Unintended Consequences: In-Place Drying and the ANSI/IICRC S500

FOREWORD FROM THE AUTHOR

The state of the restoration industry can cause stress and anxiety for the prudent businessman. Insurance company rules, third party administrator (TPA) rules and now even drying documentation software program rules impose demands upon restoration professionals that may result in a compromised end product. To add insult to injury, the contractor must warranty their products even though the rules may restrict their ability to manage risks.

For many restoration professionals, this has become intolerable.

Where did these water damage restoration procedural and technical protocols come from? Did the ANSI/IICRC S500 really reflect the messages imposed by insurance companies, TPAs and software companies?

The subject of the IICRC’s in-place drying technique is examined from its initial inclusion in the S500-2006 to its complete absence in today’s S500-2015.

There is an important message and lesson found within this documented change. Educators must accurately reflect the messages within the industry’s standards to avoid a flawed interpretation and/or misuse of key language. Indeed, the IICRC exams have been leveraged in support of a misused IICRC standard.

The following article examines where many of these rules come from and how they are being used by some industry stakeholders who would misinterpret or manipulate the language of our industry standards.

RIA members and C&R magazine readers are invited to travel the S500’s historical road to better understand the state of the water damage restoration and drying industry and ponder its future. Feedback and comments are encouraged.

In the early 2000s, a group of individuals within the water damage restoration industry began teaching and promoting a process known as “in-place drying,” where structural components and contents were left in place by the contractor. The non-ANSI process in Appendix D of the ANSI/ IICRC S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration – Third Edition: 2006 (ANSI/ IICRC S500-2006), titled “IICRC Technical Advisory on In-Place Drying,” stated, “In-place drying of Category I (clean water source) water losses by qualified and competent restorers can reduce the need for completely disengaging carpet, molding and fixtures, removing pad, disposing of debris, replacing pad, and reinstalling carpet, moldings and fixtures, while reducing occupant inconvenience at the same time.”1 This then-new technique extracted more liquid water from the carpet and cushion than usual. It was followed by an assertive drying strategy requiring large quantities of mechanical drying devices, thus increasing equipment rental revenue.

In 2006, the ANSI/IICRC S500-2006 described the three basic approaches to drying stretch-in carpet installations: in-place drying, full floating and partial floating. In-place drying’s inclusion in the standard gave it much more credibility than if it were merely a contractor’s suggested process. In the absence of studies showing risk associated with in-place drying, a large percentage of contractors quickly embraced the process that provided faster turn- around time and increased profits.

Appendix D, which did not go through the peer-review process, described the in-place drying process in detail along with carefully worded and heavily emphasized cautions on when and how it was to be practiced.2 Appendix D speaks of all drying strategies requiring classification, but its inclusion of in-place drying is significant. It describes dehumidification capacity on initial set-up of drying systems suitable for in-place drying strategy and concludes that “restorers should employ equipment of sufficient quantity and quality, which is reflective of pre- vailing industry standard of care.”

The absence of in-place drying from the standard means it carries no more weight than the person who wishes the replacement of a structure

The prospect of pleasing the three principal parties involved (contractor, property owner and insurance company) seemed to be a perfect marketing value proposition in support of the decision to execute an “in-place drying” strategy rather than a strategy that might require significant material replacement and/or repairs.

Water damage restoration equipment manufacturers and their sales representatives were quick to jump on this new structural-drying process by offering formal training programs that showcased this technique. Their incentive to support this “equipment-centric” technique was evident.

GOING MAINSTREAM

In order for a new methodology to gain wide acceptance, a published description of the process in a peer-reviewed publication is ideal. The most influential document would be the water damage restoration industry’s water damage standard, the ANSI/IICRC S500.

Chapter 14 of ANSI/IICRC S500-2006 defines the four classes of water and describes the elements left in place during the drying strategy. In-place drying reduces the need for tasks like completely disengaging and reinstalling carpet, molding and fixtures.

However, Appendix D also expressed caution to all who would consider the use of in-place drying. There are obvious risks associated with this technique. While the visible surfaces of the structure might appear to have successfully dried without consequence, were the hidden areas also fully dried? How a structure responded to in-place drying could only be speculated, yet the industry quickly embraced the process in spite of cautions for restorers’ consideration.

THE EDUCATORS’ ACCOUNTABILITY

Because in-place drying was only mentioned in a single sentence in the standards and only expanded upon within the non-ANSI, non-Standard of Care Appendix D, it can be argued that the IICRC Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) responsibly spoke to the subject. Those involved in developing the language in the ANSI/IICRC S500-2006 could reasonably say they were not responsible for the common expectation of strict adherence to the elements described within this technique.

