Media Blasting? What's That Got To Do With Me?

December 10, 2004
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"Is he in? Yes, tell him I'm returning his call to discuss baking soda/dry ice/corncob/sponge blasting."

It still gets a snicker whenever it's mentioned. But this is no laughing matter; media blasting is one of the most effective ways to remediate and restore this industry has seen in a long time.

Media blasting is a simple concept. Propel grit, using high-pressure air, at the correct grit-to-air ratio and the results can be dramatic. Some people refer to this as "sand blasting." While silica sand should never be used for blasting purposes - it can cause silicosis, a nonreversible lung disease - there are a wide number of different grits, or media, which serve a multitude of purposes.

Some media have been adopted by the restoration industry for specific applications. Dry ice, baking soda, cob meal and even sponge have been favorites for certain applications because of their unique properties. Dry ice evaporates from a solid to a gas upon use, leaving no spent medium to clean up. Baking soda is a soft, inexpensive crystal that is non-damaging to many delicate surfaces. Cob meal, or ground-up corncob, is also inexpensive and, when used properly, can be effective on some surfaces. Sponge, while not the cheapest media available, can be effective, and even reused, in some applications.

Having been involved in media blasting in all its applications for more 10 years, I still get a kick out of the reaction people have to the results. Seeing these processes properly applied is truly remarkable. Anyone involved in the restoration process is impressed, whether it's a homeowner dealing with the aftermath of a fire, a landlord remediating a mold-infested apartment complex, or a business owner attacked by graffiti-spraying vandals. I don't care whether it robs their pocket book, or if it's affected the mementos in the attic, the loss felt by those impacted can be devastating.

On a recent fire-restoration job, we employed baking-soda blasting to remove soot on the top several feet of the brick façade of a home. The contractor for this job came to us after attempting, unsuccessfully, to chemically clean the brick. His attempts to pressure wash the damage met with similar results. In desperation, he was willing to give this strange sounding process a try. The homeowners, a retired couple in suburban Chicago, skeptical that any process would work at this point, came out to witness this seemingly desperate attempt to restore the original beauty to their estate.

Now, this was no mansion; however, it was the place where they raised their children and spent the lion's share of their lives together. Standing in the front lawn - expecting another failure - they watched the technicians spraying baking soda at their fire-damaged homestead.

Their eyes lit up, and smiles spread across their faces. The brick was clean and looking as new as it was when they signed the mortgage papers 40 years ago. "That's great!" they proclaimed. The contractor was their hero - even more so after he used the same process to clean a seemingly unaffected fireplace hearth and the greenish brick under the leaky downspouts. To put it mildly, the homeowners were thrilled.

In many cases, the only way to restore a loss is to replace it, at enormous cost. Take, for instance, a cedar shake roof on a mold-infested attic. This time the culprit was a malfunctioning humidifier - a covered loss. The mold growth was thick and covered everything, including the underside of the cedar shakes themselves. With tens of thousands of nails protruding through the roofing, there seemed no recourse but to replace the entire roof - a cost of at least $40,000.

A savvy contractor, hired to remediate the attic and roof joists, suggested that he could save the roofing as well by dry-ice blasting it. This contractor was well-trained in mold remediation, and set up with the proper safety and blasting equipment.

Initially, the insurance adjuster was hesitant; she'd never heard of the process. But her skepticism was short-lived when the contractor gave her an offer she couldn't refuse. He was willing to do the job for $20,000, and charge her nothing if the roof couldn't be saved. Well, needless to say, the contractor made her a believer - and $20,000 for himself in the process. Adjusters approach their business with a different attitude than most business people. They know going in that they are going to lose money; the question is, "How much?"

Let's get to the bottom line. Will media blasting make a difference in your restoration business? Yes it will. As a contractor in Wisconsin says over and over again, to me and anyone else who asks, "You're not serious about restoration until you have this process as one of your tools." But why?

Labor savings is the most obvious reason to look at media blasting. Jobs that would normally require four technicians to manually sand, brush, or otherwise scrub for four days, require just two technicians working for two days. Granted, operators are easier to find in today's job market than it was just a few years ago, but let's look at that. Workers in this industry are not just laborers anymore. Most restoration contractors invest loads of money to properly train their technicians. Furthermore, each technician is an investment, with money spent for safety equipment, benefits and just to keep the good ones onboard.

At the very least, utilizing a labor-saving process like media blasting will allow your best technicians to be that much more effective. And a more-effective worker ultimately makes for a better bottom line.

Media blasting also allows you to tackle jobs that previously would have been out of reach. A smaller contractor can handle larger, more complex restoration jobs with a smaller workforce. This same process will allow you to talk to more insurance adjusters and customers about jobs that would have been out of your reach using traditional techniques.

Maybe all this talk about baking soda, dry ice, corncobs and sponge blasting isn't so silly after all.

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