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Important Safety Tips Post Fire Loss

12/7/2018 (Permalink)

During a fire, innumerable toxic chemicals, poisonous gases, heavy metals, and other toxins are generated by the materials, household products, and vegetation that burns. These contaminants fill the air, become part of the ash, and are extremely dangerous to your health if inhaled or come in contact with your skin. Restoration Contractors like SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island, often forget about the dangers involved in the various environments we enter, but safety should always be a top priority.

If you are entering an area affected by fire or smoke, consider the following safety tips:

  1. Avoid breathing air contaminated by smoke odor and minimize your exposure to contaminated areas.
  2. If you need to enter a smoke damaged structure, wear proper personal protective equipment, including a properly fitting respirator with a P-100 HEPA filter designed to filter vapor or gasses (not a dust mask).
  3. Persons with heart or lung disease should consult their physician before using a mask during post-fire cleanup.
  4. Avoid handling or coming in direct skin contact with items or materials affected by smoke, soot, or ash. If you need to retrieve items damaged by smoke, wear proper personal protection equipment, such as coveralls, eye protection, gloves, proper footwear, hardhat, etc.
  5. Avoid getting ash into the air as much as possible. Do not use leaf blowers or take other actions that will put ash into the air.
  6. Avoid using shop vacuums and other common vacuum cleaners. These do not filter out small particles but blow them out the exhaust into the air where they can be inhaled.
  7. Do not allow children or pets to enter areas that have a smoke odor, ash or soot. If children or pets get soot or ash on their skin or hair, wash immediately with mild soap and warm water.
  8. If you anticipate that you will need to be inside a building or area affected by smoke, attempt to ventilate the area by opening windows or doors unless doing so will allow outdoor smoke odor or ash to get in. Minimize your exposure as much as possible.
  9. Have an environmental testing laboratory test for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) and particulates to determine what types and concentrations of toxins may be present.
  10. When sorting through contents, don't take chances. People should not eat or drink anything that has signs of heat or smoke damage. When in doubt, throw it out!
  11. If you experience any adverse health symptoms from exposure to smoke or soot, seek medical attention immediately.
  12. If you need to be in an enclosed space that has a smoke odor, such as an office, home, or building, try to set up air scrubbers with HEPA filters or another type of filter designed to remove ultra-fine particulate matter as quickly as possible. In addition, using a hydroxyl generator can help to break down odor-causing molecules.

When you are impacted by a Fire Event or Disaster, call on us here at SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island.  We have highly trained Fire Restoration Technicians with the skills to tackle any size job.  Leave the cleaning and restoration to our experts so that you can focus on the other important aspects of your lives.

Fire Restoration--A Professional Standard

12/7/2018 (Permalink)

SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island has highly trained and certified Fire Restoration Technicians.  We continually train and update our service with the latest products and technology in order to improve and excel in our field.  We far exceed the current standard in place but agree that there is a need for the industry to employ updates.

Right now, work is underway to develop Fire Standard #2, or “FS#2”, or by the more formal long title Restoration and Documentation of Buildings Impacted by Combustion Particles. It will focus on how fire and smoke damage restoration work is done, and be just one of five component standards intended for eventual unification in a fire standard compendium. While there is obvious confusion due to the number of pieces at work here, this much is certain: the standard for fire damage restoration is coming, and it is going to be impactful and important. But the process takes time and a dedicated group of volunteers.

Work in Progress Since 2014

If everything goes as planned, our industry is looking at the publication of the FS#2 fire standard around this time next year in Q1 2019. The seemingly endless work of the 55 or so subject-matter-expert volunteers started in very early 2014. The overarching committee meets every other week, with meetings of the nine subcommittees often in the off weeks.

As 2017 wound to a close, the work of the volunteers, and the support of the sponsoring organizations (the Restoration Industry Association (RIA) and the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA)), has now culminated in submittal of a wide-ranging document of approximately 100 pages with nine standards sections (think chapters) and 20 informative appendices. In December 2017, the draft fire standard was submitted to ASHRAE for review, formatting, and the next and arguably most crucial stage: peer review.

Proper Procedures

The involvement of ASHRAE is new to our industry and has been a bit puzzling for restoration industry veterans. Traditionally, the IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification)  has been the channel to which the industry submits the mold, water, and recently biohazard standards for our industries to ANSI. The latter is the acronym for the American National Standards Institute, a private, non-profit organization that oversees the development of voluntary consensus standards for products, services, processes, systems, and personnel. In short, if an industry wants a standard to be considered legitimate in the U.S. (such as having weight in court), there aren’t a whole lot of alternatives to successfully entering and completing ANSI’s validation process. In the past decade plus, the IICRC engaged this process successfully with standards for restoration of water damage (S500), mold (S520), and biohazard (S540); and, illustrating the rigors of ANSI, at one recent point lost ANSI accreditation for the mold standard, and had to work very hard to gain it back (another story for another article, another time perhaps).  It is important to note that whether it is the IICRC or ASHRAE engaged in this process, the work at this stage does not change the technical value and validity of the informational content.

As noted, this procedural stuff gets wonky, and the acronyms get dizzying, but understanding it at a high level is critical for those who want to be leaders and cutting edge in restoration. So, with FS#2, the RIA and IAQA will turn the ANSI process over to IAQA’s parent organization: ASHRAE. Founded in 1894, and formally known as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, ASHRAE boasts of more than 56,000 members, breadth across 132 nations (that’s out of a possible 195), and has some serious street cred when it comes to standards and the ANSI process. A quick search for ASHRAE standards on the ANSI website generated 165 hits. Even if there is only a quarter that many ASHRAE standards with ANSI blessing, that’s an impressive number of standards. When ASHRAE finishes a standard via ANSI, a lot of serious people across the larger world of construction and engineering take notice – which is no doubt a big positive in launching the new, first fire damage restoration standard.

