When someone dies at home, whether by natural causes, suicide, or homicide, the family members often need help in a variety of areas. The grieving process starts, the funeral arrangements need to be made, and questions often arise as to the property left behind.
Insurance adjustors can play a vital role in recognizing that a proper biohazard property cleanup may be necessary in these situations. As gruesome as it may seem, the decomposition of a body following an unattended death, or the spread of blood and bodily fluids in any death situation, can pose serious health risks to those around. Improper cleanup can also affect the integrity of the property, allowing a breeding ground for insects and other pests.
Not all cleaning companies are qualified for such clean up scenarios. To prevent further liability, a knowledgeable insurance adjuster often contracts the assistance of biohazard professionals. These teams know the right cleanup and disposal methods for bloodborne pathogens and other decontamination procedures necessary for full sanitization.
What to look for in property cleanup professionals
There is extensive training required to comply with local and governmental safety requirements in such situations. An understanding of building construction also helps to prevent further contamination.
OSHA Standards – As a minimum, vendors for biohazard cleanup should be regularly trained in a variety of OSHA programs. These can include: Bloodborne Pathogens, Personal Protective Equipment, Hazard Communication, Asbestos Awareness, Heat Illness, Fall Protection, Lift Safety, Lock Out – Tag Out, and Power Tool Safety.
EPA Standards – They should also be licensed to transport and dispose of medical waste, or contract with a licensed facility. The Environmental Protection Agency and each state has strict guidelines which must be followed for the safe transport and disposal of material that contains medical waste.
Standardized Processes – Properly trained individuals will follow a specific protocol, depending what is discovered at the scene. They will know which chemicals or disinfectants to use, how to extract, contain and remove infected bedding, flooring, or walls, and how to post-test to prove contaminants have been removed.
Sometimes referred to as biohazard remediation, these specialists will first inspect the areas affected and conduct a safety assessment of the scene. The area will be controlled and secured to prevent cross-contamination. Next is the removal of all blood and biological materials from the area, knowing the specific requirements for containment and disposal. The cleanup, disinfectant, and deodorizing stage follows, using EPA-rated materials. Special measurement equipment during the final testing ensures that contaminants have been removed.
Building Integrity – A qualified remediation expert with construction skills understands that multiple layers may require treatment. A pool of blood soaked through the carpeting also affects the padding beneath, as well as the flooring, sub-floor, and joists in some situations.
Sensitivity Training – The situation demands a special type of professional who can empathize with the emotional rollercoaster that family members may be experiencing. Showing compassion during communication with the family and in handling possessions at the scene helps in their healing process.
A qualified biohazard professional works with insurance adjusters to quickly process the situation and resolve claims. Contact ServiceMaster Restoration by All-Action for trauma cleanup.
Hurricane season in North America is typically June through November each year. While the greatest risk of property damage is in the coastal states, the Midwest region and other inland states are still affected by the increased rainfall, strong winds, and sometimes hailstorms.
Prepare your home before the major storms begin and reduce the risk of property damage.
The website, Ready.gov, offers some preparedness tips for your home before the storm arrives. No matter where you live in the country, a strong seasonal storm can cause substantial damage to your home and property. Here are a few tips from their website:
Hurricane winds can cause trees and branches to fall, so before hurricane season, trim or remove damaged trees and limbs to keep you and your property safe.
Secure loose rain gutters and downspouts and clear any clogged areas or debris to prevent water damage to your property.
Purchase a portable generator or install a generator for use during power outages. Remember to keep generators and other alternate power/heat sources outside, at least 20 feet away from windows and doors and protected from moisture; and NEVER try to power the house wiring by plugging a generator into a wall outlet. Other tips are available at their website: https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes
The Insurance Information Institute offers additional tips in preparing your home and business. Consider the outside landscaping around your building, and replace heavy gravel with shredded bark, which is lighter and causes less damage when blown around. They also suggest making sure exterior doors and windows are rated to withstand high winds.
Other maintenance-type of tasks include sealing cracks around doors and windows; and inspecting the roof for damaged or missing shingles. Many home insurance policies do not cover property damage claims when regular maintenance has been neglected.
Inspect the foundation around your home. Minor cracks here can become larger with high groundwater, flooding conditions, or high winds. Foundation cracks will allow water seepage into the basement, causing leaks and the potential for mold growth.
