When it comes to water damage restoration, it’s unfortunate that one of the best techniques in the industry is also one of the most underused.
No matter whether water damage has affected walls, flooring, or other structural assets, there’s a powerful mitigation method that delivers rapid results: drying chambers.
If you can learn how to use drying chambers on your restoration jobs, you too will see the excellent benefits they bring.
Why use drying chambers?
Drying chambers have many benefits, but the most important is how they address the way drying occurs, increasing drying speed and ensuring that affected areas are treated adequately by monitoring the humidity, airflow, and temperature (HAT).
The main reason they’re one of the top-performing treatment methods in water damage restoration is because of how they contain and reduce the issue. And as a bonus, they do it fast.
By establishing a drying chamber, you dramatically reduce the airspace, decreasing the amount of energy required to conduct your treatment. If you cut the space by 50%, you can nearly double the energy output within the drying chamber. Other standard treatments don’t come close to the potential of this method.
Preventing the spread of moisture
Drying chambers, by nature, will limit the risk of moisture spreading. Because they can section off a specific area, the moisture is quickly pulled out of the air by dehumidifiers. If not sealed, the moisture would move throughout the building, potentially causing damage in other areas. Drying chambers can be established for any site requiring treatment, including small cavities, cupboards, and within walls.
Targeted drying energy
A main concern with other treatment methods is how much resourcing is required to dry a given area. With drying chambers, you’re able to target the specific location you need to work on and not waste energy by the surrounding environment. If the flooring is all that needs to be treated, you’re not losing precious time and power to keep an entire room at the proper temperature with the right amount of airflow—you’re simply applying energy to the damaged flooring, dramatically reducing resource requirements and saving yourself from other potential issues.
While drying chambers are efficient, they need to be implemented correctly to maximize their benefits. This essential guide will teach you how.
Drying chamber basics
Drying chambers are established to isolate a specific area for treatment where you can manipulate the humidity, airflow, and temperature. This is done by securing a fire-rated polyethylene barrier or other suitable material around the affected area to limit external environmental factors. By treating the space in this manner, you dramatically reduce the volume of the drying area. This can save you from pulling out flooring or additional materials to manage the restoration job.
Inside the chamber, air movers maintain circulation and dehumidifiers create the optimal drying conditions. Alternatively, heating units or dehumidification can be shuttled through tubing to the drying chamber.
Moisture naturally moves and equalizes with speeds fluctuating based on the levels of wetness and warmth. Where the excessive moisture is located will determine how you approach your drying chamber.
In order for airflow to be effective, it requires contact with the wet surface to displace the moisture that can then be treated with a dehumidifier. Containing the area in a drying chamber ensures you can control the internal environment to meet your desired outcome.
The first step is to identify the scope of the project. This requires finding the boundaries of the damage and deciding if it’s possible to gain access to the areas you need to treat while establishing drying chambers. In many cases, it is beneficial to incorporate the area below the water—not just above—so basements and crawlspaces should be included in your planning.
To do this, use a drying chamber building schematic. This allows you to see the project on a macro level, helping you identify the potential areas for treatment where you’ll need to test for moisture.
You may also need to establish chambers to control air quality or contamination. Considering the cleanliness of the environment is important when establishing a drying plan. Also consider the temperature and humidity limits of building materials and contents.
For the next step, you should strategize how you can reduce the area covered by your chambers. If all the areas need to be restored, a chamber may not make sense. However, if only part of an area or structure is affected, consider the impact of dilution. If you can reduce the area, the effectiveness of your drying effort will be much greater.
Tips for using drying chambers
- As a general rule of thumb, if a chamber will reduce airspace by 50%, the concentration of your efforts can double the energy output.
- More drying chambers require more logistics. Therefore, it isn’t a tool for every job, especially if the entire area is affected.
- If your chambers are small and highly focused, set a humidistat to ensure the temperature doesn’t get so high it damages materials. Understand what materials you’re working with before treating.
- Look beyond wall assemblies when establishing your drying chambers. Water damage may have moved through the structure, and your drying chambers can be constructed to address this.