During Q1 & Q2 2018, the ASHRAE process will take the drafted work of the fire damage volunteers, and transform it into the language and format customary to ASHRAE, and necessary for ANSI validation. At this point, it is only about the document conforming to industry norms of presentation, neutrality, and that the consensus process employed throughout the writing was consistently fair and balanced. While it may be hard for some to believe, ANSI really doesn’t care how accurate the content is in a standard. The priority is the integrity of the consensus process in development. If the process was handled correctly, then the resulting consensus among subject-matter-experts should have inherently produced valuable, timely and accurate content.

YOUR Call to Action

At some point in Q2 2018, a draft of FS#2 will come out of ASHRAE for peer review. Whether you are currently in the fire damage restoration business, affiliated with it, or considering it as an expansion of services, you should enroll to peer review the standard. The potential value is considerable. Peer review is an opportunity to get a look at the content of a guidance document that will shape an industry. A standard, especially a first version, is a document that will shape the understanding of influencers across the conceivable spectrum. Lawyers, insurers, specialized experts, clients (and their consultants), EH&S departments….all and more will read the document and use it as a yardstick measuring the progress and proficiency of the restoration pro. If a successful business is in large part about managing risk, leveraging expectations, and gaining competitive advantage – doesn’t reviewing the standard at the earliest possible opportunity make sense?

For those that haven’t participated in peer review before, let’s remove some common misconceptions. There are no massive hurdles to satisfy in order to participate. In fact, anyone can sign up to review a draft standard, make comments and recommend changes. You don’t need to be a member of ASHRAE, RIA or IAQA. Moreover, comments and recommendations made professionally (i.e., neither frivolous nor nasty) don’t get ignored. Quite the contrary: ANSI requires that the comments from everyone get read and responded to. What is strongly recommended if you participate is to bring substance to the table. A good philosophy is that if a reviewer decides to find fault with a given provision of the draft standard, then accompany that comment with a thoughtfully formulated suggestion for improvement/replacement. Doing so greatly improves your chances to effect significant change.

Also, there are some things we can expect from the upcoming peer review for the fire damage standard. As the first edition of a standard for an industry as venerable and large as fire damage, there will be a substantial amount of peer review comments requiring digestion and response. That effort will take much of Q3 into Q4 2018 – which is why the eventual publication is forecast for Q1 2019. We also know that when ASHRAE releases a standard for peer review, there is a firm 30-day window of opportunity to review and submit comments, there are no extensions.

What we don’t know is when the opportunity for peer review will happen. ASHRAE’s standards operations are formidable and busy. Not even RIA or IAQA have much visibility into their calendar for standards. At some point essentially the white smoke will rise from the ASHRAE chimney, and the peer review clock will start. To assure an opportunity to participate, find a service that will automatically notify when the process is about to begin. IAQA announced in January at their annual national meeting in Chicago that a new member benefit is the ability to enroll for notification of peer review of impending ASHRAE releases. This benefit itself for some may justify an individual membership in IAQA. If neither a current member of ASHRAE or IAQA, find a company offering a similar service. Full disclosure, my Design Services Team at ICP Construction has been enrolling interested professionals onto a fire damage peer review notification list for over a year at no charge.

As always, the takeaway here is dependent on the reader. The news is that there is inbound a fire damage standard pertaining to how the fundamentals of that work are professionally done. The existence of such a standard is no longer the province of rumor or chatter. Thanks to some truly dedicated volunteers a long overdue document has been crafted that will have a lasting effect on the quality, health, and prosperity of fire damage restoration. For the restoration business owner already investing in fire/smoke as an engine of growth, now is the time to engage. Sign-up to participate in peer review, and cross-reference what is in the draft standard with how your company does business. The result should be a win-win. Greater knowledge will help owners improve their businesses, and the feedback from experienced professionals will yield a better and more effective standard for fire damage restoration for years to come.  SERVPRO of East Brownsville is eager to participate in any way it can in order to better its services and Industry as a whole.

Four Tips/Reminders for Restoration Contractors

12/7/2018 (Permalink)

Restoration professionals like SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island are in a 24 hour, seven days a week, 365 days a year service. On top of that, they are expected to be on site within minutes of receiving a phone call. Many professionals find themselves in a fog of chaos during the restoration process, especially in the early stages of the project. While it is understandable that things need to move quickly, unnecessary damage caused by a restoration company can cause significant setbacks for the contractor, as well as the insured and insurance carrier. Below are some things to be cognizant of during the early stages of restoration projects to limit unnecessary setback.

Proper Pack Outs

Many restoration contractors have gotten the phone call from a property owner claiming that they broke or stole something in the property. Whether or not these claims are true, doesn’t really matter at that point; the contractor has to deal with the situation and make things right. Typical mistakes mitigation companies can make include improper documentation of personal items, improper packaging of fragile items, and trying to process items that should be handled by another vendor, such as soft goods or electronics. Taking the extra time and properly packing out a property will significantly reduce these types of headaches and improve customer satisfaction.

In Place Drying

The adage of “If in doubt, rip it out!” doesn’t always apply within the restoration industry. With the different technologies and drying methods available, contractors can preserve properties better than ever. Methods such as double extraction on the carpet, blocking and padding furniture, and using pressurized drying systems, are some of the common methods employed to adequately mitigate damages, keep costs down, and reduce cycle times for completion. Always take the extra time on the emergency service call to be thorough, especially when it comes to extraction. This will reduce completion times and mitigate further damage.  Remember, quicker cycle times and lower costs result in happier customers.

Avoid Cross Contamination

When contractors rush through projects, they end up getting called back out to do work they already did due to poor performance. It’s common to get called back out to a mold remediation project because of a failed post clearance or having to re-clean contents that are being processed on a fire loss because dirty items got mixed with clean. Whenever working in a clean environment, technicians need to be aware of their surroundings and make sure to follow proper protocol. Failure to follow protocol is usually a result of poor management. If managers take the extra time to ensure cleaning and remediation projects are being completed properly, they can make sure that the work is done right the first time.

