Dry your eyes

Jane Bernstein reviews the pros and cons for damagemanagement fi rms of adopting the latest ‘super heating’technology for drying properties affected by fl oods.

A METHOD OF drying flood-damaged properties that ‘super heats’ buildings is attracting signifi cant interest from damage management fi rms, as well as loss adjusters and insurers. The technique is relatively new to the UK, but is already well known in the US, and has received widespread praise from both sides of the Atlantic, particularly for the speed at which it dries. So, is this set to revolutionise property drying in the UK?

There are already a number of systems emerging in the UK that work by superheating materials to dry them out quickly. One of the newest is Revival’s speed-drying system, which the fi rm says dramatically cuts drying-out time from months to just a few days.

Jim Harrington, technical support manager at Revival, explains that the system utilises heat and air movement, and that the high temperatures attainable encourage moisture evaporation at a far quicker rate than conventional methods. Mr Harrington goes on to say that the system fl ushes the moisture-laden air out from the property through an external outlet, such as a roof light or locked open window.

So why is this system so much faster than more traditional drying methods? “Because of the high temperature, fast air fl ow and the fact that the moisture does not travel through a dehumidifi er as with conventional methods,” says Mr Harrington. Andrew Dear, director of technical services at loss adjuster AMG, compares the process to that of drying washing on a line in hot weather. “The hot air heats up the clothes and the breeze blows the moisture away from it,” he observes.

Super-heating advantages

The Revival system is not the only one on the market to employ a heat-and-air-drying formula. There are a number of variations on the theme of this type of super heating, but what they all seem to have in common is the speed at which they dry a property, particularly in comparison with more established methods such as dehumidifi ers.Mr Dear cites a recent case in which thismethod was used to dry university halls ofresidence, and he is enthusiastic about theresults. He observes: “It was comparablein price to other systems and it dried thebuilding in 18 days, while everyone elsewas quoting at least 42 days.” What issignifi cant for insurers is that this level ofreduction in drying time translates into areal saving in terms of expenses such asloss of income, alternative accommodationand business interruption. As well as thefi nancial implications, it also has an impacton customer service, as, of course, the lesstime spent in temporary offi ce space oraccommodation, the happier the customer.

In addition, Mr Dear says the system can save on the scope of the repair works needed, as there may be no need to strip out skirting boards, door frames or plaster. Shaun Doherty, managing director of ISS Damage Control, agrees there are benefi ts in reducing the scope of work. “It heats the walls so quickly that the plaster does not warp,” he asserts, pointing to a recent case where a property was heated and both the plaster and the carpets were left intact. He reports: “The carpets did not shrink, and neither were there any cracks in the plaster.”

Another useful feature is a remotemonitoring system, which can reduce the need for expensive site visits. Mr Harrington explains how this works for the Revival system in particular: “The system allowsconstant access to the system from any PC.It is web-based and is transmitted in thesame way as a mobile phone signal. Thisenables the engineer to identify changes intemperature and humidity as they happen,and respond if there is interruption to powersupply or mechanical failure.”

Remote monitoring is not a revolutionary concept, and has been applied to other drying systems. However, Mr Harrington argues: “There are variations of monitoring systems used with conventional drying programmes via data-logging equipment. To date, these systems will, on the whole, still require the same amount of site visits for moisture measurements.”

Disadvantages

There is certainly widespread consensus on the advantages of using this type of method, but many industry professionals also point to certain disadvantages. Marketing specialist Michael Cooper of Richfords Fire and Flood, which has used a system based on the super heating principal, points out that the property cannot be occupied while the system is in use, as the air and contents become so hot. However, again, due to the speed of the drying, as Mr Doherty observes, the use of one system over another. PhilipHadley, owner and chairman of BusinessContinuity Network, observes that while theconcept of fl ooding tends to revolve aroundcatastrophe situations, a high percentage ofdrying jobs involve a much smaller-scaleescape of water.

Deciding factors

Bob Spencer, technical manager with Rainbow International, emphasises the importance of assessing a wide variety of factors involved before deciding what equipment to use. He observes: “You have to look at issues such as where the water has come from, what type of building structure it is, what the sub fl oors are and what types of material are present in the building. There are lots of parameters to consider before you even choose a system.”

Despite the praise the new system has attracted, it is not necessarily suitable for every situation or every building material. In fact, many believe it is currently best suited to modern commercial buildings, which tend to be larger, and made of steel and concrete. Some industry insiders advise particular caution when dealing with historic buildings.

Again, however, it depends on where and how a property has been fl ooded, and what materials are involved. According to Mr Hadley, most of the older buildings in the US tend to be made of timber, while in the UK, old buildings are brick, stone and, in some cases, even thatched. Steve Fletcher, surveying services director at Cunningham Lindsay, observes that while it does not have to be ruled out for use on historic properties, certain materials and antiques would not respond well to rapid drying.

However, it is not just the newer heatbased systems that can cause problems for older buildings, and many advise caution on any type of forced drying for historic properties. Ian Wainwright, group chief surveyor for Ecclesiastical, observes: “As a society, we are very impatient, and there has been a huge groundswell to dry buildings as quickly as possible. But with historic properties, if you dry them out too quickly, it can have a detrimental effect.”

He emphasises that this can be true of any drying system, and points out that antiques dealers often tend to disapprove even of central heating because of its effect on antique furniture. “In some situations, depending on the time of year and on the amount of wetting, good ventilation and heat really is the most effective way, rather than trying to force it,” he concludes.

The message from many damagemanagement experts is that speed drying is a vital tool in the armoury, but that it is not completely going to replace other systems currently available. “It’s horses for courses,” asserts Mr Hadley, who agrees that it is an important tool, but does not foresee ittaking over the drying market in the UK.Mr Spencer supports this: “You can drybuildings incorrectly and cause problemslater on so it is vital to choose the rightsystem for the right job.”Whether or not it revolutionises the UKdrying market, there is no doubt that thistype of drying is a signifi cant innovation.Mr Cooper explains that the industryis continuously progressing, and thatcompanies are constantly improving onsystems and processes, but that, “systemslike this are a real innovation”.Mr Fletcher agrees: “Something like thisdoesn’t crop up all that often. It is one of thebetter innovations to have emerged. You getinnovations in process, but this is using newtechnology and it is a good new development.This innovation has taken restoration toanother step, but the important thing to noteis when to use it.”

Wider issues

The damage-management industry appears very well aware of the need for continuing development, and research is constantly underway to improve established systems and create new techniques. Anne Bing, head of property claims supply at Zurich, comments: “All the major fi re and fl ood companies are at the cutting edge of technology available in this market. Some of our suppliers have even developed their own technology rather than rely on bought-in products, and can be considered truly innovative.”

There is no doubt that these constant developments are to be welcomed by the insurance industry, particularly where they help to contain costs and speed up the restoration process. However, Tony Boobier, vice-president, international solutions for Marshall and Swift/Boeckh, believes this should be put in the context of wider industry issues. In particular, he points to problems inherent in handling the claims process as a series of components. He explains: “Innovation and new processes are to be encouraged, but the key factor in improving claims spend and customer experience is not just a better drying process, but a more effi cient claims process.” He adds: “It doesn’t make an ounce of difference if the drying time is reduced if there’s still a delay in the builder arriving on site.”

On a more optimistic note, damage management companies report that insurers are generally keen to investigate new drying methods and are proving that they are not opposed to change. The good news is that the latest innovation in speed drying has been widely welcomed as a good tool in the armoury, which, when used in the right circumstances, will reduce claims costs and improve customer service.

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