Selecting the Proper Drying Equipment for Commercial Restoration
August 18, 2009
In May we looked at the different players in the commercial market. This time we will delve into the twisted and somewhat misunderstood world of equipment. Many restorers still use the “WOT” method of equipment selection, as in “Whatever’s On the Truck.”
I want you now to consider the “WHAT” method, as in “Whatever the Project Requires.” Have you ever lost a bid when you were sure you charged less per day for air movers or labor than anyone else? You may have thought someone had the inside track and maybe so, but most likely you lost the bid on the total bottom line, not on just the bid price.
As we discussed, it is the occupant that pays rent to the owner, who then pays the bank and insurance. So if we keep the tenants happy, we have a better chance of keeping everyone pleased. A successful selection of equipment and deployment depends on the parameters of the job not what you have on hand.
So what are the parameters? How do I get to the total bottom line? Once again, Zig Zigler says it the best: “You can get what you want if you just help enough of the right people get what they want.”
We now know who the right people are; we just need to provide them with a finished project with as little cost and interruption to their services as possible. This is what they want.
Imagine a disaster has just struck your business: fire, flood, earthquake, tornado or maybe like me by a little hurricane called Katrina. After making sure everyone is safe, what are your concerns about your business? Can I stay open? Can I get supplies from my vendors? How long will it take to get the place back together? How are we going to pay for it all?
Our job is to help answer these questions and provide the best overall solution. This is Bottom Line Drying. What we need to do is combine these concerns and needs with equipment available on the market to produce the best result. The fundamentals of drying dictate that adding energy (heat) to a material while passing the driest available air over its porous surface will invoke evaporation of unwanted moisture from the material and thus the building itself. We call it HAT (Humidity, Airflow and Temperature).
(I like “HATE” better. The E stands for Evaporation, but I don’t want to be the one called out for preaching hate in this day and age. But it is probably OK to HATE water – it doesn’t have much of a lobby in Washington!)
Seriously, let’s look at the parameters individually and deploy equipment accordingly.
The first is, can the business stay open? This is determined by structural integrity: Is it safe for occupancy? Can the occupants vendors supply the occupant with the materials or services needed in order to conduct business on a day to day basis? Is there Business Interruption Insurance?
This is of primary concern, because the occupancy of the building is one of the most important factors when developing an allowable temperature range. If people are going to be in the building shopping, eating or working, then noise and temperature level – as well as equipment visibility – are important considerations. So large equipment located away from customers, with air movers on low, and comfortable temperatures are best. You may even need to constantly relocate air movers for aesthetic reasons.
By the way, a hot-air drying unit works fine here if it is cool and dry outside, or you can use localized or “spot” heating for specific, tough-to-dry materials. If the business will be closed for a few days, we do not have creature comfort or visibility concerns, but we have to check on materials and products in the building before we allow for elevated temperature drying (generally above 80 F).
The building’s design is the second most important consideration. You must understand, this consists of the building’s construction materials and physical layout as well as the contents. Most building materials have no problems handling temperatures up to 120 degrees and most materials, especially the denser or less permeable, actually dry better in these higher temperatures.
Please be careful on total temperature (air or material), because sprinkler systems are part of many commercial buildings and their heads are designed to rupture on temperature, not from sensing flame, and some are rated as low as 130 degrees. (How good is your liability insurance? Want to find out?)
The contents are a mixed bag of every material you can imagine, and many are sensitive to temperature or even low humidity – operational computers or server rooms are obviously concerned with high temperature, but low humidity may induce static discharges into the system, doing serious damage.
You need to consult with the occupants and building engineer about temperature- or humidity-sensitive items, and get them to sign off on any elevated temperature drying so you will not be held responsible for something you did not know was there.
The layout generally determines air mover placement and quantity, but it also very important to the drying system selection: LGRs, desiccants or heat-based systems. Here, the general guidelines are simple: it is much cheaper to rent one big piece of equipment than many smaller pieces, thus decreasing the bottom line.
This is why many commercial projects that have large common areas or hallways use desiccants or larger trailer-mounted heating systems. But if the layout is one of multiple exterior entrances (1,000- to 3,000-square-foot individual units) like condos or hotel rooms, LGR’s are going to be the fit. Layout also includes site access and power availability, as they are also major determining factors, as well as what equipment happens to be available when you need it (as much as I hate to say it, sometimes “WOT” is all we have to work with).
Then there is the Question of All Questions: “How long is it going to take?” “It will be dry when it’s dry” is true, but that’s not what I mean. Lately, a lot of focus has been on drying as fast as possible, and that is great in the residential or commercial market when the building is unoccupied, but when a commercial customer needs his facility to conduct business, being out of business even for two days can be unacceptable.
Businesses such as restaurants and hotel ballrooms have planned functions. Since Mrs. Jones will probably have only one 50th anniversary party, are you going to tell her she can’t have the party tonight? Many times you can dry the carpet/flooring in several hours, have it safe for the party and start the wall drying after hours, when the guests have left.
In this case, you are going to spend a few more days drying with increased equipment billing and labor hours, but there would be no business interruption payout, again making the bottom line lower. I call this “Ghost Drying” because you are constantly working on the wet structure, but anyone who uses the facility hardly even notices you are there. You have just made the insurance company, the building owner, the occupant, and Mrs. Jones very happy.
The last word in drying is communication: Be sure that when you are bidding on a project that the owner, tenants, insurance folks and all of your people are on the same page. Just because you know the benefits of how you custom tailored this drying project for them does not mean they understand it.
It is important to start every bid submission with a meeting of all concerned and continue with these meetings on a daily basis until the project is complete. This openness in working together as well as showing concern and understanding for all involved will make you a successful Bottom Line Dryer.