Recent Posts

How to keep clients’ properties dry in all seasons

11/9/2018 (Permalink)

With water around every corner, clients’ properties are more vulnerable to water damage than many would imagine. In fact, water is the number one property-related homeowners claim, according to Chubb’s claims data, and the Insurance Information Institute found that one in 50 homeowners will experience a related claim each year. When they do, it will cost close to $10,000 per leak.

Despite being both a common and costly risk, a recent Chubb survey of homeowners examining their approach to water damage prevention shows that it’s a threat clients largely overlook. Luckily, agents and brokers can help clients prevent water from damaging their homes, no matter where it comes from. It starts by helping clients understand the seasonal exposures they face.

Ensuring a fun, carefree vacation

Most clients take advantage of the summer to travel with family and friends. Yet too many vacations are ruined as a result of clients failing to take the appropriate water protection steps before departing. Consider that even though many clients ask a caretaker to watch their homes while away, Chubb’s study found that just 30% leave water leak information and only 17% provide information about what to do in the event of a weather-related flood with caretakers.

Why the concern? Time is of the essence when it comes to water damage, with even the smallest leaks or drips building up over time. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety reports that plumbing supply system failures and toilet failures are the two most common sources of residential water loss. If either of these systems drip for days, the results can be devastating, both in terms of property and financial damage.

Before your clients head out, advise them to:

  • Turn off the water supply. This is the only way to prevent a leak from occurring while away; or
  • Install a water shut-off device. This is the surest way to prevent wide-spread damage in the event of a leak.

Beyond travel, the warm summer months also provide clients with the opportunity to jumpstart home renovations. But in their desire to drive value, the number one home-related concern identified in Chubb’s study, many clients are inadvertently inviting new water risk into their homes.

Start with encouraging clients to pay close attention to a contractor’s qualifications, prioritizing certifications and licensing above word-of-mouth recommendations. Although both play an important role in the hiring process, Chubb’s study found that 42% of homeowners prioritize the latter, versus 32% who emphasize the former. If contractors don’t have the right experience or professional background, they should not be involved in the client’s renovation project.

Making the most of your time outdoors

Homeowners eager to enjoy the last warm days of the year often spend time working on their gardens, yards and outdoor areas. Many use this time to install sprinkler systems, construct outdoor kitchens and build decks, all designed to enhance their homes’ landscapes. According to Chubb’s survey, close to a third of homeowners (30%) think these types of exterior upgrades most positively impact their homes’ values.

Yet, these projects can quickly let water into all the wrong places. Agents and brokersshould encourage clients to consult with a landscape architect about how enhancements may alter the slope of their garden or clog drains and gutters. Failure to take this into account means new upgrades could redirect water toward clients’ homes, seeping into the foundation or basement over time and potentially resulting in significant damage. By speaking with your clients about their garden renovation projects, this is an expensive loss that agents and brokers can help clients avoid.

Forecasting frozen pipes

Most homeowners know that the pipes in their homes are at risk of bursting during the cold winter months. Homeowners are 40% more likely to have water damage in the winter than any other time of the year, according to Chubb claims data.

Still, only 21% of homeowners report installing pipe insulation, even though it is one of the surest, simplest and cheapest ways to protect exposed pipes in the basement or garage in cold weather. Homeowners might also want to consider hiring a contractor to install pipe insulation for interior pipes that are located adjacent to an outside wall.

Not only does installing pipe insulation help keep the water in a home’s plumbing system from turning to ice and expanding (and thus bursting the pipes), it often helps homeowners save money on their energy bill. In essence, a reminder to install insulation could help clients avoid a major winter headache while also lowering utility bills.

10 tips to prevent chimney fires

11/9/2018 (Permalink)

Proper home maintenance requires constant vigilance.

