Filed Under:Claims, Catastrophe & Restoration

Textile Restorers to the Rescue

Handling Losses Large and Small

"Where am I going to live tonight?” It is one of many questions racing through the mind of an insured who has just suffered a loss, whether there was a fire or flood in their home or damage resulting from a larger catastrophe.

What is not immediately top of mind is what they are going to wear tomorrow. Or the next day. Or even the next week.

There is no doubt that garments and other fabric items in a home have become a large and fast-growing part of a contents claim. Simply consider the value of what’s in your closet. If you are like most Americans, you have at least one closet filled with clothes, shoes, belts and other garments. A typical family can accumulate tens of thousands of dollars in clothing in just a few short years. In fact, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that Americans spent more than $338 billion on clothes and shoes in 2010—more than furnishings and durable household equipment ($258.5 billion), recreational goods and vehicles ($335.5 billion), and nearly as much as motor vehicles and parts ($345 billion). Also, consider the value of window treatments, bedding, towels, purses and sentimental items, whether a wedding gown or cherished heirloom.

The impact of this situation affects countless contents claims across the U.S., leading to increased severity for insurers. Fortunately, as the textile restoration niche has become a common component and standardized service when dealing with contents losses, claims managers and adjusters are recognizing the benefits and capabilities of a textile specialist for everyday loss situations, such as a small fire or broken water pipe, as well as large losses and special situations. On average, the restoration of garments and other textiles reduces severity by 80 percent compared to replacement. Beyond the cost savings, a professional textile specialist also can have a meaningful impact on customer satisfaction by providing fast response and empathy that demonstrate action by the carrier to the insured.

The unparalleled disaster caused by the Nashville, Tenn. flood in 2010 serves as a prime example. Considered a “500 year flood,” water inundated downtown Nashville and up to four blocks from the river.  The entire Oprymills Mall was flooded, as was three quarters of the landmark Opryland Hotel, along with property owned by country music stars such as Tanya Tucker.

Getting Back on Track

At the Opryland Hotel, which included a commercial laundry facility in the basement, a textile restoration specialist was called upon to gauge what could be done.  The restorer first was given a dozen items as a test to determine the restoration capability. The items were thoroughly restored and returned within 24 hours, providing a valuable proof of concept for hotel management and its insurer, which agreed to proceed with restoration of the remaining items. Even though nearly 10,000 items, including uniforms and linens, had been in a flooded and hot building for several days, the textile restorer was able to achieve a 99-percent success rate based on items that were deemed restorable on-site. The company then was called in to consult with the hotel for the rebuilding and installation of equipment for the newly renovated facility.

Set the Stage for Success

Achieving a substantial success rate—whether in the case of the Opryland Hotel or a more common residential loss situation—is predicated upon several factors.  First and foremost is 24/7 access and speed of response. A professional textile restorer should be considered with the same sense of urgency as a mitigation contractor, as fabric items often must be removed before other components of contents restoration can begin. Additionally, the sooner the textile restoration process begins, the greater the success rate.  Applying restoration procedures within hours is key to preventing secondary damage, and prompt response can reduce severity by increasing the restorability of items.

When dealing with a water loss, a professional textile restorer follows a specific protocol that involves separating light-colored items from dark-colored items to prevent dye transfer, which can prove impossible to remove. At this point, the restorer inspects all of the items to determine any pre-existing damage or damage caused by the loss itself that may prevent successful restoration, hanging items in a special drying room before initiating the restoration process. Oftentimes, dry-clean-only garments are left on hangers so they can be dried and treated with ozone to remove any musty smell before dry cleaning. Washable items are washed as soon as possible to eliminate any chance of dye transfer or mildew development. If dye transfer has already occurred, then restoration still can be attempted on the items, as minor dye bleeding can be flushed out during the restoration process.  With white fabrics, a chemical agent can be used to remove dye bleeding without damaging the fabric as long as a restorer applies a scientific approach based on fabric type and knowledge of what treatment is most appropriate.

A Tricky Situation

In those situations where mold growth already has begun, protective gear is worn when necessary—both in the field and during processing in the plant where a properly ventilated storage system prevents cross-contamination of other items.  Some fabrics can be laundered immediately with a mildewcide for optimal results. Perchloroethylene, also referred to simply as “perc,” is the most common cleaning agent in the dry cleaning industry. Perc is extremely effective in the remediation of mold, as it breaks down most of the rigid cellulose “cell walls” of fungi. Germicides can be added to enhance agent’s performance and further eradicate mold and fungi. Importantly, a two-bath distillation system then accomplishes the more critical task of removing the toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

In larger scale situations such as with the Opryland Hotel, the textile restoration process requires large scale capabilities, including a fleet of vehicles and supplies, as well as specially-trained staff who are adept at determining what items are likely to respond to restoration and who are able to thoroughly document and inventory all items. A systematic approach to digital photos, for example, provides the adjuster with an accurate account of the loss site situation along with the damaged items. A detailed inventory is the cornerstone that ensures that every item removed from the loss site is accounted for and returned following restoration.

The restoration facility itself must be equipped to handle a large influx of items, which again requires trained personnel to check in each item into a computerized system. This step details the type of item and damage prior to any actual restoration and creates an electronic audit trail of the items. This electronic inventory can be cross-referenced with the on-site inventory as another layer of certification and accountability. Specialized cleaning equipment is necessary, including industrial-strength high-extraction washers, dry cleaning machines using specially-formulated cleaning agents, dryers, presses, steam tunnels and other equipment that enables restoration of more than just garments, such as window treatments, shoes, purses, hats, bedding, rugs, and sentimental items like wedding dresses and heirloom pieces.

Cleaning Agents and Approaches

The restoration process then relies on experts who specialize in spotting, wet cleaning, dry cleaning, ozoning, hand-washing, and finishing, using a full range of equipment, cleaning agents, and techniques to ensure the highest level of success. A scientific approach and customized treatment is based on four key components: time, temperature, mechanical action, and concentration of cleaning agents. Higher laundering temperature, achievable only with commercial-capacity water heaters, reduces the surface tension of water and accelerates most chemical reactions.

As a result, cleaning agents function more efficiently, and the amount of necessary cleaning agents can be reduced. Likewise, proper agitation creates uniform distribution of cleaning agents, leading to enhanced soil suspension and a higher effectiveness of cleaning. A professional textile restorer also will use multiple cleaning formulas specifically designed for restoration that are effective at relatively low temperatures and low pH (meaning more acidic than alkaline) to improve the restoration success rate.

A professional textile specialist also understands and follows accurate and proper pricing, particularly through the use of accepted third-party pricing specialists such as Xactware. Items that cannot be successfully restored to pre-loss condition are removed from the invoice, leading to a risk-free situation for the insurer. The more items that can be restored, the greater the reduction in severity.

Once restoration is completed, the textile expert must have secure storage facilities to warehouse the items while allowing convenient access for an insured who needs items before the entire order is returned.

Overall, a highly professional and systematic approach to a loss involving textiles protects all involved with the claim, reduces total cost and enhances customer satisfaction. For an insured dealing with the aftermath of a loss, a claims process that involves professional restoration goes far beyond where they are going to sleep that night and gives the insured a peace of mind that their most personal and oftentimes irreplaceable items are being treated with the highest level of care and expertise.

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