John Downey, Ken Larsen & Cliff Zlotnik – Concerns Over the State of the Water Damage Restoration Industry

Air Date: 8-12-2016| Episode: 426

The most recent edition of the IICRC Journal of Cleaning, Restoration & Inspection included two articles about the state of the water damage restoration industry…

Full Description:

The most recent edition of the IICRC Journal of Cleaning, Restoration & Inspection included two articles about the state of the water damage restoration industry. The article “Concerns over the State of the Water Damage Restoration Industry” by Cliff Zlotnik detailed the history of water damage restoration and provided a fascinating critique of the foundation behind the IICRC Applied Structural Drying certification and its subsequent incorporation into the IICRC S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration.

The article by Ken Larsen Unintended Consequences of In-Place Drying and the ANSI/IICRC S500 re-enforced and added to the critique by Zlotnik. These articles have got people thinking and have lead to a great deal of positive feedback to the authors and “The Journal’s” editor John Downey. This week on IAQ Radio we have all the key players joining us along with a few people that commented on the articles. We also have frequent IAQ Radio contributor and The Global Restoration Industry Watchdog Pete Consigli.

These articles question some of the foundation of a multi-billion dollar industry and a commonly used drying process.

Z-Man’s Blog:

“Howda, righta wrong?”

The subject for this week’s episode of IAQradio were two articles which appeared in the August issue of the IICRC Journal along with details from the story behind them.

We discussed the background of the articles, the selection process for the publishing venue and the editing and peer review process.  The articles are titled, Concerns Over the State of the Water Damage Restoration Industry (by Cliff Zlotnik).

Guests for the show included: Ken Larsen, John Downey (Editor and Publisher of the Journal), Mike Miles and Clayton Shull (two readers who commented favorably of the articles and Pete Consigli (Global Industry Watchdog)

Nuggets mined from today’s episode:

RadioJoe to the Z-Man: What prompted you to write the article?

Z-Man: I attended both of the early in-place drying courses. Felt uneasy and uncomfortable about “top-down drying”. Considered the training courses unrealistic. Tested the theory in the original Restoration Science Academy training center and came to different conclusions.

I shared my findings, conclusions and concerns with others in the industry. No one wanted to listen. It was akin to the “Running of the Bulls” in Spain, I feel like I got run over. In place drying created a feeding frenzy. Everyone was focused on the upside and few thought about a potential downside or unintended consequences.

Triggered by invitation to co-author Ken’s article the “Elephant in the Room”, I agreed and began trying to contribute to his article. Feeling that the background story needed to be told, my article soon took on a life of its own.

I want to publicly acknowledged and thank Pete Consigli, who helped with the recall, dates and provided a 3rd party perspective. I tip my hat to Ken. After bitter feelings resulting from my bad experiences as a volunteer on the first and second S-500 and the first S-520; I set all IICRC standards aside and only look at them when absolutely necessary. I know of no one who knows chapter and verse of the IICRC S-500 better than Ken and want to publicly thank him for helping me with locating the standard citations.

RadioJoe in addition to knowing drying, Ken has a good sense of building science. Ken, what prompted you to write the article?

Ken: The articles are a compelling message combining both a little history of the subject as well as the influence the S500 has had on the drying industry.

Pete has uncanny recall for the who, the when and the where.

Inspired by May 2012, Journal of Environmental Health demonstrated that a water loss responded to within four hours showed an exponential increase (orders of magnitude) of microbial growth in floor materials. Disappointed so few IICRC insiders and leadership acknowledged the results of the research.

4 years of silence since the Journal of environmental health article

The IICRC omitted any mention of in-place drying in new S-500 standard. Most emotional about insurance programs inaccurately referencing the S500, stipulated price and procedural concessions in order to receive referrals.

Insurance carriers have reduced their claims staff and now rely on TPAs. TPAs aren’t required to meet the same standard or code of ethics of licensed adjusters. TPAs can impose burdens not imposed by insurance carriers.

Mandate practices that they claim come from IICRC standards, what is being mandated isn’t really part of the standard. How did TPAs come to these conclusions? Through IICRC course curriculum and standards?

How to correct the situations?

The new S500 is significantly better than the prior version from 2006.

Z-Man: It’s important that we discuss our decision making process on where to publish the articles:

Ken and I decided early on that the articles should be published in tandem.

Why we chose to submit the articles to the journal?