Chimneys, in particular, require upkeep. A chimney that is dirty, blocked or in disrepair can inhibit proper venting of smoke up the flue, and can also cause a chimney fire. Nearly all residential fires originating in the chimney are preventable, according to the New York State Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

Chimney fires account for 75% of home heating fires, meaning homeowners should actively monitor their chimneys. Homeowners looking to avoid damage to their property and increased premiums should prepare for fires by checking their smoke alarms and updating their emergency plan.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends looking for these signs of a pending chimney fire: a loud cracking and popping noise; a lot of dense smoke; or an intense, hot smell.

Cyber Awareness

11/9/2018 (Permalink)

Why is SERVPRO concerned about creating community awareness regarding cyber attacks and cyber security?  The more our world becomes connected to the internet the greater the risk for property damage.  Consider the following scenarios:

  • Hackers gain access to a steel mill via a phishing attack introducing malware to the control system that prevents the shutdown of a blast furnace causing massive damage.
  • A power grid is remotely disabled by hackers causing extensive power outages.
  • Using a homemade transmitter, a teenager trips rail switches and derails train cars.
  • A hacker infiltrates the computerized waste management system and deliberately spills millions of gallons of raw sewage.
  • Machines at a hospital are infected by malware and a remote-access program is installed on the hospital's HVAC system.  This jeopardizes patient safety by putting drugs and other medical supplies at risk by altering the heating, AC and ventilation systems.


Sound like science fiction?  They are all true incidents and it is predicted that as the IoT (Internet of Things) continues to expand, property attacks will become more prevalent and costly.  Imagine hackers gaining access to the freezer temperature control at a frozen food manufacturer or infiltrating the computer system that regulates the fire sprinkler system in a large hotel.  The focus on cyber security and providing appropriate cyber coverage for commercial customers is not only important to protect data but also to protect vital system functions. Hackers have only scratched the surface when it comes to property damage so it is important to educate yourself about cyber risks before a catastrophic incident occurs.

Mold Remediation

11/4/2018 (Permalink)

How to determine if I can handle the mold clean up in my house? 

Do I need a professional mold remediation company?

Firstly, the source of the water intrusion needs to be resolved.  If the source continues to allow water intrusion, the home will eventually return to an unhealthy condition.  

You might want to consult a mold remediation company….

  • If the visible mold spores affected area, from tip to tip, is larger than a 10 square foot area
  • If you suspect that the heating ventilation system may be contaminated
  • If the original water was from a black water source (sewage contamination)
  • If you have health concerns of the occupants

There are numerous mold cleaning products on the market for consumer use.  It is best not to use OVER USE any harsh chemicals.  Simply scrub hard surfaces with a detergent and water, and let the area dry.  It is very important to use personal protective equipment while cleaning: eyes, hands, and respiratory system.  Upon completion of the cleaning, the area should be free of  visible mold spores and musty, moldy odors (mold staining on structural materials may still be present).  It is critical to monitor the affected area for a few months to make sure the area does not return to unhealthy.  The area needs to continue to be dry, clean and odor free.  If the area again begins to deteriorate, go back to correction of the source of water intrusion.  It is possible that the original correction was not sufficient or there might a secondary source of water intrusion.  

If you determine that your home or business has a mold problem, and the source of the moisture intrusion has been corrected, SERVPRO of Northern Summit County can inspect and assess your property. If professional mold remediation is needed, we have the training, equipment, and expertise to handle the situation.

Vacant Homes and Mold Growth

11/3/2018 (Permalink)

Vacant homes or unattended homes have unique issues that can that increase the likelihood of mold growth.  These homes are locked up without inhabitants coming or going, turning on the heat, running air exchangers or ventilation fans, and have restricted air flow. Thus moisture or condensation can build up inside and create an ideal climate for mold. To thrive mold needs moisture, oxygen, a food source and a surface on which to grow; easily available within a residence.  Mold spores are abundant in our environment, and once a mold spore has attached itself to dust particles, which provides the nutrients needed, all the spore needs is moisture. 

Procrastinate where mold cleaning is necessary can be a costly decision. If mold spores are allowed to proliferate, you may be faced with extensive structural damage to your home and possibly loss of property value. Today’s buyers are very leery about investing into a home with visible mold contamination. Additionally, consumers are very aware that some molds species can produce toxins and allergens. 