Consider stacking flood barriers if you live in a high-water area. Sandbags are the least expensive method. There are also absorbent-filled door dams and other barriers that can block certain areas around your home. Standard homeowner insurance doesn’t cover flooding; so, purchasing additional flood insurance may be appropriate, depending where you live.
Store or anchor deck furniture, grills, or other large items used for entertaining outdoors. High winds can make these blow around, potentially breaking windows or damaging siding.
As a precaution, make sure you have a list of emergency numbers and a kit of supplies needed during bad weather conditions. Review your homeowner’s insurance policy to be familiar with the procedures for reporting water damage or wind damage claims.
Remember that seasonal storms may require cleanup and repairs that are best handled by a professional team who knows the proper methods to clean and sanitize the area. If your home needs attention, call your insurance company and ServiceMaster Restoration by All Action to help handle the cleanup.
You don’t need to live in a tropical area to experience high humidity. Even Midwest communities go through a season of hot, humid weather. We come to expect that minor discomfort a little during the summer. But high humidity inside your home can be a breeding ground for health issues, as well as structural problems for your home.
Ideal Year-Round Humidity Levels
You may have noticed a few things when the humidity is high. The basement or crawl space has a musty smell, surfaces may be sticky even though they are clean, windows and other hard surfaces may have condensation, and wood becomes warped or wallpaper peels. Think of a small bathroom after someone has taken a hot shower with no external ventilation. When that environment exists everywhere in the home, it’s bad for the house.
Healthy indoor air is fresh, free from airborne toxins, and at a relative humidity of less than 50 percent. A range of 30-40 percent is ideal. An indoor humidity monitor can help identify seasonal changes that may require extra attention. And a dehumidifier can help remove excessive moisture from the air.
Humidity Problems in the Home
Flooding or poor groundwater flow can cause hidden water seepage. If the water table is higher than your basement or crawl space, the water will continue to flow to the lowest point. It may not be enough to puddle on your basement floor, but the frequent dampness of basement walls can lead to other structural issues over time.
These high humidity levels can cause mold spores to grow anywhere in your home. They attack the surfaces that make it easy for them to grow, such as drywall, wood, and carpeting. You may not notice a mold problem until it has grown and spread, requiring specialized care.
Even though some homeowners add humidity during the cold winter months, the basement may still need a dehumidifier if outside water conditions have affected the foundation in the past.
How Dehumidifiers Help Reduce Mold
A dehumidifier, on a basic level, is like a reverse-vacuum for the air. It sucks in the air, usually through a cooling grill, filters out moisture, and blows dry air back into the room. The filtered moisture is collected in a holding tank, to be emptied regularly, or passed through an external hose that drains the water away. It is this continuous moisture removal that helps reduce the potential for mold growth inside a room.
There are many types and sizes of dehumidifiers, ranging from whole-house units, those that are part of an existing HVAC system, or portable room units. Understand the capacity of the unit so that it can adequately keep the moisture level less than 50 percent.
Portable units that have a holding tank for the water need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly. The constant moisture contained inside can be an ideal location for mold spores, which are then blown into the air through the evaporation process.
What to Do if You Suspect Indoor Mold
If you notice a water problem or suspect a mold or mildew issue inside your home, it’s best to test the indoor air quality as well as the moisture level inside walls and floors. Have a professional assess your home and determine the right protocol for removal.
When mold is present, improper cleaning can cause the mold spores to spread further, making the problem worse. Please call ServiceMaster to get skilled, professional services related to mold removal in your home.
It may be the perfect time-saving plan – load the washing machine and leave home to run some errands. But, when the washing machine malfunctions and floods your basement, you’ve lost much more than those few minutes.
A residential washing machine can use 10-30 gallons of water during the entire cycle, which is a lot of water on the floor if there is a malfunction. Many basement flooding problems are a result of faulty washing machines, whether they are the standard models that use up to 30 gallons of water, or the high-efficiency models that use quite a bit less.
Here are some tips to be aware of to prevent basement flooding because of a faulty washing machine.
Why do washing machines fail?
A common problem is a burst or loose connection in the water supply line. Water moves through these hoses at a high pressure and can eventually cause a weak spot in the hose. Early indication of this might be a bulging area on the hose, which indicates potential failure.
