How Soot Can Damage Floor Joists
A house fire introduces a substantial amount of smoke and soot. The soot particles that emerge after the fire is extinguished can continue to damage areas of the home, including the floor joists. Charred wood beams that support the home must be evaluated by a professional to assess structural safety.
Home fires can occur in the blink of any eye. Equally worrisome is that it takes only 3.5 minutes for a fire to reach 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. The number of house fires that occurred in 2020 was 365,500. The property damage from those fires was immense, totaling $8.4 billion.
Statistics reveal that 49 percent of home fires are caused by cooking accidents. Over a period of four years, this means cooking fires cause on average 169,000 house fires and $1.2 billion in property losses. Heating equipment and electrical fires are the next two leading causes of home fires.
What happens to wood beams after a fire?
Prior to the fire officials extinguishing the blaze, the fire moves rapidly through three phases. First, the fire grows from ignition to flashover. Second, the flashover fully develops. Lastly, as the fire’s temperatures decline and fuel sources are consumed, the decay phase begins.
Floor joists undergo thermal degradation when consumed by the flames. The sudden heat and flames from the home fire will cause surface charring of the wood. The floor joist’s outer layer becomes charred, and the innermost interior of the wood beam remains cool.
Wood beams exposed to a fire can suffer varying, irreversible effects based on the moisture content of the joists, the heating medium, temperature of the flames (damage increases at 300 degrees Fahrenheit), exposure time, and the species and size of the wood.
Floor joists that undergo significant charring can experience a loss of load capacity. Obviously, the charred portions of the wood beams have zero load capacity. However, the wood beneath the charred areas retains its load capacity, although at a much weaker level than prior to the fire exposure.
An outcome of fire is soot. Smoke from a home fire will rise and subsequently affect upper levels of the property. This means that even the floor beams supporting upper stories will become stained with the fire’s damaging byproducts of smoke and soot.
The level of damage to the wooden beams can vary depending on such factors as whether or not the wood has been sealed, painted, or stained. If the wood had been previously sealed in some way, the soot and smoke odors and stains will be easier to remove.
Wood beams that are protected by a finish can hugely impact the successful removal of soot stains from wooden floor joists. In some cases, finished wood can be successfully cleaned and repaired. Unfinished wood can be replaced if the cleaning is ineffective.
How are soot-damaged floor joists cleaned?
Wooden floor joists are normally treated against decay. If the wood beams are left untreated, they must be constructed of wood that will remain decay-resistant. These types of wooden floor joists are only necessary within the perimeters of the building.
When wooden floor joists become covered in soot, an effective cleaner can be applied. The first step is to use a dry cloth or towel to wipe away as much soot as possible. Wash the surfaces with warm water and degreasing cleaner. Repeat the process until the soot is removed.
The type of cleaner utilized is important to the successful removal of soot from the floor joists. Recommended cleaners include vinegar, baking soda and a handy degreaser. Vinegar and baking soda effectively remove the noxious smoke odors from unfinished wood.
Sealing the wood is a necessary step after the floor beams have been cleaned. Sealants remove and prevent odors emanating from the fire damage. A homeowner can tackle the task of sealing the sooty floor joists; however, depending on the extent of the fire, it can be a time-consuming process.
Wood damaged by fire will release smoke odors—and these odors must be removed. Living in a home contaminated with smoke odors is not only unhealthy but unbearable. Special smoke sealing products will eliminate smoke smells. (A sealer is intended to remove odors and is not intended for cleaning.)
Should floor joists damaged by soot be replaced?
Alternately, floor joists damaged by soot might have to be replaced, especially if the ruined floor beams compromise the structural integrity of the home. A licensed fire inspector should be consulted to determine whether or not the floor joists can be salvaged or will need to be replaced.
After a home fire, soot particles travel far and wide. The tiny soot particles settle in nooks and crevices within the home that the flames have not directly touched. Both concealed and visible fire damage are best restored by experienced professionals.
Flames are incredibly destructive, but the byproducts of a fire are equally devastating. Smoke and soot, if left unaddressed, can lead to permanent damage to the valuables inside the home. Fire damage restoration experts are able to identify affected areas and clean them thoroughly.
Fire damage cleanup technicians utilize specialized cleaning methods to eliminate soot and smoke damage from the property. They also reconstruct damaged structural elements, such as the walls, ceilings, and foundational structures. Smoke odors are quickly removed with advanced deodorization methods.
While the property undergoes restoration, specialists provide content cleaning and pack out services. Crews restore damaged personal items and electronics. Specialized dry-cleaning services are suitable for restoring fabrics, like clothing and drapes, damaged by the soot and smoke.