I knew that both John Downey, editor and publisher of the IICRC Journal and Michelle Blevins, editor of R&R would be attending Violand Management’s Summit event in Canton. I made copies of the original draft of my article for Radio Joe, Michelle Blevins and John Downey.

While we knew more people would see it if published in R&R, we mutually felt that the best place to detail an accurate account of history on an IICRC standard would be in their own Journal! I’ve known John Downey for 30+ years, and we both trusted John Downey’s integrity.

Michelle would need to break the longer article into multiple issues of the magazine. I was concerned that receiving the article in chunks over a span of multiple months would result in loss of interest lose interest or miss the main points.

The title of both articles changed, my initial title was an Indictment of the current state of the water damage restoration industry.

John agreed to read the articles and consider publishing them.

Prefer to have IICRC have opportunity to set the record straight. Make the science correct.

I wish to both acknowledge and complimented John on having the courage to publish it.

Peer review process, Pete, Ken, peer reviewers. Peer reviewers brought up issues. John provided two options to stand with position or accept suggestions. I accepted all suggestions.

Ken’s comment on peer review:

Absolutely agree. Among his circle of contacts problems on water claims is a dominant theme. Contractors find their lack of control on their projects discouraging. Many declare water restoration work is no longer fun or rewarding. The bureaucracy and loss of control is a challenge to contractor’s patience and tolerance. Contractor’s are exhausted by the demand to provide non-compensated services and mandatory investment and utilization of drying documentation software. All these demands stem from the IICRC. The IICRC is the source of these ideas. Readership has been supportive of our method to inspire the IICRC to make the needed corrections.

John Downey:

Ken and Cliff put blood sweat and tears into the articles. As editor of the Journal, I don’t ever know how authors will take to criticisms. Both Ken and Cliff were open-minded. While aware the articles are critical of standards, the standards approach, certifications and curriculum, John sees the IICRC as big enough and welcoming enough that it should welcome criticisms when such criticism is handled professionally. The IICRC should thank people like Ken and Cliff who have the courage to bring dissenting opinion forward.

Standards take 5 years to update, so the Journal fills the information void. The Journal gets good info out to the industries served by the IICRC in a timely way.

The IICRC did not control the information in the articles and therefore the Journal was able to able to channel in a manner productive to the industry. The original articles while good had a bias. Bias is normal, everyone has one. Editing and peer review can remove bias. Sometimes it’s easy by substitution of a non-antagonistic word to have an industry conversation that will be productive. Journal may be uniquely positioned. Had they published in R&R it wouldn’t have been as productive if published in the journal because of the peer review component.

Readership has provided more feedback on these articles (including emails and phone calls) than any other article in the history of the Journal! All of the feedback so far has been positive. One may not agree with every word in the articles but still conclude that they were constructive and beneficial to the industry.

To date heard nothing from the IICRC leadership. Leadership is busy and focused on changes in administration and may not have had a chance to look at it. Happy to discuss the articles and the Journal with the leadership. Opportunity to explain the mission of the journal. Not simply a mouthpiece expressing the views of the IICRC, it must have a deeper significance. The Journal can be used to self-critique and provide good information to the IICRC’s best customers.

2nd half

RadioJoe: What would you like to see happen?

Ken: I’m passionate about this: Those involved in IICRC exam committees realize the consequences of poorly crafted learning objectives, bad exam questions. Many exam questions reference mere recommendations in the standards that aren’t mandated.

Nothing says students must use these recommendations in the field. By saying students are wrong the IICRC curriculum, the standards are being twisted. The Exam Committee taught the industry to misuse the standard by saying the student is wrong on the exam.

Z-Man: Simplify curriculum, remove complication. To paraphrase the late Jim Darling’s recommendation that the IICRC mold remediation course for workers’ whose first language was other than English could be done in 4 words: “mold bad-clean good!” Drying is pretty simple “wet bad-dry good”; we need to show workers how to get there. Lloyd’s method was simple and it worked. When the IICRC changed the WRT curriculum and exam and added committee “Made Up Stuff”: the IICRC drying formulas, equipment placements formulas, categories of wetness; I could no longer teach it. The photos in the article show air passing through materials and into interstitial spaces. Adjusting curriculum away from the dominance of in-place drying would be a good start.

