What is structural drying? This is a question asked by our clients repeatedly. Simply put, it is the removal of excessive, trapped moisture from building materials (both structural and non-structural) in an efficient amount of time. “Structural” can be the word that confuses individuals that are not in the restoration business. This term refers to the part of the building that is crucial to dry without the need for extensive demolition. It is key to be fluent in explaining the drying processes, how they work and why they are best for the client’s facility. The confidence we portray in this process can ease any high-stress situation for your clients as well. 

What are the Phases of Drying?

No matter the size of the job, the type of space, or the materials affected there are four principles that are consistent in any flood or water remediation process:

  1. Water extraction: This is the removal of excess water, which can increase the odds and efficiency in which the structure is dried.
  2. Air movement: Without air circulation and evaporation, water will continue to saturate a surface and the rate of evaporation will slow. This ultimately slows the drying process and can also create rot or mold. One thing that should always be noted on this process: It is important to know what you are potentially spreading.  
    1. Surfaces should first be tested for asbestos and cleared prior to placing air-movement and drying equipment to avoid the potential of a spill or of cross contaminating an environment.
    2. If any molds are identified during water extraction, air movement should be delayed until the molds are properly removed with air scrubbers. If not done properly, one simple air mover can turn a water remediation project in one room to an entire facility cleanup of mold.
  3. Dehumidification: Besides addressing the source of the problem and removing standing water, this is one of the most important parts of the drying process. Moisture can trap itself inside building materials if dehumidifiers are not used to collect excessive water vapor. Surfaces might appear dry to the touch, but often water content is still high. Relative humidity could be above the norm, which ultimately will promote mold growth.
  4. Temperature: Maintaining a consistent temperature and operating within the ideal temperatures for dehumidification equipment is key to maximizing drying efforts. We typically try to stay within the 75-to-90-degree range to accelerate the evaporation process and release moisture from building materials. This allows steps number two and number three to be more effective. Running air conditioner or allowing too much cooler air in the drying chambers slows the drying process; likewise, increasing the heat can inhibit the effectiveness of the dehumidifiers, so it is important to find balance.  

Other Methods of Drying

“Drying down” a structure can be an art, and there is a balance to find in every building and structure.

“Our ability to quickly and effectively restore a business to its pre-loss condition is evident in the balance between mitigation and demolition,” said Harley Jeanise, regional vice president, First Onsite Property Restoration. “Our proven sense of urgency upholds the structural drying process as opposed to further secondary damages and delays in business operations.”  

Many times, we will be questioned in the methods we choose. Why did you remove this? Why can we not dry this? Why is this taking so long? Along with structural drying, there are two methods that every company will need to choose from to complete the drying process.  

Aggressive Drying: This is typically the dry-in-place method, which is generally chosen in smaller water damage situations. This requires the facility or structure to be sufficiently equipped with drying equipment to increase the evaporation rate by spiking the temperature and airflow. The environment must be perfect for this path and to be considered the suitable direction for the process to be successful. This will require the water category to be at a category 1 or less — clean water with no risk of sediment or additional building materials that could change the water category (asbestos, mold, hydraulic fluid, etc.). The water loss also must be new; anything that has sat for an excessive time (48 to 72 hours) requires the category of water again to change, inhibiting the opportunity to perform this method. 

Why this method? It can reduce repair costs for your client, lessen their downtime in a business or facility, and eliminate the need for material matching or excessive demolition for like materials. However, often what may be saved in repairs will be ultimately increased in equipment costs, and aggressive drying may save time with repairs but will require additional dry time.  

Disruptive Drying: This is the most typical method and the safest bet. “Disruptive” is exactly as it sounds — after asbestos testing is completed, the building materials (not structural materials) will be cut out. This usually requires the removal of baseboards, flood cuts, removal of pad, and removal of insulation or items that cannot be effectively dried in a timely manner. Performing this method is more successful in drying structure materials that are hidden by finishes. This method is always done in category 2 (grey water) or category 3 (black water) situations, as materials cannot be saved anyway in these types of water damage losses. 

This method is the standard method. The ability to measure moisture content in wall cavities, on studs, gypcrete and other hidden areas gives the reassurance that a structure is dry without only relying on ambient readings. Whenever wet materials can be removed, the drying process will be faster. The downfall to this method is that it will require far more repairs and downtime for your client during the mitigation and repair process. Typically, the overall costs will be higher in this method.

Be the Confident Professional

Water disasters are always unpleasant and unexpected. In an already frustrating situation, there is high stress for the client that can be alleviated with the correct, confident and prepared professional. As restoration professionals, our goals are to minimize downtime, lost revenue, and disruption to get clients back to work and life as quickly as possible.