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From Flood to Fungus: A Guided Tour of the Water Damage Remediation ProcessJune 10th, 2019 by
A flood is one of the most damaging home disasters you can experience, and the cleanup and restoration processes are extensive. What starts as a drip, a puddle, or even a fully involved flood turns into structural damage very quickly. The water seeping into your home brings with it the most unwanted guests: wood and subfloor damage and, soon after, fungus.
Extreme care must be taken when handling water damage, and it most certainly isn’t something you should attempt to take on yourself. Water is an electricity conductor and can damage subfloors and framing, and damp areas are conducive to mold growth.
The flood itself is one thing—urgent in nature—but the fungus it brings can get into everything. It is even common for mold to grow inside air conditioning ducts when HVAC units are kept running during a disaster cleanup. Brushing up on the signs of mold is something every homeowner should do, and recognizing and identifying mold can help the mitigation process run more smoothly when you know what you’re dealing with.
When you’re faced with a water damage or mold growth situation, it is very important to rely on the skills of a qualified professional who is trained in the treatment, removal, and disposal of affected materials.
Don’t do this type of work yourself. It’s hazardous to your health, and the disposal of the damaged materials is governed by local regulations. You can’t just throw mold-covered materials away in the trash, and care must be taken to protect your home, your family, and the environment from potentially hazardous waste like mold or sewage.
I sat down with a certified water damage remediation professional to find out why it’s important to use properly qualified technicians and exactly what to do when water damage mitigation is necessary.
Abraham Martinez works as a project manager with a local cleanup and restoration company, and he has been trained extensively with the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC). Abraham holds certifications in several areas to ensure every job is done correctly, safely, and up to IICRC standards:
- Applied Microbial Remediation
- Water Damage Restoration
- Fire and Smoke Restoration
- Odor Control
While it is nice to think everyone that works in your home is certified and properly trained, the truth is that many companies and employees are not certified. Proper certification is a source of pride and work ethic, but many companies also don’t furnish proof of certification unless asked. Abraham is rarely asked to provide his certifications.
Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself dealing with water damage, but if you do, keep reading for some important information direct from a pro.
The Importance of Credentials: IICRC Certification
The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) is an organization that creates the standards for the residential and commercial cleaning and disaster restoration industries, and it regularly improves on those standards as technology and science progresses.
The IICRC standards are backed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), an organization that oversees, verifies, and ensures adherence to standards created and adopted in the United States.
The IICRC offers many certifications for individuals as well as for companies as a whole. The certifications range from cleanup and air purification to restoration of textiles and structures. Some of the specific certifications you should look for when dealing with a flood are as follows:
- Applied Microbial Remediation Technician (AMRT)
- Water Damage Restoration Technician (WRT)
- Applied Structural Drying Technician (ASD)
- Commercial Drying Specialist (CDS)
Other certifications to look for when dealing with different types of emergencies:
- Fire and Smoke Restoration Technician (FSRT)
- Odor Control Technician (OCT)
- Trauma and Crime Scene Technician (TCST)
IICRC training is offered at learning centers around the country, and each certification class takes approximately 12 hours. The testing is done at the conclusion of the course, and a certification is issued at that point.
Throughout the life of their certification, technicians are required to earn 14 credit hours of education every 4 years following a certification in order to keep that certification valid. A great technician will understand the importance of training and keeping up to date with technology, methods, and standards. Continuing education is offered by the IICRC to ensure adherence to the current standards.
What does certification mean?
A certification shows you that the technician you hired is trained in the removal and treatment of biohazards like sewage, mold, and water. You should always ask if a technician is certified, and you can even ask for a certification number.
The IICRC has search functions on their website to help you find certified individuals or firms and to verify credentials you have been given by a technician. Any technician would be not only proud to furnish their credentials, but would also carry proof in the form of an ID card that lists their certifications. The number to call the IICRC and verify a credential, if you wish to do so, is on the card itself.
IICRC standards are set to protect the “health and safety of workers and occupants,” and when dealing with water and mold, that is extremely important. Water damage can come from clean water, sewage, and even from fire suppression. Most times, the water is coming from behind a wall or under an appliance, and it is important to have a professional investigate the source of the water to find out where it is coming from and what it is.
Sewage and mold carry dangerous organisms and pathogens, and both can end up in the structural frame of your home. Mold can travel into air ducts and can grow in furniture, subfloors, and insulation. Once mold gets a grip in your home, it is a lengthy and invasive process to remove it and make sure it doesn’t come back.
