Picture taking hints on a fire loss
Photos are critical. Below are some hints and best practices that your contractor should use to document the loss to prevent misunderstandings. They should:
- Use the highest resolutions on the tablet, camera, or phone
- Pay attention to lighting and use the time and date option
- Start with the exterior of the home always going left to right
- Take interior pictures also left to right from the entry door of every room
- Take floor and ceiling pictures including trim and lighting
- Properly label cause of loss pictures
- Document preloss issues (especially on contents)
- Document contents separately from the structure pictures
- Not switch between vertical and horizontal pictures with the camera or phone.
It is not unusual for the carrier (insurance company) to request video documentation which is a walk through video which shows all affected and unaffected areas of the home. Technology is growing so quickly that these videos can now document the loss and even accurately measure each room in 3D. Drones may be used to measure and document the roofs and outside areas of the home. Some carriers have separate companies that they contract with to document and price contents.
After taking the pictures the next step is to make them usable. The contractor will need to create folders and label and sort the “before” structure and contents pictures. They should also have “during” and “after” folders with time stamps. There should also be folders for any contents deemed unsaveable, discarded, or moved off site. Before pictures also help the restoration company reset your contents in their original locations after cleaning.
Another advantage of quality pictures becomes evident when reconstruction is necessary. The company you hire to put the structure back to preloss condition will probably have never seen your home before the fire. Pictures truly do show 1000 words and help you explain what you want it to look like when finished. Good pictures can also help fill out the unsavable lists if you have a large loss and some areas of the home are actually missing. SERVPRO Of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac hopes you never have a large fire but if you do, hopefully these tips will help make it easier.
So you had a fire loss
You will be amazed on how many people will get involved on this loss. You will of course be dealing with your insurance carrier. (Auto Owners, State Farm, Farm Bureau, Citizens, Fremont, etc.) Your carrier may have a relationship (agreement) with multiple specialty companies including;
- Laundry or dry cleaning
- Document drying and deodorization
- Debris removal
- Water damage and drying
- Smoke odor reduction
- Electronics restoration
- Pack-Out, Moving, and Storage
- Artwork, Heirlooms, or Photography
- Billiard tables
- Musical instruments
You will need to choose a restoration contractor to take care of the structural cleaning and handle all or some of the above items. Of course we would like you to choose SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac but you will have many options. There are many major restoration vendors, local contractors, and even small mom and pop companies willing to help clean and deodorize your home. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
Make sure you get references from your agent, your adjuster, and customers who have used the vendors for prior losses. Everyone’s goal should be the same---get you back into your home quickly and complete the claim in the most accurate manner possible. Your insurance company just wants to pay what they owe from your policy (contract) that both of you signed. The restoration contractor wants to complete the claim, allow you back into your home, and get paid for what they have done—nothing more, nothing less.
Another 100 Year Flood in Western Michigan
SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac and our sister franchises from Clare, Muskegon, Traverse City, and Big Rapids helped over 100 homes who suffered water damage from the late July storm that hit western Michigan. Hardest hit was Manistee, Ludington, Scottville, Free Soil, Fountain, Wellston, Irons, Baldwin, Wolf Lake, Custer, Dublin, Bear Lake, and Onekama who recently received over a foot of rain in one day. As rivers overflowed and city storm sewers were overwhelmed, our customers saw the water rise in their basements and crawlspaces.
They call this a 100 year flood. But what does that mean? A 100 year rain does not mean you can expect to get a rain of that size every one hundred years. It actually means that in any given year, you have a 1% chance of getting a foot of rain from one storm. A 50 year storm has a 2% chance and a 25 year storm has a 4% chance in any given year.
You can go to the FEMA FLood Map Service Center https://msc.fema.gov/portal/home and check out the probability of your home getting flooded (if your area was mapped and most are). The higher the risk of flooding, the more you should consider buying flood insurance from FEMA. As most of West Michigan knows by now, your home policy probably will not cover a water event coming from outside the structure. Sometimes limited coverage ($2,000-5,000) can be purchased through your homeowner’s policy as a sump pump or sewage back up failure rider, but most home policies specifically exclude groundwater or water coming from outside the home.
You can also check to see if your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Remember there is usually a 30-day waiting for this type of insurance to kick in so don’t wait until your phone announces a flood warning to call your insurance company. You should also talk to your local insurance agent. They are the experts and know what is available in your area. Many of them sell enhanced policies that cover some types of water intrusion (hydro-static intrusion, sump pump failure, or septic backups). They can also help walk you through the steps to get on a federal program to give you some protection from the 100 year rains that seem to be coming much more frequently.
