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Blog » The Perils of Winter Water Damage & How To Handle It

February 24, 2023

It’s deep winter in New York State, and you know what that means. Winter weather may be fun if you have kids or enjoy cross-country skiing, but winter round these parts is also notorious for causing water damage. The damage can range from a puddle under your sink to being so catastrophic, you’ll need an army of professionals to restore your home to her former pre-waterlogged glory. And the cost can be astronomical. Do you know the water damage hazards lurking in your home? Do you know the signs to look out for? And what are you supposed to do if you spot water damage? Lace-up those boots, throw on that parka, and double-check that homeowners policy, cause we are about to walk you through it all. 

Signs of Water Damage 

● Stains or discoloration, especially in corners where a floor meets a wall or where a wall and ceiling meets 

● Peeling or bubbling paint and wallpaper 

● Warping or softness of wood surfaces or structures 

● Musty or mysteriously lingering odors 

● Sudden onset of respiratory illnesses 

● A sudden spike in your water bill 

● Visible mold 

Common Causes of Water Damage 

Every winter brings a new set of challenges. There was the winter of 2016 when icicles clocked in at 10 feet long and ice damming wreaked havoc on every other house on our street. Or the winter of heavy snow accumulation that leads to insane snow melt. Or deep freezes that last weeks at a time. Or this winter, where we have it a bit milder. To ensure the integrity of pipes when leaving your home for extended lengths of time in winter, do not turn off your HVAC or electricity. Electricity allows your sump pump to kick into action in the event of water accumulation in your basement. If you are a homeowner, it's important to be aware of the following common causes of winter water damage: 

Frozen Pipes 

Any pipes along exterior walls or in unheated areas (attics, basements, etc) are at risk of freezing. When pipes freeze, the frozen water inside expands, impacting the structural integrity of pipes and their seams. Once the ice thaws, any cracks formed when the water froze lead to leaks or burst pipes once the water flows again. Keep the indoor temperature at a minimum of 55 degrees F, even when not home for extended periods. Open doors and cabinets that house pipes to allow heated air to flow. 

Overworked Water Heaters 

Notice how much colder your tap water is running? Your water heater notices too. That extra work it takes to heat your water can take a toll on older units, upping the likelihood of a failure and possible leaks, or even a full-on burst.


When humid air hits a cold surface, beads of water accumulate. Without adequate ventilation, humidity control, or insulation, the condensation has nowhere to go, it will eventually penetrate the surface, leading to mold growth and/or structural damage. In winter, this might occur as frost inside a roof, along window panes, or on exterior walls. 

Snow Melt 

Melting snow can enter your home via cracks in your foundation or roof. To fend against this, you can use a roof rake to clear heavy snow accumulations off your roof. Ahead of winter, caulk any foundation cracks and be sure the soil around your home is adequately sloped away from your foundation. Then shovel or snow blow a path where the snow meets your house. 

Ice Damming 

If you like icicles, stick to the Christmas light variety. Sure, they might gleam in the winter sun, adding gingerbread house charm to the property, but they are trouble. If you’ve got icicles, that’s a dead giveaway to an ice dam, caused by melted ice and snow on the roof melting on the eaves and refreezing. As it refreezes, it splits open cracks in the roof and dislodges shingles and gutters. It’s a mess. And leads to even more issues, like water leaking inside your home. To minimize this, amp up the insulation in your attic or upper floors. Make sure gutters are clear of debris and can flow freely, away from your home’s foundation. 

Length Of Time Needed For Water Damage To Occur 

There’s a reason your housemate/spouse freaks out when a spill occurs on the floor directly above their electronic equipment. Liquids penetrate porous materials on contact so it’s very important to wipe them up immediately. So when water overtakes a larger surface area in your home, the longer it sits, the more damage it can do. Take a look at the length of time it takes for damage takes to occur if water is not cleaned up. 