Mold requires containment to prevent spreading, and there are steps a properly trained technician takes to keep the rest of your house unaffected. Drying a water damaged area also requires containment to keep the heat in and the contaminants out of the rest of your home.
Without the correct training, tools, and containment systems, an untrained technician can bring the damage throughout your house.
A Walk Through the Water Damage Mitigation Process
You have found a wonderful technician to perform your work, you have asked to see their certifications, but now it’s time to start the work. Abraham advised me that you should always contact your insurance company first, as they are usually the ones that pay for mitigation and restoration. However, most customers don’t think of this in the throes of an emergency. Most people call the mitigation company directly and immediately.
While this does make sense to do, the insurance company will actually need to have adjusters come to see the damage. They will also approve or deny any work requested by the mitigation company.
Here are the steps you should take in a normal water mitigation project:
- Call your homeowners’ insurance company to advise them of the damage and the suspected cause. In some cases the insurance company will provide a referral or list of technicians for you to contact.
- Once the insurance company gives approval to start the remediation work, you’ll contact the mitigation company.
- The mitigation company will come to your home to assess the damage with the use of tools like moisture readers and sponges to collect samples of smoke or mold.
- The mitigation company will then contact your insurance provider for approvals and to discuss the work.
- The water damage pros will get to work. An insurance adjuster will come out once the work is finished to make sure the job is complete.
Note that some mitigation companies also provide reconstruction services, and some only provide the mitigation itself. Which you choose will depend on your insurance and the extent of the damage.
Many companies today are following up their work with a customer satisfaction survey. Abraham’s company uses GuildQuality for their surveys, but not all franchises of the company do so. Some actually still use a paper survey.
Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to fill something out; if you can, take the time to jot down your feedback. Answering those follow-up surveys is an invaluable gift you can give to other homeowners. Your reviews, your ratings, and your words all contribute to the decisions of thousands of other homeowners in situations just like you.
Important reminders about the disaster cleanup process
Along with water cleanup comes a multitude of strange and new equipment. Homeowners are often unprepared for the intrusion a cleanup project can cause, and Abraham pointed out several mistakes to avoid when you are going through the process of cleanup.
1. You might want to stay with relatives or friends for a few days.
The cleanup process involves heavy machines brought in to extract water, dry structures, and purify air. The machines can be loud, they produce heat, and they are usually accompanied by a containment system. A containment system consists of heavy plastic, tape, and zippers. The cleanup technicians will place the plastic around the affected area to both keep the drying heat and contaminants in and to keep you and your family members out.
While it is OK in some cases to breach the containment system through the zippers placed to do so, in some cases the containment must be kept sealed to avoid health risks. Be sure to ask your cleanup technicians how long you should avoid the affected areas.
In most cases, you’ll be happier and more comfortable spending a few nights in a hotel or with family or friends.
2. Avoid interrupting the cleanup process.
Even though the equipment can be loud, air movers and air scrubbers should not be turned off unless you speak to (and get approval from) your technician. If these important devices are turned off too early, the drying process will be delayed. Mold can also grow if the machinery is turned off for prolonged periods, which can cause further damage.
3. Stay safe by asking your cleanup team before entering the affected space or making changes to the remediation setup.
Never touch machinery or remove containment systems, but do speak to your technician to help figure out a workaround. Sometimes containment systems can be moved, or machinery can be turned off for a short period of time, but only when you get the OK from the mitigation company.
Finding a Company to Perform Your Disaster Cleanup
The first step to finding a qualified and verified water mitigation company should be a search on Best Pick Reports. Each company listed is fully researched and will already have any licenses or insurance required for the job. As you read the company profiles on the website, you’ll see that certifications are listed in most cases, including the IICRC certifications you would want to see for water damage remediation and disaster cleanup.
Once you locate a few Best Pick companies you would like to work with, ask them about their certifications. Abraham let me know that this isn’t something most homeowners do. He thinks that homeowners too often don’t feel they have the right to ask, but it’s important to understand that the certifications are there for you. They protect you as a consumer and also the technician as the service provider.
It is not only OK to ask to see certifications, any legitimate company will gladly furnish an ID card or ID number for you to verify. Some companies are certified by the IICRC as a whole, but it is more the individual certifications that you should be concerned about.
When you have chosen a company, make sure to involve your insurance carrier in the process from the beginning, and do not approve any work yourself. All approvals must come from the insurance company; your insurance provider will send a trained adjuster to assess the damage and restoration needs.