Fire is the chemical process of transforming a solid into a gas through heat. During a structure fire, the smoke and heat pressurize the inside of the building. The pressure forces smoke into every airspace, cavity, and crack and can be found inside closed compartments such as cabinets. The pressure can cause windows and doors to crack or blow out. In an attic fire, the pressure can build high enough to force smoke down into wall cavities, through the small holes that are drilled for electrical wiring or plumbing vent pipes. In some cases there may be smoke damage around electrical outlets or switch plate covers far away from the fire source.
WARNING: Beware of strong residual smoke odors. Even though the fire is out and there is no visible smoke, the odors left behind are very toxic. Avoid prolonged exposure and if you need to be inside the damaged area, purchase and wear a proper High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestor (HEPA) type face mask and try to ventilate the area.
There are generally three types of smoke odor:
Natural Substance Odor which is generated by the burning of wood, paper, cotton, jute, wool, etc.
Protein Odor which is generated by the burning of meat, fish, or poultry.
Synthetic Substance Odor which is generated by the burning of plastics or synthetic textiles that may be present in carpets, clothing, window coverings, linens, etc.
Smoke residue is acidic and can cause corrosion and rust to metals and a yellowing effect to materials such as plastics, fiberglass tubs, cultured marble countertops, etc. When certain plastics burn and mix with moisture in the atmosphere, hydrochloric acid will form as a result. This acidic nature can have especially adverse effects on electronic components and metal contact points found in items like computers, televisions, stereo equipment, gaming systems, appliances, and other electronics. If electronics have been damaged by smoke or heat, let an electronics restoration expert evaluate and/or clean them. If the electronics are damaged beyond repair, dispose of them properly. Do not donate them or give them to someone else. If the electronic components have been damaged as a result of the fire or smoke, the item could later malfunction or cause a fire.
It is important to hire a contractor who is familiar with fire restoration and who knows the correct steps of deodorization. If a building or its contents are not deodorized properly, the odor can remain permanent. Also, be sure to have your adjuster or contractor check the attic space for smoke odor, even if the fire does not appear to have directly affected it.
Whether it's a flood resulting from a pipe bursting or flooding from a natural disaster, the water must be removed as soon as possible and the affected area properly treated and dried. Floodwater often contains infectious organisms, including intestinal bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella; Hepatitis A Virus; and agents of typhoid, paratyphoid and tetanus. The signs and symptoms experienced by the victims of waterborne microorganisms are similar, even though they are caused by different pathogens. These symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, muscle aches, and fever. Most cases of sickness associated with flood conditions are brought about by ingesting contaminated food or water. Tetanus, however, can be acquired from contaminated soil or water entering broken areas of the skin, such as cuts, abrasions, or puncture wounds. Tetanus is an infectious disease that affects the nervous system and causes severe muscle spasms, known as lockjaw. The symptoms may appear weeks after exposure and may begin as a headache, but later develop into difficulty swallowing or opening the jaw.
Outside surface water flooding from storm surges, hurricanes, rivers that overflow, etc. may carry other hazardous contaminants like raw sewage, industrial waste, agricultural byproducts, chemicals, etc. Keep in mind that if your home has been flooded and has remained closed for several days, it is likely that the home will be contaminated with mold.
An immediate response to any flood occurrence is one of the keys to preventing microbial growth or accelerated water related damages. For more information on mold, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website here and read the article titled "You Can Control Mold".
The following is a brief description of some of the basic procedures used to mitigate flood damage.
- A flood mitigation company will begin by moving furniture and or contents away from the affected area and/or elevate furniture on blocks to prevent water damage to furniture legs or fabric.
- The next step will be water extraction and removal of any saturated carpet and pad. The extraction contains the damages to as small of an area as possible and removes the standing water.
- After the water is removed, the wall cavities, cabinet toe kicks, and other concealed spaces need to be perforated or opened to expose any trapped pockets of water allowing effective air flow and evaporation of moisture.
- After affected and concealed areas are exposed or perforated, the next step is applying an anti microbial agent and begin the structural drying. The structural drying is accomplished through a careful balance of drying fans to evaporate the water and the use of dehumidifiers to extract the moisture from the air. During the drying process, flood technicians will periodically visit the site to check on the equipment and monitor the progress of drying by using intrusive or non intrusive moisture meters and/or thermal imaging equipment. Depending on the type of flood and the area or materials affected, it may take days or weeks to thoroughly dry a structure. For instance, in cases where a pipe bursts under a concrete slab, the trapped moisture can evaporate through the concrete for weeks. This can be especially important in cases where a hardwood floor is to be installed. If the concrete is not sufficiently dried, the wood floor can absorb the moisture, which can cause it to swell, buckle, and warp. The same can be true for floods in crawl spaces, where the soil becomes saturated and drying is difficult.
It is important to hire a professional flood damage restoration company that is familiar with the correct steps and proper use of drying equipment to mitigate water damages. If a building and or its contents are not properly dried, potentially hazardous health risks can result.
- Do not eat anything that has come in contact with flood waters. If in doubt, throw it out
- Do not use contaminated water to wash and prepare food, brush your teeth, wash dishes, or make ice
- Do not drink well water until it can be tested by local authorities for contaminants
- If electrical power has been suspended, use a battery operated radio to listen for any emergency updates or news reports
- Discard any household items in or around the home that may have come in contact with flood waters that cannot be sanitized or disinfected (carpeting, pad, mattresses, pillows, upholstered furniture, baby toys, stuffed animals, books, etc.)
- Remove damaged drywall, baseboards, insulation, cabinetry, and any other items that may have absorbed contaminated water or sewage that cannot be effectively disinfected or sanitized
- Do not allow children to play in flood water or with toys that have not been sanitized. Non absorbent toys can be sanitized by using a solution of one cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water
For more information on flood damage, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website here.
NOTE: After a flood resulting from a leak or pipe burst, water and electric costs can significantly increase. Depending on the amount of time the water leaked, hundreds or even thousands of gallons of water may have been lost. Drying fans and dehumidifiers use a lot of electricity and may run for many days to accomplish the structural drying. Submit your water and electric bills to your insurance company for the month the flood occurred and for the time period the drying equipment was used. Insurance companies may reimburse the amount of the bills that exceed your normal monthly use.
The American Red Cross provides a helpful booklet titled "Repairing Your Flooded Home". This booklet provides basic information on what to do immediately after a flood and can be viewed here.