Classification of Storm Water Damage

October 22, 2017

After the recent hurricanes we have found ourselves faced with the misclassification of rain water from the hurricane as Category 3 water (Cat 3).  The classification of water is defined by the IICRC S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration as either Category 1, 2, or 3.

After recent named storms many restoration contractors have been opportunistically categorizing rainwater from the storms as Category 3 water.  This benefits the restoration contractor.  With the classification of Cat 3 water the contractors can now remove substantially more building material that would otherwise be necessary.

To be clear there will always be Cat 3 water with named storms and flooding.  However, the recent abuse of the Cat 3 water is simply a means of extending the area of loss and increasing the cost to restore.  Don’t get me wrong here.  There are times when it is far more cost effective to bulk remove building material to accelerate the restoration process.  However, there are times when building materials that were wet and then dried, and then classified as Cat 3 with the recommendation of removal.  Double dipping.

For example, a 5-story condo building that had no surface water flooding and only wind driven rain entering the sliding glass doors.  The areas that were wet were quickly dried.  The restoration contractor then classified all wind driven rain at the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors as Cat 3, grossly contaminated.   The recommendation was to remove the lower 2 feet of drywall from all the condos.  There was no supporting evidence that the water was grossly contaminated.  The vast majority of the units were occupied during and after the hurricane.  The damage was limited to very small and localized areas at the sliding glass doors.  Yet the restoration contractor recommended the full evacuation of the building so the “Cat 3 Grossly Contaminated” drywall could be removed.

So how could the classification of water be so abused?  It’s all in the IICRC Category 3 definition.  It’s a wording issue.  As you read below the definition clearly states that Cat 3 water can include wind driven rain from hurricanes.  That doesn’t mean that wind driven rain is Cat 3, just that like all water it could be Cat 3.  To establish the presence of Cat 3 water samples of the suspected area of the 3rd floor drywall would need to be collected.  The method used could either be by culturing a sample for bacteria or with the use of ATP.  Either way the presence of Cat 3 water at the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors would need to be confirmed.

Category 3 water is grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed. Examples of Category 3 water can include, but are not limited to: sewage; waste line backflows that originate from beyond the trap regardless of visible content or color; all other forms of contaminated water resulting from flooding from seawater; rising water from rivers or streams; and other contaminated water entering or affecting the indoor environment, such as wind driven rain from hurricanes, tropical storms, or other weather related  events if they carry trace levels of contaminants (e.g., pesticides or toxic  organic substances).

Rain is liquid water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then becomes heavy enough to fall under gravity. Rain is a major component of the water cycle and is responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on the Earth.  It provides suitable conditions for many types of ecosystems and crop irrigation.

Collecting and using rainwater can be a great way to conserve resources.  Some people collect and use rainwater for watering plants, cleaning, bathing, or drinking.  The issue with the collection of rainwater is the method of collection and storage.  If rainwater is collected from a roof for example it can contain contaminants that accumulate on the roof.

The rain itself isn’t Category 3.  Rainwater is predominantly evaporated water from a variety of sources such as lakes, rivers, and oceans.  According to IICRC S500, atmospheric rainwater is defined as Category 1.

“Category 1: Category 1 water originates from a sanitary water source and does not pose substantial risk from dermal, ingestion, or inhalation exposure. Examples of Category 1 water sources can include, but are not limited to: broken water supply lines; tub or sink overflows with no contaminants; appliance malfunctions involving water-supply lines; melting ice or snow; falling rainwater; broken toilet tanks, and toilet bowls that do not contain contaminants or additives.”

Rainwater is Category 1 Water.  Therefore, rainwater associated with tropical storms or hurricanes is predominantly evaporated water from a variety of sources and according to IICRC S500, falling rainwater is defined as Category 1.

The restoration contractors defining wind-driven rain as Category 3 water either haven’t read the S500 or are specifically abusing their misinterpretation to their benefit.  As shown above the IICRC S500 clearly defines rainwater as Category 1 and clearly states that Category 3 water can include wind driven rain from hurricanes.  I think that is pretty clear even to the layman.

