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What Salt Water Does to Houses

Published on NewsOK Published: November 1, 2012

If you’ve ever been to the beach, you might have noticed a strange layer of what looks like furry material on pilings and wooden structures facing the ocean. This is the result of what is known as delignification, where saltwater penetration of wood leads to the formation of fuzzy salt crystals on the surface and slowly pulls out lignin, part of the cell wall of the wood. Over time, it can cause structural damage as the salt eats into the wood. In a one-time flooding event, delignification isn’t a significant concern, but it is advisable to use a freshwater flush anyway to prevent salt crystals from forming because they look unsightly.

Like any flood damage, salt can also lead to molding in the long term if the damage is not handled appropriately. Mold loves moisture, and flooding penetrates hidden corners of a structure that can be very hard to dry. After flooding, everything needs to be thoroughly dried out with heaters and fans to remove moisture that might be embedded in insulation, walls, and other structural components. Flood-damaged material shouldn’t be painted, plastered, or otherwise covered until it is totally dry.

When a home is damaged by saltwater, it needs a professional assessment. It may be salvageable if it hasn’t incurred major damage from storm surge, debris, or fire, but first it may need to be flushed with clean water, pumped, and dried. Once dry, the house can be inspected to determine which, if any, repairs are needed to restore it.

If the thought of salt damage has you depressed, you might want to know that there are some ways to prevent salt damage before it happens. Use specially coated and treated materials in the construction of homes in flood zones and hurricane-prone regions. These can resist water penetration and make the chance of damage lower, as well as reducing the extent of damage when it does occur. Many regional building codes actually specify flood-resistant materials for just this reason, so be sure to discuss this with a contractor whether you’re involved in new construction, remodeling, or repair of a damaged structure.

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