FEMA’s statistics show that over 20 percent of flood insurance claims are for non-high risk zones. Whether climate change is temporary or permanent doesn’t really matter to your wet basement. Large storms and weather events are clearly happening more frequently and you need to be prepared. Some of the things you can do will help with even normal rainfall amounts. Install and maintain roof gutters with downspouts to get the water at least 6 feet away from your foundation. Consider landscaping to drain the water away from your home. Clean out ditches and culverts on your property or call the local road commissions for help. Work with your neighbors on larger projects (their basement is probably wet also).
Because flood insurance from the NFIP program usually has limited or no coverage for below ground areas (basements and crawlspaces) and the contents stored in them be careful what you store down there. Now may be the time to get rid of the college furniture your son has stored in your basement and get some plastic totes for the craft supplies that are in cardboard boxes on the floor. If you haven’t used that exercise bike in 10 years you may want to find someone who would it to take up space in his basement.
Other items not typically covered are paper documents and money or valuables stored in the basement. Outdoor decks, patios, fences, hot tubs and pools, outdoor furniture, and wells and septic systems are typically excluded. Usually this insurance will not cover temporary housing or living expenses. You may have coverage for some of these items (and possibly large appliances like washer and dryer or furnace) through your home insurance under a personal contents cover.
Your friends at SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac hope you never have to use our water damage and restoration services but knowing your options before the loss should make dealing with the event easier. Please call your local insurance agent for more details if you have questions as every area is different. If you do get hit with a 100 year flood, call the professionals at SERVPRO and we will do our best to make it "Like it never even happened.”
Outdoor Grill Safety
July is over which means you already had your big vacation trip. Because fall sports practice (and soon school) are starting, you will be spending more time closer to home. This means the home grilling season is hitting full swing. The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) his posted the following hints to help prevent injury and deaths. The NFPA says seven out of every ten adults in the U.S. has a grill or a smoker. That means over 250 million are in use in the U.S.
The biggest fire risks are from failure to clean the grill, leaks in the gas hoses, or breaks in the grill body itself. Obviously, NEVER use your grill inside. That includes garages, three season rooms, or tents. Opening the windows or garage doors will not prevent the buildup of CO2, which is a deadly colorless and odorless gas. Please take a minute and follow the general grill safety rules published by NFPA:
- Check your grill before you light it for damage and to make sure it is clean. A buildup of grease and fat from the grid and trays can lead to an uncontrollable flame up.
- Keep the grill away from flammable items. This includes deck rails and garage or home walls. Also look up to make sure nothing above the grill is flammable.
- Pets and children must be taught to stay at least 3 feet from the grill….it is hot.
- Never leave the grill unattended, even for a few minutes.
The two main types of grills are propane and charcoal. Always check for leaks before lighting a propane grill, especially if you smell gas. You can check the fittings and hoses easily with a solution of dish washing soap and water. You will see the bubbles forming if there is a leak. Never light a grill unless the top is open to prevent the buildup of excessive gas. Turn the grill off and wait at least 5 minutes if the grill fails to light on the first attempt.
The biggest danger from charcoal grills comes from CO2 gas and improper use the starter fluid. Again, NEVER use your grill indoors. To prevent flare ups use only labeled fuel to light the charcoal. Gas, lighter fluid, and any other flammable liquids can explode and must not be used. They can also leave residues that can contaminate your food. Once the charcoal has been lit, never add more starter fluid. Be especially careful when disposing of the used charcoal. The coals can start a fire long after you believe they are dead.
Take a few minutes to check and clean your grill before an accident happens. SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac wishes you a great late summer grilling season and hopes you never have to use our Fire Damage and Restoration Services.
Finally, the Drying Process.
The drying process usually takes 3 or 4 days and is quite intrusive. After demolition has been completed, drying equipment will be set. The fans are loud and generate a significant amount of heat in the summer. The area is truly a construction zone. Care must be exercised because many hazards exist include tripping hazards from the power cords, uneven floors from demolition or floating carpet, possible nails and screws protruding from walls and floors, and possibly dust and debris. A reputable contractor will make every effort to keep everything cleaned up each day, but some construction debris is inevitable.
SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac will be onsite every day checking moisture readings of all materials, resetting drying equipment, and removing equipment as specific areas dry. This daily monitoring is critical to the process to make sure no wet areas remain which could support microbial amplification, and to prevent over drying of sensitive items. These reports provide evidence which can be used in court to prove that the structure was properly dried and is ready for reconstruction. They also explain why all work was done what the thought process was involved in making the drying decisions.
