I’m a life long do-it-yourselfer. There are always projects being started or finished at my house. Handling projects without the help of a professional fills us with pride and keeps our wallets full too! When do you call a pro in though? When is doing it yourself going to become the more expensive option?
Most of us can read a book or watch a youtube tutorial on replacing lights, installing a new faucet, or setting a new vanity. The tools required for these projects are common household tools. Would you tackle a plumbing job or an electrical job that required uncommon tools or specialty equipment? Most of us acknowledge the training and experience a good plumber or electrician has received in order to be called a professional. We usually defer to them when a project becomes “professional” level. Would you believe though that many homeowners try to handle water damage, fire clean up, or carpet cleaning on their own? This work requires specialty equipment, uncommon tools, and detailed training. Yet, we don’t acknowledge this as a “professional” field. Why? Is it because no one has ever told us what it takes to properly clean and dry a water damage or the consequences of mishandling a water damage? We all know the consequences of shoddy electrical work which is why we would never tackle certain problems on our own. So, let’s talk about water damage: when is it beyond do-it-yourself status, what tools are required, why is this a professional field?
It is important to acknowledge right from the start that some water damages do NOT require professional attention. If snow melt runs under your garage door and saturates your concrete slab you can mop it up, set up a box fan, and not worry about long term damage. Why? Because your concrete slab is not going to absorb and hold the moisture for very long – not in this climate. Also, concrete is not organic. It can not support the growth of antimicrobials (mold). What if the water seeps in under a doorway though and gets between your tile floor and concrete slab? This can cause some issues. Again, these are all non-organic materials that are not subject to becoming water logged, rotting, or decaying, so mold isn’t a concern. Still, the moisture can loosen your tiles and cause them to pop. Eventually, they will break. An easy fix here is to remove the loose tile, clean the slab, let it dry, fix your threshold seal, and reset your tile. No professional needed! We should move on to a more complex scenario.
What if your tile is in a second floor bathroom? This tile will likely be set on a concrete board, installed over a wood subfloor, installed on framing that acts as a floor to the upstairs and a ceiling to the downstairs. There will possibly be insulation between the floor and ceiling, drywall on the ceiling side of the framing, and then a room below. Think of all the layers where water can become trapped. These materials CAN become water logged, they CAN rot, they CAN decay, and for the most part they CAN support mold growth. So what would a professional do?
A professional water remediation technician (yes, they are called that) would start at the source of damage and map the spread of the water. Unfortunately, water takes the path of least resistance and will spread out, then down, and can even be drawn up into dry materials. Moisture meters are used to take readings. These show a technician where the spread out stops, so he/she can then work their way down. At times, thermal cameras can be used. THESE DO NOT SHOW WET AND DRY. They show temperature. A wet area will usually have a lower temperature than surrounding dry areas.
Once a tech has determined the affected area an assessment can be made of what is restorable. What can be dried and repaired vs what has to be removed? To make this assessment a tech must know where the water came from originally. Is it clean water from a clean source, clean water from an unclean source, or dirty water? These questions help a professional to determine health risk to the occupants of the affected area. Ask yourself, is carpet saturated from a drain line to a kitchen sink clean or dirty? Take into account that there may be a garbage disposal filled with all kinds of nasty that this water passed through, the drain water may contain dish soaps and other chemical cleaners, and just think of the grease trapped in the drain, etc. Even if you had clean water in your sink these factors would move a technician to treat your damage differently. Water damage technicians are trained to recognize 3 categories of damage related to cleanliness of the water and each category requires different treatment.
Once the assessment is complete the free water has to be removed. This is done through extraction. Extraction is important. It is 1200 times more effective than just dehumidification. Does it matter if you use a shop vac, a personal carpet cleaning vacuum, or a large truck mount vacuum? YES. Of course it matters. A high quality shop vac (upwards of $300 each) is going to have a pull of about 195 CFM. This is high. Most are closer to 114 and lower. So, they will not remove as much of the free water – there just isn’t enough suction to get through carpet and the padding to the subfloor. An extraction system used by a professional company if going to pull 600 to over 1000 CFM. Professional systems are also going to have much larger catch tanks making the process much quicker.
Now your technician has to determine what equipment to use to achieve maximum dehumidification which removes the trapped moisture. A properly trained technician does not just consider the category of water but the CLASS. In the water damage world, class = how much saturated material you have. So, the tech must measure the area, consider the cubic footage of air, (affected and non affected), account for the height of the ceilings, the materials remaining in the area after any removal, and how much of those materials are affected. This all determines the class which determines the calculation used to figure out how many pints of water must be removed from the air per day in order for your home to dry correctly and completely. Once Pints per day are determined a technician can place the proper dehumidifer(s) in the space. Now he has to figure the air movers needed to push the trapped moisture out of your structure and into the air so the dehumidifiers can grab it. Too many air movers can free more water vapor than the dehumidifiers can remove leading to more damage. Too few air movers can mean your dehumidifiers are not actually removing trapped moisture and are just running up your electric bill.
So, this was a lot of technical blah blah blah that only described what a technicians has to do within the first few hours of a project that takes 3 to 5 days to complete. After this initial service, unfortunately, the process actually gets more complicated. The technician must monitor the area daily and use a variety of moisture meters and a thermohygrometer to track your drying process, document it fully, and adjust equipment as needed. If homeowners insurance is involved there are other required steps like diagramming the area, photographing everything, compiling an inventory of damaged personal property and on and on, but let’s stop here.
Our water damage technicians at Blue Sky have received long term training both on the job and in the classrooms. They have received certifications from the IICRC. They understand the cut off between a do-it-yourself accident and a water damage event that needs their expertise, critical thinking, and specific knowledge.
Please, contact us for more information. Also, look for our blog post (coming soon) entitled WATER DAMAGE IGNORED. We are going to post a detailed cleaning/drying bill for a medium sized water damage which would have been 100% covered by homeowners insurance (less the deductible) and then post the mold cleaning cost for the same job that was left incompletely mitigated. This will be a real life example of a mold remediation that was actually performed. It is astonishing to see what the bill could have been if only the water damage had been taken seriously. The worst part? Once it became a mold damage the insurance was only responsible for $5000 and the homeowner was responsible for the rest. Why? Look for the next article.