As the hose is repeatedly filled with high-pressure water, it may become loose at the connection point. You will notice water dripping or spraying at the connecting point if there is a loose connection. A blocked hose mesh screen or cracked O-rings inside the connection may also cause a leak here.
A deteriorated drain pump will cause flooding. If the pump is cracked or rusty, water will seep through this area. The water needs to leave the washing machine somewhere, and if the pump cannot extract the water from the machine, there may be another weak spot where water can leak from. This may often be the drain hose connector, which can become loose just like the supply hose. Make sure the drain hose is properly sealed, and the hose has not become blocked with debris.
Front-loading machines have a rubber seal around the door that can deteriorate. Top-loading machines also have a tub gasket. Cracks or rotten areas can cause small leaks here, but the water pressure can intensify the water flow quickly through a small crack.
Over-sudsing can also cause leakage during the wash or rinse cycle. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for correct detergent levels based on the size of the load.
What to do when the washing machine floods
A common first instinct is to press the “Cancel” switch on the wash machine control panel. Without knowing which cycle the machine is operating in, this may cause it to advance to the drain cycle, causing further flooding.
It’s best to turn off the power and water supply. Do not merely unplug the washer, as this may cause the plug to fall into standing water, creating a shock hazard. Disconnect the power supply at the breaker box. Know where the main water shut-off valve is located, and label it so other family members can easily find it also.
Be alerted of potential flooding problems by using a water leak detector around the washing machine. The high-tech versions send an alert to your smartphone if water is detected by the unit, signifying a leak in the area. There are many different models, and not all continue working after being submerged in water, so review the specifications carefully before a purchase.
Finally, if your machine has leaked the 10-30 gallons of water throughout your basement, call a professional to extract the water properly. A water damage expert can determine what steps may be necessary to remove or replace carpeting, drywall or other belongings that may be damaged due to the appliance malfunction flooding.
Lightning and thunderstorms often go together. Unfortunately, sometimes home fires also happen because of lightning and weather conditions associated with seasonal storms.
According to NOAA.gov, forecasters are predicting near- or above-normal Atlantic hurricane season this year. Inland states are often affected by seasonal weather patterns that originated as hurricanes near the coastal areas.
Those seasonal inland storms often include high winds, hail and lightning. A single strike from lightning can cause significant damage, or even total loss to a home. Lightning can damage a home through a direct strike, through a secondary strike like hitting a nearby tree or powerline first, through phone lines and cables, satellite dishes, and through irrigation systems or electric fences.
The Red Cross published information that explained a severe thunderstorm produces hail at least 1 inch in diameter or has wind gusts of at least 58 miles per hour. Every thunderstorm produces lightning, which kills more people each year than tornadoes or hurricanes.
According to Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., lightning accounts for more than one billion dollars annually in structural damage to U.S. Buildings. The Insurance Informational Institute reported that the average homeowner lightning claim is over $5,000, with claims ranging from damage to electronic equipment to structural fires that destroy portions of or even entire homes.
Here are three precautionary steps to avoid home fires due to lightning and seasonal storms.
Proactively prepare landscaping prior to storm season. Keeping trees and bushes trimmed back away from the house and other outbuildings reduces the chance of lightning traveling through them to the roof or other areas of the house.
Tree arborists often recommend a heavy-gauge copper cable system installed near the tree to help conduct electricity through the cable instead of the tree trunk, down through the ground and into a ground rod. This tree protection and help reduce falling limbs that might damage your home. Contact a professional tree service to determine if this is right for your yard.
Equip your home with a similar lightning protection system. A professional lightning protection system is made from copper or aluminum components that are bolted together to form a continuous and highly conductive path from the high points on a house to copper rods or metal rings buried deep in the earth. Find an electrician or specialist certified with the Lightning Protection Institute for proper installation.
Avoid using electronics, the telephone, and water during a severe thunderstorm. Unplug electronics during storms to protect the appliance and to prevent lightning from traveling through it as a conduit to other areas of the house. Since electricity can travel through phone lines and plumbing, avoid using the phone or taking a shower or bath during a severe thunderstorm.
What happens when the house is hit by lightning?
Safety comes first – get out and call 911 for help. Make sure everyone is safe, the property is secured and call your insurance adjustor.
