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Close-up: Kurtis Pitts

The advantage of using a certified, experienced restoration contractor

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Kurtis Pitts is a knowledgeable general contractor with decades of experience and a very interesting conversationalist, but most homeowners and property managers would still not want to meet him -- in a professional capacity.

Pitts is the president of Quantum Construction and Restoration Inc., based in El Cajon, which specializes in catastrophic recovery, primarily from water damage, but also fire and mold remediation. Quantum is the second restoration company he started, in 2006, after he sold his first business in 2003.

He entered this "recession proof" industry back in 1983, when he worked in a hospital and learned how to maintain a sanitary environment through chemical applications for floor cleaning. He moved on to carpet cleaning and then set up his own business in emergency restoration work in 1991.

Kurtis Pitts

When he sold that business, he worked for other contractors before setting up Quantum, which has quadrupled in size since 2006, with revenues that have doubled mainly from emergency services and insurance-related work for both commercial and residential.

"Restoration is very much a niche, which is why I selected it personally. It does not depend on the economy," Pitts said. "Restoration varies widely; it is a combination of heavy duty industrial cleaning, emergency service work and science."

Pitts stands apart from the average contractor in that he earned eight certifications in fire restoration and water damage from the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), which cumulatively gives him the title of Master Water Restorer.

"It's a lot of work, a lot of learning and very, very challenging, because my industry has changed completely over the last 25 years," he said. "Back then, when people saw mold, they sprayed bleach, turned on the fan (and were done). In the '90s, with media hype, mold became litigious. Attorneys began suing all parties responsible for mold -- Realtors, landlords and home remediation contractors," explained Pitts, who said this transformed the economics of the industry.

He gave the example of a plumber being called in for a leak in a wall. If the plumber followed that leak and found mold inside, even though he is not responsible for causing that mold, he could be sued, because the mold could spread from his actions. Property managers took these cases to court and insurance companies paid exorbitant amounts to settle these cases.

Soon insurers cut their losses and stipulated that they would not cover mold at all, or only up to $5,000 in damage.

"This passed the buck on to the homeowner, who is now required to disclose fire and water damage at the time of sale," Pitts said. "The way this has trickled down has completely transformed the industry."

The average carpet cleaner called in by a property manager for dry-outs caused by water damage has no education on how to deal with mold if he finds it, but will tackle it because he won't want to lose the contract, according to Pitts. The IICRC is the major authority in the restoration field, and Pitts considers certifications vitally important, in order to be properly equipped to handle mold remediation.

"Mold grows with in 72 hours, because it feeds on hygroscopic material -- basically, porous, organic building materials like lumber, wall frames, paper in the dry wall, carpet padding, all of which are food for mold," he explained.

Mold thrives on four things: temperatures over 55 degrees; dank, dark areas without air that are perfect feeding grounds for mold; hygroscopic material; and moisture.

Pitts pointed out that mold is present everywhere, but high levels of exposure to it over prolonged periods actually hurts people's lungs. When Quantum is called in after water damage, Pitts launches a methodical survey process. The first priority is to determine the category of damage.

If it is from clean, potable water, it can simply be dried out without demolition work. A second category is grey water, which can be from a dishwasher or washing machine breaking down. The third is the worst kind of damage, sewage water from drains or groundwater from outside the building.

Once the firm has ascertained the source of damage, the next step is to use a thermal hygrometer to determine the temperature and humidity levels. A thermal imaging camera that costs around $10,000 is used to determine the variance in temperature within the structure. A survey master protometer is an instrument that assesses the moisture levels.

Once inspection is done, the next step is to give an assessment report to the homeowner or property manager.

Pitts reiterates the old maxim that prevention is better than cure: "I personally don't understand folks who don't do regular maintenance, especially in San Diego with temperatures over 70 degrees, where fungal growth can be rapid after water damage," he said.

Drying the damaged area with fans or airing it out, which is what most homeowners are prone to do, is simply not enough to control or prevent further damage, according to Pitts. Commercial strength dehumidification is essential, and this equipment is used only by restoration contractors.

Aside from catastrophic recovery, Quantum aims to be a one-stop shop for its clients, providing related services in flooring and window coverings, build-back or recovery construction after severe damage and emergency services like drying and mold remediation.

Quantum does everything in-house, except for occasionally subcontracting some flooring jobs, but the company still oversees the projects. Quantum makes it convenient for customers by simplifying things as much as possible, processing the insurance paperwork and undertaking complete project management.

Recent major projects include a church in Hillcrest that has suffered water damage twice, this time from ground water. When a drunk driver rammed into a fire hydrant, it broke and flooded the structure, and they called in Quantum.

Pitts offers this bit of advice for homeowners regarding their home warranty and insurance policies: "I would advise everyone to thoroughly analyze their water, fire and mold damage insurance coverage. Insurance companies will stipulate that they will not cover ground water -- such as the flooding that took place in Iowa. Such exclusions are common, but (rather than saving small amounts with lower premiums), comprehensive coverage is imperative."

Nagappan is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

Related Link: www.quantumrestoration.com

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