Once everything is dry, the equipment will be removed and contents reset to allow you to have use of the home. If reconstruction is necessary the next phase of the loss starts. See our reconstruction blog for the breakdown of that process. Although this is a simplified breakdown of the drying process, hopefully it will allow you to feel more comfortable with dealing with your loss.
We have the contents out of the way, what is next?
The contents are out of the way, carpet pad removed, and free water has been extracted. Often water will wick up the drywall or wall coverings following the initial loss. Or perhaps, the water came from above from a main or second floor toilet or kitchen. SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac technicians will use a variety of tools and meters to moisture map the affected area to determine if demolition is necessary. Penetrating and non-penetrating moisture meters, moisture sensors, thermo-hygrometers, and inferred cameras are a few of the tools needed to moisture map a structure.
The walls can sometimes be dried without cutting by using dehumidifiers and high speed axial air movers. Restoration companies always try to minimize cutting to reduce reconstruction and disruption to your life. If the walls are only wet a few inches high, the baseboard will be removed and fans set. Sometimes cutting below the baseboard line is possible if the water has not wicked very high on the wall coverings. This is the preferred method since it does not require any drywall repairs which greatly reduces the time you will be unable to fully use your home.
If a moisture barrier is present or if the insulation on exterior walls was affected, more intrusive cutting may be necessary. The walls may need to be “flood cut” at one foot, 2 feet, or 4 feet. Sometimes the subfloor will need to be removed if it has deteriorated or swollen to the point that it is structurally unsound or will not accept new floor coverings. Vinyl floor coverings may need to be removed to dry the subfloor as they present a vapor barrier which doesn’t allow the subfloor water to escape. Drying ceramic tile and hardwood floor are a specialty drying challenge that the experts at SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac are trained to perform. Laminate floors are discarded if water gets under them.
So now that we have walls and floors ready what happens next?
See our next blog for the answer to that question.
We now have a drying plan. It starts with protecting your contents.
The next step usually involves getting the free or unbound water out of the building. This includes pumping and extracting the standing water and removing the wet carpet pad. Before this can happen the contents will often need to be moved. Large furniture, beds, pool tables, book cases, and television stands present challenges when they are setting on the wet carpet or in a pool of water. If there is an unaffected area in the home SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac would prefer to dry the contents on site.
The drying chamber we set up to dry the structure creates the perfect conditions to dry the contents. Protecting the contents is an important step in the drying process. Wet nonporous contents will be wiped dry and removed from the affected area or boxed to protect them from further damage. Porous contents will need dried either on site or back at the shop in Manistee, Ludington, or Cadillac. All wet laundry will be inventoried and sent to a local laundry facility for cleaning and drying.
On large losses where the insured must move out of the building during reconstruction, all of the contents may need to be removed and stored offsite. This part of the dry out, called a pack out, is not always needed but can make the reconstruction portion of the loss much easier. If reconstruction does require a pack out, the build back is usually is large enough to take several months to complete. This means you will want access at least some of your seasonal contents or clothes. It is not unusual for a customer to call us three months after a pack out and request Easter baskets, or grilling tools, or snow shoes. You should expect the storage facility to allow you to have access to your contents as needed.
How Not To Winterize Your Cottage
SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac recently was asked to inspect a cottage with a significant amount of visible mold growth. We met the homeowner, insurance adjuster, and an engineer hired by the insurance company to help determine the cause of loss. The homeowner believed the extensive mold growth was caused by a wind storm last summer damaging the roof and allowing water to enter the home. He also suggested a possible ice dam as the cause. Moisture mapping indicated high moisture readings throughout the home.
The homeowner told us that he had shut the furnace off because he only had a 100 gallon propane tank but that he had winterized the home. When asked how he had winterized it he said he had a light bulb in the well pit. We noted that the light may protect the water pump but nothing else. He agreed but added that he also had two 1500 Watt electric heaters in the home to keep the kitchen and bathroom warm. When the engineer pointed out that wasn't nearly enough heat, the homeowner added that he also used hot water heat. Since no radiators were evident, we asked if it was in-floor radiant heat. No, he replied. He stated that the hot water lines going to the sink and bathroom should be enough. Nope.
As we were heading to the basement he mentioned that he also used the hot water heater itself to keep the basement warm. How we asked? He told us he had removed the gas water heater chimney and was exhausting the water heater directly into the basement to keep it warm. The engineer crawled over the SERVPRO manager as both ran for the door. The SERVPRO manager says he never did find out of there was coverage and did not look back to see if the adjuster and homeowner made it out. I think he was kidding.
