A cold Wisconsin winter, a fully furnished house with absentee owners and a moderate water leak left unchecked for days spelled disaster for one home. However, as the restoration specialist in charge soon learned, proven procedures don’t change just because the job is larger than first thought.
Feb. 16 dawned clear and cold in south central Wisconsin, and Rainbow International Restoration and Cleaning franchise owner Ken Bowers was looking forward to another day. Little did he know that one phone call would send him to the largest restoration job of his career, one that would test the skills, equipment and procedures of himself and his team.
“The home to which we were called was a nice house in a nice neighborhood,” Bowers said. “Its owners had been away for some time in Oregon preparing for relocation. The house, however, was still fully furnished and filled with personal belongings.”
Neighbors noticed a stream of water flowing from under the front door and down the steps into the yard. Concerned, they called the real estate agent listing the home, who in turn contacted the homeowners and fire department. Once the water was shut off and the house opened, the destruction waiting inside surprised even Bowers.
“It was warm, for a Wisconsin winter day,” he said. “The blast of humid heat from inside was just the first sign of things to come. After donning appropriate protective gear, we headed in to assess the damage and job scope.”
The two-story house was in near total disarray. Extensive mold growth coated virtually every potential host surface. In fact, mold growth was so heavy on some surfaces it had begun to grow downwards, like stalactites in a cave.
The first floor ceiling had mostly collapsed, with all accompanying fixtures, fans and decorations crashing to the floor below. All glued surfaces had delaminated. The kitchen cabinets had wrenched loose from the walls and fell to the floor, shattering dishes, glasses and other items.
“Sadly, the owners were also fans of books and antique furniture,” Bowers said. “Moisture had wicked up into every possible receptive material and an extensive book collection was under assault from the mold. And several antique furniture pieces had swelled with moisture to the point the wood actually split and exploded.”
Bowers met with the insurance adjuster representing the claim the next day and began preliminary work. First steps included arranging for the required equipment and manpower. Temporary labor was hired to assist with the demolition.
“Our first big job was to clean the air of micro-toxins caused by the extensive mold growth,” Bowers said. “We brought in air scrubbers and required all workers inside the house to wear M-95 full face respirators to tackle this challenge. Using aggressive methods, we had the air clean in a matter of 24 hours and were prepared to move on to the next phase, structural drying.”
Due to the extensive time exposed to water and high indoor humidity values, Bowers and his team brought in a total of 47 air movers and six dehumidifiers. Since the ground floor was essentially saturated, total dry time was 20 days.
Bowers and his team also earned the repair work to be done after restoration. “For a 15-year-old house, it looks as good as new now,” he said.
The next task involved rebuilding the interior of the restored home. However, the homeowners were in Oregon, and the distance posed a number of challenges. Bowers was ready to meet them, however, by taking advantage of national brands and material availability.
“I actually met the homeowners only once,” he said. “Everything else, including the selection of rebuild materials, was handled long distance.”
Virtually all rebuild materials were selected from national home improvement chains. This allowed the homeowners to visit a store in their new Oregon neighborhood, pick out a paint color, cabinet, flooring or other item and simply forward the stock number and description to Bowers in Wisconsin. He then visited his local store of the same chain, have the materials pulled and use them on the rebuild.
“The homeowner was able to rebuild the house according to their specifications and never set foot in it,” Bowers said.
The silver lining is that both homeowner and real estate agent agreed that after Bowers’ restoration and rebuild, the home is more marketable and an easier potential sale than before. “We were able to go in and modernize the house after the restoration,” Bowers said. “In the end, it all worked out for the best. The homeowner was happy, the insurance adjuster was happy and we were, of course, happy to have the business.”
Despite the imposing initial challenges of the job, Bowers and his team were able to successfully complete both the restoration and rebuild aspects to the satisfaction of the homeowner and insurance carrier. Using aggressive and proven methods, the home was taken through the cleaning and drying process with efficiency and thoroughness. And Bowers’ initial thought proved true: sound procedures do not necessarily change simply due to the size and scope of the job at hand.