Preserve Relationships

Restoration companies are in the business of protecting properties, but they can't do it alone. Contractors should not forget that while there is a job to do, bridges should not be burned in the process. Many times contractors lose sight of the picture and damage relationships in the course of business. Whether it's with an adjuster battling over pricing, or a sub-contractor that shows up late to the project, these people are all important to the success of the company. Taking extra time to connect with these individuals will pay dividends, rather than butting heads for the sake of being “right.” Remember, people continue to do business with people they like and respect. 

These tips are taken seriously and are at the forefront of our minds when dealing with a new mitigation loss.  SERVPRO of East Brownsville and South Padre Island strives to help property owners in their time of need and develop a strong relationship between them.  Professional service and continuous communication help us deliver a less impacting experience to our customers.

Commercial Carpet Cleaning-How to be successful at it.

5/28/2018 (Permalink)

Old-timers in the carpet cleaning industry remember when hot water extraction (HWE) of office buildings, retail stores and other commercial accounts was profitable, effective and the preferred cleaning method.

Then national maintenance management companies appeared on the scene.

Their business model was to bid low on national accounts, take a healthy cut right off the top and find a cleaner desperate enough to clean Commercial carpet cleaning with hot water extraction commercial carpet at little or no profit. Effective cleaning was no longer a priority. Low price was king.

High production rates and low equipment costs of encapsulation cleaning allowed local owner-operated companies to successfully compete on price, provide a clean appearance and still be profitable. Encapsulation cleaning, in several variations, became an increasingly popular method for commercial carpet cleaning.

How can hot water extraction cleaners provide a high level of service and profitably compete in this environment? That is the question I put to several leading cleaners around the country. Here are some of the key components for success that I was able to compile from my research.


Don’t despair. Although it seems they are everywhere, national management companies actually control only a fraction of the carpet that needs to be cleaned. 

Develop a marketing plan. This can be based on geography by targeting an area where many prospects are clustered, or it can be based on targeting a specific type of business. Management of company “A” likely knows and interacts with management from companies “B,” “C” and “D.” If you impress company “A” with your service, the others will hear about your services. 

Whatever your marketing plan might be, put it in writing and commit to following through. Visit quarterly each company that you target.

Newspapers like to cover positive news about local businesses. Provide well-written press releases to editors of the business sections. Other businessmen are likely to read that portion of the paper first.

In addition to having a website targeting residential clients, create a website that targets commercial prospects.


Help your prospect to select a service plan that meets their budget and their needs.

Give them options. Options could include how often various areas are cleaned, perhaps with a mix of HWE and encapsulation. You might offer training for the in-house staff to care for spot, spill and stain removal chores between professional cleanings. This has the added benefit of making the cleaning job easier if many of the spills were removed when they were fresh — long before your team arrives.

Include information about up sells. This is a great way to increase your profit from an account.

One easy add-on is office chairs. Include information in the bid that office chairs can be cleaned for $5 each when you are on-site for carpet cleaning. When carpet cleaning time approaches, remind them to leave out any chairs they want cleaned.

Cubicle dividers and protector for high traffic areas are other items that can be offered at a good profit margin, even when bidding for the carpet portion of the job is competitive.

If you also provide water damage restoration services, you may want to help your client develop a plan on what to do in case of a water emergency.

This information can be very valuable for a business to have, quickly, when the need arises. The plan should include how to contact your company at any time (day or night), any day and any holiday.

There can be a fee for this added service, as well as a retainer, to assure they have high priority for service. This may become extremely important in the event the business is the victim of a catastrophe. When that happens, demand makes it difficult to receive prompt service from restoration companies. You can be the solution.

The process

Being efficient is obviously a significant aspect of being profitable. Here are some suggestions that have proved helpful for commercial carpet cleaners.

Inspect the layout of the building. Decide in advance where to park for the most efficient hose runs, where vehicles won’t need to be moved (or moved less often). Know the location of water hook-ups, where water can be dumped by your auto pump-out systems and the location of electrical outlets for vacuum cleaners. Have this information on the work order. Don’t waste time once the cleaning team is on location.

Use corner guards around cubicles. Solution hoses can be snagged easily.

Use of an electric-powered rotary wand will be less fatiguing and allow cleaners to work efficiently throughout longer jobs.

Drag wands with wide heads are additional options that allow thorough cleaning with reduced operator fatigue than experienced with a typical scrub wand.

When you encounter a spill or other stain that could possibly wick back, mark the location with a piece of masking tape. Come back at the end of the job to apply an anti-wicking encapsulation product.

Teamwork is important. Most commercial cleaning jobs involve more than one team member. The procedure should be clear so that each person will know which task to move to next as he completes each portion of the job.

Plan breaks so that the wand is always moving. A team member who is vacuuming or applying prespray should work for enough ahead so that he can stop for a break when needed. Then he will begin extracting while the other team member benefits from a break.

A janitorial cart can be an effective way to move cleaning products, hoses, buckets, heaters, tabs and even a vacuum cleaner from one location to another and from one floor to another quickly and conveniently.

Think long-term

The highest percentage of soil encountered will always be dry soils. Excessive amounts of dry soil will definitely slow the cleaning process.

Take the time to educate your new client on the value of dry soil management. This is especially important on commercial glue-down carpet.

Huge amounts of dry soil can hide in the dense pile. Not only will this soil slow the cleaning process, but it contributes to wicking, looks bad between cleaning and shortens the life of the carpet due to increased abrasion and wear.

Training your client on the use of sufficient entryway mats and the importance of rotating in clean entry mats on a regular schedule will benefit the customer and significantly reduce the amount of time you need to spend on vacuuming and cleaning. Mats should be placed at every entrance and should be long enough so that those entering the building must walk several steps across the mats, thereby removing as much tracked-in soil as possible.

Include instructions on proper vacuuming and how to be sure the vacuums used in the building are operating effectively.

Use of a quality counter-rotating brush machine as part of your dry soil removal process opens up the pile, allows more soil to be removed and speeds up your cleaning process. It also lifts the pile, and improves carpet appearance. 

Luckily SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island can clean your commercial carpet.  We have highly trained technicians with Commercial and Residential carpet cleaning experience.  No job is too large or small.  Please call for a free quote.