Please do not do this and if you do, call someone else. Burning one gallon of propane produces 1.3 gallons of water. If the appliance isn't vented outside it can easily produce high enough humidity to allow mold growth. And don't even get us started on the CO (Carbon Monoxide) it allowed into the home.
SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac asks you to please be safe out there people.
Congratulations, you have coverage.
Let’s get drying. A quality restoration company will moisture map your home to determine what is wet and what is savable. This helps in developing a drying plan to start getting you back to preloss condition “Like it never even happened." Pictures will be taken (with your permission) to document the damage for the insurance company. Over the past 17 years SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac has developed relationships with nearly all insurance companies and their adjusters in western Michigan. They know and trust us and we know them and what they need.
We have national contracts with many of the insurance companies and know exactly what they require to quickly settle a loss. We use their estimating software and price lists so there is never a problem with the price we invoice to the insurance company. Because some insurance companies have specific forms, we have I-pads with the forms pre-loaded if we meet you on site. In west Michigan losses often occur in seasonal homes (or you may be a snowbird soaking up the sun down south). We can mail, fax, or email the forms for you or your representative to sign and return.
Determining the “type” of water damage is critical to before any work is started. The Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration (IICRC) has written a standard of care (S-500) which is recognized nationally as the drying standard. You should ask your restoration company if they are IICRC certified and follow the S-500. The S-500 lists 3 types of water damage, Category 1, 2, and 3 depending on the source of water. Category 1 water originates from a clean water source which is usually a broken pipe, water supply line, toilet bowl breakage, washing machine supply line, sink overflows, etc. This water is not considered to pose a substantial risk to human health. If materials affected by Category 1 water are dryable, they can be saved.
Category 2 water contains significant contamination and has the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if contacted or consumed by humans. This water can come from discharge from dishwasher or washing machine, toilet bowl overflows (without solids), broken aquariums, leaking water beds, fire suppression systems, or ground water coming through walls or floor. Items wet with Category 2 water that cannot be cleaned should be discarded. This would include carpet pad, drywall, and some contents.
Category 3 water is grossly contaminated and contains harmful agents that can cause serious illness if consumed by humans. This water category includes sewage and toilet overflows from beyond the trap (with or without solids). All forms of surface flooding from outside the structure are considered Category 3 due to the possibility of contamination from silt, organic matter, pesticides, heavy metals, regulated materials or toxic organic substances (you never know what your neighbor has stored behind his garage).
Many insurance companies have limits on if and how much Category 3 losses are covered depending on where the loss originated. If it came from a septic or city sewer back up losses may be limited. If it originated from inside the structure from an overflow or broken pipe you should be fine. Once they determine the category of water, the restoration company will know what can be cleaned and dried and what must be discarded. Any item discarded must be documented and photographed. The insurance company is going to want to know what they are paying to replace.
So now that we know what type of water damage it is what happens next?
See our next blog for the answer to that question.
What is subrogation
Subrogation comes from the Latin word subrogoree which means “to substitute”. In the insurance world it is used to substitute one insurance company for another. Assume you hire a plumbing company to change your bathroom sink and they forget to tighten a fitting. If this fitting later springs a leak and floods your home, the plumbing company may be liable for all damages. This substitution would involve sending the claim to the plumber’s insurance company. Often your insurance company will pay the claim and then send the bill to the plumbers company to get their money back. Or sometimes the other insurance company will just handle the claim directly.
SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac employees are certified in subrogation and can help document subrogation claims so they do not cost you any money or affect your future rates. Subrogation claims can also originate from failed equipment or installation. If an appliance, water heater, or furnace fails or causes damage, the loss can sometimes be transferred to the manufacturer or installer. It is important that all details of subrogation claims be properly documented and all evidence protected.
Make sure all contractors that you hire to work on your home are licensed and insured or you may be liable for damages they cause. For example, if you hire someone to shovel your roof and they or one of their employees falls off the roof and gets hurt, you may be liable if they are uninsured. Or if they damage the roof, your insurance company may deny the claim. As you can see, the simple question of who is paying the claim can be quite complicated to answer. Always make sure you have an experienced agent to help get you into the right policy for your circumstances. If you have questions you can always call your agent or the professionals at SERVPRO of Manistee, Ludington, and Cadillac.
Once coverage is determined what is the next step?
See our next blog for the answer that that question.