Extreme Weather Hits Home – Weblog

October 26, 2007

California Fires – Garment Restoration

Filed under: Fires — Tags: , , — John Banta @ 11:27 pm

Extreme Weather Hits Home

A substantial amount of clothing, textiles and linens can be cost effectively saved even when severely soot damaged, but only if you use a knowledgeable company. This isn’t a job for your corner cleaner. The following comments are from Jeff Schultz of the Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network, visit www.crdn.com and Andrew Johnston of  Blue Sky Cleaners www.blueskycleaners.com. They represent excellent advice for anyone trying to recover after any type of fire. 

Comment by Jeff Schultz When considering an insurance restoration company for textiles damaged by smoke and soot, keep in mind the following:

• Be certain the company specializes in textile restoration. Professional textile restorers implement industry-accepted processes and restoration procedures designed specifically for contaminants such as smoke and soot.

• Ask if the company works directly with insurance companies. Specialists in textile restoration understand the distinct requirements of insurance adjusters and how to handle insurance claim work.

• Make sure the company’s representatives are experienced. Understanding what affected fabric items will respond to restoration processes requires a thorough understanding of textile restoration. Some damage cannot be restored; for example, scorched or burned fabrics cannot be returned to pre-loss condition. Smoke odor can be removed from window treatments, bedding and stuffed animals as well as clothing.

• Homeowners should NOT try cleaning smoke and soot damaged fabric items themselves. Further damage can occur when household laundering is attempted. Professional textile restorers understand specific requirements for temperature, agitation/mechanical action and cleaning agents when dealing with affected items. Certain fabrics require specialized attention—such as drycleaning or hand-cleaning—and can be irreparably damaged if not handled by an expert.

• Expect thorough documentation. Textile specialists will use proper documentation such as a form that authorizes the work, inventory forms, and special items forms for high-value textiles, as well as digital photos.

• Discuss the company’s facilities. If a home is damaged and requires more extensive repairs, the textiles likely will need to be stored securely until the home is ready. A local textile specialist will offer secure storage facilities that can be accessed by the homeowner for items that are needed before delivery back to the home.

• Insist on properly identified customer service representatives. A professional textile restorer will employ highly-trained staff members who are clearly identified by uniform and ID badge.

• Response time is critical. The sooner affected textiles can be removed for restoration, the better the chances for success. Smoke produces two basic pollutants: Oxides of nitrogen and Carbon particles. When combined with moisture, the result is nitric acid. Within hours, fabrics can become discolored. Within days, fabrics may stain permanently.

For details on the Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network, visit www.crdn.com

Comment by Jeff Schultz — October 25, 2007 @ 7:59 pm

Comment by Andrew Johnston I couldn’t agree more with Jeff Schultz’s suggestions, great insight. I would only add a few points that every homeowner should consider:1. What process/solvent is the textile restoration company using?    The vast majority of traditional dry cleaners use Perchloroethylene or any number of “alternative” industry Chemicals such as GreenEarth.  All of these “traditional” solvents have toxic properties and when an entire house is filled with recently “cleaned” textiles the air quality can become a major health issue. Ask for Liquid CO2 and wet cleaning to guarantee your indoor air quality.2. Does the solvent used contain any odor? Having an entire house full of dry cleaning “odor” is not pleasant. Liquid CO2 and Wet Cleaning are the only odor-less methods.3. Is the solvent/process effective at removing smoke odor or only masking smoke odor? Is it effective at eliminating mold? Does the solvent and vessel harbor bacteria? Believe it or not, most methods/solvents require additional chemicals to kill bacteria in the cleaning vessel. Liquid CO2, due to it’s natural make-up and high pressure cleaning vessel does not have any bacterial issues and is superior in eliminating smoke.

Ask questions and know what your textile restoration company is using to clean your items. Pure and simple, there are big differences among the available methods, don’t settle for sub-par, toxic and antiquated solvents.

For more information on liquid CO2 and Wet cleaning please visit www.blueskycleaners.com

Comment by Andrew Johnston


October 25, 2007

California Fires « Extreme Weather Hits Home – Weblog

Filed under: Fires — John Banta @ 2:20 pm

Extreme Weather Hits Home

This post has information about the process of recovering from a house fire when the burn damage is partial or there is soot damage .

October 25, 2007, 9:45 am

Word is beginning to filter back from colleagues in Southern California. So far word is the response and organization has been phenomenal. Southern California had their practice run four years ago with a major fire that resulted in the evacuation of 50,000 people, nowhere as big as this – but it did provide some time for preparation and planning.

www.iicrc.org is the place to go for fire damage restoration company referrals. They have tips for minimizing post fire damage at http://www.certifiedcleaners.org/ts_homerestoration.shtml

If you have soot damaged items, it is best not to grind the soot into the materials. This goes for carpets as well. Walking over “sooted” surfaces makes it more difficult to get the soot back out. An initial cleaning to provide access is best. Of course if there is burn damage then the carpet is unlikely to be able to be saved.

The hotter the fire the deeper the soot will be pushed into porous materials and into building cavities. It all depends on how close the fire came and how hot the smoke was when it entered the building.