Mike Miles – in 2009 participated in multiple ASD courses and found it was pretty “Wisteria Lane”. They flooded house in several areas. Questioned from the beginning. Unrealistic wetting. Pipes burst in walls. He led a group into the crawl space. No mention of engineering/environmental controls nor what happens if we would positively pressurize the home. Found mold, brought to attention of instructors who poo-pooed. ASD training pretty cute and unrealistic. First thing you need to do is a Job Hazard Analysis. ASD training was poster child to adjusters just to get certified. When he found mold in the ASD house, the instructors told him to ignore what he was seeing.

TPAs misrepresent the S500 based on real time practical experience. The new standard with 6 changes is an awesome document. It is being misinterpreted by insurance carriers and TPAs. Why can’t we use AFDs, environmental controls and decontaminate our equipment. TPAs aren’t held to the same standards as adjusters. There was a mass influx of technicians into schools. There was no mention of monitoring of airborne particulate in ASD courses.

Clayton Shull, what prompted to comment? In October of 1999, attended the Water Loss Institute’s  4th Annual Conference  in San Antonio Texas and was invited to a Dri-Zone Beta course shortly afterward in Burlington, WA at the Dri-Eaz HQ. The house was still wet after 3.5 days. He is a techie guy, woke up early and was looking for something interesting to read. He found the articles in the Journal and couldn’t believe how informative and timely the info was. He was very impressed.

RadioJoe: John Downey what would you want to see happen?

John Downey:  Facilitate the dissemination of information to the industries the IICRC serves. The Journal’s peer reviewers are subject matter experts. John has no personal agenda on where this issue goes. While he has a personal point of view, he doesn’t consider his point of view to be important.

What’s important is having a discussion about the issue. When reading the articles it occurred that we need an industry discussion. Perhaps there was a discussion earlier, when much less data available? It’s important that the discussion be had again.

The Round-up

Restoration Global Watchdog weighs-in:

Consigli: Rewarding to work with Ken and Cliff on the articles. Supportive of the decision to place in the journal. John D oversees a rigorous process. Not surprised that John got more comments on these articles than any other in the short history of the Journal

Ken Larsen mentioned what put the issue on his radar screen was the unintended consequences of in-place drying pointed out by the research published in the Journal of Environmental Health. The research has been ignored. Doesn’t feel industry is aware of the research. This set the stage for the articles.

ASD and In-place drying is equipment driven. Good intentions to dry better and faster. Part of the growth experience of the industry

Get away from prescriptive standards. Move to performance based standards. The separation of standards from the reference guide will reduce the confusion. Reference guide is being used and referred to as authoritative when it isn’t.

Predictive analysis considers how rookie professional players are drafted, how drafted players will likely perform, etc. Insurance companies are using predictive analysis to get a handle on water claims. Predictive analysis can’t quantify the human spirit and the variables of a restoration project no better than sports management can identify the unique athletes who defy “the rules”!

Lloyd’s concept was a good start. When the customer can see what is going on they have more confidence when they see what is being done. Insurance carriers rely on our industry to create standards. Insurance adjusters and TPAs have a learning curve and trust the consensus process.

Flood houses aren’t a bad thing. How to effectively use them as an educational tool in the future is the industry challenge

Flood houses and educators will adjust. Hands on training isn’t going away. Let’s admit what happened and change how we do it.

RIA’s C&R magazine is working with John Downey on a follow-up article for the October issue which highlights education and certification. The subject matter of the articles is relevant and important. C&R will further spread the message through the RIA membership.  Cliff and Ken will each write a foreword to introduce the articles meaning and intent to the members and influential readership. Don’t always look at things as being good or bad, it is what it is. Following the money will always be part of how things happen and usually explain the why! Appreciated the input of the 2 practitioners who called in to the show

Roundup continued:

John Downey: This sort of article and topic is something the journal can, should and will be handling and handling more aggressively. Using the peer review process the Journal will bring forward information that is flying under the radar. It’s the way to help move the industry forward in a positive direction.

Ken: Agree with Pete’s comments. Want to shout out to fellow IICRC instructors and creators of IICRC exams and encourage them to read the articles and recognize the affect they have on the industry. The industry’s accountability and ability to recognize the potential for unintended consequences largely falls at the feet of the educators and forward thinkers.

Z-Man: The articles demonstrate there is a need for understandable, practical, realistic hands-on-training. Training used to be a great. In order to make the restoration industry great again we need to first make restoration training great again!

Today’s Music and Sound Clips:

I’m Against It by Groucho Marx & Brian the Contrarian from Family Guy

Z-man signing off


Who is the author of a famous poem about a contrarian and Curious Cat?


T.S. Elliot