Retailers need to understand what can and cannot be restored after water damage has occurred.
The day after serious water damage, or even a flood, has ravaged a facility — whether it is a home, an office or a retail store — those who own, work or manage the location come down with an unexpected syndrome: acute stress disorder, or ASD. As it pertains to our discussion, ASD is the mind and body’s response to an unexpected event that has left a person feeling confused and helpless.
Symptoms can include anxiety, disorientation, detachment, disbelief, depression and impaired judgment. All of these are usually short term, normal, and to be expected — except for one. The troublemaker is “impaired judgment.” It’s a problem because along with the unfortunate incident, and ASD symptoms, some very important decisions have to be made when the insurance adjuster arrives, which is likely to occur within days if not hours after the water damage. He or she will investigate the situation and recommend steps for managers to take.
In a retail facility, if items on display and for sale have been damaged, more than likely those items will have to be replaced. However, things can get more complicated when it comes to the facility itself. The insurance examiner may suggest that items such as floors and carpet can be restored with proper cleaning, while other structural elements should be replaced. Although most insurance companies have licensed and professional insurance adjusters with specific guidelines they follow, we have to remember the insurance company is also a business. The more items they suggest can simply be cleaned and repaired, the less they will have to pay to cover the damage.
Because of this, retailers need to understand what can and cannot be restored after water damage has occurred. For example, if you believe an item, such as a damaged carpet, couch or chair, is beyond repair and the adjuster disagrees, having some solid facts or information to rely on can help you win your case. Alternatively, there may be situations where you do not want an item replaced but suggest the insurance company cover the costs of cleaning and restoration of the item. Once again, the more facts and information you have, the better you can work with the adjuster.
Making the Call
Let’s use the store’s carpet as an example. Whether it should be cleaned and restored or tossed and replaced can apply to other damaged items such as furniture, hard-surface flooring and fixtures in a retail setting.
One of the first things we need to know is where the water came from; this will help determine its classification and help us decide whether to keep and clean or discard and replace the carpet.
With flood damage, there are three key categories for water. These are:
1. The water is potable (drinking) water.
2. The water contains some level of contamination but is not seriously harmful.
3. The water is highly contaminated, which typically refers to sewage.
According to Peter Duncanson, an instructor with the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration, which trains carpet and restoration technicians on best practices when it comes to restoration, “The level of contamination dictates the remediation [cleaning and restoration] process, as well as what items can be saved and what must be disposed of.”
The amount of water can also be a factor. If just a small area is affected — for instance, from a leaky pipe near a restroom — and it is classified as category 1 or category 2 water, the adjuster may recommend the area simply be cleaned. This most likely is the proper recommendation.
However, if that leaky pipe was releasing seriously contaminated water, even sewage, the carpet should be replaced. Here is where your negotiating skills may be called for.
If one area of carpeting has to be replaced and no match for that carpet is available, the insurance company will have to pay for new carpet throughout the entire site, whether impacted or not. They may balk at this and suggest cleaning first. However, mold and bacteria may have penetrated that area and spread to the subfloor below the carpet. In most cases, cleaning is not the correct course of action. Replacement is necessary.
One more point that retail managers should know when working with an adjuster is that even if just a small area appears to have been affected by the leak, as in our example, that does not mean the damage is confined to that area. It may have covered a much larger area under the carpet and caused additional damage. “It may have gone through a wall or it may be affecting furniture [on the carpet] or caused structural damage,” says Duncanson.
Ask that the carpet be picked up and the area below the carpet analyzed before agreeing to any settlement. This will help dry the area as well.
And this leads us to another point. Should you and the adjuster agree to clean the carpet, do not turn this over to your in-house cleaning staff. Managers should always call in carpet cleaning technicians skilled at carpet restoration. They will be aware of the types of cleaning solutions and equipment necessary to tackle carpet and other fabrics that have suffered water damage.
When cleaning carpet after water damage, the first thing to do is to remove all items on top of the carpet and increase ventilation, either through an HVAC system or by opening windows. Next, before bringing in power equipment, the technician should make sure all electrical outlets are operating and safe to use.
With these steps completed, speed is of the essence. Because of this, some technicians use what are called “recycling” carpet extractors. “With these systems, the technician does not have to stop to empty and refill the machine as often,” says Doug Berjer, regional sales manager for CFR, a manufacturer of recycling carpet extractors. “Because the downtime has been minimized, more carpet is cleaned in faster time, helping to prevent further damage and contamination of the carpet.”1
Once cleaned, Berjer suggests the placement of air-movers — dryers and blowers — at strategic locations around the just-cleaned area. Several may be needed depending on the extent of damage. According to Berjer, there are three types of air-movers that can help dry the carpet most effectively:
• “PRO” dryers. These blow air directly over the wet carpet; “select a system with three speeds so that the amount of air movement can be adjusted.”
• A Downdraft™ fan. “These fans pull air down through the fan and blast it out over large areas of the carpet. Drying the carpet is usually very fast because it focuses air movement directly over the carpet.”
• Whole-room dryers. With as much as 9,800 CFM (cubic feet per minute), these systems blow air down on the carpet and over an even larger area.2
Earlier we mentioned that most of the symptoms of ASD are normal and to be expected, and fortunately relatively short term. While it is likely going to impact any store owner or manager in an emergency situation, such as after serious water damage or a flood, the thing to remember is that it’s not someone’s health or life that has been harmed. Instead, it is structural items such as carpets and floors that can either be cleaned, repaired or replaced. With a little restoration knowledge under your belt, you are in a much better position to make decisions that can get your store up and running as quickly as possible.
1 Depending on the level and type of soiling, with a recycling carpet extractor, the water can be recycled as much as seven times before emptying. Along with reducing water needs, this increases the speed of the cleaning operation and the amount of carpet area that can be cleaned between refills.
2 The air generated by these air-movers does not need to be hot; it is the movement of air over the surface that dries the carpet.
— Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning and building industries.