As the snow falls outside my office for the first time this year, I realize that my busy season is just beginning. Winter in Michigan brings with it ice dams, structural collapses, house fires and frozen pipes. As a structural estimator/project manager for a restoration co. I see first hand the damage they all cause and stress it inflicts on the home owners. Fortunately there are several precautions that you as a home owner can take to reduce the possibility of suffering from winters’ wrath.
Have your furnace checked and cleaned by a licensed heating contractor. They will change the filters and ensure the unit is operating safely. They may even recommend having the duct work cleaned which will help the unit operate more efficiently and discharge cleaner, healthier warm air. Change the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and ensure they are operating properly. If they aren’t, replace them immediately. If you have a fireplace or wood burner that you use regularly, have it professionally checked and cleaned. Creosote build up and malfunctioning dampers are a leading cause of house fires from wood burning units.
Frozen pipes can usually be avoided by ensuring there is proper insulation around the foundation of your home or cottage. Fill voids in basement or crawlspace walls with spray foam insulation. Install additional fiberglass insulation as necessary to protect the underside areas of your home. Insulation is fairly inexpensive compared to the cost repairing the damage caused by frozen pipes.
Ice dams, water backing up under the shingles and into your home, are another major cause of damage during the winter months. Improper installation of or insufficient amounts of insulation combined with inadequate ventilation of the attic space in your home is the leading cause of ice dam formation. Heat from your interior living space rises through the ceiling and into the attic. The warmer air in the attic causes the snow on the roof to melt. As the melt water runs down your roof and reaches the eaves, which are outside the exterior walls, it cools rapidly and turns into ice. As the process repeats itself, the ice build up becomes so large that the water has no place to go and begins backing up under the shingles and eventually into your home. It is nearly impossible to completely prevent an ice dam but there are thing you can do to lessen the severity. Contact a local builder or insulation contractor to inspect the attic and ensure there is sufficient insulation and ventilation. Use a roof rake to keep snow off the eaves of your roof as much as possible. Snow acts as an insulator and can prevent any ice that does build up from melting. Roof rakes are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased at any local home improvement store. Purchase one early because as the snow begins to pile up they fly off the store shelves.
It’s not uncommon for home owners to want to do “something” after smoke, water or fire has damaged their homes. Let’s face it, we are a society of “doers.” Here are a few thing that you can do to help yourself (if your home is structurally safe to enter) and a few you shouldn’t because it will help your restoration contractor.
- If your electricity has been turned off, remove perishable food from the refrigerator and freezer and prop the door open.
- Avoid walking on the carpet as you will track soot into lesser affected rooms and decrease the ability to successfully clean carpets or rugs.
- Close doors to the affected areas to contain/localize the smoke odors as much as possible.
- Do not attempt to wash the walls and ceilings or other porous surfaces. Restoration contractors are specially trained to identify the various types of surfaces to be cleaned and which cleaning agent will be most effective. The Ph factor of cleaning chemicals are very different and your contractor will know the best ones for positive results.
- Do wash or wipe down metal plumbing fixtures, door handles, lamps, etc. to protect against pitting and corrosion. Soot is highly acidic and corrosive and can start reacting with metals in less than 24hrs.
- If possible, open windows to allow the room/rooms to air out.
- Move your pets out of the home and to a clean environment as soot on the floors can seriously affect their respiratory system.
- Do not consume and food items that have been exposed to smoke or any canned food that had been exposed to excessive heat. It is best to make an itemized list of all the exposed food and throw it away.
- Avoid handling furniture or draperies so as not to grind the soot deeper into the fabric.
- Depending on the severity of the smoke damage many plants can be saved. Simply wash them with mild soap and water on both sides of the leaves.
- Avoid using your electronic appliances until they are checked by a qualified technician. The corrosive nature of soot affects the components inside of them. Your restoration contractor will know who these specialists are and will likely contact them for you.
Sometimes it can be frustrating watching all these things happening around you. Your house is a mess; your life is disrupted and your possessions ruined. The tasks noted above will hopefully help you take your mind off of things for a bit. Trust your certified restoration contractor, ask a lot of questions and be patient. The restoration process is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and your fully restored home is the finish line.
One of the first considerations is securing shelter for you and your family for the next 3 days or so. The soot and hydrocarbons produced by the fire will typically render your home unlivable for a period of time. The effects on a persons respiratory system is both irritating and harmful after prolonged exposure. Those with sensitive allergies will be most affected. If you have pets, shelter and/or care needs to be secured for them as well. If the fire dept. has released the scene and declared your home safe to enter, gather important documents like passports, birth certificates, jewelery, credit cards and financial documents. If feasible, gather 2 or 3 days of clothing for everyone. They may smell smokey but 1 trip to the laundromat will provide some usable clothing in the interim.
The next crucial step is to make arrangements to secure your property to protect it from further damage, vandalism and theft. This would include boarding up broken windows and doors, tarping off holes in the roof and sometimes covering over 1st floor widows to prevent access to your home, providing temporary power, and drying down the structure to prevent additional water damage or mold growth.
To assist you with everything that must be done, contact a local restoration contractor. These folks are dedicated to their profession. They answer the phone 24/7, have the equipment and expertise to perform everything you need to have done and the good ones will provide you direction on the proper steps to take to help the whole process go smoothly. If you don’t know who the reputable restoration contractors are contact your insurance agent or the local Home Builders Association. Your insurance agent has a personal interest in you and your family so you can trust their advice. Members of the Home Builders Association are local to your area, licensed and insured, and their work is quite visible to the community at large and customer referrals, and feedback can usually be found on their web site.
There is much more to be done but this is a good start.
I have finally begun my journey into the world of blogging. My main focus is is to inform followers about the world of insurance restoration. The world everyone unexpectedly falls into when they have a fire in their home or come home to a flooded basement. The immediate thought is “everything is ruined .”What do I do now? Who do I call? How am I going to pay for this? Rest assured that help is right around the corner if you know where to look.
Tip #1. When your home has sustained damage from fire, smoke, water, vandalism or other sources it is critical that restoration work be done “quickly ” and “properly.” Contact your insurance carrier immediately and report the loss. Most carriers have a 24 hr contact number and they will guide you through the process. Secondly, contact a restoration contractor if your insurance carrier doesn’t. Reputable restoration contractors will provide 24 hr emergency service and in my experience most carriers “expect” you to call them to mitigate the damage. Doing so helps to minimize the size of the loss.