The remediation priority would be to correct the excessive of moisture build up in the residence. Remediation would include 1) water proofing, 2) corrective measures to secure windows and doors, 3) create healthy air flow. etc.  After the corrective measures to reduce the moisture, professional mold remediation of all affected structural materials, contents, and HVAC system would need to be completed.  If the issues that are causing the elevated moisture are not corrected prior to remediation services, after a period of time, the home would again become unhealthy.

If you determine that your home or business has a mold problem, and the source of the moisture intrusion has been corrected, SERVPRO of Northern Summit County can inspect and assess your property. If mold remediation is needed, we have the training, equipment, and expertise to handle the situation.

Evaluating Mold: Air Sample Testing

11/3/2018 (Permalink)

All buildings contain mold spores since they a natural part of the environment.  An elevated mold count especially one that contains spores from varieties of mold that are commonly found when water damage is involved, such as stachybotrys chartarum, can indicate that there may be a structural moisture problem.     

In the insurance claim process, mold testing in is generally utilized after the mold has been remediated to confirm that the mold spore count is at or below the count found outside the building. The test is conducted while the remediated area is contained in order to confirm the success of the cleaning process. 

Determination of airborne spore counts is accomplished by way of an air sample, in which a specialized pump with a known flow rate is operated for a known period of time. Conducive to scientific methodology, air samples should be drawn from the affected area, a control area, and the exterior.

The air sampler pump draws in air and deposits microscopic airborne particles on a culture medium. The medium is cultured in a laboratory and the fungal genus and species are determined by visual microscopic observation. Laboratory results also quantify fungal growth by way of a spore count for comparison among samples. The pump operation time was recorded and when multiplied by the operation time results in a specific volume of air obtained. Although a small volume of air is actually analyzed, common laboratory reporting techniques extrapolate the spore count data to equate the amount of spores that would be present in a cubic meter of air.


If you have questions or need further information about the mold testing process, contact SERVPRO of Northern Summit County at 800-648-1212. 

Health Hazards Lurking in Your Basement

10/21/2018 (Permalink)

Mold Remediation Health Hazards Lurking in Your Basement Basement mold can happen to anyone.

Basements are damp, which is precisely the environment in which mold thrives. To reduce the risk of mold, use a dehumidifier, seal cracks in the foundation, and replace carpeting with tile, vinyl, or another appropriate hard flooring.

Not every basement laundry area enjoys adequate dryer venting from the basement to the outdoors. You laundry area could even be on the main floor or the upstairs of the home.Rather than running a vent pipe to the outside of the house, some homeowners opt to outfit the dryer with a device that catches lint and then recirculates warm air from the dryer throughout the basement. Unfortunately, the exhaust from the dryer also includes  chemicals from laundry detergents. If you spend any time in your basement, have your dryer vented to the outdoors.

Prevent clients from being their own worst vacation enemies

10/15/2018 (Permalink)

Water Damage Prevent clients from being their own worst vacation enemies While global hot spots like Paris and Tokyo remain popular destinations, travelers are increasingly choosing off-the-beaten path destinations as their

The most popular form of entertainment for high-net-worth clients is travel, especially after they stop working. No matter where they go, however, travel includes some element of risk. Although most associate that risk with violence, travelers are much more likely to run into exposures of their own making — whether it’s an unexpected issue back home or unknowingly exposing personally identifiable information.

Vacation hot spots

If your clients could go anywhere in the world, do you know where they would go? And how they would get there — by plane, tour bus or cruise ship?

According to AirBnB, global hot spots like Paris and Tokyo remain popular destinations, but travelers are increasingly choosing off-the-beaten path destinations as their vacations of choice. Some are traveling with well-established tour companies but others are venturing off on their own or with more local, less-well-known groups.

Bookings are up by more than 250% in Da Nang, Vietnam, for example, as well as more than 200% in Matinhos and Guarapari, Brazil, and 175% in Zagreb, Croatia.

