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“During a wildfire, innumerable toxic chemicals, poisonous gasses, heavy metals, and other toxins are generated by the materials, household products, and vegetation that burns. These contaminants fill the air, become part of the ash, and are extremely dangerous to your health if inhaled or come in contact with your skin.” – Excerpt from “The Red Guide to Recovery”, Sean M. Scott
After the Marshall Fire, many members of our community were fortunate in that they had homes to return to after the evacuation order was lifted. However, upon returning to their homes many people discovered that the driving winds that accompanied the smoke and fire had contaminated the interior of their homes to some extent. For some, the contamination appeared to be minor, for others it seemed that nearly every surface within the home was covered in ash.
All of these homeowners were now asking themselves many of the same questions: How bad is the contamination? Will I be able to clean or restore the home myself? Should I reach out to a professional smoke and fire restoration company? Is my insurance going to cover the restoration? What about my clothes, furniture and electronics? Is it acceptable for me to return to living in my home?
A great first step that I highly recommend is to go to The Red Guide to Recovery website. I have no affiliation with them, and you don’t have to buy the book right off the bat; go to the Free Tools tab and either click the button to download the toolbox, or just scroll down and read all of the available articles. These articles will give you valuable information to help you begin to understand the full scope of the situation you are in with having a smoke-damaged home.
I have provided VOC testing and analysis to my clients for a few years now, and after the Marshall Fire I reached out to the lab I have been working with, Enthalpy Analytical (formerly Prism Analytical). I was pleasantly surprised to find that they actually developed the industry-accepted testing protocols and analyses for smoke and fire contamination in 2016 after the California wildfires. I have spent many hours with representatives from the lab to ensure that I am able to properly conduct the necessary testing in smoke-damaged homes and that the results from those tests provide my clients with informative and actionable data. Unfortunately, there are more than a few companies out there that falsely claim to offer relevant testing, but I’ll get into that a little later.
Air Sampling- Air samples are submitted for Smoke/Fire specific VOC analysis, as well as broad-spectrum VOC and mVOC analysis.
Surface Sampling- Surface samples are submitted to determine the presence/composition of Char, Soot, and Ash, as well as for Asbestos.
Bulk Media VOC- Samples from porous materials (furniture, textiles, insulation), as well as some building materials within the home, are submitted for Smoke/Fire specific VOC analysis.
Bulk Media Particulate- Samples from porous materials and building materials can be submitted to determine the presence/composition of Char, Soot, and Ash, as well as for Asbestos.
Dioxin/Furan- Samples are taken (generally from carpeting or other surfaces) and analyzed for the presence of Dioxins and Furans, which are extremely toxic carcinogens that can be byproducts of combustion.
Heavy Metals- Samples are taken and analyzed for the presence of heavy metals such as, but not limited to, Arsenic, Cadmium, Cobalt, Chromium, Copper, Lead, and Vanadium. None of these metals should be present in a residential environment.
All samples are sent to certified laboratories for professional analysis. Time required to complete the analysis of the sample depends on which panel is being run.
Sampling and analysis can be performed prior to restoration to determine the level and scope of contamination within the home.
Sampling and analysis can be performed post-restoration to determine the efficacy of the restoration.
Restoration and testing of smoke-damaged homes is a complex and technical subject. If you have any questions whatsoever regarding the testing, analysis, or just need some advice on how to proceed please don’t hesitate to give me a call at 720-442-0785. I’m here to help heal our community.
Particle Counts- A particle count meter is an inexpensive device that draws air through a chamber and counts the particles in the air. Results are generally given as particles/cubic meter and are sometimes grouped by size, such as “Larger than 10nm” or “Smaller than 2nm”, and are available immediately.
These results are basically useless in the context of a smoke-damaged home. It is simply giving a count of airborne particles, it gives no qualitative analysis telling you what these particles actually are. The numbers will be lower if there has been no recent activity within the home, and could be drastically higher after just walking around for a few moments in each room, or after the HVAC system has been running.
Stand-Alone Surface Sampling- Surface sampling by itself doesn’t really give you useful information. You can probably visually tell that you have surface contamination, you don’t need someone to charge a lot of money to tell you what you can already see.
I do perform surface sampling, but the results are put into context with the results from the VOC and other analyses performed.
Chem-Sponge Test- It sounds fancy, but this test consists of taking a block of natural latex rubber in the shape of a sponge and rubbing it over a few surfaces within the home. You then look at the bottom of the sponge and if it’s white or brown you assume that it has only picked up household dirt and dust. If it’s black you assume it has picked up Char, Soot, or Ash. That’s it.
These chem-sponges can be useful for cleaning particulate contamination from more delicate items that cannot be washed, such as artwork or cellular blinds. If you’d like to check one out they’re available on Amazon for under $10. If you get a case of 48 the price drops to about $2 each.
Site Visit Charge- If someone’s going to charge you just to show up at your property, I’d interview them long and hard to see what qualifications and experience they actually have and what kind of testing services and results they can actually provide.