After hurricane Claudette pounded through Central Texas, it cut a swath of devastation before being downgraded to a tropical storm. High winds and several inches of rain damaged many homes and businesses. For all of the havoc Claudette brought to Texas, some weather forecasters said that things could have been much worse.

When natural disasters hit, the aftermath can sometimes be the most stressful part. It is a critical time for contractors to make sure HVAC systems are in good working order. It is also important that flooded and water-damaged buildings are cleared and properly dehumidified to prevent problems later on.

A Munters technician checks on one of the large desiccant dehumidifiers used at the University of Texas library in Houston to dry buildings after flooding.

Following The Storm

To properly respond to natural disasters, contractors and building owners need to be aware of dangerous weather conditions far in advance. They also need to know the limitations of their buildings and HVAC systems, as well as the procedures to take in order to prepare for storms.

This is the policy and procedure of Munters, which responds to natural disasters all over the country throughout the year. The company’s Moisture Control Services (MCS) keeps an eye on weather conditions across the nation and prepares to bring in desiccant dehumidification systems to clean up water-damaged buildings.

Tom McGuire, national catastrophe manager for Munters MCS, oversees these projects and makes sure area project managers are taking care of the numerous buildings in need of dehumidification services.

“Every project is a priority,” he said. “We respond to any customer; it doesn’t matter what size.”

After a storm hits, project managers investigate the site to determine the extent of the damage. McGuire explained that it is important to conduct an investigation even if it appears that damage has not been sustained; in some situations, water damage may not be visible until weeks later.

After the investigation, desiccant dehumidifiers may be brought in to deal with water damage. According to McGuire, larger desiccant dehumidifiers can pull 800 gallons of water out of a building in one day.

He explained that this is possible through a process called migration. When the water-damaged room is filled with very dry air, which has low vapor pressure, trapped water migrates outward and is evaporated from the surface by dry air. As the air fills with water vapor, it is removed and replaced with dry air until the process is complete.

McGuire said it is important to get the dehumidification process up and running as soon as possible before water damage turns into mold problems. Munters also offers mold remediation services, but McGuire said it is easier to take care of excess water than it is to deal with mold.

Munters technicians work to clean up classrooms after a destructive storm. Here, employees assist with debris removal and squeegee the standing water inside a classroom.

Back In Business

McGuire said that typical dehumidification of water-damaged buildings can take from seven to 14 days. This can be challenging if there are several buildings in an area that are in need of the company’s services. “During catastrophes, we may have an event area with 30 projects going on at one time,” he said.

In some cases, dehumidification is not the only problem with a building after a natural disaster. Powerful storms have been known to damage HVAC systems.

McGuire said it is very important for contractors to educate building owners about their HVAC systems, especially the protocol to take before and after a serious storm. For example, if the HVAC system is still running but a building has significant water damage, one thing to consider is whether the HVAC should remain on or be taken off-line.

McGuire said that the HVAC system should stay up and running until a determination has been made that it is unsafe. If there is a possibility for mold growth, for instance, the HVAC system should be shut down to avoid moving mold spores from one part of the building to another. McGuire also said that if the building in question has zoning capabilities, shutting off zones that could develop mold could prevent mold spores from spreading to other zones.

Industrial dryers are used to dry the floor inside a school.
In situations where storms have knocked HVAC systems off-line, contractors need to be prepared to either fix the system quickly or provide temporary cooling. McGuire said that in most cases, companies can still do business while undergoing dehumidification efforts, but the building’s air conditioning system can speed up the dehumidification process.

It is also important to get HVAC systems up and running again just for comfort reasons.

For example, Munters MCS was called out to assist Colorado State University after flash floods created water damage in classrooms and other buildings. Classes still needed to continue, but the air conditioning system underwent a great deal of damage. McGuire said that contractors brought in several portable air conditioning units, which provided more than 100,000 tons of cooling.

Publication date: 08/11/2003