For insurers squeezed by the tough economy and a banner year in disasters, it’s time to rethink how contents restoration gets done for, when disaster strikes, cash-out payments can decimate profits.
While hand-cleaning items damaged by fire or flood with a toothbrush, cotton swab, or toothpick has been the norm for generations with a loss rate of 30% to 40%, that’s no longer acceptable for insurers looking out for customers and their own profitability. Ultrasonic cleaning technology can reduce the contents restoration loss rate to as little as 5% to 10%, restoring once-unrecoverable heirlooms and electronics while lowering insurers’ cash-out payments and boosting their bottom line.
The list of items which can be ultrasonically cleaned and salvaged is virtually endless, and includes objects such as figurines, dishes, glasses, silverware, silk plants, picture frames, electronics and even blinds. Fine delicate items and rust-damaged tools can be cleaned so they look like new.
Barb Jackson of Total Contentz, an expert in contents restoration, believes prompt response and initiation of the mitigation and remediation processes is critical to the restoration of personal property. “Cleaning with ultrasonics greatly increases the amount of restorable items per loss event,” she said.
Quick removal of soot, acid residue and other caustic agents boosts the rate of successful restoration, resulting in a more cost-effective solution than replacement.
“Traditional hand-cleaning methods have a limited ability to get into hard-to-reach areas, such as inside hollow figurines or under tight electronic components where soot, smoke, or mold contamination may reside,” says Jim Green, operations manager of Ultracare Restoration, a contents and restoration company in Simi Valley, Calif. “Hand-cleaning, vacuums and compressed air often cannot effectively remove contaminated residue, rust, or odor, which leads to a higher loss rate. The hand-cleaning process itself increases handling and breakage, particularly of sensitive or delicate items.”
Green recently began using ultrasonic cleaning, which utilizes special environmentally friendly cleaning solutions, heat, water, and ultrasonic sound waves. Insurers and restoration companies are finding the method does a more effective job of cleaning, as it reaches areas unable to be cleaned by human hands or other tools.
First, objects are placed in a metal basket, which in turn in placed in a pre-wash tank to remove ash and soot. From there the basket is moved to an ultrasonic tank, which deep-cleans the objects. The ultrasonic tank generates millions of microscopic bubbles per second, each acting as a tiny vacuum that sucks water and surface debris into itself on contact with a hard surface. The items are then moved into a rinse detail station and then into the drying process.
“With ultrasonic cleaning equipment, we can effectively remove the smoke odor and contamination from items that would otherwise have to be total lossed, such as heirlooms, collectables, items of sentimental value, and everyday items from tools to appliances, so the homeowner and insurer are happy,” Green said.
Sensitive electronic items, such as computers and DVD players that cannot be submerged in water, are placed in an electronic cleaning station cabinet utilizing a combination of finely directed de-ionized water spray, soap and heat. The method is extremely accurate and thorough, and removes 100% of contaminants remaining from fire or water damage. Once cleaned, objects are placed in a drying chamber.
“We recently restored soundstage equipment that was damaged in the Nashville flood, a storage room full of $50,000 soundboards,” says Green. “It was starting to rust, but a combination of ultrasonic and electronic cleaning restored it to pre-loss condition, saving the insurer hundreds of thousands of dollars in replacement cost.”
Another call came when a fire melted a plastic storage box containing an elevator repairman’s set of keys to about 150 Los Angeles County buildings. Green’s staff helped to remove the keys from “ a 30-pound ball of metal and plastic” and ultrasonically clean them until most were usable. By avoiding having to commercially re-key over 100 buildings, Green estimates a savings to insurers and building owners of well over $10,000.
“In the past, too many items, from Hummel figurines to coffee makers to big screen TVs, had to be total lossed and cashed out because there was no way to get the smoke smell or contamination out of them,” Green said. “With ultrasonic cleaning’s heat, special cleaning agents, and microscopic cleaning bubbles, or the combination of the spray cabinet-heating chamber, we’re able to clean, deodorize, and save most residential or commercial items at a fraction of the cost of replacement.”