The Property Management Checklist for Repairing Fire-Damaged Apartment Units
On every owner and manager’s top ten list of “property management nightmares” is watching fire trucks roll up to a building engulfed in flames. Same is true for the small kitchen grease fire. No apartment fire is welcomed, no matter what size it is.
But once the fire is doused, another possible item on the nightmare list is the time and expense required to clean up and rebuild the burned or smoke-damaged units.
There is a significant amount of cleanup that goes with the remediation. Obviously, a burned or partially destroyed unit will require rebuilding, and that can take weeks, even months. Smoke damage to walls, flooring, fixtures and build-ins like cabinets and book cases, on the other hand, can be remediated usually within a few days.
If you have the misfortune of needing to remediate one or several of your apartment units, here’s a high-level checklist to follow to help ensure successful repairs and restoration that leaves residents and property managers happy.
Communicate, Coordinate, and Have Some Patience
Everybody wants the remediation process completed as soon as possible. That’s why it’s extremely important that property managers communicate with and coordinate between everyone involved in the restoration process from the very beginning. In a perfect world, the insurance agent, property owner, and resident would work together with a remediation specialist to ensure there are no lingering effects once the unit is cleaned.
But that’s not always the case. Typically, the remediation specialist is called out to the property to begin cleanup before the insurance adjustor arrives, potentially limiting the effectiveness of the cleanup. For example, smoke-filled furnishings may be covered and moved aside within the apartment while the remediation is done. Once uncovered, smoke odors will remain until the furnishings are cleaned.
Communication, coordination, and lots of patience will show everybody that you have their best interests in mind.
Clean the Walls, Cabinets, and Fixtures
Smoke is almost like grease and needs to be physically removed from surfaces like walls, cabinets, and fixtures. If smoke damage is minimal, chemical sponges can be used to wipe down surfaces and remove soot. A wall with recent and adequate paint, for example, usually can be restored with a simple wipe-down. However, more extensive damage will require repainting or staining with a commercial oil-based stain or paint that blocks odor on a variety of surfaces, including concrete.
Clean the Carpets
If the carpet and padding are savable, they will have to be cleaned after a fire, and there are a number of cleaning agents available (including organic or green) to do the job. For severe smoke odor, the carpet and pad will have to be replaced. for moderate to mild damage, the carpets can be cleaned with normal green cleaning methods. A burned carpet needs to be replaced.
Clean the Air
While much of the smell can be removed by wiping walls and cleaning carpets, residual odor often will be left behind. For that, there are treatments available to thoroughly deodorize the unit. Ozone generators and thermal fogging are effective techniques for removing odors from a smoke-filled apartment and usually can be done in 24 hours or less. Depending on the severity of the damage, either treatment option – or both – will usually do the job.
Ozone generators are machines that emit ozone gas (O3) that attack odor on the molecular level—effectively eliminating odors from not just the air but walls, carpets, cabinets, and fixtures. The machine is plugged in and placed near a return vent for the unit’s heating and cooling system. The fan pushes ozone into the system’s ductwork and throughout the apartment for at least 24 hours.
Thermal fogging is a six-hour chemical counteractive using solvent-based product that attacks carbon-based odors, like those from cigarettes, charred food, and fires. The chemical is thermally fogged throughout the entire unit and looks and acts a lot like smoke.
Because both treatments are toxic, special care needs to be taken when a unit is being remediated. Plants, animals and humans cannot be present during application, and the unit must be aired out for at least 15-20 minutes before being returned to use.
Ozone and thermal fogging treatments are usually necessary even if walls, cabinets, fixtures and carpets are cleaned or replaced.
When a fire disaster strikes, a property manager’s best solution is to follow this checklist and work closely with a fire and smoke remediation specialists to return the damaged unit to a functioning asset.