One of the most devastating tragedies that can befall a home is fire. The old adage would always resonate in circles and discussions regarding fire: it can sustain life and it can also destroy life. Fire is beneficial as it cooks our food and gives us warmth, and in this way it can sustain life. However, fires can also spread so suddenly, consuming everything in its path, damaging homes and properties and can even destroy life.
Fires can cause tremendous damage to forests, communities, buildings and homes. If not abated, it can consume a whole structure in minutes. Aside from the destructive properties of fires, smoke, as a resultant of fire, can also create damage to areas that fires did not reach. Smoke damage is more complex than water damage due to its unique behavior. Smoke can travel much faster and can penetrate more areas than water could ever reach. It can travel upwards and reach higher floors and levels. It can travel through the duct work or even pipe work and affect more areas on as little time as possible.
When fires occur resulting to smoke and ash contamination of the home, it would be important to begin restoration work as soon as possible and prevent permanent damage to items affected by smoke that escaped the fire. Possible damage includes discoloration from the smoke and soot residue which could adhere permanently to surfaces if not dealt with immediately. Smoke and soot residue can also cause unpleasant smells and odors, some of which may be toxic to humans depending on the material that has been burnt. Plastics and chemicals when burnt can give such toxic smell.
The following are basic guidelines and procedures on how to handle smoke damage restoration for homes that are partially or indirectly affected by the fire. Homes that are completely damaged by fires would require a different kind of need that will not be covered in these guidelines.
The first thing to do is to review your insurance policy to check what is the coverage for fire and smoke damage. It would be wise to seek counsel from your insurance agent in this area and inquire if hiring a professional restoration company would be covered. Know what procedures are needed for documenting the fire and the damage it has brought to your property.
In severe situations like this, it would still be best to seek professional help to perform restoration. These companies are well equipped and knowledgeable in handling these situations, and would complete restoration more effectively at a faster time. These professionals will also know what items can be restored fully and what should be discarded. They can also assist the homeowner by providing ways to salvage recoverable items or parts of the home without creating further damage. If these services are covered by your insurance company, it would be best to seek these services, or ask your insurance company regarding their recommended organizations.
If hiring a professional is not possible due to financial issues or other constraints, it would still be best to seek advice from these professionals regarding ways and methods of restoration that you can perform on your own.
Some of the advice or services that you can get from restoration professionals include the identification of the smoke type through pre-testing. This can help identify what items can be restored and what should be discarded. This can also help determine the most effective cleaning method that you need to employ.
Types of Smoke and Smoke Damage
There are different types of smoke and different kinds of damages from these smokes. Wet smoke comes from low and smoldering heat. It gives off a pungent odor and is also sticky and cause smears on surfaces. Smoke webs formed from wet smoke are difficult to clean. Dry smokes are results of high temperature burning. Fires causing dry smoke are fast and consume much of the flammable materials.
Protein-based smokes are almost invisible and have an extreme pungent odor. This usually results from burning of organic materials. This type of smoke can discolor paints and varnishes. Another type of smoke is oil soot from fuel materials like oil or gasoline or other fire propellants.
There are two types of damage that can come from smoke. Visible soot is the most readily recognizable. Another is invisible odor that depends on what has burned like wood or plastics.
Sources of Smoke
Smoke can come from different types of fires but can cause severe damage to homes. Fires that directly ravaged a home or part of the home are the most destructive as the fire itself can contribute much of the damage.
Smoke can also come from an external source other than fire from the home, like a surrounding wildfire or smoke from a fire on a nearby building or a house. Smoke can also come from burning vegetation or from burning junk or garbage.
Winds can play a major role in bringing smoke from a nearby fire into your home. In such cases, smoke can easily penetrate the home and materials inside. Once the smoke clears and the ashes have settled down, restoration work should be done.
The Effects of Smoke
Smoke, particularly those containing acid soot residues can cause considerable damage in a matter of minutes and hours and would worsen in days or weeks. Residues can cause considerable discoloration to plastics and small appliances if in close proximity to the source of the smoke. Porous materials like marble or alabaster might discolor permanently.
If smoke is prolonged for hours, and acid residues settle on materials, it can result to stains on surfaces and may be difficult to remove. This includes furniture, appliances and metals.
If smoke is left untreated for days and weeks, paints and varnish can discolor considerably. It would also result to corrosion of metals and will also result to stains to upholstery. Restoration work may be too difficult to perform at this stage.
Cleaning up smoke and soot residue as quickly as possible should be done to prevent residue from creating further damage to surfaces.
Restoration of the Structure
During restoration work at homes, ventilation should be properly maintained by opening windows and doors and allow good air flow into the affected area. Filters from air conditioning units and furnaces should be replaced or cleaned daily until no more soot are extracted from the air.
Safety should be the primary concern when performing smoke restoration. Use proper masks and gloves while cleaning up to prevent inhalation of smoke and soot residues. Start cleanup work from top areas to bottom, then down to the floor. Detergents dissolved in warm water can be used to clean and remove soot. Use soft-bristled brushes during scrubbing work and rinse off with pressurized water.
Broken windows and doors should be replaced as soon as possible. If this cannot be performed immediately, you may need to board them up to secure the area and prevent further damage from the elements. Carefully mount boards without damaging adjacent materials.
Counter tops in kitchens and cooking areas should be cleaned and disinfected. Perform the same to sinks, faucets and other faucets. Separate drawers and pull out cabinets to thoroughly clean. Toilets and bathtubs and other bathroom utilities should be cleaned and disinfected.
Restoration of Household Items
As much as possible, try to dry clean household textiles and completely remove soot and smoke odor. For carpets, remove soot with vacuum cleaners but avoid using brush extensions or rollers to avoid pushing the soot down further into the carpet layers.
For porcelain and ceramic, try to clean immediately to prevent discoloration on the surface. Do the same for metal items like chrome, brass or copper which can be severely tarnished from the smoke. It would be advisable to remove these items from the premises until smoke restoration has been completed. For items that are permanently in place, just cover with plastic to protect it from further contamination from soot.
Use vacuum cleaners on floors and upholstery. Change filters to HEPA filter types to completely strain out soot and prevent it from being blown back into the room.
Dealing with the Odor
Smoke contains carbon and sulfur molecules which can be attracted and absorbed by the surfaces that smoke has affected. This process would retain much of the distinctive smoke odor that if left untreated for some time, would be difficult to completely clean. Some of the drywalls, ceiling panels and insulation materials may have to be replaced to completely remove the odor of smoke. Some walls and finishes can be repainted or re-varnished to seal the odor in.
Affected items should be cleaned thoroughly to remove the smoke and soot odor. Thermal fogging can be done to replace the smoke molecules trapped on the surfaces with deodorizer molecules, and completely remove the odor.