5 Whys in School Remediation Projects

5/28/2018 (Permalink)

Have you ever been driven crazy by a young child who keeps asking “Why?”  That kid may be onto something.  Developed by Sakichi Toyoda and used by automotive companies and other industries to improve safety, quality, productivity and cost, “5 Whys” is a tool used to identify the root cause (origin) of a problem.  Simply asking “Why?” at least five times can help you move past looking at symptoms of the problem and onto addressing the root cause of the issue.  For example:

  1. Why is there mold in this classroom? Mold grew where condensation formed on the ceiling.
  1. Why did condensation form on the ceiling? When chilled air entered the room through a diffuser in the ceiling, it came in contact with warm, moist air and condensation formed around the diffuser.
  1. Why is there warm, moist air in the classroom? Humidity permeates the walls of the building during warm weather. Since air conditioning was installed, the windows aren’t opened much anymore and some of the window seals are no longer tight.
  1. Why isn’t the moisture being removed by the air conditioning? The HVAC system is set not to run between midnight and 6 a.m. on weekdays, and it does not run on weekends.
  1. Why doesn’t the HVAC run during the evenings and on weekends? To reduce consumption of electricity.

Once you know the root cause, you’re in a better position to address the real issue.

Renovated Schools, Real Issues

Renovation can be a cost-effective way to get few more decades of use out of an old building.  Schools that are more than 50 years old were designed and built during a time when energy efficiency was less of a concern.  Since buildings from that era “breathed” more and classroom windows were opened and closed during the school day, moisture build-up and mold growth was less of an issue.  

 When old schools are renovated, improving energy efficiency often involves the installation of vapor barriers and additional insulation, tightly sealed low-e windows, high efficiency HVAC and low energy consumption lighting.  Properly engineered, installed and operated, these upgrades can improve both the learning environment and operating budget.  Unfortunately, mold still occurs in renovated schools and the mold growth can often be traced back to one or more of these root causes:

*moisture that gets trapped between the outer layer of the building and the vapor barrier

*improperly set supply air that causes negative pressure and/or moisture issues

*HVAC that operated in a manner which allows moisture to build up during times when the building is not occupied.

Of these root causes, preventing moisture from permeating the building is likely to be beyond the scope of the immediate mold remediation project.  Adjustments to the HVAC system will probably be done by the Maintenance department or the HVAC contractor.  However, the principal or administrator of the school will probably appreciate knowing that running their HVAC at reduced levels during evenings and weekends will probably save them from having to call you back in for another mold job.

Minimizing Collateral Damage

 Because “concerned parents” tend to bring a lot more attention to situations than teachers and administrators want, consider the following when conducting your site assessment and preparing your project plan:

 Be prepared to complete your work in one evening or over the weekend. Concerned parents will be alarmed if they see people in PPE at school.

When setting up containment, hang an additional poly film visual barrier outside of your transition zone. This visual barrier will give your team a place to stage equipment and supplies in the clear zone and keep curious eyes off your gear.

Remind the newer members of your team that we don’t discuss the work that we do with people who are not on the team.  It’s especially important to keep the details of school jobs confidential.

The younger children are, the more sensitive they tend to be to environmental contaminants and to the chemicals that are used to remediate.  If the classroom or area is used by special needs students, recognize that this population has a higher rate of being immunocompromised and may have additional health considerations.  Cleaners and disinfectants that meet US EPA Safer Choice or Design for the Environment (DfE) requirements meet federal standards for low environmental impact and greener chemistries.

Observe the level of cleanliness in the building before you start the project. Mold needs a food source and inadequate housekeeping tends to promote mold growth.  Some schools are kept very clean and others are not. This may be an opportunity for improvement that needs to be discussed with the administrator as part of the project conclusion.   

Why the 5 Whys?

 Getting to the root cause of a problem will enable you to know what’s needed to correct the issue.  Although there are other tools and methods available to help with root cause analysis, 5 Whys is probably the easiest one to use and can be learned quickly.  Understanding the concerns related to school remediation jobs and factoring them into your project plan will enable you to effectively help a very important part of your community.  So the next time your child or grandchild asks “Why?” give ‘em a hug! 

If Mold is a concern in a school building, call on the experts at SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island.  We are a Certified Mold Remediation Company and have extensive experience in commercial and residential mold projects.

HEPA and HEPA Filtration Devices

5/25/2018 (Permalink)

Disaster losses and the facility restoration process commonly involve the release of a wide array of contaminants into the air including microscopic bio-pollutants, larger, visible particles and unpleasant odors. 

Disaster losses and the facility restoration process commonly involve the release of a wide array of contaminants into the air including microscopic bio-pollutants, larger, visible particles and unpleasant odors. Portable HEPA Filtration Devices (HFDs) that can effectively and efficiently capture them can provide one of the most important tools at a remediation contractor’s disposal, with numerous potential benefits, including:

  • Enhanced productivity & work quality
  • Improved work area health and safety
  • Reduced cleanup time
  • Limiting the area of contamination
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Faster job clearance & re-occupancy
  • Reduced risk of re-contamination or call-backs

What Is a "True" HEPA Filter?

HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, also known as absolute filters, are much more efficient than other types of filters for removing microscopic particles from the air. By common definition a HEPA filter must provide 99.97% minimum efficiency during use. In other words, no more than three out of 10,000 particles (0.03%) of the 0.3-micron particles pulled in can pass through. 

Filters must meet Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (IEST) Recommended Practices that cover filter media, filter media testing, filter design, construction and labeling, and completed filter testing. 

Are All HFDs Equipped With True HEPA Filters?

HFDs and the filters used in them can apparently fall well short of HEPA performance based on various industry studies and in-field testing. The differences can be much larger than they perhaps seem. Compared to HFDs with true HEPA efficiency, a 99%-efficient HFD will have over 30 times more leakage, a 97%-efficient HFD 100 times more leakage, and a 95%-efficient HFD over 165 times more leakage! 

