Smoke Damage Restoration
Smoke and soot particles are the visual by-products of incomplete combustion. Combustion is the self-sustaining process of rapid oxidation.
Three elements required for combustion (fire) are fuel, oxygen and heat. One of the components of smoke is carbon.
Fire is the result of this combustion reaction. The two terms fire and combustion are not the same, but sometimes are used interchangeably.
Rapid oxidation is known as combustion, while the slow oxidation that most people are familiar with is called rust. Combustion is rapid oxidation, which produces heat and smoke.
Typically the more kinds of substances involved in combustion, the more complex the odors and residues will become.
What Influences Smoke’s Behavior
There are several factors that influence the behavior of smoke. Understanding these factors will help the restorer understand where odors go and how to remove them. They are as follows:
• Combusion Temperatures
• Air Pressure Changes
Reducing Smoke Odor
Removing smoke odor contamination is always the first step in effective, permanent odor control. Next to establishing safe working conditions, prevention or reduction of smoke odor penetration should always be among the first orders of business when arriving to a Fire damaged structure.
Odors are likely to be pronounced when you first arrive. This is because odors are most apparent when humidity and temperature are elevated which are the typical conditions immediately after a fire has been extinguished.
Smoke can permeate walls and other surfaces and drift through household ducts, where it becomes trapped. If not properly removed, smoke odor will reoccur from time to time, especially during warm or damp weather.
Consult a fire mold removal technician about a process known as “thermal fogging”. This warm chemical fog penetrates your home and walls just as the fire did, neutralizing the smoke odor as it goes.
Smoke Damage Effects
The following is a timeline of the effects of fire damage and smoke on a home.
Within Minutes: Acid soot residues cause plastics to yellow; small appliances located close to the source of combustion to discolor; highly porous materials (marble, alabaster) discolor permanently.
Within Hours: Acid residues stain grout in bathrooms; fiberglass bath fixtures may yellow; uncoated metals tarnish, counter tops may yellow; finishes on appliances, particularly refrigerators, may yellow; furniture finishes may discolor.
Within Days: In time, acid residues cause painted walls to yellow permanently; metal corrodes, pits and rusts; wood furniture requires refinishing; vinyl flooring requires refinishing or replacement; clothing becomes soot stained; upholstery stains permanently.
Within Weeks: Restoration costs escalate tremendously. Synthetic carpet fibers may yellow or discolor permanently; silver plates are corroded permanently; glass, crystal, china may require replacement due to severe etching and pitting caused by prolonged exposure to acid soot residues.
Testing For Smoke Residue
In areas where visual signs are not evident but smoke odors still exist, it will be necessary to test for smoke. It is the adjoining and more distant areas such as spaces inside wall cavities, in basements, attics, and walk-in closets, where a methodical inspection is necessary.
Smoke deposits will likely be found in and on the following areas:
• Cooler Surfaces
• Outside walls of the structure
• Glass surfaces
• Metallic Surfaces
• Surfaces that carry static charges
• HVAC System FIlters
• Inside HVAC sytem ducting
Fire Odor Removal
In every fire damage scenario, some surfaces will become deeply imbedded with soot and smoke odors while others will be less affected.
The high temperatures generated by combustion create expansion of the air, forcing smoke-laden air deep into cracks, crevices and outside walls, glass and metallic fixtures. Metallic surfaces can become magnetized when heated.
Smoke particles, which also carry electrical charges, are attracted to the screw heads and other metallic fasteners used to fix drywall and other materials to a stud wall.
Early Deodorization Process
Early deodorization following a fire and smoke damage situation yields enormous benefits to follow-up cleaning and odor removal procedures conducted later. Early deodorization provides a clear indicator of how effective the fire odor removal procedures are and if more drastic means will be necessary.
Finally, addressing odors used during this phase contain pairing and masking agents or both. A pairing agent joins with the odor to reduce or eliminate the odor, while a masking agent covers up the odor with a stronger, more pleasant scent.
Fire Deodorization Steps
Whenever possible, charred, unsalvageable materials should be removed at the outset of a fire damage restoration job to help eliminate odors and additional soiling. In most smoke odor situations, the best overall system for removal of intense smoke odors requires a combination of techniques and procedures.
The preliminary deodorization process is a multi-step approach. This reduces cross-contamination of smoke residue and aids in the deodorization process. Odor removal should begin in the room or area where the fire originated.
Water Based Deodorant
Water based deodorant is applied to floor surfaces using either a general smoke odor counteractant (with an additional deodorizer if necessary) for natural and synthetic fire sources or a citrus solvent based odor counteractant for protein fire sources. This is performed with a compression sprayer. The purpose of this step is to counteract odorous gasses at the floor level and prevent them from becoming air borne.
Additionally, introduction of a time-release granulated deodorant is applied to the same floor surfaces. These granules, as well as oils, gels or solids impregnated with fragrances that prolong the evaporation of deodorant vapors are classified as masking agents.
This step immediately releases odor counteractants into the area, helping to reduce the intensity of smoke odors. When using this material, special care should be used. Do not place it onto painted or varnished finishes. Care should be exercised not to apply the granules directly onto finished hardwood floors or any other surface, such as marble or stone that may scratch.
The final emergency deodorization procedure utilizes the application of an odor counteractant spray or fog. The theory of thermal fogging is to recreate the conditions that exist during a fire.
A thermal fogger works by emitting a cloud of particles that are similar in composition to smoke particles. The thermal fog particles are designed to neutralize any smoke particles they come in contact with and can penetrate any surface that the smoke can.
Thermal fogging doesn’t take long, and by completion, the home will smell fresh once again. Odor counteractant vapors will continue to work throughout the fire damage restoration project.
Fire Odor Removal Steps
In addition to removing smoke residue, ridding your home of its smoky odor is necessary.
Professionals use this four-step process for fire odor removal:
• Remove the source of the odor, as soon as possible, including unsalvageable debris that contributes to odor generation and recontamination of cleaned and deodorized areas.
• Clean salvageable surfaces and items to physically remove odor causing smoke residue.
• Chase remaining odors with an odor counteractant. In the case of smoke, create a deodorizing fog or gas that seeks out and combines with odor causing substances.
• Seal salvageable surfaces that are inaccessible or slightly scorched, not only for aesthetic purposes, but primarily to encapsulate odor and prevent progressive recontamination.