Insurance companies will coordinate the assistance of a fire damage specialist to help assess the situation, evaluate the damage, remove evidence of fire, smoke, or soot, and clean the home to pre-accident condition.
When you need structural help for your home or business due to seasonal storm damage, call ServiceMaster Restoration by All Action for qualified, professional disaster services.
It’s a smell that every business owner dreads; walk in one morning and notice the unmistakable smell of sewage all over your commercial building.
Are you dealing with a sewer overflow, or a sewer backup? Each brings about a different set of problems. An overflow occurs when there is a blockage in the existing system, preventing the elimination of sewage. Think of a stopped-up toilet that can’t flush the waste down, so it overflows. This is a similar situation for other areas within a commercial building – drains, disposals, etc.
Sewer backups are caused by a buildup of pressure from within the sewer line, often forcing sewage back through the system and into your business. Damage and cleanup from this is more extensive, and often requires the help of specialists.
How do you recover from sewer backups at your business? Here are a few things to understand first.
The Cause of Sewer Backups
A blocked sewer pipe can cause waste water to back up into the building. Waste water brings environmental and health hazards that you, and your employees, need to be aware of.
Tree roots and roots of shrubs naturally grow towards a source of moisture. If a cracked sewer line is nearby, those roots can penetrate the line and follow through the flow of the pipe, eventually blocking or filling the line.
Sometimes a city sanitary main may block up. This can cause a sewage backup through the floor drains, into many homes or businesses within a single neighborhood.
Your responsibility in a sewer backup may be extensive. In many cases, a business owner is responsible for maintaining the sewer line that runs between the commercial building and the city sewer main located at the street. If this connecting line has become cracked, filled with tree roots or other blockage, then groundwater can seep into the system, adding more liquid to the already existing backup.
Problems of a Sewer Backup at Your Business
There are many health concerns associated with a sewer backup. Floors that are flooded with sewage pose a trip hazard, so block access to areas affected. Evacuate the area to protect the health of your employees and customers.
Bacterial and viral diseases, or those caused by parasites found in wastewater can severely affect people, especially those with weakened immune systems.
Sewage that flowed onto porous surfaces, such as wood flooring, carpeting or baseboard and drywall, requires the elimination by a damage restoration service. These surfaces are now contaminated and need to be removed as hazardous waste.
The longer the sewage and contaminated water is left standing at your business, the greater chance of attracting disease-carrying insects. These can further spread the germs and contamination, even to people in areas not affected by the backup.
Do not expect your employees to help clean up the mess. Hire a professional remediation specialist who is qualified to properly dispose of the waste, the contaminated items, and is trained to properly sanitize all surfaces.
ServiceMaster Restoration by All-Action has helped hundreds of customers with cleanup after a sewer backup, both commercial and residential. Call us today to handle the sewage problem for you.
You may have planned a vacation for weeks, or it may be a last-minute getaway for some relaxing time. Wherever you decide to go for vacation, there are often dozens of things to worry about prior to your trip. Here are some home disaster prevention tips to keep in mind before you leave to make sure your home is safe while you’re gone.
Home Security During Vacation
If you have a home security system, make sure it is set properly, and that lights inside the house will turn on and off with a timer. Notify the newspaper and mail carrier to hold deliveries until you return, or have a neighbor pick these up each day so they don’t accumulate.
If you live in an area with a Neighborhood Watch program, notify the coordinator that you will be away. Or, notify the local police so that they can visually check the premises during their rounds.
Consider installing a motion-activated floodlight outside your home. You may prevent a burglary by having a floodlight illuminate your entryways and first floor windows.
Many garage door openers now have a sensor system with Wi-Fi connection that sends alerts to your smartphone if the door is opened. Some are capable of being controlled via a smartphone also.
Safety Steps for Your Home
Make sure smoke detectors and fire alarms are in working order. Even though you won’t be home, these might alert neighbors that there is a problem inside your home.
Unplug appliances while gone. If there is an electrical surge or lightening due to hazardous weather, reducing the number of plugged in items could help prevent an electrical fire.
Take extra time to shut off the water at major appliances and the bathroom fixtures. And, set the water heater to a vacation setting or a lower temperature to save energy and prevent possible malfunction.
