Post-Disaster Remediation: What Property Owners Need to Know


The U.S. has faced a devastating amount of destruction due to natural disasters within just the past six months. Naturally, initial rescue efforts and support of local individuals and families is the top priority in these situations. Shortly thereafter, however, the most pressing area of focus is rebuilding lost and damaged structures in order to begin restoring communities.

Sometimes, the extent of property damage after these events is not immediately apparent. This is especially the case following hurricanes and other disasters involving flooding, since water damage can lurk beneath the surface and spread gradually, causing structural harm and mold growth.

That said, there are methods available to property owners to identify where moisture remains and how it is best remedied from a safety and cost standpoint. These methods vary based on the extent of water intrusion and the types of building materials that have been affected.

Property owners who set aside time and capital for comprehensive moisture damage evaluations, and subsequently implement remediation plans quickly, will save long-term costs and protect the future of their property investments.

Moisture mapping can be a critical capital planning tool

Because water can substantially affect a property’s foundation, moisture mapping is a critical assessment for structures (as well as the soil surrounding these structures or at a development site) following flooding. This mapping must be completed in order to strategically repair and remediate damages.

The moisture mapping process identifies and diagrams the areas affected by water and serves as a guide to determine how each area will be remedied. This assessment aids in locating water-damaged materials, and also helps to identify the source of continuous structural damage, such as water seeping through roofs, windows or other seams, and penetrations to a building that has had storm or flood damage.

Further, the moisture mapping process can locate where mold growth has already begun, and where it is most likely to spread based on the types of materials affected, as well as the local climate. For instance, in humid climates mold growth occurs rapidly on sheet rock and wood or paper products, so moisture or water damage on these materials must be dealt with immediately to reduce the likelihood of mold growth. These materials tend to be more vulnerable, however glass, vinyl and natural metals are typically stronger and not a good source for mold growth or water absorption.

As an example, we recently performed moisture mapping of over 100 large commercial and residential buildings throughout Florida in response to Hurricane Irma.

Our technicians utilized moisture meters and thermal imaging equipment to identify areas within the buildings that required additional drying time, full removal and/or mold remediation. We then prioritized each work area and prepared remediation plans that would remove identified hazards, alleviate indoor health problems and minimize the legal liability of building owners from occupants.

While moisture is being assessed and mapped, this process can also locate where asbestos testing is required due to structural damage, prior to disturbance. Water intrusion caused by storms or flooding often causes electrical issues which require inspection or repair during the evaluation and remediation process.

Beyond mold, many industrial properties face a risk of chemicals being released in flooding situations. This happens often when tanks are impacted or below-grade-level areas become submerged, and these scenarios cause issues beyond just asset damage.

Comprehensive moisture mapping and related services following hurricanes and other flooding that affect commercial properties can be a critical capital planning tool, identifying where and when money is best spent to ensure health, safety, and protection of real estate investments. 

Go beyond required regulations to ensure protection

In the immediate aftermath of flooding due to large-scale disasters, local and state governments often relax the usual regulations due to a sheer lack of available resources and manpower and the need to focus on immediate threats.

For example, following the recent hurricanes in Texas, mold inspection regulations were relaxed in the damaged areas because there were simply not enough licensed people to perform the work in a timely fashion. This allowed for skilled workers who may come from other states to assist during this fast-paced inspection and clean-up process. The state did maintain its licensing and notification process requirements for mold remediation and remediation clearance testing during this timeframe to ensure the proper and safe completion of mold-related remediation projects.

This is not to say the damage can be ignored altogether, or that owners should only execute the bare minimum in assessment and remediation efforts. While certain repairs can be postponed to a later date, it is vital that properties undergo a full inspection as soon as safely possible.

Many owners of large commercial facilities look at moisture mapping as something they must do to satisfy insurance companies, and sometimes they view the implementation of remediation and reconstruction as secondary priorities.

The truth is, there are serious consequences to ignoring possible water damage.

Mold growth can occur within just 24 hours in standing water and can be especially threatening in humid regions. If left untreated, mold growth can lead to further complications within the structure of a property and can also cause serious health issues—all of which can be tremendously harmful to occupants, and to property value.

Long-term water damage, in particular, can lead to major complications down the road if it is left untreated. Water can warp the wood in a framework and eventually threaten the structural integrity of a building. It also degrades metal over time, gradually causing it to rust.

The problem—and why many owners think that meeting the bare minimum requirements will ensure their property is safe—is that not all water damage is evident. Water can seep into areas that owners might not be aware of immediately. This hidden damage can easily go unnoticed and untreated if owners are not proactive about investigating sometimes hard to reach or normally inaccessible areas like hard enclosures, sealed walls and under flooring materials. This is when it is especially crucial to seek additional consulting. Thermal imaging cameras can be a vital tool used to investigate areas that are sealed to determine where water has traveled within the building.

Comprehensive solutions are available to property owners

Repairing the various forms of destruction following hurricanes, storms and other disasters that lead to flooding involves comprehensive assessments that can then require several separate services to remediate all damages.

This can become a strenuous process for property owners at an already stressful time. Any one disaster can lead to the need for as many as a dozen specialist services at a property, with issues ranging from water damage and mold growth to electrical repairs/installation, repairs to foundations and structure, roof repairs, window repairs and resealing, chemical leaks, to possible asbestos damage/exposure, etc.

The good news for property owners is that there are consulting service companies that can act as a single point of contact for these assessments. A firm that performs assessments and offers comprehensive capital planning, while also coordinating with plumbers, electricians and other service providers, will take some weight off owners’ shoulders.

By identifying and remediating all issues and potential problems beyond what government and insurance regulations mandate, owners can stay ahead of the game and protect their property investments for decades to come. 

Tim Woodward serves as vice president, and national director of industrial hygiene at AEI Consultants, an international consulting firm that provides comprehensive services to commercial lenders, property owners, managers, tenants, and developers.

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