What Causes Less-Than-HEPA HFD Efficiency?

Some of the more common causes of reduced filtration efficiency can include:

  • Each completed filter was not individually efficiency-tested. The use of true HEPA media is no guarantee that the finished filter will be HEPA efficient because a large percentage of completed HEPA filters require repairs to fix problems such as media damage or improper sealing between the media pack and filter frame. Without testing these problems cannot be found and corrected prior to filter shipment and use. In particular, a low percentage of the aftermarket filters in use today are individually tested per IEST requirements.
  • The filter was not tested at the proper airflow. Completed filters tested at airflows far below the rated airflow of the device in which the filter is used may not provide HEPA efficiency in use. The fact that a filter meets HEPA standards when tested at 500cfm or 1,000cfm airflow doesn’t mean it will when operated at 1,500cfm or 2,000cfm.
  • The filter was not made with micro-glass HEPA media. Some HFD “HEPA” filters are built with synthetic media that has an electrostatic charge applied to it to enhance initial efficiency above 99%. In-use efficiency can be reduced substantially as moisture in the air begins to dissipate this charge. This can force users to replace a costly filter after (and possibly during) each job.
  • The filter is HEPA- efficient but the HFD still leaks. Use of a less-than-HEPA efficiency pretty much guarantees that HFD performance will be compromised, but use of a true HEPA does not ensure overall HEPA efficiency. Leakage elsewhere can significantly compromise the overall integrity of the device by allowing unfiltered air to bypass the HEPA filter.

What Do HEPA Filtration Devices Do?

HFDs help control airborne contaminants during every restoration job, and are absolutely essential for water loss jobs, particularly those involving black water or structural mold contamination. Their most critical task is capturing microscopic bacteria and mold spores released into the air during the drying process, but can also capture larger particles like drywall dust stirred up during demolition and construction activities and, when equipped with carbon filters, odors off-gassed from microbes, paints and other chemicals. 

Are There Different Types of HFDs?

Yes. HFDs generally fall into one of three design types, all of which can be used to perform the same tasks:

  • ‘Large Box’ Negative Air Machines (NAM) are boxy-shaped units with galvanized steel or rotational molded polymer cabinets mounted on four casters. Designed primarily for use on large asbestos abatement projects, NAM typically provide the most airflow per purchase cost dollar, but are larger, heavier & more cumbersome than other HFD types. They are not well suited for jobs involving movement up or down stairs or in tight spaces.
  • Upright Portable Air Scrubbers are more mobile units with rotational molded polymer or stainless steel cabinets that are moved by tipping them back and rolling them on two large wheels like a hand truck. These devices typically offer more convenience features than NAM but less airflow per initial cost dollar. However, more and more users today find that upright PAS provide the greatest productivity, mobility and ease of use.
  • ‘Small Box’ Portable Air Scrubbers are small, compact devices with rotational molded polymer or stainless steel cabinets and are typically light enough (35 to 45 lbs) to pick up and hand carry. With peak airflow generally in the 400cfm to 600cfm range they are ideal for smaller jobs. However, because multiple units can be used on larger jobs, small box HFDs are also increasingly popular with restoration companies today

How and When Should HFDs Be Used?

HFDs should be put into operation immediately at the start of the job and operated continuously until, and in many instances after, all work is completed. 

The negative pressure containment mode offers the highest level of assurance against contaminants from the affected space escaping into “clean” areas when only a portion of the structure is affected. A physical barrier is erected to seal off the affected area and HFDs are operated continuously within that area to reduce airborne particle counts. Lower (negative) pressure is created within the affected area by ducting air filtered out. This pressure differential helps protect unaffected indoor areas from contamination. 

HFDs are often operated in the recirculation mode whenever the entire indoor space is affected. In this mode no pressure differential is created and there is typically no barrier. The HFD simply continuously filters contaminants from the air to reduce airborne particle counts and exhausts cleansed air directly back into the indoor space. 

How Much Airflow Do I Need?

A common industry design parameter is four to six clean air changes per hour (ACH) or more. More is better, and it’s prudent to increase the design ACH to build in a margin of safety for airflow losses due to factors such as filter loading or exhaust ducting. If you need 5 ACH for example you might design for 6 ACH. Here’s a fast and easy way to figure out the total cubic feet per minute (cfm) of airflow required:

  1. Calculate the total air volume in cubic feet by multiplying the length times the width times the height, all in feet. If there is a contained work area, use the dimensions within that area. If there’s no physical containment barrier the volume of the total space must be used.
  2. Divide the air volume by 10 for 6 ACH, by 12 for 5 ACH, or by 15 for 4 ACH.

Example: The minimum airflow required to maintain 6 ACH in a 30 ft. x 20 ft. x 10 ft. contained work area would be calculated as follows: 
Volume = 60 ft. x 20 ft. x 10 ft. = 12,000 cu. ft. 
Airflow Required for 6 ACH = 12,000 / 10 = 1,200cfm 

HEPA filtration device can help mitigate a lot of problems. Do your homework, select them carefully, and use them properly and you, insurers and their customers can all benefit.  SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island has wide selection of HEPA Filtration Devices to tackle any size job.  We have trained IICRC technicians with experience in everything from Mold Remediation to Bio Hazard Cleanup.

Methods for Proper Mold Removal

5/25/2018 (Permalink)

The IICRC S520 establishes the standard for microbial remediation, which lays out general work practices and methods. While this document is considered the standard and may be considered the Bible for remediation companies like SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island, there are additional effective work practices. At the end of the day, safety to our workers and customers is the top priority.

Below are five methods employed by SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island to safely and effectively remove mold.

Establish Critical Containments

Before you do anything, make sure to mitigate the spread of spores by establishing critical containments upon arriving at the loss. Typically, we will seal off the visibly affected areas with plastic and tape. This helps contain the spores to the affected area and will impede the migration to other areas of the property. Adding a dehumidifier to control the humidity will also help to stop the occurrence of secondary damages caused by the elevated humidity, should there still be moisture present.

