It is perhaps every homeowner’s nightmare to realize there is an undiscovered water leak somewhere in the house. The incessant drip, drip, drip can be enough to drive even the most hardened homeowner crazy.

Visions of squishy floors, massive water stains or even puddles of water beneath the carpet or floor can cause extreme anxiety. And don’t forget about water leaking down your walls. That’s a nightmare, for sure.

But do not despair, there is help to be found.

Companies such as Denver-based Restoration Logistics can mitigate even the most severe damage caused by water.

“When drying out a home, there are a lot of dynamics that need to be looked at such as materials, how bad was the leak, how long has water been there,” said Dan Travers, Emergency Services Manager of Restoration Logistics. “There are a lot of factors to consider.”

According to Travers, excess water and moisture often gets absorbed in whatever material from which the home was built. Wood, drywall, insulation, and wallpaper all are excellent receptacles for water. Water damage in these materials can lead to warping, stains, bubbling, and deterioration. Another factor for homeowners to consider is that hidden water leaks can often be the cause of mold. A small water leak behind walls and ceilings, where it cannot easily be detected, could cause long-term health problems for the homeowner due to growing mold.

So how do you know if you have water damage? There are tell-tale signs to look for, starting with dark or wet spots on the walls or ceiling. If you have wallpaper, check to see if it is peeling. Bubbling paint can also be an indicator.

Another sign of water damage is drywall that has begun to flake or crack. Wet spots where they should not be, such as around pipes, sinks and toilets is another sign. You can also use your sense of smell to detect if you have water leakage. A damp or musty smell could be the first sign of water trouble. A sewage smell might also be an indicator.

According to studies, water damage in homes occurs more frequently than fire, theft, natural flooding or any other type of home loss.  Property damage resulting from water and leaks is the third most common cause of homeowner loss.

The American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA) estimates that 14,000 people in the USA experience a water damage emergency at home or work each and every day. The APCIA also says 98 percent of basements in the U.S. will experience some type of water damage during their lifespans. The annual cost to insurance companies from water damage and mold mitigation is $2.5 billion, according to research by the APCIA. And, the APCIA says, the average cost of a home water damage mitigation claim is $6,965.

In the USA, water damage alone caused $9.1 billion in homeowner property losses from 2007 to 2009, according to stats compiled by the AIA. The AIA states that “water damage claims have been growing faster than other components of homeowners insurance.”

Even if they have not experienced one firsthand, most people know someone who has suffered from water damage. In addition to normal wear and tear on pipes and fixtures, colder weather plays a major part. When the temperature goes below freezing for a prolonged amount of time, pipes tend to freeze and crack, oftentimes unbeknownst to the homeowner. When the temperature rises, the broken pipe will leak water.

Unfortunately, mitigating water damage is not cheap or fast. According to studies, the cost of restoring a home after water damage ranges from $2,000 – $35,000. And, Travers says, there are different types of water to be considered.

Water damage gets classified into one of three categories: clean water, grey water and black water. For instance, a water leak under your sink would be clean water. This type of water is uncontaminated and does not pose a threat to humans or animals if they are exposed to it. Whereas a leak in your bathroom, which would probably contain human waste and would be considered grey water. Black water is water that is contaminated and could cause serious illness or even death to people and animals. The best example of black water is a major sewage spill.

Statistics show the average homeowner spends $3,000 or more on grey water extraction due to a flooded bathroom, including drying and repairs to drywall and ceiling.

“When drying there are a lot of dynamics that need to be looked at such as materials; How bad was the leak? How long has water been there?” Travers said.

Experts say there are five steps to fix water damage in a home.

First, you have to identify the source of the leak. Oftentimes this is the hardest part of the task as the source might be a cracked solder joint inside the homeowner’s wall.

Next, any clean, standing water has to be absorbed and dealt with.

After that, the area affected had to be dehumidified.

Once the area is dehumidified it has to be cleaned and sanitized. Flood water often brings sewage and other pollutants that must be taken care of before the home can be restored to a livability state.

With the infected area dehumidified, it is time to repair and restore the affected area. This step can often involve the skills of a plumber, electrician and a carpenter.

That is why the fifth step, which really should be a first step, is to call a professional.

“Only time gets rid of water damage,” Travers said. “And there are a variety of things to consider when drying. For instance, is there a vapor barrier that needs to be removed and replaced? If so, that could add time and cost to the job.”

A vapor barrier is just one of the myriad options homeowners should be aware of that indicate water mitigation is a complicated business with many aspects and differing factors. For another instance, crawl space drying is vastly different than a leak under the sink.

“There is a variety of equipment used in mitigating water damage,” Travers said. “Factors such as evaporation, humidity control, temperature inside and outside, all have to be taken into consideration.”

Understanding the equipment is another reason a homeowner needs to consult a professional. And, according to Travers, the equipment can change rapidly.

“We use a variety of equipment and that equipment is constantly changing,” Travers said. “For instance, thermal imaging cameras have changed tremendously in just the last few years. Moisture sensors to gauge how much moisture is left are now standard practice, whereas back in the day we didn’t have those.”

Another complication most homeowners aren’t aware of is the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification or IICRC. This is the body that defines the standards and guidelines for drying and restoration across the globe.

Travers said drying can be vastly different in various parts of the country. For instance, the drying process in Florida, where there is a lot of humidity, would be vastly different than in Colorado with its dry air and virtually no humidity. And, it would be different in New York or Pennsylvania where there are harsh winter conditions to be dealt with.

“Different parts of the country have different codes,” Travers said. “Colorado has its own climatic regulations.”

“Insurance companies, which have a great influence on the industry, want a one-size-fits-all approach,” Travers said. “But Florida building codes would not fly in Colorado.”

How Long Is the drying process for water damaged homes? Unfortunately, there is no exact estimate on how long the drying process would take. But, in general, a water damaged home can dry out for around five days. In some cases, it would take as little as two days, and other times it could take as long as several weeks to completely dry out a home.

“Our job is to get the home back to equilibrium,” Travers said. “And only time gets rid of water damage. So, depending on the situation, we could be there for two days or a week or more. You just never know.”

Any leak no matter how big or small, whether due to faulty plumbing, a leaky roof or other issues, can cause major structural damage. Over time, if not properly treated, this condition can continually worsen and worst-case scenario, can cause the home to become inhabitable.

Lastly, most homeowners aren’t aware that their insurance policies will not cover the source of the water damage. Most policies will cover the cost of a contractor replacing damaged flooring, drywall and any other parts of the home that were damaged, but it will not replace the cause of the leak such as a broken dishwasher or washing machine.

With so much on the line – your health, the structural integrity of your home, it is always best to let a professional handle a job of this magnitude.