Within Minutes - It only takes seconds for porous materials to absorb liquid. Damage begins to occur within just a few minutes of contact if not addressed immediately. Wood finishes can bleed, carpets or upholstery can stain, and products made of or containing paper will swell and warp. Water will continue to spread and saturate any surrounding materials, leading to potential further damage. 

1 - 24 Hours - Within one day, water will begin breaking down drywall, metal will tarnish, legs of wooden furniture will swell and warp, and dyes present in items will leech onto the surfaces they touch. 

48 Hours - 7 Days - Within just a few days, mold spores colonize, doors, windows, floorboards, and wooden furniture swell and then warp, the paint will blister and peel, metal will rust, and upholstery will take on musty odors. 

Beyond 1 Week - If water damage goes untreated beyond seven days, major structural damage and mold contamination will occur. Costs of repair are significantly higher due to major clean-up, mold remediation, reconstruction, and replacement of contaminated belongings.

What Happens If Water Damage Is Left Untreated? 

The unsightly aesthetic damage inside your home may not bother you, but before long it won’t be safe to sit underneath that spot on your living room ceiling. If you ignore it, the structural damage caused by water will continue getting worse, eventually leading to your home being dangerous or even uninhabitable. That leaky roof isn’t going to fix itself. And you cannot just repaint a surface and expect the problem to go away. If left unrepaired, the water damage will continue, leading to continued wood and drywall disintegration, and eventually, your roof could collapse. In the meantime, mold spores will populate and spread, leading to potential respiratory illnesses, and musty odors will ruin everything you own. 

Is It Regular Mold or Black Mold? 

Black mold almost always accompanies water damage and is not always visible. Black mold thrives in dark, damp places, like the drywall inside of a wall. Black mold is more typically a very dark green and requires special equipment and processes for removal and remediation. Most states have laws surrounding the process of cleaning up mold and it's very important to contact a professional mold remediation company like On The Spot Cleaners if you suspect mold. Mold can cause serious health problems, and it can spread quickly if not properly removed. We assess the extent of the mold problem and develop a plan to safely and effectively remove the mold. We use state-of-the-art equipment and techniques to ensure the property is thoroughly cleaned and mold-free. We also clean, sanitize, and demolish as necessary to eliminate existing mold and prevent further spread. We are licensed by the state of New York and have years of experience in mold removal and remediation. Refer to our guide about mold prevention and our article outlining signs of a mold problem. 

Clean Up Vs Restoration & Repair - What You Need To Know 

Safety is your priority. If you return to your home after an extended time away and notice even an inch of standing water, shut off your power supply immediately before entering. If an appliance fails, shut off the water supply immediately to prevent any further leaks. Once the risk of electric shock is eliminated and the water leak has been stopped, it is safe to start mopping up the water. 

The services you call to handle your water damage will be dependent on the type of damage present. It’s important to note that it takes a minimum of 72 hours for a room to fully dry out. A clean-up company may assist in this drying-up process, but a contractor may require an area to be fully dried before they will begin construction. Clean-up and mold remediation is going to be your first line of defense in tackling water damage. From there, you will be able to determine if the structural damage is severe enough to require the work of a contractor. 

Depending on the type of water damage, your insurance may cover the costs of cleanup and repair. Check with your homeowner's insurance company to find out what type of damage is covered and if you can add anything to your policy. If it is not covered, it may benefit you to look up the average costs of water damage repairs and cleanup in your area and include that amount in any emergency savings you keep for your home.

Waterproofing your home is worth the investment. Your home becomes more susceptible to water damage every year older it gets, but no matter how new your home may be, no home is totally immune from having to weather frozen pipes, ice damming, or an appliance on the fritz. If you find yourself wading through water or smelling musty odors, On The Spot Cleaners, owned by Randy Spurling, is here to help. No cleanup task is too big or too yuck for his team at On The Spot. With locations in Rochester, Syracuse, and Canandaigua, NY, our staff is professional and leaves no mess behind. 

We clean everything On The Spot! 


(585) 224-6911