Slow Things Down to Speed Things Up

Common mistakes made by technicians are often a result of their tendency to hurry through a job. The more time they put into establishing an effective containment and employing dust free work methods will result in safer and cleaner jobs, with less call backs and re-cleans. Adequate measures should be taken to see that the walls don’t collapse, such as using the correct tape and staples where necessary. Dust free practices should also be used, such as saws equipped with vacuum attachments. Lastly, technicians should avoid kicking, smashing or any other aggressive methods of building material removal.

Proper PPE and Fit Tests

We all know how important it is to protect our workers when performing mold abatement; however, it is also important to make sure that the worker is physically able to perform the work. Before entering containment and donning a respirator, every worker should pass a respirator fit test and pulmonary physical examine. Fit tests can be performed by someone in your company who is a certified fit test instructor; however, the pulmonary physical examine should be performed by a medical professional. Together these tests will ensure that the workers are safe to be performing work in contained environments and under the physical stress of PPE.

Scrub Mode vs. Negative Air

Scrub mode and negative air are both effective methods of filtration. When technicians are working in the containment, it is standard practice to establish negative pressure, which helps mitigate the spread of mold spores to the outside of the contained area. When workers are not onsite, air filtration devices can be set to scrub mode. I recommend using lay flat ducting to route the exhaust air back into the containment. Furthermore, I would also recommend routing the ducted exhaust air to the opposite end of the containment, allowing for the path of air to travel across the affected areas. This will help pick up any mold spores that may be lingering. Should there be additional equipment available, adding extra air scrubbers to the inside of the containment will allow for even more filtration. Some experts may believe this is overkill, but I always recommend this practice in order to ensure a pass on the microbial clearance test.

Angle Grinder with Wire Brush Attachment

Traditionally, we are taught to sand the affected framing to remove surface mold, which is still an effective method; however, it is more effective and efficient to use a grinder with a wire brush attachment. With this attachment, technicians are able to complete jobs much faster and with fantastic results. Technicians also prefer the wire brush method to the sanding method due to ease of use. If done correctly, after the wire brush treatment there will be no visible indications of mold and sealing the building materials should not be necessary to pass a microbial clearance if the surfaces have been properly cleaned. 

SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island is a certified Mold Remediation Company.  We can handle any size loss both Residential and Commercial.  If you suspect you might have a mold issue, call us for a free inspection.

Commercial Restoration--Selecting the Proper Equipment

5/25/2018 (Permalink)

In the world of equipment many restorers still use the “WOT” method of equipment selection, as in “Whatever’s On the Truck.” SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island has once or twice fallen into this practice in its initial stages. We quickly changed that way of thought and adopted a more functional method.

I want you now to consider the “WHAT” method, as in “Whatever the Project Requires.” Have you ever lost a bid when you were sure you charged less per day for air movers or labor than anyone else? You may have thought someone had the inside track and maybe so, but most likely you lost the bid on the total bottom line, not on just the bid price. 

As we discussed, it is the occupant that pays rent to the owner, who then pays the bank and insurance. So if we keep the tenants happy, we have a better chance of keeping everyone pleased. A successful selection of equipment and deployment depends on the parameters of the job not what you have on hand. 

So what are the parameters? How do I get to the total bottom line? Once again, Zig Zigler says it the best: “You can get what you want if you just help enough of the right people get what they want.” 

We now know who the right people are; we just need to provide them with a finished project with as little cost and interruption to their services as possible. This is what they want. 

Imagine a disaster has just struck your business: fire, flood, earthquake, tornado or maybe like me by a little hurricane called Katrina. After making sure everyone is safe, what are your concerns about your business? Can I stay open? Can I get supplies from my vendors? How long will it take to get the place back together? How are we going to pay for it all? 

Our job is to help answer these questions and provide the best overall solution. This is Bottom Line Drying. What we need to do is combine these concerns and needs with equipment available on the market to produce the best result. The fundamentals of drying dictate that adding energy (heat) to a material while passing the driest available air over its porous surface will invoke evaporation of unwanted moisture from the material and thus the building itself. We call it HAT (Humidity, Airflow and Temperature). 

Seriously, let’s look at the parameters individually and deploy equipment accordingly. 

The first is, can the business stay open? This is determined by structural integrity: Is it safe for occupancy? Can the occupants vendors supply the occupant with the materials or services needed in order to conduct business on a day to day basis? Is there Business Interruption Insurance? 

This is of primary concern, because the occupancy of the building is one of the most important factors when developing an allowable temperature range. If people are going to be in the building shopping, eating or working, then noise and temperature level – as well as equipment visibility – are important considerations. So large equipment located away from customers, with air movers on low, and comfortable temperatures are best. You may even need to constantly relocate air movers for aesthetic reasons. 

Make sure everyone involved is on the same page

By the way, a hot-air drying unit works fine here if it is cool and dry outside, or you can use localized or “spot” heating for specific, tough-to-dry materials. If the business will be closed for a few days, we do not have creature comfort or visibility concerns, but we have to check on materials and products in the building before we allow for elevated temperature drying (generally above 80 F). 

The building’s design is the second most important consideration. You must understand, this consists of the building’s construction materials and physical layout as well as the contents. Most building materials have no problems handling temperatures up to 120 degrees and most materials, especially the denser or less permeable, actually dry better in these higher temperatures. 

Please be careful on total temperature (air or material), because sprinkler systems are part of many commercial buildings and their heads are designed to rupture on temperature, not from sensing flame, and some are rated as low as 130 degrees. (How good is your liability insurance? Want to find out?) 

The contents are a mixed bag of every material you can imagine, and many are sensitive to temperature or even low humidity – operational computers or server rooms are obviously concerned with high temperature, but low humidity may induce static discharges into the system, doing serious damage. 

You need to consult with the occupants and building engineer about temperature- or humidity-sensitive items, and get them to sign off on any elevated temperature drying so you will not be held responsible for something you did not know was there. 