In spite of the strong cautionary language, curricula and exams like the IICRC Applied Structural Drying (ASD) course heavily showcased the process of in-place drying. Students were deemed wrong when they failed to correctly answer non-Standard of Care questions derived from the S500’s non-ANSI sources (Appendix D). The result of the TAC pressing these learning objectives and exam questions reinforced the public’s belief that the contractor was wrong for failure to employ an in-place drying process. The exam wrongly conferred authority to an informally researched, non-Standard of Care procedure.

In hindsight, we can easily see that mistakes were made. Bearing that in mind, we should be particularly attentive,

as IICRC exams are about to be modified in accordance with the most recent standard. What may appear to be an inconsequential learning objective can produce an inaccurate reflection of the ANSI/IICRC S500-2015’s carefully presented information, resulting in a misunderstanding among an entire industry.

THE LESSONS OF A DECADE OF EXPERIENCE

A decade of field experience among drying contractors produced important information related to in-place drying. Many found the process to be unpredictable and at times disappointing. The duration of drying efforts varied wildly. In some instances, contractors seeking the approval of insurance representatives or third-party administrators (TPAs) were pressured to ignore the materials that were not drying within a desired timeframe. Contractors who succumbed to this pressure accepted an increased exposure to their long-term risk on these projects.

Some insurance companies and TPAs began to specify that in-place drying was the preferred method for contractors who desired to be included in their preferred vendor programs. Additionally, the insurance industry expected the structural materials to dry within a three-day time period, even though the S500 specifically declared this to be an unreasonable expectation.3 When drying exceeded this three-day period, contractors had to seek approval from the insurance representative. This administrative requirement resulted in pressure on the contractor to ignore the moisture content evidence to avoid a debate with the adjuster. To the frustration of many restoration contractors, the ANSI/IICRC S500- 2006’s mention of in-place drying introduced a cascade of unintended consequences.

Dozens of educational “flood houses” emerged where students learned the process of in-place drying. Many instructors found these houses, which were flooded according to IICRC protocol, were rarely acceptably dry within a three-day timeframe. They often took the better part of a week to be fully dried. Periodically these homes required refurbishment due to wear and tear on the structural materials. The deconstruction revealed that these houses had obvious indications of significant microbial amplification (see Image 1).

Considering that in-place drying was only recognized in the ANSI/IICRC S500-20064 as a viable drying process
for Category I losses, and is not mentioned or described in the ANSI/IICRC S500-2015, contractors might consider if they ever encounter a project appropriate for in-place drying. A contractor’s serious consideration to the viability of in-place drying and the risk associated with failure to return the structure to a pre-loss ecological condition is prudent.

IN-PLACE DRYING AND THE ANSI/IICRC S500-2015

The latest release of the ANSI/IICRC S500-2015 does not mention in-place drying. However, the phrase “in-place” is referred to as an option that the restorer “can consider” in addressing wet carpet. It is reasonable to wonder whether in-place drying and the associated equipment formulae should continue to be specified by insurers, TPAs and even software programs as the preferred drying method.

The absence of in-place drying from the standard means it carries no more weight than the person who wishes the replacement of a structure because it “cannot be accept- ably dried.” Both positions are equally unsubstantiated by the industry’s Standard of Care.

The drying process of water-damaged property introduces risks that the restorer who signs a contract with the property owner must accept and manage. In light of the published research and its absence from the ANSI/IICRC S500-2015, drying contractors comfortable with deploying an in-place drying strategy must also accept the associated risk. Because the ANSI/IICRC S500-2015 neither mentions nor describes the in-place drying process, contractors will now be obliged to defend the merits of the process. The ANSI/IICRC S500-2015 will not do it for them.

CONCLUSION

An important change has happened in the ANSI/IICRC S500-2015 with the removal of Appendix D and the subject of in-place drying. By this action, the Consensus Body and peer reviewers have redirected the industry. Restorers would do well to take note of this change. Yet elements of the in-place drying processes, such as the equipment formulae, carried over into the ANSI/IICRC S500-2015. Care is necessary to use them effectively and responsibly.

Individuals updating exams should be particularly cautious. Use of non-ANSI, non-peer-reviewed material in support of the IICRC’s exam learning objectives could potentially produce undesired consequences. The IICRC should revisit its policies surrounding the creation of its products, including conflicts of interest. It should take a serious look at ways it has contributed to the disappointing state of the water damage restoration industry.

In-place drying can serve as a case study and a cautionary tale for those who care about the future of competency in the restoration world. Structural drying originated with the use of less equipment and a more invasive approach, but the results were predictable and consistent. In-place drying evolved in response to perceived shortcomings in the original processes used. Over time, in-place drying demonstrated its own shortcomings, but not before it became ingrained in the market — both in education/ certification and as a preferred process.

This has been a slow, painful learning process for the industry, with ongoing lessons still emerging. Let’s hope the lessons have been learned well and will not be repeated as the industry continues to evolve. RIA

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