What is Category 3 Water Damage + Insurance Claims &Cleanup

What is Category 3 water damage? What damage can it cause? Finally, what should you do if you have to deal with Category 3 water damage?

In this guide you will learn: 

  • What Category 3 water damage is.
  • The different categories of water damage.
  • The damage Category 3 can do to your property & How to deal with it.

What is Category 3 Water Damage? 

So, what exactly is Category 3 water damage? According to the IICRC S500 (which stands for the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification S500.

Category 3 water damage is water damage that involves water that is “grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed.”

As such, Category 3 water damage is any water damage caused by water that may be dangerous to humans due to pollutants that are within the water. An example of a pollutant could be raw sewage or seawater.

Cat 3 VS Cat 2 Water Damage

How does Category 3 differ from Category 2 water damage? There are several differences, but we will first define what category 2 water damage is.

As defined by the IICRC S500, Category 2 water damage is water that “contains significant contamination and has the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if contacted or consumed by humans.”

When compared to category 3, category 2 water damage is less dangerous to humans when consumed or touched. Meanwhile, Category 3 water damage is extremely dangerous when contacted or consumed.

Some examples of category 2 water would be:

  • Water from a dishwasher or washing machine.
  • Water from a broken aquarium.

Cat 3 Vs Cat 1 Water Damage

Unlike categories 2 and 3, category 1 water is usually thought of as safe or low risk to touch and consume. The complete definition, from the IICRC S500, states that category 1 “water originates from a sanitary water source and does not pose a substantial risk from dermal, ingestion, or inhalation exposure.”

As such, a good rule of thumb is this – if you would be okay drinking water from a specific source, it is likely Category 1 water.

Category 1 water is the category that we interact with the most and includes:

  • Rainwater.
  • Water that comes from taps.
  • Water that is bought in plastic bottles from a store.

Most Common sources of Category 3 Water Damage

Now that we have cleared up the differences between the main categories of water damage, we can discuss what the most common causes of category 3 water damage are.

The most common causes of category 3 water damage are:

1.Broken Sewer Lines

If sewer mains break for whatever reason (flooding is the most common cause), the raw sewage they transport may be released. If this happens, your property could be affected by category 3 water damage as raw sewage could be spread by the escaped water.

2.Flash Floods

Related but not identical to the previous point, if your local area has been affected by a flash flood, you may be at increased risk of category 3 water damage.

Flash floods can transport high quantities of dirty water filled with mud and other contaminants. This could lead to category 3 water damage, on top of the damage a flash flood can already cause.

3.Stagnant Water

Finally, if stagnant water is left within a structure for a long enough period, it could cause category 3 water damage.

When water is left by itself, it could become contaminated by a variety of diseases, bacteria, and fungi. If this happens, this stagnant water could cause category 3 damage.

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Examples of Category 3 Water Loss

There are a wide variety of ways category 3 water can damage your property. Just a few of these include:

  • Flood water. 
  • Seawater.
  • Sewage. 
  • Toilet backflows.
  • Weather-related groundwater (for example, from a hurricane, flood, etc).

In summary, category 3 water loss is caused by contaminated water that has entered an indoor environment.

Category Deterioration

One factor you must consider when dealing with any kind of water damage is category deterioration. This occurs when category 1 water is contaminated to the point where it deteriorates into category 2 or even category 3 water. 

There are a few reasons why category deterioration can happen. Firstly, if water mixes with building materials, soil, or other similar contaminants, the water could deteriorate into category 2. 

Category deterioration can also occur when water is left stagnant, as microorganisms thrive in such an environment. If you smell a strong odor coming from a pool of water, this water may have deteriorated from category 1. Another sign that water may be at risk of category deterioration is mold growth – mold can grow rapidly in stagnant water and is a clear sign that water is deteriorating.

Category 3 Water Cleanup Safety 

Several risks come with trying to clean up category 3 water damage. Category 3 water is heavily contaminated which can pose many health risks to people trying to clean it. We will discuss some of these risks below.

1.Mold Growth

Stagnant water, especially if it is filled with raw sewage, can become a breeding ground for mold. This can present many risks as mold growth is connected to many health problems. 

Just some of the complications that can arise from uncontrolled mold growth include wheezing, coughing, rashes, and can even provoke asthma attacks.


