One of the many dangers of fire is often associated with the degree to which smoke can literally damage property over an extended period of time. Unlike fire that, when doused and put under control, smoke can pervade through the various recesses of the surfaces of any home or building. It is here where the volatile gases that make up the smoke wreak havoc on the overall structure and integrity of the house or building.
The Anatomy of Smoke
Smoke is not only a byproduct of a combustion process but is an integral component in the production of fire. Before we can even begin to comprehend the exact nature of why thorough smoke damage cleaning is an absolute necessity in every home, let us first examine closely why smoke is such a threat not only to our property but to our health as well.
As a result of a very prolific combustion or complete oxidation process, smoke develops as a result of the rapid oxidation of combustible materials. Initially, a heating element such as a lighted matchstick or even a candle or a focused beam of UV light raises the temperature of a combustible material to the point where the material reaches its ignition temperature, or what is aptly called its ‘flashpoint’.
In this instance, the combustible material acts as the fuel for the fire such that when it reaches its flashpoint it releases large amounts of heat and highly volatile gases. These gases interact with oxygen which is ever present in the air igniting the gases in the process. The result of this very rapid oxidation is smoke which is primarily composed of carbon dioxide and water vapor.
The main thing to understand in the production of smoke is that it is the direct result of the gases released by the heated combustible material interacting violently with oxygen in the air. Smoke also develops further as the leading edge of the flame starts to dissipate into the environment. This reduces the heat given off by the process, slowing down the combustion process. The end result of all of this is one massive smoke because of the volatile gases being slowly released from the combustible material. Since heat has dissipated into the environment, it can no longer sustain rapid oxidation so that smoke particulate matter accumulates at the base of the smoke.
This is where we shall begin our understanding of the need to thoroughly clean smoke damage by focusing next on the dangers associated with smoke.
Danger in Size
In any fire, there are almost always only two very distinct products of the complete oxidation process. These are carbon dioxide and water which effectively make up about 90% of the total chemical mass emitted and highly volatile gases that make up the remaining 10%. It is in this ten percent where majority of the problems associated with smoke lies.
Composed mostly of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and other organic compounds, the highly volatile gases produced in the combustion process that result to smoke can be especially hazardous to human health. Although the amount of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and other organic compounds in the smoke may not reach sufficient levels as to be especially harmful to man’s health, the presence of particulate matter is more than enough threat to be considered.
Particulate matter is primarily composed of very small, often microscopic, solid and or liquid particles. The liquid particles can be in the form of tar, the ash-like substance that can be often seen in remnants of fire damaged articles and or objects. The sizes, shapes, densities, and other physical properties of these particulates greatly differ although all of them are well beyond the capacity of the human naked eye.
The danger in these very small, microscopic particles lies in their diminutive size such that they remain suspended in the air for extended periods of time. Since these microscopic particles remain airborne for an extended length of time, exposure to such particles can lead to various respiratory problems such as difficulty breathing, fatigue and often shortness of breath. These particles are especially troublesome to individuals who may already have breathing difficulties on their own such as those with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases like emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma.
In some research studies, hydrocarbons have been observed in patients who have developed some form of cancers. Although these studies did not specifically singled out smoke from domestic fires as a possible culprit for this observation, the public is made generally aware of its implications in cancer development.
Initiating the Cleanup
Performing the smoke damage cleanup yourself may be a little bit tricky than most homeowners would care to admit. The fact that smoke damage is something that is hardly considered a problem by most homeowners presents an equally challenging task of educating these very same people.
Because smoke is something that dissipates into the environment, becoming invisible in the long run, most homeowners may regard a fire damaged home free from smoke a few days after the fire has been effectively put under control. We have to remember that in the combustion process of fire, fire is composed of flame and smoke, the latter being more stubborn than the former. This is because, even though there are no longer visible flames or smoke, the particulate matter in smoke remain suspended in the air for an indefinite period of time.
This is the reason why every homeowner who has had a fire in his home should initiate measures that will remove smoke from his home. Just make sure that the fire has been under control before you even attempt to perform these simple things. Also, do not forget to make sure that it is safe to go inside the part of the house that was burned.
1. Wear masks around your mouth and nose more as a precautionary measure. This will help prevent any airborne particulate matter from ever reaching your airway passages and into your lungs.
2. Open all windows and doors of your home so that natural environmental air currents will help dissipate the heat off the burned area of the home. Turn on your electric fans or any electrical device that can provide air flow towards the outside of the house.
3. If you see trails of soot in your furniture and other fixtures, be extra cautious in handling them because soot is mostly composed of grime from the oxidative process. These will leave a stain on objects if not removed properly. Blotting soot affected objects with moist sponges is a lot more effective than scrubbing them off the object. Scrubbing can tend to just disperse the soot across the surface of the object rendering it more of a mess than something that is already cleaned up.
4. One of the problems associated with smoke damage is the distinct scent it leaves behind objects. The ‘stink’ literally clings on to objects and surfaces because it is primarily composed of particulate matter suspended in the air. Experts do not advise the application of adversely strong deodorants to mask the distinct odor. What is recommended are some commercially available spray products that can sanitize, disinfect, and deodorize the affected areas without necessarily masking the smoke odor.
Performing these initial do-it-yourself tips can be really tricky such that it is necessary that professional help be sought for a more thorough smoke damage cleanup and restoration.
Send in the Professionals
Professional companies stand a better chance of effectively ridding your home of the long term damaging effects of smoke. By employing the same level of understanding these professionals have about fire damage and how its cleanup and restoration is to be carried out, smoke and smoke damage can also be effectively managed by these professional fire and smoke damage cleanup companies.
1. First off, professional companies perform a series of diagnostic assessment tests to determine for the presence of particulate matter in every nook and cranny of your home. Crevices as well as spaces between wall surfaces and surface partitions are thoroughly examined for the presence of smoke. Various thermal imaging devices are employed just for this purpose alone. The end product of all these diagnostic imaging technology is a clear picture of where smoke is hiding in one’s home.
2. Thermal defogging is then carried out to effectively remove remaining smoke particulate matter. This is especially useful in eliminating smoke particles from crevices and other hidden spaces or areas of the home. This renders the whole structure of the house virtually free from smoke.
3. Once smoke has been effectively removed from one’s home, smoke damage essentials can begin with the affected objects, articles and belongings. Objects that have been damaged by soot are handled carefully so as to retain its original value. Aside from thoroughly cleaning smoke damaged articles and belongings, professionals fire and smoke damage companies will also begin sanitizing and deodorizing the entire house.
4. Completing the task of professional companies will be the restoration of smoke damaged items to their original state. This includes the application of a variety of technologies that are designed to bring back the natural properties of different objects before they were damaged by smoke.
Thus, the importance of thorough smoke damage cleanup by professional companies rests on the adequacy, proficiency, and efficiency of removing the threats associated with smoke.