04 Mar 2020

The Step-By-Step Guide to Restoration Work on Buildings

Flooded room being dried

If a building or jobsite becomes unsafe to work in, you need to take careful, effective steps to restore it. In this article, we’ll take you through the six major steps you must follow to do this successfully.

Why Would You Need to Conduct Restoration Work?

When you’re dealing with heritage buildings and areas, time alone may make restoration work inevitable. As materials decay, damp spreads, and foundations weaken, you need to make careful interventions to remove, replace, or address damage. This can be a slow, fiddly process that requires you to manage interior conditions, such as temperature and moisture levels in the air, with absolute precision. If space is also tight and power points minimal, you will need to bring in the right temporary utilities to support work without inadvertently adding to the damage.

In most cases, though, restoration is needed because a major event has damaged the site rapidly and severely. That could have been a fire, a flood, an earthquake, a leak or burst pipe, or physical damage caused by strong winds, thunderstorms, hurricanes, or tornadoes.

While the actions you take will differ according to the nature of the damage, there are certain steps to take in all cases.

What to Do in the Aftermath of a Catastrophic Event

1. Report the Issue

Reach out to your insurance company immediately to tell them what’s happened, check what’s covered in your policy and ensure you have the go-ahead to begin any costly restoration work. Your budget may depend on what they’re willing to shell out for, as well as any deductibles they apply.

That said, don’t wait for an answer before you start limiting the damage and starting on basic cleanup and repairs (more on that below). Now is also a good time to reach out to a temporary utilities provider, to see what help they can provide in getting power into the area, as well as tackling water damage, heating, cooling, internal air pressure, and humidity.

2. Assess the Damage

Don’t enter any buildings until you’re sure it’s safe. You can begin your inspections externally, checking for structural damage, exposed wires, and so on. Electrical damage is a major hazard, especially if a lot of water has collected in the building. Make sure the electrical supply is disconnected, and remove any electrical equipment that has experienced water damage. Find out if there is any risk of asbestos exposure inside.

Once it’s safe to venture inside, only do so wearing proper PPE, including hard hats, eye protection, rubber gloves and boots, and preferably masks to protect you from residual soot or mold. Use battery-operated torches for lighting. Check thoroughly for gas leaks and fire hazards. If you are cleaning using chlorine bleach, it’s essential that this doesn’t come into contact with ammonia or vinegar. Throw away any equipment or materials that have been contaminated with flood water. You probably won’t be able to save furniture if it’s been damaged by smoke, either.

If relevant, keep a lookout for any dangerous wildlife, such as snakes or scorpions that may have moved into the building or foundations.

3. Seal Against Further Damage

A common problem is containment. If you leave the site open to the elements, the damage could get worse before you have a chance to start restoring.

Secure and seal the interior of buildings. Focus on broken windows, holes in the ceiling, structural damage to walls and staircases and weakened foundations. For places that water could get in, plastic barriers and tarp should do the trick. For structural damage, bring in proper supports and scaffolding.

4. Extraction

If there’s been a fire, you need to get rid of soot and debris before you start repairs. Ventilate thoroughly and use an air scrubber to clean the air of smoke.

If the building has been flooded (which includes water used to put out a fire), you need to get that water out as quickly as possible. Start with pumps and water vacuums for large quantities, or fans, heaters, and dehumidifiers if the water is soaked into other materials.

5. Make Sure It’s Dry

If you start restoring while there’s the slightest bit of damp, you’re headed for disaster. Carefully and slowly dry out any wooden components like floorboards, doors and beams, so that these don’t weaken, rot, attract insect infestations or grow mold. Open up flooded walls for up to a month to ensure they dry properly.

The ideal ambient temperature for this kind of work is 50°-75°F. If it’s too cold, bring in heaters to speed things up. If it’s too hot and humid, use dehumidifiers and cooling units or air conditioners to stave off damp and prevent bacteria as well as mold growth.

Remove baseboards, and if walls aren’t insulated, make holes in wallboards. Insulated walls are trickier; you need to throw away water-damaged drywall and fibrous insulation. Rip out carpets and subfloors. If there are wooden floorboards, take out every few boards in case these swell and buckle. Remove sheet flooring if water has got under it. 

Finally, use a penetrating moisture meter to check if the moisture content of any materials that got wet is back below 15% before you use them for rebuilding.

6. Cleaning

Thoroughly clean and disinfect anything that you intend to keep in the building to ensure it’s free of mold, bacteria, and fungal spores.

7. Start Rebuilding

At last, you’re ready to start putting the building back together! This stage is entirely site-dependent, but it’s worth taking the time to select water-resistant materials that will withstand damage in the future. 

Keep using heaters, air conditioners and/or dehumidifiers to control the conditions in the site - and make sure you get the go-ahead from an electrician before you try to reinstate mains power.

Final Thoughts: Planning Ahead

Tackling restoration is impossible without proper planning and budgeting. 

Ideally, you will have created a contingency plan long in advance, giving you a clear idea of which parts of the building require immediate attention, how you’ll salvage valuable equipment, furniture, and components, and what you need to do to get the building fit for purpose again. If you’ve taken the time to consult temporary utility providers and other key partners, such as electricians and plumbers, this will make it far easier to draw up an action plan and budget when the time comes.

That said, if you are caught unaware, the important factors are to keep a clear head, to be realistic about timescales, and to bring in emergency utilities as quickly as possible to support the restoration process. Bear in mind that further setbacks may occur and account for them. It’s better to assume the worst and be pleasantly surprised than that under-budget, and get more nasty shocks later on.