Aside from mold growth, category 3 water can also be rife with dangerous diseases. The list of viruses and dangerous bacteria that can grow in category 3 water is extensive. Some of the most problematic include Tetanus, Thyroid Fever, and Rotavirus. Each of these diseases can be found in category 3 water which is just one of the reasons it is so dangerous.

3.Property Instability

Finally, category 3 water, especially if it is not discovered, can undermind the foundations of a home. If stagnant water is left next to foundations, particularly wooden beams, it can rot them away, making your house more unstable and vulnerable to future disasters.

Due to the reasons listed above, it is risky to try to clean up category 3 water by yourself. In most cases, it is better to call a professional to help deal with these problems safely.

What Does Category 3 Water Cleanup Entail?

There are many steps a water damage restoration professionals will take when trying to clean up water damage. While the full process is too lengthy to discuss here, the basic rundown is as follows:

  1. Evaluation: A contractor visits the affected property to evaluate the damage the property has sustained (e.g. checking furniture, floors, foundations for how the water has affected them).
  2. Categorization: The contractor categorizes the water based on the IICRC guidelines. 
  3. Investigation: The contractor looks for the water’s source (if applicable). As well as this, the contractor will look for any other dangers that could impede the process. This could include looking for exposed electrical wires, raw sewage, and other hazards.
  4. Draining: Following this, the contractor will begin to drain the water out from the affected areas. There are several ways to do this (creating a drying chamber, using air movers, etc.)
  5. Removal: Once the water has been drained away, a contractor begins removing property that cannot be repaired. This can include wooden foundations that may have sustained water damage.
  6. Cleaning: Following the drainage and removal of damaged property, the last step is to clean the property thoroughly. This prevents the mold from growing and kills any lingering diseases.

Should I try to Clean up Category 3 Water Damage myself?

Even if you follow the steps above, we do not recommend that you try to clean up category 3 water damage.

There are several reasons for this: 

  1. Cleaning up black water damage can be time-consuming and costly.
  2. In attempting to clean up black water, you expose yourself to several dangerous diseases. 
  3. Cleaning up black water needs to be done thoroughly. If not, there may still be lingering issues, even if you think the problem has been solved.

Due to these facts and others, we recommend that you call a professional, rather than attempting to deal with black water damage yourself.

Category 3 Insurance Claims

There are a number of factors you have to consider when making an insurance claim for category 3 water damage.

Will My Insurance Cover It?

It is hard to give a definitive answer. This is because there are so many different insurance plans that provide different levels of coverage. As such, we can only speak in broad strokes about category 3 water damage and insurance claims. We recommend you contact your insurance company personally to discover what your specific plan covers.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Firstly, most insurance policies do not use the terms category 1/2/3 water damage. This is an industry-specific term. Be sure to look for terms that relate to these categories, such as ‘contamination’, ‘bacteria’, and similar phrases.
  • Most insurance policies cover damage that is caused accidentally or suddenly. For example, if your pipes freeze suddenly and back up, this will likely be covered. However, you will likely need to purchase a separate policy to deal with damage from floods.
  • Finally, many insurance contracts have exclusions. This means that a policy will not cover damage from specific sources. Damage from bacteria and fungi is left out of many policies. If this is the case with your policy, you may not be covered from category 3 water damage.

Insurance Limitation on Category 3 

Finally, we have to discuss the topic of insurance limitations. This is the maximum amount of money an insurer will pay to cover your claim. As a rule of thumb, the more expensive your premium, the higher your insurance limitation will likely be.

When it comes to category 3 water damage, there are several factors to consider.

Firstly, category 3 damage can be expensive to repair.

Due to this fact, the cost of repairs may exceed your insurance limitation. If this happens you could be left with a hefty bill you have to pay by yourself.

As well as limitations, many policies have exclusions for category 3 water damage. This means that you may not be covered if your property is damaged by bacteria or fungi, for example.

As mentioned previously, the best thing to do is discuss your policy with your broker and make any changes necessary to protect your home.

When to Call a Professional

The best time to call a professional is before the problems arise. Getting a qualified plumber to search your property for any standing water or areas that could be susceptible to it can drastically reduce the risks of water damage.

However, what should you do if your home has been affected by water damage? In this case, get in contact with a qualified professional immediately. Doing so reduces the chances that the situation will deteriorate.

Finally, if your home has recently been affected by flooding, contact a professional as soon as possible. In doing so, you can minimize damage to your property and salvage what you can.

We have Water Damage Restoration Technicians that can help Assess the Situation,Clean up Contaminated Cat 3 Water & Repair any Damage Done.

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