

You can help prevent water intrusion and excessive moisture levels through quality inspection and maintenance programs. You’ll want to regularly inspect the following elements of your building to ensure they remain in good condition:

  • Flashings and sealants—Flashing, which is typically a thin metal strip found around doors, windows and roofs, is designed to prevent water intrusion in spaces where two building materials come together. Sealants and caulking are specifically applied to prevent moisture intrusion at building joints. Both must be maintained and in good condition.
  • Vents—All vents should have appropriate hoods, exhaust to the exterior and be in good working order.
  • Manufacturing equipment—Review the use of equipment that utilizes water for processing or cooling. Ensure wastewater drains adequately away with no spillage. Check for condensation around hot or cold materials, or heat transfer equipment.
  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems—Check for leakage in supply and return water lines, pumps, air handlers and other components. Drain lines should be clean and clear of obstructions. Ductwork should be insulated to prevent condensation on exterior surfaces.
  • Humidity—Except in specialized facilities, the relative humidity in your building should be between 30% and 50%. Condensation on windows, wet stains on walls and ceilings and musty smells are signs relative humidity may be high. If you are concerned about the humidity level in your building, consult with a mechanical engineer, contractor or air conditioning repair company to determine if your HVAC system is properly sized and in good working order. A mechanical engineer should be consulted when renovations to interior spaces are planned.
  • Moist areas—Regularly clean off and dry all surfaces where moisture frequently collects.
  • Expansion joints—Expansion joints are materials between bricks, pipes and other building materials that absorb movement. If expansion joints are not in good condition, water intrusion can occur.
  • Interior finish materials—Replace wet drywall, plaster, carpet and stained or water damaged ceiling tiles. These are not only good evidence of a moisture intrusion problem, but can lead to deterioration of the work environment, over time, if they remain.
  • Exterior walls—Exterior walls are generally comprised of a number of materials combined into a “wall assembly.” When properly designed and constructed the assembly is the first line of defense between water and the interior of your building. It is essential that they be maintained properly (including regular refinishing and/or resealing with the correct materials).
  • Storage areas—Storage areas should be kept clean and allow air to circulate to prevent potential moisture accumulation.

Act Quickly When Water Damage Occurs

Label shut-off valves so water supply can be easily closed if a plumbing leak occurs. If water intrusion does occur, you can minimize the damage by addressing the problem quickly and thoroughly. Immediately remove standing water and all moist materials and consult with a building professional.

Should your building become damaged by a catastrophic event such as fire, flood or storm, take appropriate action to prevent further water damage once it is safe to do so. This may include:

  • Boarding up damaged windows
  • Covering a damaged roof with plastic sheeting
  • Removing wet materials and supplies.

Acting fast will help minimize the time and cost for repairs—resulting in a faster recovery.

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