As your clients prepare for the summer travel season, here’s what you need to know in order to protect them.

Out of sight, not out of mind

When on vacation, the worries of everyday life should be far away. Nevertheless, failure to take certain actions before departure can end up hitting clients like a literal beach wave.

According to a 2017 study by Chubb on home protection behaviors, the majority of Americans lock their windows (85%) and deadbolt their doors (77%) before heading out on vacation. Just 22%, on the other hand, shut off the water main.

Why does this matter? Many clients incorrectly assume that theft is the most common and costliest form of property damage, especially while their homes are sitting empty. It’s neither. Water leaks should instead be their primary concern as data from the Insurance Information Institute suggests that water leaks occur four times more frequently than theft claims. Additionally, the same data shows an average water-related loss costs more than $8,800, as compared to $3,990 for theft.

More concerning is the fact that the time between when a leak occurs and when it’s discovered directly impacts the severity of water damage. For clients on vacation — even for a long weekend — this makes them vulnerable.

So how can you help your clients keep their everyday worries at bay while on vacation? Here are some tips:

  • Insist that they turn off their main water supply before traveling.
  • Advise they check for any leaks prior to departure.
  • Encourage them to ask a trusted neighbor or friend to stay or check in on their home while away.
  • Counsel them to install a water shut-off device, if one isn’t already in place. If it is, remind clients to replace all batteries and set the device to “away mode” before leaving.

Handle with care

Although agents and brokers should always advise that clients leave their jewelry at home, there are ways to help keep valuables safe(ish). Start by ensuring your clients have worldwide coverage for valuable articles and no deductibles for most causes of loss. This assumes they’ve already taken the important step of purchasing a valuable articles policy, as opposed to solely relying on their homeowners’ policy, which often has a $5,000 cap on valuables.

Beyond ensuring they have the right policy in place, the safety and security of valuable items is largely dependent on client behavior. In other words, help them make smart choices. Clients should never pack their jewelry in checked luggage, for instance. Instead, they should keep it in a carryon — ideally one that they will have on them the whole flight.

Upon arrival, encourage your clients to keep their jewelry in the hotel’s main safe. Individual room safes are easily accessible to hotel employees and codes can be overridden. Jewelry should remain in the hotel’s main safe unless clients are physically wearing it. That means no putting it by the nightstand and returning it to the safe in the morning. While it should go without saying, remind clients that they should avoid heading to the beach or pool when wearing their jewelry.

Live in the moment

Clients might want to share pictures of the historical landmarks they’re visiting or white sand beaches they’re relaxing on, but posting to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another social media site puts them at risk.

The concern is three-fold. First, they’re alerting local thieves who might be monitoring popular hashtags or location “check-ins” on social media that naïve tourists are nearby. Potentially more concerning, however, is that it could alert criminals back home that their property is vacant. (Even though I mentioned water leaks are more common than theft above, this behavior could certainly tip the scale!)

Finally, if a client uses an unsecure Wi-Fi network, which are common at hotels, bars, restaurants and other tourist destinations abroad, hackers can gain access to a treasure trove of personal information. Reminding your clients that vacation is a time to relax and subsequently “unplug” is the best thing you can do to help keep them safe.

The concern doesn’t end when clients power down their smartphones, unfortunately. Payments and cash withdrawals also present ripe opportunity for identity thieves.

Whenever possible, encourage your clients to pay for vacation purchases, including meals, lodging and excursions, with cash they brought from home. If they must pay with a card, credit cards are preferable to debit cards, as the latter link directly to client bank accounts.

As clients prepare to make the most of summer travel, don’t let an unexpected accident or mistake detour their plans. Take these steps ahead of time and you’ll ensure that your clients do what they’re looking forward to most — relaxing.

What Ice Storm Accumulations Mean and How to Stay Safe

10/4/2018 (Permalink)

At a Glance

  • Just a thin coating of ice can result in a travel nightmare, and heavier amounts will severely damage trees and power lines.
  • Here's how to prepare for an ice storm and stay safe.

