A restorer’s guide to fixing odours from winter water damage

Winter storms can leave behind more than water damage.

Words by Al Ruggie and Joshua Rudin

Water damage incidents can wreak havoc on homes and businesses, causing structural damage and leaving behind unpleasant odours. Whether from floodwater, sewage backups, or slow-leak mould infestations, addressing odour removal promptly after water damage is crucial for restoring a clean and healthy indoor environment.

Our brains devote considerable energy to remembering odours and aromas. This is important because if you return a customer’s home to them, and it still has a faint smell of whatever disaster befell it, you’ve failed. They know it, and their reluctance to pay the bill will be when you feel it, too!

To avoid this situation and many others, follow proper odour removal protocols and procedures to please customers and benefit your bottom line.

Prompt water removal

The cornerstone of odour control after water damage is swift water removal. Standing water provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and mould, which can emit foul odours as they thrive. 

Mould spores will use the water vapour present in the air itself to grow wherever possible. This means that even if the flood was on the other side of the home, it could still cause an infestation elsewhere if it has been moist enough or has settled in long enough.

Many restorers don’t use this as an opportunity to expand the operation. Instead, they view it as an obstacle to finishing the job at hand. For example, suppose a property with unmitigated water damage is now causing mould in other areas unaffected by the original cause of loss. In that case, this can be a profitable expansion of the project.

Thorough drying

Thorough drying is essential to prevent mould and mildew growth from taking hold once you have removed the water. Mould and mildew are the major sources of persistent musty odours in the home after water damage. Employ industrial fans, air movers, dehumidifiers, heaters, and proper ventilation where appropriate to accelerate the drying process.

Pay special attention to hidden areas such as wall cavities and under flooring where moisture can linger. If moisture accumulates in these areas, it can cause an infestation that even technology won’t easily see. This then becomes the territory of air quality testing, which then turns into a search-and-destroy mission for any errant mould lingering anywhere in the home. This can be avoided by performing proper due diligence at the beginning of the incident.

Cleaning and disinfecting

Cleaning and disinfecting affected surfaces are paramount to not only eliminating odours but also preventing microbial growth. Use disinfectants to sanitise surfaces and remove any remaining contaminants and fungal spores. Scrubbing walls, floors, and furniture with soap and water can also help remove residual odour-causing substances.

For restoration professionals, this step is usually a bridge too far because it isn’t generally cost-effective during the mitigation process. Many companies in the restoration field won’t take on this kind of work because of this fact, but others include it with their services as an add-on that they then charge extra for if a customer opts into it.

Essentially, this is turning a potential problem that a restoration company will likely face the blame for anyway, into an opportunity to increase a project’s profitability. For restoration companies, this may mean taking a more skilled crew off a project and swapping them out with a labor pool that requires less overhead for the service to be profitable, but each market can dictate if this is viable.

Remove damaged materials

Materials such as carpets, insulation, and drywall saturated with water must almost certainly be removed and replaced. These materials have an enormous amount of porous surface area and harbour most of the ingredients that mould needs to thrive.

Preventing mould and musty odours means removing the carpeting and any other porous items affected from the premises to prevent lingering odours from taking hold. These materials trap moisture and the organic matter necessary for mould and fungus to grow rampantly, which causes the offensive smells that restorers are trying to prevent and avoid.

Contents restoration

Many restoration companies use this material proximity damage as another means of extracting the most profitability from a project. Sometimes, people care about the items they place in their property as much as they care about the property itself and, for the enterprising restoration expert, this also presents an opportunity.

If adding a contents restoration service is within the restorer’s technical capacity and skillset, then not offering this service is akin to throwing money down the drain.

Contents removal

Additionally, from the other side of the coin, for those that have the storage capacity, some restorers can take advantage of the content removal aspect of the mitigation process. Not all restorers can provide content service because it tends to require both space and a different skill set from their employees. Still, if this combination is something within range, this is another way that restoration experts can turn a penny on a mitigation project.

Odour neutralisers

After cleaning and drying the affected area, odour-neutralising products will be necessary to eliminate any remaining aromas. In many situations, effectively absorbing and neutralising unpleasant smells can be a line item or an add-on service. Following the existing mitigation and restoration procedures will often be enough to avoid any odour infiltration.

Ensure a thorough restoration

By following these methods for odour control after water damage, you can ensure a thorough restoration and maximise the profitability of any mitigation project in the process.

About the authors:

Al Ruggie is the marketing and business development director for ASAP Restoration LLC. He has a proven record for growing businesses, both large and small, with strategic planning and targeted content that delivers results.

Joshua Rudin owns ASAP Restoration LLC and is a certified restorer. Before opening the doors in 2008, Rudin had been a successful entrepreneur in the restaurant industry, owning and running several thriving locations for over two decades.

This piece was originally published on Cleanfax.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

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