A portable Deflooding Wringer is stationed outside the Cypress of Charlotte retirement community. The $10 million structure was flooded a few weeks before its senior citizen residents were scheduled to take occupancy.
When the Cypress of Charlotte retirement community in Charlotte, North Carolina was built, people began snapping up condo units because of the amenities they offered. The elegant villas come with wall-to-wall carpeting, washer and dryer, high ceilings, cabinets of the owner’s choice, large windows, heavy soundproofing construction, a fully-equipped kitchen, and weekly maid and laundry service.

Owners in one building almost got more than they bargained for, however. A week before they were to begin moving in, a sprinkler pipe broke, flooding most of the units and causing heavy damage. Fortunately, crews were able to dry the building with an army of portable HVAC equipment, restoring it to new condition in short order.

As a large-scale continuing care community, Cypress of Charlotte promotes a prestigious lifestyle and country club atmosphere. A health center provides skilled nursing care, assisted living, and Alzheimer¹s care. Retirees can also avail themselves of transportation and activities at a large clubhouse. Some 500 people occupy 300 one- and two-bedroom condos and 50 custom-built single-family houses on the 60-acre campus.

The pipe break occurred in the third floor ceiling of Building C, one of five lowrise condominium buildings. The four-story, $10 million structure houses 45 luxury condominiums, covering 52,720 sq ft. In a freak accident, a glued joint in a PVC sprinkler main blew apart as a subcontractor was making repairs.

Water spewed out at 200 gpm. Aggravating the situation, the incident happened after hours, so shutoff didn¹t occur immediately. The building is a poured-in-place post-tensioned concrete structure with penetrations between floors for mechanical, plumbing, and electrical chases, which provided an avenue for water to follow.

“Three floors were completely flooded,” reports Wayne Wagner, manager of Signature Professional Cleaning, a company involved in the cleanup. “The walls were soaking wet. You could actually see the moisture from outside the brick building — it was that wet.” According to Signature, about 30 units were affected in some way or another. Some took in minor amounts of water, while others completely flooded.

Marc Puntereri, a partner in the Cypress Company, which developed the community, saw the full scope of the problem. “More than 60 seniors were expecting to move into the building literally within weeks. We not only had the physical damage to deal with, we had a very short time frame because these seniors had sold their houses and were prepared to move.” Cypress faced costs such as storing the seniors’ furniture and finding them a temporary place to live. “A third issue was convincing them that the building would be restored to its condition prior to the incident without threat of mildew or other lingering effects,” said Puntereri.

Still on site, the general contractor had its subcontractors come in and start cleaning up immediately, and Cypress called in Signature Professional Cleaning. The first step was to extract water using a vacuum system in a van with long hoses. All told, about five companies labored through the night sucking up water.

Signature is actually a division of Paul Davis Restoration, a national franchise specializing in cleaning, preserving, and restoring properties and contents damaged by perils such as fire, water, wind, break-ins, explosions, and ground settlement. Well known in the cleaning and restoration industry, Signature focuses on emergency service and cleaning jobs, primarily water extractions from pipe breaks in homes. After they do their job, Paul Davis restores the structure.

As Puntereri explains, “Our objective was to dry out the building as quickly and efficiently as possible. That involved physically removing carpeting and padding and anything that would absorb moisture.” They also strived to minimize the replacement of wood trim, cabinets, carpeting, hardwood flooring, even electrical fixtures.

The next day, Signature met with the general contractor and Cypress to formulate a drying plan. Signature brought in additional crew and set up 120 small blowers and 45 small industrial dehumidifiers in the building. Crews removed baseboards throughout the structure to get air movement into the walls, removing easily-replaceable items such as carpet, hardwood flooring, and woodwork or drywall that was beyond hope.

Then they brought in two rental Deflooding Wringer units made by Des Champs. The Wringer is a popular commercial and industrial dehumidifier normally installed permanently in schools, institutions, hotels, hospitals, and other commercial buildings as well as factories and manufacturing facilities. The unit removes moisture through an extremely efficient method using an air-to-air heat exchanger and dehumidification coil. In one pass through the heat exchanger, the air is precooled, reducing the tonnage required by 30%. Then it gets further cooled and dehumidified through a DX coil and finally reheated in a second pass through the heat exchanger.

Woven polyethylene ducting connected to the Deflooding Wringer makes its way through a condo at Cypress of Charlotte. The ducting's flexibility allows it to maneuver through tight spaces and around abstacles, adding to the efficiency of the drying process.
Des Champs designed its rental Wringers to accommodate a variety of temporary dehumidification situations that might arise in the field, and they configured them for easy setup and operation. They ship on a trailer and typically remain there for operation, powered by an onboard diesel-driven generator. The Deflooding model is specially built for salvage jobs requiring heavy-duty dehumidification, as it discharges large quantities of hot, dry air, resulting in very low relative humidities and rapid moisture removal. It produces air at 135 degrees F and 5% rh from 95 degrees dry-bulb/78 degrees wet-bulb inlet air and has a rated capacity of 10,000 cfm.

Workers stationed a Wringer on each side of the building, one for the third floor and the other for the first and second floors. For easy installation, flexible ducting running through doors and windows was used to connect the units to the building. Made of woven polyethylene, the duct material folds flat for shipment, so it takes up little space, and the ducting’s lightweight and flexibility allow it to be maneuvered around difficult obstacles.

As Wagner says, “When a building is that wet, the key is to suck the moisture right out of the walls, and the quickest way to do that is with these large trailer-mount dehumidifiers. You can in essence do the job twice as fast as you could if you kept using the standard dehumidifiers.”

Not surprisingly, the drying job proved very labor intensive during the initial extraction phase, but after that, the workload eased as the machines took over. Workers maintained 24-hour surveillance and took psychrometric readings of temperature and relative humidity to calculate the grains of moisture they needed to remove per pound of air. As John Mims, plant director for Cypress of Charlotte, recalls, “I remember going in the hallways, and they were so incredibly hot.”

After two weeks of drying, the team met with success. Wagner says of the Wringers, “They did an excellent job. The units more than paid for themselves.” According to Signature¹s readings, the building actually ended up with less moisture in it than prior to the incident.

Cypress was able to save much of the carpeting and hardwood flooring in the villas. This included glue-down carpet in common areas, which would have involved tremendous expense and lead time to replace because they were custom made. And Puntereri reported, “We were able to draw the moisture out of the insulation and drywall to the point where we didn¹t have to replace that, which not only saved us money, and saved the insurance company money, but more importantly, saved us time.” Mims added, “They had it fixed up so that within a month we were moving people in.”

Since the August 1999 incident, Puntereri says residents have noticed no after effects. “We have not had any mold or mildew or lingering problems.” They retained an engineer to assess the building prior to the seniors moving in to give another level of confidence, and he gave them a clean bill of health.

The residents are happy in their new abode now, enjoying the amenities that drew them in the first place. They would probably concur with Puntereri when he says, “I think we¹re a success story.”

Publication date: 11/26/2001