Red Deer,AB - Best Practices VS Voodoo Science, Cleaning Services
Voodoo science vs. best practice
by Ken Larsen
Don’t you try and push your ‘voodoo science’ on me. This structure just needs a few days, and it will be dry!”While you might not have heard an adjuster or property owner use the actual word “voodoo,” comments similar to this have been uttered by them many times — and, as a result, all restorers suffer.But it should be noted that, sadly, such comments from adjusters and clients are at times warranted.Our industry needs to be able to identify such voodoo science and avoid it or even discredit it.Voodoo scienceWhen a restorer attempts to justify his process through an incorrectly applied science, this is voodoo science.It is worth discussing some of these methods so that we can discredit or even re-educate these voodooists.The main identifying mark of voodoo science is when obvious logic and intuition screams that the science is flawed.‘It looks (or feels) dry to me’One of the least supportable comments commonly heard in the industry is that something looks or feels dry.“Most of the human body is made up of water, H2O, with cells consisting of 65 to 90 percent water by weight.” (Wikipedia). If we are made up mostly of water, how can we “feel” if something is dry or wet?Some would say that they would be able to feel the cool temperature of a material as it was evaporating its moisture.However, such an evaluation is not solidly supportable when critically scrutinized. The temperature of a material may be altered by many causes.Further, it is difficult to document such an evaluation. It is even more absurd to declare something wet or dry based on a visible appraisal.How often has a homeowner been surprised at fungal growth found on or behind their sheetrock and had never seen any visible evidence of elevated moisture in the structure?It happens all the time.Rational people know that you cannot see or feel low levels of moisture in a material.‘My meter stopped beeping’So, obviously the material tested is safe from the possibility of supporting mold growth.Such an assumption may find the restorer in a heap of trouble. This is yet another mold myth.
There is a true science in determining the potential for mold growth, dependent on the species of mold.The electronic mechanisms within a meter are not calibrated with this threshold in mind. To evaluate the quantity of moisture present in a material to support the growth of mold, scientists quantify moisture in an expression of Water Activity (aW). (Water activity or aW is the relative availability of water in a substance.)The converse of the above voodoo statement is also absurd: “My meter is beeping. This house will go moldy!”Such sweeping statements promote hysteria and feed panic. Such an approach to support the restorer’s professional services drives a rift between the person paying for the service and the restorer.Isn’t it obvious that the person paying for the service would be wondering: “Where is the meter’s crystal ball? Isn’t it interesting that a beeping device like his meter can predict the future?”‘The relative humidity (Rh) is lower today’So the structure must be drying.You would think that with the education available to the restorer today, such comments would be a thing of the past.Sadly, there are still those out there who feel that relative humidity measurements accurately declare the effectiveness of the drying strategy.This is a very weak evaluation of the drying environment, and relative humidity measurements have been explained extensively. Rh alone is clearly limited in the information it provides.The topic of relative humidity relevance will take on a new life as the industry begins to regularly incorporate the use of artificially elevated heat in the drying strategy.This will need to be carefully tempered when individuals make claims that the “lower Rh” resulting from the high temperatures pumped into the structures is indicative that the structure will release its trapped moisture faster.Such comments require scrutiny. Stay tuned on this one.Poorly worded explanations of what happens when using heat in a flooded structure may be called voodoo science.‘My drying strategy is effective’Because I have installed each of the components of HAT (humidity, airflow and temperature).There is little doubt that stating that HAT is voodoo science would create uproar within the industry, since tens of thousands of individuals have been taught that these are the tools used by the restorer to dry a water-damaged structure.And, to be sure, HAT is most clearly important for restorer working to dry structures.There is no argument about this. But there a danger behind the blanket statement made above.Humidity control is frequently performed through a tool called a dehumidifier, airflow through a tool called an air-mover, and temperature control through a tool called a thermostat.But do these tools cause water to change state from a liquid to a gas? Or, is the restorer missing the physics behind driving moisture to change state?For the sake of clarity, if you park your car in front of the best quality tool box and tools available, and leave it for there for the evening, does this ensure that your car will be fixed by the morning?
No.It is the expert’s correct application of these tools that produce the results.For the restoration professional, HAT is just the list of tools available for use (See “Wear your HAT”).‘Psychrometry and my ASD process guarantee’That I can dry anything and everything in just three days (or some other arbitrary time limit).Comments of this sort are perhaps the most damaging to the reputation and practice of the restoration industry.It reminds me of a movie, where one entrepreneur envisioned a business opportunity selling video tapes called “6 Minute Abs” to compete with someone selling “7 Minute Abs”.The concept calls into question any man’s rational thinking.You would like to believe the claim, but you know deep down it must be too good to be true. That is an identifying feature of voodoo science.One of the main efforts behind the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) Applied Structural Drying course was to try to educate restorers to avoid such sweeping claims, and to rely on applied and documented science.The course taught the importance of writing inspections and conclusions in a report that demonstrates that the project was in fact completed. There was never any inference in the ASD courses of guaranteed “three-day” drying times and, in fact, most ASD courses demonstrate how even in their perfect classroom environment that three-day drying is a rarity.Further, if three-day drying was “expected” from a competent restorer, wouldn’t such a claim be published in the IICRC S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration?A prudent restorer would recognize that some materials release moisture slowly and would need additional time (for a variety of reasons).Additionally, some materials would be damaged if dried too quickly.Individuals that abide by and advocate the three day rule would do well to have their projects evaluated by an independent moisture inspection specialist.There is little doubt that they would be surprised by the results of such an inspection, and would hopefully halt or retract such comments (See “Voodoo gets around”)Voodoo science preventionFor some doubters in the world, our restoration industry struggles with a poor reputation.This may be the result of an exposure to some poorly communicated science, or even a lack of any science.This is sad since some very comprehensive and advanced science is electronically available to the restoration professional who wishes to be respected as an authority in his/her field.Each of the voodoo science examples mentioned above may be avoided through the correct use of meters, responsible and quantifiable interpretation of the inspector’s findings and application of psychrometric calculations.With today’s science, it is even possible to quantify the forces of the restorer’s drying strategy on wet materials.Best practice and professional respect is developed through a responsible demonstration of applied psychrometry and carefully worded reports. Go to www.steamcleanexpress.ca, "The Most Thorough Cleaning Ever... or it's FREE"