For the wind driven rain to be categorized as Category 3, the water must have been grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed. weather_channel_hurricane_irene

If rain is to be classified as Cat 3 water we’re all in trouble.  How many times do we see a TV weather forecaster leaning into the wind driven rain of a hurricane as he or she blurts out the weather?  Wind driven rain in Florida takes place virtually every day somewhere.

Clearly there are times when wind driven rain can be classified as Cat 3.  The IICRC recognized that and included the possibility in the standard.  To be Cat 3 the wind driven rain must be contaminated from something that was grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents.  There is also the possibility that Category 1 or 2 water deteriorated to Category 3 water over time.  The IICRC S500 addresses that possibility as well.

“Category 1 water can deteriorate to Category 2 or 3.  Category 1 water that flows into an uncontaminated building does not constitute an immediate change in the category.” “However, Category 1 water that flows into a contaminated building can constitute an immediate change in the category.”

Clearly the interior of an occupied condo is not a contaminated building.

“Category 2: Category 2 water contains significant contamination and has the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if contacted or consumed by humans.  Category 2 water can contain potentially unsafe levels of microorganisms or nutrients for microorganisms.  as well as other organic or inorganic matter {chemical or biological). Examples of category 2 water can include, but are not limited to: discharge from dishwashers or washing1 machines; overflows from washing machines; overflows from toilet bowls on the room side of the trap with some urine but no feces; seepage due to hydrostatic pressure; broken aquariums and punctured water beds.

Category 2 water can deteriorate to Category 3. Once microorganisms become wet from the water intrusion, depending upon the length of time that they remain wet and the temperature, they can begin to grow in numbers and can change the category of the water.”

Category 1 and 2 water can to deteriorate in category.  That fact remains undisputed.  However, the method of establishing the category of water appears to be the issue.  It would appear that the opportunistic restoration contractors are assuming that the wind driven rain water is automatically Category 3 or the length of time that the Cat 1 or 2 water remained wet deteriorated the Cat 1 or 2 water to Category 3.

The reality is both are nothing more than an unproven hypothesis.  To establish the Category of water that is grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed.  The assessor or restoration contractor would have to confirm the if water has trace levels of contaminants (e.g., pesticides or toxic organic substances).

In the example provided earlier we talked about a 5-story condo building that was reportedly “grossly contaminated” by Category 3 hurricane rain.  No confirmation of the category was provided.  There was however a substantial estimate for drywall removal and sanitization of the grossly contaminated condos that were continuously occupied during and after the storm.

We provided a second opinion on the property and conducted onsite ATP sampling of the reportedly Category 3 contaminated drywall.  We used the Bio-Reveal Protocol for Sampling of Category 1, 2 and 3 Water Loss.  The Bio-reveal® bio-contamination detection system is designed to evaluate the level of surface cleanliness and sanitized hygiene in the indoor environment. This system will not detect specific strains of bacterial, viral or other micro-organisms, rather will measure and document the total surface or liquid conditions where these types of pathogenic organisms may be detected or harbored as a result of dirty, unhygienic or where direct impaction of Category 1, 2 or 3 water contamination may have occurred.  Additionally, the Bio-reveal® bio-contamination detection system can be used to generally quantify the total bacterial concentrations of Category 1, Category 2 and Category 3 water as referenced by the IICRC S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration.

All areas sampled were found to be well below the “Final hygiene goal for water loss restoration or remediation of building materials or contents to be salvaged.”  The condo owners did not evacuate and the drywall was not removed.  The total savings to the building were significant.

The trend of categorizing hurricane rain or wind driven rain as Category 3 needs to be nipped in the bud.  Do not allow a restoration contractor or mold assessor to declare rain water damage from a hurricane as Category 3 just because it came from the sky during a hurricane.  This assumed gross contamination only benefits the restoration contractor as it substantially increases their fee.

