Contractors Clean Up After Isabel
“There are no calls — yet,” he told The News.
The heavy workload for HVAC assessments and repairs would begin shortly after cleanup commenced and power returned. Having been through similar situations before, he commented, “Any furnace that has been underwater is trash.”
He also noted that if the furnace was resting on the floor of a basement that flooded, the unit should be considered for replacement because of the damage moisture can cause later.
(Note: The Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association has issued a similar warning. See the sidebar below.)
Between warranty and insurance work, Boyd anticipated a lot of equipment replacements.
“For outside units, as long as the electrical components are replaced, the unit should be OK” after some cleaning and restoration, he said. “On heat pumps, that means the contactor and control board may need to be replaced.” For air handlers, “If it was more than 24 hours underwater, it’s ruined.”
HVACR equipment ruined due to a hurricane is generally covered under the owner’s insurance policy if they have appropriate coverage, Boyd pointed out. Parts might also be replaced under the manufacturer’s warranty, but that would not include labor. “It creates a problem for someone in my position,” he said; “we’re technical geeks. When this happens, I advise people to go to their insurance.
“I will fight for my customers — my contractors,” he continued. “If they need something in writing for insurance, I’ll write it.” On Sept. 19, he described these customers as “all in shock.”
Boyd added that when electrical service is restored, power surges would cause additional equipment damage. “A hell of a lot of people never think to shut their equipment off after the power goes out.”
He anticipated “a rush of capacitor and compressor replacements, because too many techs can’t tell the difference between the one failure and the other.” He also anticipated airflow-related A/C and heat pump problems due to mud and debris on top of the units. “Better get my guys ready to start cleaning ’em off.”
Getting OrganizedMitchell Cropp, owner of Cropp-Metcalfe Air Conditioning & Heating, Fairfax, Va., said that his company lost power on Sept. 19, and the building was without power until the afternoon of Sept. 20. Generator power kept the phone lines open and computers running, “but we didn’t get a lot of calls because customers’ phones were down,” he said.
As of Sept. 22, some customers still didn’t have power. “We have a number of customers calling because their electrical service is not working. Fortunately we have been able to advise customers over the phone what to do if a circuit breaker is tripped, etc.”
Some of these customers are in Alexandria’s Old Town district, in Mt. Vernon, and in areas around the Potomac that suffered flood damage. “People have been in pretty good spirits,” Cropp said. “They have been very understanding, even in situations when we haven’t been able to get to them because of downed trees.”
Customers who needed help were prioritized according to their service contract with Cropp-Metcalfe. “We’ve been backing off from some of our fall maintenance work and taking care of emergency service as it arises.”
In addition, the contractor is falling back on its industry contacts. “We have already contacted several MIX Group members and kicked around the idea of using their manpower if they are slow enough to rent them out.”
Ray Clary is a building automation and energy management specialist for Colonial Mechanical, Richmond, Va. “A lot of the area is still without power,” he reported on Sept. 22. “Some areas may be out until the middle of October.”
The day after Isabel blew through, he was called to a government building when facility managers discovered that not as much mechanical equipment was linked to backup generators as originally thought. Clary modified the system so the chillers would start without main power.
He said other problems in the area relate to water pressure regulated by building automation, and the need to reset alarm systems so when equipment does come back on, it does so without alarms going off.
Nature’s MightWhen Martin Pool of Martin Mechanical Inc., Virginia Beach, was driving through the area, he saw “two air conditioning units [that] had blown off a condo.” It would be a few more days before he could start repairs.
It took four days before power was restored to his business and at that time, there were still 500,000 customers without power in Virginia Beach. “Until the power gets back on, we are not going to know the real impact of the damage,” he said. Of special concern to Pool, whose two-person shop does primarily light commercial A/C, are areas where storm surges totally submerged mechanical equipment.
Debbie Risher, owner of Belair Engineering and Service, Co., Inc., Upper Marlboro, Md., had one word for the experience: “Wow!”
She continued, “We prepared, we duct taped the windows, sand bagged the bays and front foyer windows, purchased a generator and waited, but never did I think a Category 2 hurricane would do the damage it did to our area hundreds of miles away. Ninety percent of my workforce has been without power at home since Thursday late afternoon or evening. Most of my workforce has power today or tonight [Sept. 22].
“We worked hard to make sure the building was a place to come back to, thanks to my husband — whom I thought was going overboard — and we worked hard to get it all back to normal so that our employees would feel back at home.”
Next time a hurricane is predicted for the area, “I’d buy ice two days ahead and put it in everyone’s freezer,” she said. “I’d figure out what/how to earmark these service contracts that have now been drastically changed by Isabel. I have a list and it will grow and we will continue to learn.
“The stress, the workload to prepare for the worst, and retrieval have been exhausting,” she said. “I can only pray for those in the direct path of Isabel and hope that ACCA and the HVACR community in general can help them rebuild.”
News staffers John R. Hall and Peter Powell contributed to this report.
Sidebar: Safer To Replace, Warns GAMAARLINGTON, Va. — All flood-damaged plumbing, heating, cooling, and electrical appliances and related systems should be replaced, rather than repaired, warned the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA). This national trade association represents manufacturers of appliances, components, and related products used in space and water heating, commercial food service, and power generation.
The association warned that not only gas equipment is at risk, but also units using oil or electricity as the energy source.
“Controls damaged by flood water are extremely dangerous,” noted GAMA President Evan R. Gaddis. “Attempts to use equipment with defective gas or oil control devices can result in fires, flashbacks, or explosions. And in the case of electric appliances, the result can be injury or even death from a powerful electric shock.” Devices at risk include water heaters, furnaces, boilers, room heaters, and air conditioners.
The association stressed that the repair of flooded appliances and related systems (including damaged venting and electrical connections) is not a job for the do-it-yourselfer, no matter how skilled. This is particularly true of control valves, according to GAMA officials. These components are manufactured to extremely close tolerances. Once submerged in floodwater, they must be replaced. The homeowner should never attempt field repairs.
Even when controls appear to be operative, the unit should not be used after floodwaters recede. “It may work for a while,” Gaddis explained, “but it will deteriorate over time. It might take a week, a month, or a year, but once any control has been under water, it presents a serious hazard — fire or explosion in the case of gas controls, fire or shock in the case of electric equipment.” It’s usually cheaper, and always safer, to replace rather than repair, Gaddis said.
Government aid may be available to help consumers finance the replacement of flood-damaged heating equipment. For more information, contact the offices of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) at www.fema.gov.
Publication date: 09/29/2003