In 2002, water and mold damage cost insurance companies USD 2.5 billion with individual water damage insurance claims pegged at USD 4,925, on the average. Thirty seven percent of American homeowners have also been on the receiving end of losses due to water damage. One of the most costly losses included water damaged documents, print media, and photographic media that all required costly yet effective document drying and document restoration services.
Whether these document drying processes merit every dollar spent in providing solution to the many problems posed by water damage is a matter of personal opinion than a proven fact. Because the value of a process is inherently congruent to the value placed by the person on such process, it becomes apparent that in order for us to clearly understand the implications of these services, we need to make sense of the various processes involved in document drying and document restoration.
The Nature of Water Damage
According to a recent survey among American households, water damage accounted for over one fifth of all insurance claims. Water industry experts also estimated that an eighth of an inch crack in a water pipe can significantly translate into 250 gallons of water daily. A small water pipe leak well within a wall or beneath it can continuously leak for several months without detection. These data all present water damage as a household phenomenon that should be addressed immediately in order to help conserve energy, water, and of course, money. In today’s economically troubling times, it is difficult not to make the latter the prime motive for such an endeavor.
Water can essentially damage a host of items made up mostly of organic materials like wood and paper. Paper, more importantly, is more prone to extensive water damage because it is essentially composed of dried out moist fibers that were derived from wood, rags, grasses, and other organic materials. When water is reintroduced such as in water damage, the chemical chains between the different molecules of the paper become partly hydrated such that they lose their distinct form. This is the reason why it is a lot easier to tear off a damp page than a dry one.
What is crucial at this point is the realization that the extent of water damage in any type of paper is directly related to the length of time the paper is exposed to or in contact with water or moisture. This assumption is generally held by professional companies that offer a variety of document drying and document restoration services. Thus, they often perform crucial document drying activities that arrest the water damage process and reverse its effects in the hope that the whole document can be restored to its pre-water damage state.
Document Drying and Restoration at the Professional Level
To date, there are a variety of methods used in drying wet documents and restoring them to their old and natural state. Perhaps what is essential to understand is that these processes involve the extensive use of technology to effect the desired outcome.
* Freeze drying is one of the most sought after document drying and document restoration process. Much like freeze-drying food items and other biological, freeze drying water damaged documents effectively arrests the water damage and “freezes” the process in such a way that the document can be safely handled, transported, and managed. It involves the freezing of the entire document turning water and moisture into the solid form of water which is ice. The document is then vacuumed in order to draw out the frozen water or moisture into its gaseous phase without necessarily turning first into its liquid state, a process called sublimation.
Freeze drying comes in two distinct phases – a primary unbound water removal and a secondary bound water removal. In primary freeze drying, pressure is significantly lowered through partial vacuum and the damp document is subjected to enough heat to sublimate the water. About 95% of the water content in the damp document is sublimated in a very slow process, often requiring several days because of the sensitive nature of heat application. Applying too much heat can lead to permanent alterations in the document paper’s structure.
In the secondary freeze drying process, the remaining five percent of unfrozen water molecules is removed by raising the temperature in order to break any physical and chemical interactions that have been developed during the primary phase between water molecules and the frozen document. Just before the document is sealed for handling and final restoration, the vacuum is terminated leaving behind a document that has moisture content of about one to four percent.
Because of the length of time required to completely dry water damaged documents as well as the technology-intensive processes involved, freeze drying methods are simply the most expensive in document restoration. They are nonetheless unparalleled in the degree to which water damaged documents and other media can be restored to almost 100% the original.
* Whereas in freeze drying heat is used to a bare minimum, the thermal drying approach utilizes the full powers of heat in evaporating water molecules off a wet material such as a wet or soaked document. Direct thermal drying involves the exposure of the water damaged document to a stream of hot air or gas in order to allow evaporation of water molecules to take place.
In the indirect thermal drying method, heating the water damaged document is achieved by the application of a stream of hot air or gas. However, the drying process is hastened by allowing the water damaged document to come in contact with the heated metal. The resulting conductive heat-transfer process aids in the evaporative processes of the direct thermal drying method.
Although this method is extensively used in the treatment and management of a variety of wet and moist materials, its ability to reduce water content by 90% can hardly compare to that of the freeze drying method’s 96% to 99%. Still, because it has been relatively used for quite some time now and that the technology involved is not so extensive as that of freeze drying, thermal drying of water damaged documents may be a better alternative to the costly method of freeze drying.
* Vacuum drying is more commonly indicated for materials that are very sensitive to extreme heat. Vacuum drying prevents the oxidation between and among the different molecules that make up a particular substance by removing moisture from the chemical equation. Because moisture is removed through a relatively low pressure gradient and at low temperatures, the quality of the material is regained even after sustaining extensive water damage. This also allows for the faster drying times of such water damaged items and materials.
When combined with freeze drying methods, vacuum drying can significantly shave off a few hours in the overall freeze drying process. However, when used alone, the vacuum drying process can have a significantly lower potential for complete water removal compared to freeze drying. Nonetheless, its ability to remove water molecules will be significantly greater than thermal drying.
* Forced-air drying involves the use of low temperature forced air circulation to allow for up to 80% of water and moisture removal. This method of document drying and document restoration involves two heat transfer processes – evaporation and convection. Water damaged documents are often placed under direct exposure to dry light bulbs with a temperature of 70oF to 110oF. At the same time, the water damaged item is also exposed to dry heated air currents at a rate of five to ten feet per second.
This drying method is the cheapest and can be easily installed in one’s home. The components can be sourced from one’s local hardware or even a grocery store while the principles are relatively easy to understand. What makes this document drying method a not-so-preferred method is its relative inefficiency in removing all the water content in the damp material. Compared to the other three methods’ 90% and above water removal rate, forced-air drying’s 80% nonetheless offer a viable alternative especially to the cash-strapped American homeowner of these times.
Making Sense of it All and What You can Do About It
Being aware of the various document drying methods is one thing, doing actively about your water damaged documents is an entirely different matter. If costs are the primary considerations precluding you from seeking professional document restoration assistance, then perhaps developing your own document drying method is a good idea.
1. You can use ordinary household appliances like hair dryers and electric fans to facilitate the removal of water molecules and moisture through the process of evaporation and convection. Just make sure that the individual pages have been carefully segregated and that you perform this in a large room of your house.
2. In some cases like paper bills, you can try drying them through a flat iron in its lowest settings. There are some paper materials that can withstand extreme heat such that you can dry them up using these appliances.
3. Unless you know the composition of the paper, it is generally not advisable to dry documents under the direct heat of the sun. There simply is no way to control the temperature of UV radiation such that the molecular composition of the paper can get “fried” in the process leaving it with a crumpled or wrinkled appearance. It is best to dry them under the shade and allow natural warm air currents to lift off the moisture.
4. Use dehumidifiers to eliminate moisture off these documents that need thorough drying.
Making sense of document drying and document restoration services entails deep understanding of both the nature of paper and the technology needed to arrest water damage to the paper. Without such understanding, losses due to unmanaged water damage will continue.