Updated: Jan 26
No one person or academic institution can teach engineers everything they need to know to assess smoke damage following a fire. Sure, they give us the basics but to be truly knowledgeable in this field, you have to roll up your sleeves and be willing to get your hands dirty investigating countless restoration projects to become truly proficient
Personally, I been involved in hundreds of projects to determine the cause and scope of the damage and what I still enjoy most is that I learn something new every time.
When I first started working on restoration projects, the thing that surprised me most was not the damage from the heat – melted equipment, duct work and electrical wiring – no, the thing that took me most by surprise was soot and how widespread its damage can be, along with the risk it brings after a fire.
The combustion process releases smoke which settles on surfaces and enters equipment as soot. Heat from the fire causes the air in the area to expand, pressurizing the room in which the fire occurs, and pushing soot into conduits and inside mechanical and electrical equipment. Mechanical air systems further add to the damage by moving the soot laden air around the building through ventilation systems.
Soot is a contaminant that must be dealt in a methodical way because it is both abrasive & corrosive – impeding moving equipment components – and can cause potential damage.
Soot can be electrically conductive, resulting in the potential for discharge or short circuit causing further equipment damage or worse, have to potential to start another fire. It is especially important that mechanical air distribution systems are soot free at the conclusion of our work due to obvious health issues associated with ventilation systems harbouring soot contamination.
And perhaps most seriously, smoke and soot present health hazards because of contaminants and odours – both of which can be challenging to remove.
The knowledge comes from years of experience spanning hundreds restoration projects.
Soot isn’t the only damaging factor to mechanical and electrical systems. Water damage from extinguishing a fire, pipe leaks or internal or external floods can cause extreme damage also.
During a leak or flood, water moves both horizontally across the affected floor and vertically down through the building. Each time this vertical movement of water meets another horizontal surface, the water damage again spreads horizontally, creating a three-dimensional cone shaped area of damage and increasing the damage to floors below the original leak or flood.
Even clean water and moisture can directly damage mechanical and electrical equipment and distribution systems as the water picks up contaminants as it spreads through the building. We need to be vigilant as these contaminants can be conductive resulting in damage to mechanical and electrical systems and building fabric.
For water damage, we use the same approach as in a fire restoration project, working closely with restoration contractors to methodically determine the scope of work required.
Restoration after catastrophic events such as fire, smoke or flood requires us to roll up our sleeves and work closely with all of the project’s parties.
CHALLENGES & SOLUTIONS
After fires and floods, as a restoration team, it is important that we act fast particularly in the winter months when electrical and mechanical systems need to be restored to prevent further damage due to freezing.
Our work includes providing temporary power and heating systems immediately following the disaster. This can present a challenge as much of the equipment we need has lead times of months – not hours.
How do we meet the needs of our clients? We maintain strong working relationships with suppliers, contractors and rental companies working collaboratively to provide temporary heating systems and rental diesel-powered generators and heating systems. Although these systems are temporary, we must still comply with design standards and codes just as we do with a new construction project.
When we assess damage of a building to determine the scope for restoration we look for clues. Discussions with first responders, insurance companies & loss adjusters as well as building owners are invaluable in determining how fire or water spread through a building and where moisture or smoke may have travelled.
We look for signs of smoke and soot. Our team has become skilled at determining the difference between smoke and dust deposits, but on occasion we send a swab sample to the lab just to be sure.
Water stains are also useful indicators of damage. Like following a trail on a map, we can trace the movement of water to better understand the building and the damage to the mechanical and electrical systems.
As we move through a building assessing the water damage, we look for the depth of water as revealed by water marks using this to determine the water level in adjacent rooms. From this, we can assess the potential for damage in rooms where the water marks may not be entirely visible and is especially useful when we are brought in later in the restoration process.
Once the extent of damage is understood, we move to determine the cost of cleaning versus replacement. Again, experience in this type of work is invaluable as we compare our professional opinion with those of the restoration contractor. Together, we assess the risks of possible solutions and sometimes combining several solutions in order to balance risk.
For example, a simple building component like a circuit breaker requires replacement when exposed to smoke damage. Utilizing our experience we can determine the risk of re-using the breaker on a temporary basis while a new one is delivered.
…we need to consider the occupants - which often means thinking on our feet in order to restore services so that people have their basic needs met.
It is hard to avoid being affected by the personal cost following a disaster such as a fire or a flood. Fires or floods in apartment complexes or hospitals impact people and often result in their displacement. In these cases, we need to consider the occupants which often means thinking on our feet in order to restore services so that people have their basic needs met. Our priority is always the safety of the occupants, but we want to work quickly to reduce the disruption especially when occupants have to be displaced.
In order to ensure remediation happens as efficiently and safely as possible, our scope of work documents include line-by-line descriptions to guide contractors in completing the work and to satisfy the building inspectors. When more information is needed, we create test procedures to establish if the equipment can safely be returned to service.
Involvement in post disaster restoration work enables us to determine the impact of fire, smoke and water to a building system. This understanding of what causes failure and its impact helps us to improve our designs which directly benefits all of our projects.
Keeping in mind causes of failure and poor design decisions, guides us on even the subtlest of design elements like fire stopping, smoke sealing or location mechanical and electrical equipment and helps to reduce the impact that failure can have within a building.
Restoration after catastrophic events such as fire, smoke or flood requires us to roll up our sleeves and work collaboratively and learn from the experience. The solutions are always a team effort and usually require us to get our hands dirty, which keeps us all engaged in the process.
Should you need assistance with restoration after a fire or flood we're here to help. Here's how to contact us.