New Trends in Water Restoration
Recently, I had an opportunity to visit Chuck Dewald. He’s been saying that I’m a dummy, and I maintain that he’s a hard-headed, opinionated, stubborn...well, you get the idea. So we decided to do something really unusual for this industry—we began to communicate.
Result? He found out that I agree with him on most drying issues—guess that makes us both dummies—and I discovered a man who has a tremendous concern for his industry, who wants to do the right thing for customers and insurance companies alike. Amazing what a little communication can do! I decided to stick around for some lengthy discussions, lively debates, even knock-down-drag-out arguments with Chuck, and to find out what makes him tick.
Chuck’s investment in a tremendous training facility caught my attention right away. If you haven’t attended his course, it’s well worth the trip. The training/testing facility consists of a 750-sq.-ft. house built within a warehouse. In addition, he has a separate building with rooms that simulate a typical basement, along with insulated walls that can be flooded from above and dried during the course. Finally, he has a basement with ground soil and plywood decking.
I arrived a day early to help him wet out the place—no, that’s not quite accurate. We literally hosed down the entire place to simulate a typical clean water source damage situation, including wet basement walls. Twenty-six hours prior to the course, we soaked everything, including an overstuffed eight-cushion sofa. We wanted to make sure everything was wet, up to and including the actual smell of water-damaged materials. It was great fun, and to keep Chuck honest, I handled the water hose.
The first day of class started around 6:30 a.m. I only wish some of my former students, who complain about the length of my instruction days, could have been there. But you could see the reason. Students not only had to learn what they were doing, but they had to do the complete extraction, inspection and set up for a three-level water loss. That takes time.
On days two and three, we alternated classroom instruction with collecting and recording moisture measurements including: outside air, inside air, air conditioner output, and dehumidifier output. Eventually, we began taking moisture content readings from structural materials to see how close things were to complete drying.
It’s not my job to convince you to appreciate, or even like Chuck Dewald. Let me just tell you some of the ways that he and others with similar facilities are changing the way the industry processes water losses. Even experienced water restoration contractors can learn a few things.
Foremost, since the 70s, I’ve been drying carpet and cushion in place, as well as writing about and teaching those techniques. Mostly, I’ve been ignored by other contractors for two reasons: they refused to take the time necessary to adequately extract excess water, and they were too lazy to convince adjusters that pulling pad isn’t always necessary. Saving the pad and installation takes extra time. Most contractors aren’t good enough businesspersons to charge extra for their effort, while educating adjusters about the significant cost savings to be realized on the total claim.
Well, the first thing we did at Chuck’s Emergency Hands-On Drying Course was to do a measured comparison of various extraction tools, all operated by students like you readers. I won’t go into the details, but the new extraction equipment on the market is removing 100-120% more moisture from both the carpet and cushion, thereby reducing drying times a full day or two on an average job. It was good to cut through the rhetoric and prove what can be done.
Let me hasten to add that no one is suggesting you dry all cushion this way. The IICRC S500, along with a little common sense, has some pretty good guidelines to follow for pad salvage and disposal. A word of warning: proper extraction takes more time, you have to plan the job more carefully, and you do have to charge more for the extra effort.
The next point that impressed me was fairly simple. I’ve always thought everyone understood there are several classes (not to be confused with categories, as outlined in S500) of water damage. I’ve called them: confined area, floor level, overhead and specialty situations. Well, somewhere along the line, Chuck actually wrote them down as Class 1, 2, 3 and 4 water losses. Class 1 is a confined area water loss, such as an air conditioner or toilet overflow that wets only a few square feet; Class 2 means the whole floor is wet; Class 3 means the water source originated overhead and now, some walls and all floors are wet; and Class 4 includes specialty drying of wood, plaster and other problem materials.
Next point: I teach contractor-sponsored, CEC-approved courses for insurance agents and adjusters nationwide. The question they have always asked is if there’s some logical way to determine how many dehumidifiers should be placed (and charged for!) on a specific job. Of course I’ve been telling them the contractor makes an educated guess and then, in 24 hours, he confirms his guess with moisture measurements. That’s not good enough. They want something more concrete.
I walked away from Chuck’s course with a formula that takes the cubic feet of airspace in the wet portion of the structure, divides it by the number of air exchangers per hour needed to efficiently process that air depending on the “Class” of water loss, and finally divides by the cfm processed by the dehumidifier. Simple, right?
No? Well, I’m being purposely vague to encourage IICRC-certified Water Restoration Technicians to get the whole picture by attending one of these hands-on drying courses as part of their on-going education.
Still putting in one air mover per room or one per 300 square feet as specified in S500-94? Well, change that. No, this isn’t part of a grand conspiracy launched by air mover manufacturers. Use of more air movers not only speeds evaporation; it also produces evaporative cooling of materials. This combination of rapid air movement and evaporative cooling significantly reduces the potential for mold growth on wet materials. Today, you need to base air mover usage on the linear feet of wall area, not square feet.
Psychrometry? Way too much to cover on that subject in this article. Allow me to say as gently as possible, dear reader, that if you aren’t taking and recording psychrometric measurements throughout the job, you simply have no idea what you’re doing. Even further, you have no way of explaining the science behind your professional drying system, nor can you justify your charges.
And what about the use of air conditioning on water losses? Walk in and turn it on immediately and…disaster! Dew point temperature and condensation all over the place. But on a properly balanced drying job, considering the equipment in place and using psychrometric principles, the AC system may be the most efficient dehumidifier you have available—up to a point. In hands-on drying schools, we actually measure what comes out of the AC unit’s condensation collection tray. Amazing. Never done that before. Achieving a psychrometric balance is the key.
Another point. When is the last time you saw icing on the coils of a standard refrigerant dehumidifier? Been a while, huh. Know why? It’s probably because of the heat energy generated by the use of more or larger capacity equipment on today’s drying jobs. Do you have any idea how to calculate the BTU of heat energy produced by drying equipment and to maintain efficient dehumidification by manipulating temperature? Maybe it’s time to learn.
Bottom line, the new emphasis is placed on drying non-porous or semi-porous structural materials, rather than highly porous carpet and cushion. Dry the former and the latter takes care of itself. Well, it’s almost that simple.
One final point: no, I’m not on anyone’s payroll; I’m not selling school registrations, at least not these schools. And be sure you understand that hands-on drying schools aren’t a substitute for a good IICRC-approved WRT course. In fact, if you have the IICRC WRT Certification, you’ll get far more out of a hands-on drying course. Certification courses don’t compete with the hands-on courses; they complement each other.
Everything has changed in structural and contents drying, as we’ve known it in the past. Customers are looking to us for more accurate, science based procedures that return their homes and furnishings to a pre-loss condition faster, more efficiently and more cost effectively.
Finally, remember the eight-cushion sofa I soaked? No one touched it, other than to extract the carpet underneath. Dried completely right were it sat. Hmm...