Spate of burst pipes keeps cleanup crews busy

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Burst water pipes caused by prolonged low temperatures have led to another busy season for Christopher Sanford and others faced with cleaning up and restoring buildings affected by water damage.

“If we get a few days in the teens and single digits, pipes exposed are prone to freeze and burst, and they don’t show until they thaw,” said Sanford, local franchise owner of PuroClean.

Older buildings are the most at risk, as they may be less maintained an insulated. Sanford says that this cold snap has been as severe as the 2016-2017 season, meaning four to five times the normal volume of clients left with damaged homes needing severe water removal service.

The Lake Shore Drive apartment complex is among buildings that have been affected. On January 8, a sprinkler in the top floor of the complex froze, and then ruptured, leaking water down to the basement.

“It was raining in my apartment,” said one resident, who requested to remain anonymous. Water was leaking through her walls, coming from the ceiling, and soaking through all of the carpet. A majority of her belongings were affected.

“I opened my cabinets and there was this much water in them,” she said as she motioned about 2 inches with her fingers.

“It was easily a few thousand gallons of water,” said Chris Bajakian, a claims specialist for PuroClean. Bajakian was dispatched to the scene two hours after the initial flood around 11 a.m., where he and a team of cleaners began to remove water from the building and replace sections of the damaged pipes once the water was shut off and the power turned back on. The process involved the fire department and the Electric Company as well. “Teams were there until around 9:30 [p.m.]” he said.

The process involves precise communication and timing between everyone involved to make sure the cleanup is being handled properly, according to Bajakian. “Unexpected things come up, and we have to make decisions in the moment,” he said.

Bajakian described a variety of tools used to remove water from the building, including water claws, squeegee wands, ride on portable water extractors, and a truck mounted extractor. They also established a containment area for protection against hazardous particulates to residents.

After the water was removed, the team placed high capacity air movers (HCAMs) around the effected areas, over 10 in just one apartment. These HCAMs are capable of moving twice as much air while using less power than normal dehumidifiers, according to Bajakian. They also placed low-grade refrigerants (LGRs), which have the capability of dehumidifying 110 pints of water every 24 hours with just one large unit. They were positioned strategically around the apartments to maximize effectiveness.

On January 11th, the problem continued for residents. Cracked paint and clear leak spots were scattered across the walls and ceilings. Lighting fixtures dangled where water leaked through. “These fixtures are going to have to be replaced,” said Jonathan Pratt, co-owner of the Lake Shore apartment complex.

The walls, ceilings and floors still retained moisture. Bajakian made adjustments to the LGRs and HCAMs.

“The drying equipment is used to stabilize the situation and inhibit mold growth,” he explained. It was imperative that the moisture be eliminated before mold began to grow, which could lead to more problems down the line.

Bajakian took comparison moisture readings from affected and unaffected areas, to make sure the dehumidifiers were working properly. He described a technique called “focused drying,” which involved putting plastic over hardwood floors so that warm, dry air was directed towards the wet flooring in order to pull the moisture out. He described a similar approach to the walls: “If we can open up one side of the wall, we can get air moving through it.”

According to Sanford, the process for removing water from damaged houses can be quite lengthy depending on the severity – taking out wet insulation, carpeting, drywall, then starting the rebuilding process. Sanford adds that pressure from insurance companies for the cost of repairs adds another layer of complications during the process. In this case, each tenant in the apartment complex has his or her own insurance that PuroClean must work with to provide a cost for repair.

Some buildings can take a couple of weeks to fully dry, dehumidify and repair. Others can take between 6 to 12 months depending on the extent of the damage.

Bajakian estimated the full cleanup would take around two weeks, or 10 business days. Residents in two of the 14 apartments were faced with moving out while the restoration process took place. With the addition of replacing drywall and damaged structure, Bajakian said it could be months before they are able to move back in.

“It’s just aggravation,” said Pratt.

Sanford provides advice for homeowners over the winter months. “We see volume is more residential, because people aren’t as aware of the problems going on.” Homeowners leaving for extended periods of time are advised to take precautionary measures to ensure no damage will come from the freezing weather. “Have someone check on your house periodically, especially below 20 degrees,” says Sanford. “If you’re leaving for the winter, make sure to winterize.” He suggests Nest Thermostats for people away from their homes, which connect a thermostat to Wi-Fi, allowing the homeowner to monitor and control the temperature from their smartphone.

“I encourage people not to drop their guard, even if they’ve been safe so far,” said Sanford.

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