Carpet Care After A Disaster
By Ronnie Garrett
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In the event of a flood, facility managers need to know the basics: the location of the water source, the reason for the excess water, and whether other professionals, such as plumbers, the gas or electric company, insurance agents or carpet restoration experts have been contacted. Once these have been addressed, restoration can commence.
Successful restoration begins with identifying the water source and categorizing the spill:
• Category One — This is drinking water.
• Category Two — This water contains some level of contamination.
• Category Three — This is sewage or liquid that came from the trap in the line. "It doesn't have to have any discoloration or anything floating in it to be considered Category Three," adds Peter Duncanson, an IICRC instructor and director of training at ServiceMaster Clean.
These initial determinations directly impact how the water intrusion is treated.
"The levels of contamination dictate the remediation process, as well as what materials can be saved and what must be disposed of," Duncanson explains.
The amount of water also comes into play. How wet did the carpet get and how long did it sit before being addressed? Was the water clean or was it contaminated?
"If it was contaminated, chances are you're going to have to replace the carpet because you're going to have bacteria/mold in it," says Lewis Migliore, a floor covering expert with LGM & Associates. "If it's clean water, you're likely going to be able to save it, especially if you get to it in time."
The water source category determines the restoration process. In a Category One situation, workers will remove the water with an extractor, set up a drying process that includes dehumidifiers and air-movers, and leave all materials — the carpet, the drywall, the furniture — in place. But with a Category Three intrusion, workers will remove all soft goods, carpeting, wallboard or anything directly contacted by the water, and then treat the area with an antimicrobial agent.
The amount of water often impacts whether or not in-house staff can handle it themselves. While in-house workers can certainly begin water removal efforts, if there is more than five gallons of water present, Duncanson recommends also calling in restoration professionals.
"Water on the surface may look small, but it will go through the carpet and spread out over a large area," he explains. "It may have gone through a wall. It may be affecting furniture or damaging the structure."
He recommends facility managers get into the habit of hiring carpet restoration professionals for any water intrusion no matter how small.
"It may seem facetious, but water restoration is not a do-it-yourself business," he adds. "Many people think ‘I have water on the floor, I'll just put a box fan in here, turn up the heat and it will be fine.' Well, it will dry but it will take awhile. And that funny smell you have afterward? That's mold and bacteria growth."
A Matter Of TimeYears ago, if a facility flooded on a Friday, facility executives would wait until Monday to call for help. Today, executives understand the damage water can cause in a very short amount of time and experts are called in post haste. This is because, today, there is scientific evidence that indicates water intrusion must be treated immediately.
"Within 72 hours, the situation begins to degrade and categories begin to change," Duncanson explains. These changes often result in health and safety concerns for facility workers and building occupants.
Factors that determine loss are temperature, humidity and time. If fresh water seeps into a carpeted lobby during a bitter-cold snap in January, the urgency isn't as great as if the same spill occurred during a hot and humid summer day. But the longer water sits in the carpet the greater the chances for mold and bacteria growth.
Werner Braun, president of the Carpet and Rug Institute, stresses the majority of carpets produced in the United States are made from polymers, which won't support mold growth.
"However if you have dirty carpet or water that's coming in with nutrients in it, then mold will grow," he adds. "But carpet that is clean and dry within three to four hours should never have a mold issue."
Migliore agrees that synthetic carpet won't support mold in and of itself. "But if the water gets underneath the carpet, mold can grow," he adds. "It has to have moisture, it has to have a food source, it has to have warmth and it has to have darkness. All of those things are present underneath the carpet."
A best practice for departments with a water intrusion is to remove as much moisture from carpeting as possible and as quickly as possible. This often means using carpet extractors.
Extraction techniques vary depending on the type of carpeting and how it was installed. Carpet tiles glued onto a tile floor without a cushion require different water removal techniques than carpeting with padding. It's best to consult an expert to determine appropriate action for each facility.
In conjunction with extraction, experts recommend a combination of air-movers, dehumidifiers and temperature control aides. Dehumidifying agents, antimicrobial chemical applications may also be required.
The final step after remediation is to confirm that the area is safe for humans.
"If it looks clean but it's still moist, you have a problem," says Allen Rathey, president of InstructionLink/JanTrain of Boise, Idaho, who recommends using a moisture level meter to determine whether levels are similar to outdoors; if they are, then the affected area falls within acceptable norms.
"Everything needs to be dried to a standard," explains Duncanson. "We look for like materials in unaffected areas and measure the moisture content. If the carpet in that area has a moisture reading of seven, then we need to dry the affected carpet down to that, and in a timely manner."
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Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.