You may hear forecasters talk about ice accumulations this week and wonder, "Will I lose power, or will the roads just be slippery?"

 

Just a thin coating of ice can result in a travel nightmare, while heavier amounts will severely damage trees and power lines. Strong winds can add extra force to already weighted down tree branches and power lines, increasing the likelihood of significant damage.

Ice Storm Facts

  • Ice can increase the weight of branches by 30 times.
  • A 1/2-inch accumulation on power lines can add 500 pounds of extra weight.
  • An ice storm in 2009 centered from northern Arkansas to the Ohio Valley knocked out power to 1.3 million.
  • In 1998, an ice storm in northern New York and northern New England damaged millions of trees and caused $1.4 billion in damage. Accumulations were as much as three inches thick!

These ice accumulations are caused by freezing rain. Freezing rain is a result of snow falling through an above-freezing warm layer in the atmosphere above the surface of the earth, which melts the snowflakes into rain. The rain drops then move into a thin layer of below-freezing air right near the surface of the earth, allowing them to freeze on contact to the ground, trees, cars and other objects.

While accumulations of sleet can also make roads treacherous, sleet does not accumulate on trees and powerlines, so ice events with more sleet than freezing rain pose a greatly reduced threat for tree damage or power outages.

(MORE: Difference Between Freezing Rain and Sleet)

 
The type of precipitation we see at the ground depends not only on the temperature at the ground, but also several thousand feet above the surface.

What kind of impacts and damage do different amounts of ice cause? 

'Nuisance'

A nuisance ice event is usually one of 1/4 inch or less of ice accumulation.

Even though these lighter accumulations are considered nuisance, travel can be extremely dangerous even with a light glazing.

 
Typical impacts of "nuiscance" ice accumulations - one-quarter inch or less.

'Disruptive'

A disruptive ice storm is typically one of 1/4 to 1/2 inch of ice accumulation.

This amount of ice starts to damage trees and power lines.

 
Typical impacts of "disruptive" ice accumulations - one-quarter to one-half inch.

'Crippling'

Widespread accumulations of over 1/2 inch.

With widespread ice accumulations of over 1/2 inch, there is severe tree damage and power outages may last for days.

The most devastating storms contain ice accumulations of an inch or more.

(MORE: Winter Storm Central)

 
Typical impacts of "crippling" ice accumulations - one-half inch or more.

Be Prepared

  • Avoid driving on icy roads for your safety and the safety of emergency personnel.
  • Be sure to charge cell phones and laptops ahead of time. Make sure you have several ways to communicate with others. Consider landline phones, social media, and texting.
  • Remember, if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pets. Plan for pets to come inside, and store adequate food and water for them.
  • Children should never play around ice-covered trees; they may be injured if a branch breaks under the weight of the ice and falls on them.
  • Think about safe alternate power sources you could use if you lose heat, such as a fireplace, wood/coal stove or portable space heaters. However, be sure to exercise caution:
  • Follow manufacturers instructions when using portable space heaters and other devices.
  • Never use portable generators, camp stoves and grills inside your home or garage; they should only be used outside. Keep them at least 20 feet away from your home's windows, doors and vents to prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Use flashlights during power outages instead of candles to prevent the risk of fire, and keep plenty of extra batteries on-hand.  

Before the Power Goes Out: Food Safety

  • Make sure you have appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer.
  • Check to ensure that the freezer temperature is at or below 0 degrees and the refrigerator is at or below 40 degrees.
  • In case of a power outage, the appliance thermometers will indicate the temperatures in the refrigerator and freezer to help you determine if the food is safe.
  • Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers in case the power goes out. If your normal water supply is contaminated or unavailable, the melting ice will also supply drinking water.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerated food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
  • Purchase or make ice cubes in advance and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
  • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.

 When the Power Goes Out: Food Safety

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
  • The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened.
  • A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if it is unopened.
  • Buy dry or block ice (or freeze containers of water) to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time.
  • If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while it is still at safe temperatures, it's important that each item is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to assure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present is destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40 degrees for two hours or more — discard it.
  • For infants, try to use prepared, canned baby formula that requires no added water. When using concentrated or powdered formulas, prepare with bottled water if the local water source is potentially contaminated.