To prevent pests and vermin from entering your home or garage, make sure all trash is taken away before you leave. Lock screened areas, windows or other locations that might give accessibility to stray animals.
Severe Weather Preparation
Summer storms can creep up unexpectedly. Protect your outdoor furniture, grills, and equipment by securing them inside a shed or garage while you’re on vacation.
If you live in an area that typically has high water or flash floods during summer thunderstorms, then consider installing a water detection alarm inside your home. Basic alarm models send you or another designated person an alert if there is a potential water leak. More sophisticated alarm systems can also be programmed to shut off the water supply if there is a leak.
Call for Professional Help
We hope you have a great vacation, but if a disaster does affect your home while away, remember to call for professional help to get your home back to live-in condition. ServiceMaster Restoration by All Action works closely with most insurance agencies for home disaster claims.
When the seasons change and cold weather starts setting in, it is a good time to perform some maintenance tasks to prevent water leaks. Regular preventative duties now can reveal potential problems that should be repaired before the temperature dips. A visual inspection throughout the house will also ensure specific areas are ready to provide protection against upcoming rain, snow, and sleet.
Since an undetected small water leak can cause enormous damage over a period of time, we’ve put together a home maintenance checklist to work through. It covers outdoor tasks as well as indoor inspections that will ensure all systems and areas are ready for the change in seasons.
Exterior Home Maintenance Checklist
The roof is probably the most obvious area to inspect for potential water leak problems. While spring rains brought more water to the area, the hot, drying summer sun could have caused damage that should be repaired before autumn winds and winter snow and ice form. Check for cracked, loose, or missing shingles, low spots or dips that can cause ponding. Also, inspect all along the roofline and fascia area to be sure pests or critters haven’t dug an access hole. Any water not properly draining off the roof can cause interior damage to the wood construction, drywall and insulation.
Flashing around skylights and chimneys should be inspected to be sure of adequate coverage. If there are gaps or rust is forming, repair or replace the flashing to prevent water seepage.
Clean downspouts and eaves and remove any debris or leaves that may be clogged inside. Buildup here can restrict water flow and potentially cause ice dams during winter months. Also, check for missing or loose pieces, or damaged joints.
Shut off and drain exterior water valves and consider placing a cap or covering over them. Often, burst water pipes occur when this task isn’t completed, because water freezes inside the valve.
Cracks in siding, masonry, and around window frames should be repaired or caulked. Water can seep in, freeze, or cause mold growth.
Check weather-stripping around windows and doors to prevent water seepage and air leaks. Remove damaged weather stripping and apply fresh as needed. For older homes, check the window glass for cracked glazing and repair the glazing. These areas will let cold air in, but also moisture and condensation that can potentially turn into a mold problem.
The Environmental Protection Agency has an extensive document that can be downloaded, addressing how to control moisture inside buildings. While written towards building contractors, there are some helpful explanations and organizational tips. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-08/documents/moisture-control.pdf
Interior Home Maintenance Checklist
Check attic insulation for adequate coverage, and make sure the vapor barrier is facing towards the inside. The vapor barrier helps prevent condensation from dripping through the attic to the ceiling in the room below.
Inspect the HVAC system and have a seasonal service check completed to be sure it functions properly with no water dripping from the system. Central humidifiers should be checked for leaks or cracks, and also serviced to ensure the best functionality.
Adding humidity to the air is sometimes needed during dry winter months. Clean portable humidifiers thoroughly during seasonal use. This will prevent bacteria and mold spores forming inside the tank that then get transported via the fan throughout the house.
Appliances that use water should be checked seasonally also. Hoses and connections on dishwashers, refrigerators, washing machines and water heaters should be checked for dry rot or worn spots. Make sure there are no kinks in the water supply hose leading to the appliance, as this can create a pinpoint hole that eventually turns into a constant leak.
Conduct a quick plumbing inspection around the kitchen and bathrooms. Check for drips or leaks around the pipes and hoses, and any corrosion that might indicate worn pipes.
Dehumidifiers may still be needed in a basement over the winter months. Ensure the humidity level within your home averages around 40 percent to reduce the risk of mold spores growing on drywall and other porous surfaces.
Basement sump pumps should be tested at least every season to ensure the motor functions well enough to drain the tank. Consider a battery-operated backup system to prevent sump pump failure if there is an electrical outage.
