ICS Magazine

Sooner or Later, You're Going to Face It: Restoration of Electronic Components

April 15, 2002
Emergency restoration professionals take note: Electronics restoration takes special procedures.

Electronics abound in virtually every home and business. TVs, sound systems, VCRs, computers, CD/DVD players, etc., are included in this category. Most components have plastic or painted metal exterior surfaces, which discolor or corrode rapidly if not given immediate attention.

In moderate-to-heavy fire losses, technicians never should operate an electronic component (TVs, stereos) before restoration is complete. Heat produced during operation could accelerate the corrosive effect of acid residues on internal surfaces, causing substantially increased damage. Further, advise insureds not to operate these components until a full evaluation has been made.

Restoration procedures include:

  • Cleaning -With the power source disconnected, clean the exterior of the electronic component as soon as possible with general purpose cleaner or glass cleaner to prevent permanent discoloration. Obviously use caution here. Excess moisture that enters internal areas housing sensitive electronic circuitry or sensing devices can easily cause increased damaged.
  • Internal Components - Limit the restoration technician's efforts to the exterior of electronics components only. Indeed, in very light soot damage situations, exterior cleaning may be all that's required. Electronics are exposed to atmospheric pollutants constantly as they warm, and convection currents (rising hot air) bring dust and atmospheric gases through them, so minor exposure probably won't hurt. However, when in doubt or whenever moderate-to-heavy soot damage is sustained, interior cleaning and servicing is mandatory. Smoke residues combine with moisture to form acids, which can corrode metal circuitry or other components. Corrosion produces resistance to the flow of electricity, which in turn creates heat. Over time that heat could be sufficient to damage the component, or possibly even result in another fire loss.

    Aside from obvious safety hazards resulting from opening electronic components, you have neither the time nor the expertise to engage in restoration of interior components. Therefore, following basic exterior cleaning, transport electronics (or have insureds ship or transport specialized electronics) to qualified subcontractors as quickly as possible. On larger commercial losses, restorers should coordinate with specialty services contractors who specialize in electronics at the outset of the job.

    Basically, repair subcontractors disassemble and evaluate electronic components for internal damage and soiling. Using special solvents, they clean internal components, circuitry and critical contacts, then test components for electrical impedance and proper operation. For safety, they operate the component for several hours (possibly days), followed by a recheck of critical circuitry. At that point there is no question about subsequent damage to (or even fire caused by) the component(s). Moreover, liability for proper operation of that component passes from your company to the subcontractor.

    Provide security for high-value electronic components as soon as processing begins. Remember, if anything is to become a target for theft, these components are prime candidates. When transporting electronics, or any time they are in your care, be security conscious.