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Floods, Fires, HVAC and Restoration – Everything a Contractor Should Know

Posted on February 22, 2022
by Vinay Panday

Whenever there is a flood or fire, HVAC equipment is often damaged from smoke or exposure to water. Dealing with this requires the contractor to use a sub-contractor for the HVAC. Insurance companies get nervous when this happens because they often do not have relationships with the sub-contractors. Consolidation in the industry could change this.

An increase in flooding and fire over the last decade has increased the demand for restoration services. Things like replacing drywall or ceilings are common. However, there are difficulties because HVAC systems often get damaged. When there is water or smoke damage with duct work, blowers, or coils, it often requires a specialized skill set that is beyond the grasp of general restoration contractors. Because most of this is paid for by insurance providers, they want someone that they know will do a good job and not let the damage go out of control. Essentially, the insurance company has their preferred contractor, and this contractor is responsible for finding an HVAC subcontractor. This is not always easy.

When the levy breaks
When an HVAC system is exposed to standing water there will be concerns about mold growth. Because the HVAC ducts tend to be warm, the minute there is moisture there will be ideal conditions for mold growth. This is not good because it potentially contaminates the air for the occupants and puts a strain on the furnace filters. Another concern is the reduced R value of surrounding insulation. When insulation gets wet it loses its heat retaining properties. There are many building contractors that can remediate the mold and replace damaged insulation, but the real issue that requires a third party specialist is the damage done to the electrical circuits and moving parts.

Most water contains dissolved solids (i.e. sodium, calcium, magnesium). These minerals are often left behind when the water evaporates. The minerals then become hardened and will adhere to electrical circuits, affecting their conductivity of electricity. A classic example of this would be when an air conditioner will not function after water damage – air conditioners use electricity to cool the refrigerant liquids that keep the air cold. The reality is that sometimes it is only one electrical circuit in the HVAC that needs replacing, and sometimes it is multiple ones. Usually there are semiconductor parts that must be ordered from an authorized dealer.

Another problem is what can happen to blower motors when they sustain water damage. As expected, the dissolved solids in the water cause similar connectivity problems for the electrical components of the motors. Also, there can be corrosion of the housing and brushes. These parts require special procurement from a dealer.

Corrosive resistance is often associated with both fire and flood damage. Excessive moisture or smoke particulate buildup can cause the ducts to corrode. When this happens, it impedes airflow and degrades the air quality. In theory, these corrosive effects can occur on anything metallic in the system (i.e. fan blades, heat exchangers, coils). The best anti-corrosion remedies will depend on the type of steel used, whether or not it is coated with anything and the gauge of the steel. These things are best left to be determined by an HVAC expert.

The power of collaboration
The fact that HVAC and restoration contractors are often hired as two autonomous parties creates inefficiencies. Suppose there is a flood in somebody’s home. Floorboards and ceiling drywall may need replacing. If there is wall insulation that needs replacing, and the ducts within the walls are damaged, the restoration crew might have some limited expertise on how to deal with wet ductwork, but they may not be able to replace any of it. If it takes 10 days for the HVAC crew to deal with the ductwork and replace the parts (i.e. AC electrical, blower motors), this is very expensive for the insurance provider. If home itself cannot be occupied during repairs, there are re-location costs.
Another issue is that best practices can come into conflict. Maybe the restoration crew floods the ductwork with insulation dust when removing the wet materials, and then the dust gets into the blower motor housing. The minute the AC is turned back on, the dust will put the motors at risk of failure.

All of this is pointing in a direction where collaboration, or even consolidation, of the two types of contractors will lead to better outcomes. While general restoration and HVAC repair are two distinct skill sets, the high incidence of overlap means that there are opportunities for greater profits if they work as one team. A firm that does restoration and HVAC repair simultaneously could charge a premium to an insurance provider and the insurance provider would still likely face lower costs due to the elimination of the third party. There would also be great potential for scaling the enterprise. As more efficient techniques of simultaneous restoration are developed, it could be that the training of crew members becomes more efficient, which would set the stage for a greater volume of jobs to be completed.

One barrier to entry would be the threat of regulatory hurdles. Both types of contractors are subject to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHAS) regulations, but reputable HVAC contractors often use guidelines from the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA). A general restoration contractor may have been cleaning air ducts for many years when there was a job that needed it, but never even knew that there was an air duct cleaner’s association. It could be that insurance companies may demand that anyone claiming to provide simultaneous restoration services be recognized by the NADCA, as a means of weeding out unreliable providers. Of course, the problem with this is that not everyone has access to the right kind of expertise needed to navigate this.

Whether you are a small crew of five workers or a large outfit, there are opportunities for collaboration with the right firms. In the long run, the companies that win tend to be the ones that are constantly adapting to meet changing needs. Every great idea starts with a conversation. Airtek Indoor Air Solutions works with Restoration Contractors to help restore the property or facility to proper indoor air quality in the advent of disastrous occurrence. Request a Quote today!

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