The layout generally determines air mover placement and quantity, but it also very important to the drying system selection: LGRs, desiccants or heat-based systems. Here, the general guidelines are simple: it is much cheaper to rent one big piece of equipment than many smaller pieces, thus decreasing the bottom line. 

This is why many commercial projects that have large common areas or hallways use desiccants or larger trailer-mounted heating systems. But if the layout is one of multiple exterior entrances (1,000- to 3,000-square-foot individual units) like condos or hotel rooms, LGR’s are going to be the fit. Layout also includes site access and power availability, as they are also major determining factors, as well as what equipment happens to be available when you need it (as much as I hate to say it, sometimes “WOT” is all we have to work with). 

Use the right equipment to suit the project’s needs

Then there is the Question of All Questions: “How long is it going to take?” “It will be dry when it’s dry” is true, but that’s not what I mean. Lately, a lot of focus has been on drying as fast as possible, and that is great in the residential or commercial market when the building is unoccupied, but when a commercial customer needs his facility to conduct business, being out of business even for two days can be unacceptable. 

Businesses such as restaurants and hotel ballrooms have planned functions. Since Mrs. Jones will probably have only one 50th anniversary party, are you going to tell her she can’t have the party tonight? Many times you can dry the carpet/flooring in several hours, have it safe for the party and start the wall drying after hours, when the guests have left. 

In this case, you are going to spend a few more days drying with increased equipment billing and labor hours, but there would be no business interruption payout, again making the bottom line lower. I call this “Ghost Drying” because you are constantly working on the wet structure, but anyone who uses the facility hardly even notices you are there. You have just made the insurance company, the building owner, the occupant, and Mrs. Jones very happy. 

The last word in drying is communication: Be sure that when you are bidding on a project that the owner, tenants, insurance folks and all of your people are on the same page. Just because you know the benefits of how you custom tailored this drying project for them does not mean they understand it. 

It is important to start every bid submission with a meeting of all concerned and continue with these meetings on a daily basis until the project is complete. This openness in working together as well as showing concern and understanding for all involved will make you a successful Bottom Line Dryer.

SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island carries every type of equipment that might be needed on a Drying project.  Commercial or Residential, you can rest assured we have the trained and qualified personnel to determine the equipment needs.

Commercial Sewage Losses--Getting Paid

5/25/2018 (Permalink)

While most insurance policies exclude coverage for cat 3 water, for decades they were paid out anyway by adjusters. Now, things are changing, and getting category 3 water jobs paid for is not so easy.

For unknown reasons, claims adjusters must have read the 12-year-old fungi and bacteria sublimits on property policies in 2016 and started pulling the trigger on denying claims under the sublimits of coverage.

The relatively sudden change in claims handling protocols on property insurance is evidenced in the 2016 loss experience of Environmental Impairment Liability insurance policies sold to commercial property owners. A mold claim never reaches an EIL policy if the property policy is paying for the loss.

Sewage loss

Almost all mold-related EIL claims in 2016 came in from commercial buildings like hotels, condos, schools and shopping malls.

In 2016, there were more mold losses paid on Environmental Impairment Liability (EIL) type insurance policies than from all other sources of contamination losses paid for under that type of insurance. EIL policies were designed for use by industrial firms and waste disposal companies. Today, there are more mold claims under EIL policies than the claims arising from industrial spills, leaking landfills and pipelines.

Almost all mold-related EIL claims in 2016 came in from commercial buildings like hotels, condos, schools and shopping malls. These firms are not traditional buyers of EIL-type insurance policies and almost all of these buildings do not have this coverage in place today. Problem!

Here is why mold evolving as the #1 source of claims under EIL policies is such an important development to a restoration contractor wanting to get paid for commercial work:

Less than 1% of all commercial buildings are insured under a EIL type insurance policy today;

99% of building owners are needlessly uninsured for mold/bacteria related damages today;

Only claims that are not covered in the property and liability policies of the property owner make it to the EIL coverage for payment;

The amount of mold work country-wide in 2016 was stable to the levels of 2014 and 2015;

The number of EIL policies insuring commercial buildings only grew 8% over those three years;

Which means for EIL policies to get a surge in mold claims, claims adjusters must have started to deny more mold related losses under the standard property policies in 2016 and;

With only a 1% market penetration for the EIL insurance product line in commercial construction in 2016, there must be a lot of property losses where the property owners are not getting the claims settlements they were expecting from the property insurance company;

All this translates to more bad debts for restorers.

Getting paid for sewage loss

The solution to the mold/bacteria coverage gap is a specially designed EIL type insurance policy that insures losses form “pollutants” including all sorts of microbial matter.

Mold-related claims being denied coverage will financially challenge many property owners. A large uninsured property loss could leave a restorer in a lurch financially if the restoration work has been completed before the stakeholders in the building figure out that the insurance coverage is only going to pay a $10,000 sublimit of coverage for a loss that involves a speck of mold.

To make sure a property owner has the money to pay for water restoration work in a world of enlightened claims adjusters, it will become increasing important for commercial property to be insured under and specially modified Environmental Impairment Liability (EIL) insurance policy. 

Today, less than one out of 100 commercial properties actually have this type of insurance in place. Which means today less than one out of 100 property owners will have the insurance needed to pay more than $10,000 for a loss involving a speck of mold or bacteria in any sequence to the loss event.

Of course, limiting the coverage for the entire loss to only $10,000 assumes the insurance claims adjuster is paying attention to the exact words in the exclusions for fungi or bacteria in almost all types of commercial insurance policies. On small losses the adjusters tend to ignore the sublimits or errantly apply them to only the part of the loss involving the direct remediation of mold or bacteria. The problem is the bigger the loss, the ones you would never want an uncollectable bill from, the more claims supervisors there are looking at it. The smart supervisors realize every time they pay a mold or category 3 water loss like the sublimits do not exist, they undermine the insurance company’s ability to use the flood exclusion which is built under the same insurance design. As a result, the larger the loss the less likely the property insurance company is going to pay for it.

The solution to the mold/bacteria coverage gap is a specially designed EIL type insurance policy that insures losses form “pollutants” including all sorts of microbial matter.

