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Soda Blasting after Fire Damage

August 16, 2017Reconstruction

Once GC3 is onsite to manage the reconstruction of a building after a fire, we are often faced with the task of cleaning structures such as joists, rafters, roof decks, floor decks, trusses, beams, columns, etc. They may be wood, steel, concrete or a combination of these or other materials. These surfaces would be irregular with multiple sides, several crevices and joints and difficult to clean manually.

Getting a structure to look and smell like it did pre-fire can be a daunting task. Depending on the severity of the fire damage, there are several options to consider when it comes to cleanup. And, there are pros and cons for each depending on: the type of material to be cleaned, accessibility to the surfaces, the surrounding environment, the amount and property makeup of the soot, porosity of the material, etc.

This leads us to cleaning by abrasive blasting. Today, there are several options such as compressed air, water, sand, corncobs, walnut shells, dry ice, soda or “media” (a very hard product from the coal industry). Each method has a different degree of aggressiveness as far as soot removal power vs. abrasiveness to the structure. And, each material has its place.

If the structure is wood, we like to use blasting with soda (or dry ice as a close second), as this material does not damage the wood surface if used properly. For odor control, soda blasting wins the argument.

Soda blasting is a relatively new technology in the field of blasting where granulated sodium bicarbonate is applied at high pressure upon a surface, to remove contaminants or smooth the surface. While it is technically used as an abrasive, many professionals in the field consider soda blasting non-abrasive.

This technology was developed in the mid-1980s primarily for the purpose of cleaning the Statue of Liberty inside and out, a delicate task requiring effectiveness without damage. This same method allows the user to gently and quickly strip away the burned and charred surface, leaving clean bare wood exposed – all without harming exposed wiring, pipes or fixtures. The soda also provides the added benefit of absorbing the lingering burned odor as it (baking soda) changes the pH of (or “neutralizes”) the odor-causing soot and fire residue when in contact with each other.

Additional benefits of soda blasting include:

        • Soda blasting is the fastest and most effective tool available for removing soot and cleaning lightly charred building materials. In heat-driven fires, where burning and smoldering materials create heavy soot, there is simply no comparison to the ability of baking soda blasting to clean building components
        • It can prevent the need for demolition in some instances and saves reconstruction time.
        • Clean-up is simplified as water can also be used to rinse and “clean up” the water soluble media.
        • The ability to achieve a superior finish on wood and other surfaces. The process creates more of a ‘sanded finish’ on the surface, wood in particular.
        • Logistically, soda blasting is an easier process to facilitate. When using dry ice, for example, the ice is delivered in 500 lb. bins that can be difficult to maneuver and then there is also the issue of the freshness of the ice.

Some cautions to use with soda blasting include:

        • The fine white powder residue tends to go everywhere, which can be a problem if adjoining spaces are occupied or undamaged.
        • Proper personal protection equipment is required such as respirators, face shields, ear protection, and Tyvec suits. (But then, most blasting requires that.)
        • Only necessary personnel should be in the area of soda blasting to avoid breathing the dusty air.

After blasting with soda, the results are a clean building that is fresh smelling with the elimination of smoke odor.

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