I hope this helped to clarify the Category of a water loss and prevented the unnecessary removal of building material that could otherwise be restored at a lessor fee.


Storm Damage Mold Remediation Consumer Alert!

October 7, 2017

bb-gif1.gifMany across Florida have been directly impacted by the recent storms that wreaked havoc on our beautiful state.

In a recent discussion with Richard “Rick” Morrison, Executive Director, Division of Professions Mold-Related Services Licensing Program regarding the possibility of the Governor waving licensure requirements for mold related services.  Rick felt that the state has enough licensed mold professionals to not recommend waving the licensing requirements at this time.

Those impacted by the storm and in need of water and mold damage restoration should ensure that the contractors providing services are licensed and in good standing with the state of Florida.

I also wanted to take a minute to provide a few questions that you can ask your mold assessor or mold remediation contractor before you make the decision to hire.

  1.     Are you licensed?
  2.     Who will be providing the mold assessment?
  3.     Who will be providing the mold remediation?
  4.     What will my mold assessment consist of?
  5.     Will I receive a written report or just a laboratory report?

The most common mistake property owners can make is to allow the mold remediation contractor to provide the mold assessment.  Mold remediation is a very profitable business. Many mold remediation contractors use free or deeply discounted mold inspections as a means to acquire expensive mold remediation jobs.  This is the beginning of the “Fear” based approach to mold not the “Fact” based professional approach.

Unfortunately, this is a common practice.  The assessment often includes the collection of mold samples and the declaration that the home is contaminated with “Black Mold”.  Sampling of any kind is more often than not necessary and more often than not used to scare the homeowner into believing that their home is contaminated with “Toxic Black Mold” or “Stachybotrys”.  Fear not Fact!

If your mold professional brings up the “Black Mold” issue walk him or her right out the door.

The Center for Disease Control clearly states, “There is always some mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. Molds have been on the Earth for millions of years. You do not need to know the type of mold growing in your home, and the CDC does not recommend performing routine sampling for molds.”  Fact!

The type of mold will not change the need for mold remediation nor will the type of mold change the severity of the water and mold damage.  There are over 100,000 molds and over 10,000 have the ability to produce mycotoxins.  There are also a few well know molds that are repeatedly used to scare consumers such as “Black Toxic Stachybotrys”.

From the CDC website.  “The term “toxic mold” is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces.”

These “Black Mold” fear tactics began in Cleveland, Ohio, when in 1993 and 1994 where there was a cluster of cases of pulmonary hemosiderosis among infants. with a conducted titled “Study of Toxin Production by Isolates of Stachybotrys chartarum and Memnoniella echinata Isolated during a Study of Pulmonary Hemosiderosis in Infants.”  Yes that is a mouth full but most government studies have grandiose titles.

The problem with the study is that it was preliminary and incomplete.  Worse yet is that most in the mold and restoration industry have never read any of these studies or the final opinions of these studies.

Below is the final opinion of the study from the CDC.

“A review within CDC and by outside experts of the investigation of acute pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis in infants has identified shortcomings in the implementation and reporting of the investigation described in MMWR (1,2) and detailed in other scientific publications authored, in part, by CDC personnel (3-5). The reviews led CDC to conclude that a possible association between acute pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis in infants and exposure to molds, specifically Stachybotrys chartarum, commonly referred to by its synonym Stachybotrys atra, was not proven.”

The CDC Position on Toxic Mold and Stachybotrys.

The term “toxic mold” is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. There are very few reports that toxigenic molds found inside homes can cause unique or rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxigenic mold and these conditions has not been proven.

Stachybotrys chartarum (also known by its synonym Stachybotrys atra) is a greenish-black mold. It can grow on material with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint. Growth occurs when there is moisture from water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding. Constant moisture is required for its growth. It is not necessary, however, to determine what type of mold you may have. All molds should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal.