Finally, as a precautionary measure, make sure everyone can locate the main water shutoff valve for the house, and knows how to shut it off if a situation requires it.
It’s important to do everything possible to prevent water leaks, but if you notice any signs of damage, ServiceMaster Restoration by All-Action is qualified to repair the water damage, test for potential mold growth, and treat that as needed also.
Water damage coverage in a homeowner’s insurance policy, and even renter insurance, has changed over the years. It is helpful to review your policy annually, to understand what is covered and what may have changed from previous years.
Normally, these conditions would be covered by an insurance policy.
- Burst water pipes and water heaters
- Sudden or accidental overflow of a toilet, tub, or sink
- Sewer backup from drains and sump pumps (there may be a relatively low policy limit)
Most existing homeowner policies probably don’t cover the following conditions:
- Ground flooding
- Slow, dripping leaks
- Overflowing streams or rivers
Regular maintenance is required for a roof, such as replacing shingles or tiles and keeping the roof cleared from debris, and this regular upkeep is a determining factor in insurance claims. However, inside content damage from a roof leak might be covered by your policy.
Slow, dripping leaks, such as those from an incorrectly installed toilet, sink, shower or bathtub are usually not covered. Whenever something is considered maintenance-related, chances are the insurance expects that you properly maintain your dwelling.
Flood damage from an overflowing river or nearby body of water might be covered, depending on the area where you live. Homeowner policies have changed greatly over the years, especially if the property is located on or near a water table. An additional flood insurance policy is usually required, because a normal homeowner policy will not cover damages resulting from a flood of this type.
Usually, an insurance investigator will determine if the water damage is a result of negligence or lack of maintenance. After they ask you questions about the problem, they usually schedule an appointment at your home to physically inspect the damage and where it originated from.
If you have sudden water damage, call a professional restoration expert company. They can assist with coordinating the insurance claim, and when the underlying cause is proven to be insurance-related, they will work with the adjuster for inspections, proper repairs, and restoring your home again. ServiceMaster Restoration by All-Action knows how to handle insurance claims and perform the repairs needed on your home.
Understanding the differences between the terms ‘fireproof’ and ‘fire resistant’ can help you make the best choices for your home, especially when trying to prevent fire damage to your belongings.
The truth about ‘fireproof’ could be surprising to most people, as there is nothing that is truly fireproof. Given the right conditions and right temperature, anything will eventually burn. The term ‘fireproof’ is given to those products that are able to withstand great heat for a certain period of time. These products will be rated according to those limitations.
In truth, all products and materials are only fire resistant up to a certain temperature. You may need to determine if a specific product will meet the fire protections standards that you require. Fire damage can ruin your personal belongings, so compare the fireproof products available for important papers, photos, and other items that are hard to replace.
The Underwriters Laboratories (a non-profit organization seeking to ensure product safety) has set guidelines for fire protection ratings. These ratings determine how long an item can be exposed to certain temperatures before the internal temperature reaches a point at which it will destroy what is inside. Generally the lower the number, the lower the core temperature guarantee.
Some Facts about Fires:
- Most home fires will reach temperatures ranging between 800 to 1200 degrees.
- The higher the temperature, the faster the fire typically burns (although moisture and other factors could also be involved).
- The average home fire will be contained in under an hour once the fire department is on the scene. The average response time will vary from one service area to another.
- Working smoke alarms can be key to early detection.
- It can take as little as thirty seconds for a small fire to burn out of control.
- The temperatures of the fire can reach extreme different levels. The coolest part of the fire will be on the lowest floor level.
- It can take as little as five minutes before a ‘flashover’ occurs – the moment where the room becomes so hot that everything ignites at once.
- Fires move through a space quickly, so one area of the burning building may only burn for a few minutes.
A fire in your home or business cannot always be preventable, but if you plan ahead to protect important documents and other belongings, they may last through a fire for a certain length of time. Another important step in fire prevention is to document your belongings with a thorough list and photos. If you ever need the help of a fire damage specialist, these proactive steps may make a big difference in protecting your property and belongings during a fire.
Once you recognize that the difference between ‘fire resistant’ and ‘fireproof’ is mostly in the rating, you can begin to choose the right product for your needs. Consider which items you are trying to protect, the fire protection rating needed, and whether the protection can fit your budget.