- Each drying chamber needs special attention. Don’t assume because one is working the others are as well.
- Ensure no cavities are overlooked. Small spaces may go unnoticed, but leaving them unattended can breed mold and further damage.
Real-life examples of drying chambers
Let’s say you’re faced with a leak in a bathtub that’s spread. This could be treated with single or multiple drying chambers. By looking at your building schematic and testing for damage extent, you can decipher which is most efficient. If you decide on a single chamber, you need to ensure airflow can circulate between all areas, but generally, it’s more efficient to have multiple drying chambers so that environments can be managed separately without diluting your drying efforts in unaffected spaces.
You can test additional areas with a thermos-hygrometer. If the surrounding areas have yet to be touched by the spreading damage, install a temporary barrier. This will save you from adding equipment to the job. Another benefit of these barriers is that they limit the dilution of your drying chambers.
For the areas that have been affected by spreading water, you need to identify the best way to treat that specific area. However, in our example, it’s likely that water has spread through the walls, meaning some may need to be opened, increasing the area. A single drying chamber can be implemented if the walls are opened and air is allowed to circulate between these rooms.
Once you’ve planned where your drying chambers will be established, set up your air mover so that it’s not hindered and can circulate the heat and humidity properly. You should test with a thermos-hygrometer to ensure the humidity is nearly identical in all areas, proving the air circulation is effective.
You should also place a thermos-hygrometer with a sensing tip at the surface of wet, evaporating materials to note the humidity. The temperature and humidity at the wet surface should be precisely the same as the air throughout the drying chamber. If the surface is cold and moist, your air flow isn’t set up for maximum efficiency.
Continue to monitor your chambers until you’ve reached your goal and run multiple tests before completion.
FAQs about drying chambers
What are the barriers typically made from?
The shielding is made of polyethylene sheets. Additionally, you’ll need a support structure to keep the sheets off the surface you’re treating. These can be anything from drywall sanding poles to 2x4s or PVC pipes.
When should you use horizontal barriers?
These can be more complicated and should be reserved for Class 4 damages. If you’re going to float the barrier, just roll out your polyethylene sheets on the surface and inflate. Weigh down the edges to keep the sheet in place, but do not tape it down solid. Air needs to flow out the edges to ensure circulation across the surface. You could also use sand-snakes to hold down the sheets if available.
How do you best manage airflow in interstitial cavities/spaces?
Areas inside a wall assembly or behind cabinets, if affected, will also need to be conditioned and dried. You have two options: First, you could remove the baseboard and drill holes to access the air space behind the wall. Measure the materials to determine if they are progressing. If not, you can increase the efficacy by adding holes above the wet material to allow for greater airflow, or directly vent dehumidified or warm air to the cavity.
Will an HVAC system affect the drying chambers?
If it’s running, yes. An HVAC that has a return supply located inside the drying chambers is going to affect it.
It is also important to note that HVAC systems run very differently in dry versus wet environments. Operating them during a drying effort could freeze up the evaporator coil inside the building and damage the system.
We strongly encourage you to check with an HVAC specialist and keep an eye on the evaporator coil. Either way, you’re taking a risk conducting the job because the HVAC will be given a harder workout than it was generally designed for.
If you’re interested in learning more about drying chambers or other water restoration topics, sign up for our live and on-demand webinars and enhance your skills.
About the Author
Throughout a 25-year career in the restoration industry, Brandon Burton has worked to support rapidly developing technology and industry best practices, with a passion for promoting the restoration industry’s continued growth in professionalism. Burton is the ANSI/IICRC Standards chairman, an approved IICRC instructor, and has provided training and consultation to more than 10,000 water damage restoration professionals. He is also a published author in the field. Burton is the Vice President of Technical Application for Next Gear Solutions, LLC, and formerly held the position of Technical Director for Legend Brands, managing the largest and most experienced training team in the restoration industry. He is also a past member of the RIA (ASCR) Restoration Council.
White paper: Managing Airflow in Water Mitigation Projects