These new generation EIL-type policies will be marketed under various brand names, we have one that took eight years in research and development to create. We brand named our EIL policy for commercial property the ARMR-HPR insurance program. HPR stands of Highly Protected Risk. The HPR part of the insurance product is we will only insure a property at the very favorable rates if all of the insured locations covered under the policy have an Emergency Ready Plan in place with an approved restoration firm such as SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island, and that each building has been walked through by the restoration firm.

With a ERP in place from SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island we can insure commercial buildings for about half the cost of an EIL type policy sold without an ERP plan. Typically, the premium for the ARMR-HPR product is less than 15% of the current property insurance premiums, which puts the needed coverage to close the gaps in insurance coverage created by mold and bacteria exclusions and sub-limits on property and liability insurance policies within the reach of most property owners and management firms.

Connecting the dots on all of this it is looking like the mold claims in EIL type policies can only be explained by changes in claims payment practices under traditional property insurance policies. Since 2005, property insurance policies have had sub-limits for mold and sometimes bacteria related damages as little as $10,000. As many property insurance policies are written, the most a claims adjuster should pay for the entire job involving cleaning a speck of mold in any sequence to the project is the amount of the sub-limit. To have adequate coverage for mold/bacteria related work in commercial buildings, property owners and managers need to either dramatically increase the mold/bacteria sub limits from $10,000 to a far larger amount or procure a separate specially designed EIL type insurance policy.

Handling Category 3 Water Claims

The best way to get paid for mold and bacteria contamination work is to have an insured building. More than 99% of commercial building are under insured today for mold or bacteria related losses.

Restorers with EIL policies can help property owners procure this needed coverage for mold and bacteria related losses by providing Emergency Ready Plans to property owners and managers. By encouraging property owner and managers to get insured for what a water intrusion event involving mold or bacteria is likely to cost is the best way to assure you will be paid for the work you do on any loss involving a speck of any form of mold and sometimes bacteria. The best way to get paid for mold and bacteria contamination work is to have an insured building. More than 99% of commercial building are under insured today for mold or bacteria related losses.

Call the experts at SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island to set up an appointment for your ERP.  It’s a free service so don’t delay.  We are always here to help.

Quick Response is the Key to Water Damages

5/24/2018 (Permalink)

Floods, rainstorms and tornadoes can become massive water damage threats to businesses during the often-stormy spring and summer months. Facilities plagued with such water woes this season must take quick action to control many possible problems, experts say. 

You won’t see it emphasized on the nightly news when a disaster hits, but water damage can represent potentially huge disasters for businesses and building owners and operators. 

Water damage can mean much more to a business than just wet and soggy carpets. There are other common, more significant problems businesses face when water wreaks havoc on property, such as indoor air quality problems. Mold and mildew grow rapidly in damp, humid environments, leaving behind an unpleasant smell that permeates floors, walls and ceilings, even after the water has been removed. It also can create health problems for employees. 

Damage to the building’s structure and foundation also can be an issue. When water sits inside a building for a period of time, the walls, ceilings and floors absorb the water, which threatens the overall structural integrity of the building and creates an unsafe environment. Total reconstruction of the building often becomes the only option. 

Another major threat to business is the loss of expensive equipment, which often can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace. 

To minimize water damage, there are two critical steps that need to be taken:

  1. Act fast to assess the situation; and
  2. Control the environment within the building.

Act Fast and Call an Expert

The absolute first step to take is fast action. Damage resulting from water and flooding is very progressive. The longer the water flows or wet conditions are allowed to exist, the greater the recovery problem becomes. A water damage consultant, such as SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island, must come in immediately to survey the situation. 

In a typical scenario, a team of water damage recovery professionals is dispatched to the site to perform a thorough inspection and fully determine the extent of the damage. A disaster reclamation partner also will develop an intense restoration plan and determine which items are worth restoring and which are better replaced. 

You can’t always save everything by drying, but you can save a tremendous amount. It’s not unusual to save between 30 and 70 percent of the cost needed to reconstruct a facility.

Controlling the Interior Environment

Another key in limiting water damage is to quickly control three conditions of a building’s atmosphere: relative humidity, temperature and air circulation. Fast, effective action at this point will generally confine the damage to the area that was directly affected by the water damage event. 

The most effective way to control these conditions in a high-moisture environment, especially a large facility, is to employ professional disaster drying that combines air movers with desiccant dehumidifiers. 

Disaster drying often eliminates the need to rip out and replace walls, carpet, floor covering, hardwood floors and the building structure, which can be a huge expense. On top of that, you preclude the odors and staining caused by mold and mildew. These problems can come back to haunt you weeks later in a superficially dried building.

The Desiccant Way

When a facility has been severely water damaged, you need high volume desiccant dehumidifiers. Some larger desiccant dehumidifiers can pull 800 gallons of water out of a building in one day, compared to the typical small refrigeration units that remove about five gallons a day. 

Many people are surprised that “solid” materials such as concrete and hard woods absorb moisture. But they do and rather quickly. 

Getting the water back involves a phenomenon called migration. Migration is the tendency for water molecules to move toward a low vapor pressure. When a room is filled with very dry air, which has low vapor pressure, trapped water migrates outward and is evaporated from the surface by the dry air. As the air in the room fills with water vapor, we expel it. We then replace it with more dry air and the process continues. 

It’s also essential to be sure the equipment being used is sized right. Inappropriately sized drying equipment can lead to insufficient drying and long-term problems with the building. Only large-volume dehumidifiers could provide the massive drying power needed to dry the space quickly and thoroughly.

Best Defense: An Emergency Ready Plan

To minimize damage and costs, companies need to think ahead about what to do in a water damage event and contact a water damage expert like SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island to create an Emergency Ready Plan (ERP). 

An ERP can limit the extent of water damage occurrences by defining and prioritizing the recovery of areas within a facility and stating immediate next steps. Proper planning and fast action are most certainly the best defense to preventing a catastrophic water damage event.