The S500: It’s Not All Black and White

Last month, I emphasized the importance of studying the ANSI IICRC S500 in order to enhance water damage restoration operations and to provide sound justification for the line items presented in your estimates. It is a good document – and the 2021 version is the best our industry has ever had – but it’s not perfect and never will be. There will always be room for interpretation as so much of what we do as water damage restoration professionals is not always black and white.

Until I was given the opportunity to teach the core concepts of the S500, I never really understood that some of the most important concepts presented in the document are extremely subjective. I’m not slighting the document, don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan. It is impossible to translate the intent of the committee members who attended to the S500, so there will always be room for individual interpretation.

Two very common examples of my point involve the description of Category 2 and Category 3 water, and the verbiage describing Class 4 water. Let’s tackle the Class 4 water first because, well, that one is my personal favorite.

Class 4— (deeply held or bound water): water intrusion that involves a significant amount of water absorption into low evaporation materials (e.g., plaster, wood, concrete, masonry) or low evaporation assemblies (e.g., multilayer wallboard, multilayer subfloors, gym floors, or other complex, built-up assemblies). Drying may require special methods, longer drying times, or substantial water vapor pressure differentials.

So here we go – my hip pocket research indicates approx. 92% of all homes in the United States are either completely wood framed or contain wood framed interior walls. Since the description clearly indicates wood is a low evaporation material, one could presume a water loss in any one of the structures where wood framing was affected would constitute a Class 4 water loss. Arguing against this classification would be extremely difficult because it is impossible to define “significant amount of water absorption”. Was this the intent of the S500 standard committee? The bottom line is it doesn’t really matter what the intent was – it is now the standard. Why is this important? It matters because savvy restorers know the majority of an estimate’s profitability is in equipment rental, and if the window is open to use the Class 4 chart factor in determining initial dehumidification requirements, you bet they will use it. Are they wrong or gaming the system? I believe the current Class 4 definition indicates – NO.

Now let’s look at the Category 2 and 3 definitions in the S500:

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 washing 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 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; wasteline backflows that originate from beyond any trap regardless of visible content or color; all forms of 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. Category 3 water can carry trace levels of regulated or hazardous materials (e.g., pesticides or toxic organic substances).

Aside from the specific examples provided for each category, it is very difficult to distinguish between the two. We are all taught – primarily for certification exam purposes – to tell them apart by two key terms – significant contamination and grossly contaminated (Category 2 and Category 3 respectively). Can you tell the difference between water that has significant contaminants and water that is grossly contaminated? I can’t either yet I’ve witnessed many estimate reviewers and adjusters attempting to influence the decision. It’s simply too subjective, and rightfully so, the S-500 puts the responsibility to make that call squarely on the shoulders of the restorer. If you err on the side of caution, you risk pushback from other material interested parties – it’s a tough call sometimes.

Despite minor imperfections, the S-500 continues to improve with each revision and has become widely accepted. In the end, when faced with situations that are more grey than black and white, trust your instincts. So long as your decisions as a professional restorer aren’t illegal, unethical, or immoral – the industry has your back.

Until next month –

Nasty 7 out.

Scott Walden

Scott WaldenScott Walden is the Chief Operating Officer for VetCor, LLC; a veteran manned and managed insurance services company specializing in mitigation of water loss damage.

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