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Stephen Booth, Pinchin Ltd.

Building fires can cause substantial damage to homes and offices. Charred building materials, collapsed floors and other structural damage can be easy to spot and need obvious repair. Deposition of soot and combustion products because of the fire can be more difficult to identify. If these hard to detect residues are not addressed as part of the restoration, they can result in lingering smoke odour and occupant complaints. Surface testing can help identify hard to see soot / combustion product residues and inform cleaning efforts. Some amount of deposition of soot /combustion products is however likely present in most buildings as a result of environmental sources such as backyard bbq’s, campfires, and indoor sources such as wood burning and gas fireplaces.

In an effort to understand the prevalence of soot and combustion products in background dust Pinchin collected samples from nine residential homes in the greater Toronto area and five commercial office buildings across Canada. Construction dates ranged in age from 1867 to 2012. Pinchin collected basic information about the buildings including a history of fire, fireplaces, indoor smoking, and candle use. A combination of tape lifts samples, wipes, and PAH samples were then collected from a variety of indoor surfaces including but not limited to wall and ceiling finishes, hard to clean areas, return and supply air ducts, attics, and interior of wall cavities. Result were evaluated to determine what background levels of soot / combustion products could be considered typical in residential and commercial office settings. These background level could then be used to help differentiate fire residues from normal background deposition.