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Water Damage - Testing Studio Equipment

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by Jeemy, Jan 2, 2010.

  1. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Sep 19, 2003
    Had a bit of a disaster over Xmas.

    A water pipe in our ceiling burst and basically flooded the ceiling, which drained itself through the few exit points it had - one of which came across another ceiling and down the back of my control room wall, and flooded the desk, soaking most of my rack gear from the bottom - everything sits in 4U racks in a circle right around the desk.

    I came in to literally torrential water cascading across the entrance lobby from the upstairs landing.

    I was emptying water out of computers and rack gear - not pretty.

    I have an amp tech who repairs the tube amps and power amps, and he understands how things work.

    But my question is this - how can I establish a reasonable test for things like preamps - I have an insurance auditor coming to visit on Tuesday and although I can air-dry everything, hopefully the water ran underneath the circuit boards and was clean, etc etc - if something switches on and produces sound - if it sounds OK, is it OK? Or is there latent damage I am at risk of that I do not know about?

    Does anybody know of any way of testing for damage - are things like metal film resistors likely to continue to rust internally? Do speaker cones absorb air moisture and therefore can be ruined? I need to be able to provably state this in bean-counter terms.....

    Basically anybody who's got experience of testing gear; if you have any tips for how I can establish beyond reasonable doubt that something is undamaged, I'd be grateful.

    I've got the following gameplan at the moment. If anybody can help suggest anything else I should be doing, please do, cause I am freaking out.


    - a drying firm is coming in Monday. They'll remove all carpets and either clean and return and refit, or replace, all the carpets. The other rooms are basically rehearsal spaces, kitchen, storage etc.

    - gonna empty the control room entirely down to bare desk and bare floors and let them dry it. during this point i need to be testing gear

    - i'll replace all the fibreglass in the frames, sand the desk and dry it or let them dry it, respray and revarnish it, then put the frames back up

    - gonna rewire all cables in patchbays etc with brand new; solder on new chassis to the wallboxes so thats all basically brand new.

    ...so all i'm really left with is the possibility of things like -

    - damp speaker cones which might rupture (?) in a few months (and my dynaudio tweeters were like $300 the last time i replaced one, so this would rupture me)

    - possible damage to preamps, EQs and things which might not immediately be obvious, or might show itself latently

    - damage to mic capsules from humidity that I haven't been able to foresee?

    ....so these last 3 things and anything like them - can anybody advise on what is a risk, what to look for and test for? i can give a kit list if its helpful.

    many thanks in advance,

  2. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Moderator Resource Member

    Dec 18, 2008
    Western Pennsylvania, USA
    Sorry to hear about your water damage!

    Hopefully your insurance company will write you a fair check and you won't have to worry about any of the rest of this.

    It's EXTREMELY important that:
    you resist the urge to power them up right away!!

    Unfortunately, I have some experience in the flooded equipment department. A few years ago (1996) I volunteered my services to repair a bunch of flood damaged equipment for a friend who would have lost everything he had due to a local river flooding. Not only was his stuff completely submerged for a day, every bit of it was full of mud and a very fine silt - not at all pretty.

    I was able to save everything except a condenser mic, and the display on one of the effects unit was unsalvageable. Other than that, everything was completely restored. He said his old blackface ADAT worked better after I was done with it, than it did before the flood!

    So there's hope, and luckily you're already better of than he was, because in your case
    A) you have insurance and
    B) the water was clean.

    you have to resist the urge to power them up right away!!

    You should take everything to a qualified technician after the insurance auditor visits.

    If you're attempting to salvage these yourself, there are specific non-conductive tech chemicals that can displace moisture from electronic equipment. I don't know what might be available in Scotland, so I'll let you search for something that conforms to European standards.

    *Beware of the fact that these chemicals can (in the process of displacing moisture) strip out vital lubricants in motors, potentiometers, and other moving parts. If this is the case, you will need another non-conductive lubricant to replace it. It probably be a slow multi-step process.

    **Some of these chemicals will also dissolve plastics and/or rubber components OR more.

    ***Read the warnings on each product carefully, or you may do more harm than good.

    For general contact cleaning of jacks, switches, potentiometers, etc. Caig DeOxit D5 is excellent and has a light lubricant for the pots and switches - and I know it's available worldwide.

    Other products I used were by CRC, Rawn, SuperWash and a light household oil.

    As far as the parts themselves, most modern electronic components ( resistors, IC chips, capacitors, transistors, diodes ) unless physically damaged, they are fairly immune to water in their own right. Things like switches, potentiometers, motors and transformers will need the most care after an event like yours. Silicon grease underneath high-power transistors is VERY likely to hold on to that moisture for a while. Modern circuit boards have their traces and components so close together it takes very little moisture to create the potential for a short.

    you have to resist the urge to power them up right away!!

    If you end up stuck with a bunch of gear that doesn't work, there are some things you can try if you're in a position where you've got nothing to lose - and have some experience with electronics.

    If not, please take this to someone who knows what they're doing.

    Rather than put this information out here for casual consumption, I put up a Flood Recovery page to give you an idea what steps I used to recover my friend's gear. You can find photos of the whole mess there as well.


    Your biggest enemy in this will be oxidation, which may not be apparent right away. Even if your insurance won't cover replacement, insist they pay for thorough, professional cleaning.

    Old-school electronics or anything else that utilizes any form of cardboard will have a harder time recovering from a good soaking.

    Transformers that get wet to the core are VERY hard to get dry to the core. I'm told once the plates start to oxidize around the edges it's steadily downhill in terms of performance.