US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health

While many papers suggest a similar relationship between Stachybotrys and human disease, the studies nearly uniformly suffer from significant methodological flaws, making their findings inconclusive. As a result, we have not found well-substantiated supportive evidence of serious illness due to Stachybotrys exposure in the contemporary environment.

Despite the well documented lack of connection between Stachybotrys and health effects, including the CDC, many in the mold and restoration industry continue to use these wild and scientifically unsupported scare tactics to charge for mold remediation services that are unnecessary.  I can assure you that Stachybotrys is in every home and building to some degree or another.  We have been cohabitating with mold since we lived in caves.

The value in a professional mold assessment is in the identification of the specific area of the mold contamination by a licensed professional that is not providing the mold remediation.  With the identification of the specific area of mold contamination in a written report from your assessor, licensed mold remediators can provide estimates for the mold remediation.

The specific area of mold contamination cannot and will never be revealed by sampling the air and scaring homeowners with specific molds.   The sample only approach to a mold assessment has no value to anyone but the sampler who collects a fee for the sample.  Remember the type of mold does not change the method of mold remediation, does not change the area impacted by mold, and will never elevate the concern for exposure to occupants.  All claims that the type of mold raises the severity are either by the ill-informed or those looking to prey on your fears for profit.

A professional mold assessment would include the area affected by the mold as required by the ASTM D-7338.  A professional assessment would report that the area impacted by mold.  For example, the area of mold growth is approximately 4 square feet of the exterior south facing bedroom wall as shown on the attached restoration floor plan and diagram.  Remove the base boards and the drywall from the floor to a height of 2 feet.  The diagram would show the area of affected building material that would require removal.  The type of mold would not matter and would not change the area impacted or the method of remediation.   Fact not Fear.

Those wanting to insight fear would report nothing more than the spore counts of samples collected as elevated or as having the presence of Stachybotrys “Black Toxic Mold”.  Fear not Fact.

The cost of restoring your home can be greatly increased if you’re not careful when hiring a mold professional.  Be aware of scare tactics, ask for references, never hire anyone that is recommending sampling, never ever hire anyone that uses the term “Black or Toxic Mold”.

I hope this helps at least one family through this time of recovery.



December 9, 2013

ImageHumidity control was the problem that originally spurred the need for air conditioning. Lack of humidity control in hot, humid climates, in particular, can lead to mold growth and other moisture-related problems. High indoor humidities can lead to health and comfort problems.

Modern air conditioners dehumidify as they cool; you can see that by the water that drains away, but this dehumidification is incidental to their main job of controlling temperature. They cannot independently control both temperature and humidity.

In hot, humid climates the incidental dehumidification that occurs may not always be enough to keep the indoor humidity conditions acceptable. (ASHRAE recommends roughly a 60% relative humidity maximum at 78F.) The maximum dehumidification happens not at the hot times of the year—when the air conditioner is running a lot—but at mild times of the year when the air conditioner runs very little.

Although there are some leading edge air conditioning systems that promise to independently control humidity, conventional systems may not be able to sufficiently control the problem and can cause comfort or mold problems in certain situations. Some current high-end systems have enhanced dehumidification, but when the existing system cannot sufficiently dehumidify, it may be necessary to buy a stand-alone dehumidifier.   There are things that consumers can do to lessen the need for dehumidification:

Do not set your thermostat to the “fan on” position. In this position the fan blows air all the time whether your cooling system is running or not and one key impact is that a lot of the moisture your system just took out of the air, will be blown back into the house before it can drain way.

Use exhaust fans during moisture-producing activities. Cooking, bathing, washing, and similar activities produce a lot of moisture inside the home. Exhaust that moisture directly outdoors using a fan. Similarly, avoid drying clothes indoors except with a clothes dryer that is exhausted directly outdoors.

Do not open windows or use ventilative cooling when it is too humid outside


Full Story at ASHRAE–publications/free-resources/top-ten-things-about-air-conditioning 


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