Much of the residue in soot is made up of oxides of nitrogen. If these combine with water – nitric acid is produced. Oily soot residues (especially from synthetics burning) are more damaging, so if the building didn’t burn the clean up will be a little easier.

If the acids are present they may cause some items like porous stone to permanently discolor in a mater of minutes. Within hours metals may tarnish, finishes yellow and grout become stained. There are professional techniques that can be used for many of these problems – but preventing them from occurring in the first place is of course best.

If soot isn’t removed within a few weeks glass and china becomes etched. carpet and many other fibers become permanently yellowed and silver plating can pit.  

October 25, 2007, 7:30 am Although the fires continue to burn in some areas, people in other areas where the fire danger has passed are now being allowed to return to their homes. There will be a few homes that escaped without any damage or only minor smoke damage to the interior – in spite of the fact that they are surrounded by the remains of other buildings. Many of the recommendations for protecting buildings from fires found in my book have been developed by scientists that study these surviving homes. What were they built from and how were they constructed such that they survived. Sometimes it is just blind luck, but often times the construction is important.

Buildings that have interior smoke damage from the forest fires are better off in many ways than those that have smoke damage from burning interior synthetic materials since the forest fires are for the most part – wood or brush smoke. Synthetic materials that burn may become quite toxic. Occasionally a home may have smoke that deposits in areas where poison oak has burned and vaporized. The oils may redeposit inside the building and if a high enough concentration is present, occupants may experience rashes from poison oak exposure.

Regardless of the source of damage, it is important that people re-entering burned areas be safe.

Some of the concerns include live electrical and gas lines, toxic chemical residues, and a variety of physical hazards including the potential for damaged building collapse.

Buildings that were saved by water dumps may have had water enter that wasn’t dried by the heat. These “wet” buildings may begin to develop mold if they aren’t dried quickly. So even though the fire is out the damage may continue. Smoke damage can also lead to secondary damage – especially if the smoke came from burning synthetic materials. This soot may be quite caustic and also contain poly-nuclear aromatic hydrocarbons which are a huge risk from inhalation exposure.

Burned buildings may have damaged ionization type smoke detectors that have released their radioactive materials when the fire is hot enough to melt the shielding. Fluorescent lighting may have ruptured releasing mercury, and asbestos and lead may have been damaged or released from older buildings that burned.

The bottom line is if you aren’t trained and experienced in working in these hazardous environments it is best to stay out until they have been inspected and declared safe to enter. The personal protective equipment necessary to protect people from these hazards only works if it is used properly – and that requires training. Numerous volunteers were injured or have had continuing health problems after assisting with the 911 and Katrina recovery. We need to learn from those experiences.

John Banta – Senior Environmental Consultant

Restoration Consultants, Inc.


October 24, 2007
This post is coming to you from a hotel in New York. My book “Extreme Weather Hits Home” is about protecting our dwellings. About the time I left California on this trip the Southern California fires were just beginning. For those that are in the path of the fire, it may be too late to do much more to protect their property. Also in extreme events such as this – efforts may never be enough. As the emergency ends it will be time to go into recovery mode. It is always difficult to compare different types of damage. For example Katrina had a much greater impact on the total number of homes that flooded. But in terms of total damage – to forest, infrastructure and buildings, I will not be surprised if the total damage from the fire is far greater than was experienced in New Orleans. Fortunately people seem to be heeding the evacuation orders so the loss of human life has been minimal.

The news is currently reporting over 1500 homes and businesses destroyed. Right now the emergency continues, but once the fires are controlled and people are allowed back into their homes – the enormity of damage from these types of events will be recognized.

People with homes that are totally destroyed will certainly be in shock, but at least if they are insured adequately they will for the most part be able to begin to put their lives back together. Countless personal treasures will have been lost forever, but from what I have seen that is many times far easier to deal with than those situations where there is only partial damage. The good news for homes with partial damage is the science of professional fire damage restoration has developed many techniques for restoring both buildings and contents. The bad news is – the resources that can deliver these services is going to be stretched to the limits. I expect there will be a massive nationwide response to these situations. For those that return to find damage but not total destruction, many items can be restored – it in many cases it will be a matter of value – can the restoration be performed cost effectively.

 Many will decide to rebuild and put their lives back together in the same areas that are currently burning. This means their buildings will continue to be at risk for future fires. This presents an opportunity for protective reconstruction. Many times I observe that in the haste to rebuild the new construction ends up being no better than the structure that originally was damaged or destroyed. One reason for this is they may not have the financial resources to upgrade, and insurance typically only covers the cost of “like kind and quality materials”.

I would like to open this blog up for answers to restoration questions for those that have been damaged. Obviously I may not be able to address everyone individually, but I will try to combine and summarize answers to hit the main points. In an effort to make it easier to focus on recovery, I will be concentrating on questions and comments of substance.

For now I am getting ready to head to California today. Once I am home I will make some calls to put together a team of fire damage restoration experts to help answer questions. Those that are in California will obviously have plenty to do, so I will be looking to restorers in areas of the country to assist.

I have to sign off for now, but I would like to suggest a resource for certified restoration contractors. The Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification IICRC certifies companies and technician in fire and water damage as well as other types of losses. They have an Internet referral to certified firms at www.iicrc.org

John Banta – Senior Environmental Consultant

Restoration Consultants, Inc.


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