    Anything with an electric motor is also VERY hard to get completely dry. (replace)

    Speaker cones lose a lot of their necessary rigidity once they've soaked up even a small amount of water. (replace)

    Wet mic capsules will either be ruined, or suffer seriously shortened life-span. If they're not dead now, they probably will be soon. If they continue to work, it would probably be with diminished quality. (replace)

    Certain electronic displays may not be watertight and appear garbled once they get even slightly damp inside. And they're very hard to get apart without destroying them.

    and did I mention...
    you have to resist the urge to power them up right away!!

    That's all I can tell you right now, and probably more than you wanted to know. Sorry for repeating myself, but it's really important.

    Hopefully you get a reasonable settlement from your insurance company and you can forget all this.

    Good luck!
  3. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Sep 19, 2003
    Thats really helpful, thank you. Its certainly stuff my tech can work with.

    The one thing I am still wondering about though - if speaker cones can take in a small amount of moisture and be ruined - how does one prove they are ruined? They'll still make a sound and pass a 'switch-on' test; how does one prove to an insurance company that they are compromised?

    And how does this work for transformers, mic capsules, etc etc.

    I think with what you've given me and my tech, I will have enough to test and work out what needs replaced.

    I guess I am wondering what provable test can be given to a bean-counter to show them that these things need replaced now as they have given out in terms of performance, not in 6 months time when they physically give out.
  4. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Moderator Resource Member

    Dec 18, 2008
    Western Pennsylvania, USA
    They will either have to take your word for it, ask the opinion of your tech, or have an expert of their own.

    If the insurance company is on the up and up and the auditor/adjuster has been at this very long, he or she will know the long-term effects of water. In many cases, if they don't know they will rely on either your repair tech, or take it to a 3rd party to evaluate the damage. (I used to assess alot of lightning damage as the 3rd party).

    If there's any sign of a water-mark on the speaker, I'd say you're entitled to a replacement.

    Ask if there is a provision for equipment failure within a certain time-period. See if you can reserve the right to have the amount of your claim adjusted after your tech is done with his evaluation. In some cases, once you cash the settlement check - it's case closed and they're off the hook. So know the details on how they're reimbursing you.

    Even in the best-case repair scenario, your tech will have hours / days in labor and untold tally of replacement parts which you'll have to pay. And often in sheer labor alone it's cheaper for the ins. co. to replace rather than repair.

    The insurance company has to realize that if you wanted to, you could sabotage the works. If they want to test the equipment to see how it behaves when pushed, they have that right.

    Generally, I've found them to be fair and more eager to write the check than do the hours of testing to declare something as pass/fail.

    There has to be a level of trust. If you don't trust your insurance company to do the right thing, you need to start dealing with another insurance company.
  5. sheet

    sheet Well-Known Member

    May 28, 2003
    Kansas City, KS
    Home Page:
    When I had a flood in 84, took all of high end electronics to the local service center and this is what they told me to do: Remove all circuit boards from the chassis, dry them out with a hair drier on medium and dunk them in WD40. WD stands for Water Displacement. After they dried, I reassembled them and then he checked them out.

    +1 on waiting until things are completely dry. You should take things apart and tilt them at every angle possible so that water can come out of every little crevice.

    Ideally you will not want to use the items again, because they can fail in the future and cause reliability issues and maybe even a shock hazard or fire.
  6. JoeH

    JoeH Distinguished Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    If your insurance co is going to cover you, just let them take away/replace what they'll cover. Let THEM have the headache of selling water damaged stuff. Some things (including/especially Speakers) may never sound the same, no matter what you do.

    You may also end up with a lot of grey-area of stuff - things that aren't covered and/or things that they don't want anyway, so you might as well try to salvage what you can.

    Follow all of the advice you've been given, plus try a few other things;

    Pack small moisture-suspect items (mics, remotes, batteries, connectors, patch cords, etc.) in airtight lunch bags with new, dry generic white rice. (Good substitute for those bags of chemical desiccants.) Let them stay there as long as you can; days, weeks, whatever it takes.

    Also: look into purchasing one of those round food dehydrators from American Harvest and other vendors. (Lots of us use these things to dry/bake tapes as well!) They can be used in stacks or hollowed out for larger items, and slow-dried via a preset temperature and continuous airflow throughout the process. You could put a mic in here, or a cell phone or USB drive, or whatever needs a little extra TLC to slow-dry out. You can set these to run at roughly 115-145 degrees; perfect for gentle drying out of small items.

    And you've already heard over and over again: DONT TURN ANYTHING ON YET.

    Good luck with it all. :cool:
  7. BobRogers

    BobRogers Distinguished Member

    Apr 4, 2006
    Blacksburg, VA
    My condolences. I've had it happen (on a smaller scale) as well. Now that you've done your homework, ask your insurance agent all of these questions on Monday. This is a pretty common type of claim, so I would expect them to have specific answers - and they can often give good advice. A good company will work with you to get you back to normal with as little work and expense for everyone concerned.
  8. apstrong

    apstrong Active Member

    Feb 13, 2009
    Well, today I joined the exclusive club of people whose studios have flooded. Where's my complimentary t-shirt? I was working on a mix, I took a break for a couple of hours and went out and when I came back there was an inch of water on the floor. Shut off the main valve, unplugged everything and started hauling instruments upstairs. Thank god just about everything that was worth anything was off the floor with the exception of a few guitar pedals. Oh faithful Tube Screamer, what will become of you? Only one serious concern - I was tracking female vox a few days ago through a Rode K2 and the power supply was still sitting on the floor in an inch of water. I'm glad it wasn't turned on. But a quick search on RO for "flood" and now I've got plenty of good advice to deal with the situation already from this thread, so there is hope. Humidity is my main concern now, the water is draining away slowly, but I think I'll just remove absolutely everything once the floors are dry land again tomorrow.

    Now if only I could find the source of the leak. Looks like I get to spend the week poking holes in the drywall trying to find the problem.... Onwards and upwards.

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