Lack of flood insurance heaps misery on homeowners slammed by Hurricane Florence

10/3/2018 (Permalink)

The drenching rains and massive flooding caused by Florence are expected to inflict a high financial toll on homeowners in North Carolina and other states, as only a small percentage are covered by flood insurance that could help offset the costs of rebuilding their damaged homes.

An estimated quarter of a million homes in North Carolina are projected to be affected by Florence, which has caused flash flooding and record rain amounts across the state, according to CoreLogic, a property analytics company. 

Estimates from insurance analysts and actuaries show an alarmingly high percentage of homeowners – both in coastal towns and those far inland – that are underinsured for a water-driven natural disaster as destructive as Florence. 

Only 10 percent to 20 percent of coastal homeowners in the hard-hit eastern part of North Carolina, for example, have coverage through the government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and only 1 percent to 3 percent of homes in inland counties have flood policies, according to estimates from John Rollins, an actuary at consulting firm Milliman. Statewide, roughly 3 percent of the homes in North Carolina have flood coverage and 8 percent of homeowners are covered in South Carolina, Rollins said.

“Obviously, that leaves a lot of people uninsured,” Rollins told USA TODAY.

The numbers of those covered are low, he said, because people think that because their home isn't in a high-risk zone designated by the government that there's "zero risk" of a flood. "But that's not true," Rollins says. Many also don't realize their basic homeowners policy doesn't cover flood damage, while others overestimate the disaster aid they will get from the government. 

Unfortunately, standard homeowners insurance won’t cover any flooding-related issues. The estimated insured losses from Florence are in the range of $3 billion to $5 billion, according to CoreLogic. Goldman Sachs, a Wall Street bank, said they could go as high as $10 billion to $20 billion. 

Insurers should have no problem being able to pay out claims to policy holders because the industry has cash reserves of roughly half a trillion dollars, according to Matt Carletti, senior insurance analyst at JMP Securities.  

More Money: What you need to know about flood insurance as Florence dumps rain on Carolinas

More Money: How the Waffle House Index will help FEMA determine just how bad Hurricane Florence gets

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The problem for homeowners is that insured losses generally are only about one-third of total economic losses, which puts them on the hook financially for a more sizable part of their home rebuilds if losses are due to uncovered flood costs, Carletti said.

 

To get flood coverage, homeowners must buy a separate policy. Most purchase this extra coverage from the government-backed NFIP program, which is designed to restore your home to its preflood condition and replace your possessions. NFIP policies, which carry average premiums of about $600 to $700 a year but can run into the thousands of dollars in high-risk zones, cover up to $250,000 for a home's structure and up to $100,000 for personal possessions. 

Homeowners not covered for flood damage can seek federal disaster assistance in the form of grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or apply for a loan from the Small Business Administration, said Steve Bowen, meteorologist for Aon Benfield's Impact Forecasting division. FEMA may provide up to $33,000 in assistance for home repair, although the average for Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was about $8,000 and roughly $7,100 for Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

At the end of July, there were 134,306 active NFIP flood policies in place in North Carolina, Bowen said. That's only 3 percent of the estimated 4.62 million housing units in the state, he said, citing U.S. Census Bureau data.

Damage to homes caused by floods tend to be costly. The estimated potential loss for a 1,000-square-foot, single-story home with possessions worth $20,000 that is inundated with just 1 inch of interior water can run as high as $11,000, according to FEMA data, and the estimated loss for 5 inches of water climbs to more than $18,000.

Given the fact that many parts of North Carolina have received rain totals of 2 feet or more, many homeowners will be facing high rebuild costs they may not be able to afford.

“You are looking at a lot of homeowners that will have out-of-pocket costs that could easily be five figures, or more than $10,000,” said Cathy Seifert, an insurance analyst at CFRA, a Wall Street research firm.