HEPA and HEPA Filtration Devices
Disaster losses and the facility restoration process commonly involve the release of a wide array of contaminants into the air including microscopic bio-pollutants, larger, visible particles and unpleasant odors.
Disaster losses and the facility restoration process commonly involve the release of a wide array of contaminants into the air including microscopic bio-pollutants, larger, visible particles and unpleasant odors. Portable HEPA Filtration Devices (HFDs) that can effectively and efficiently capture them can provide one of the most important tools at a remediation contractor’s disposal, with numerous potential benefits, including:
- Enhanced productivity & work quality
- Improved work area health and safety
- Reduced cleanup time
- Limiting the area of contamination
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Faster job clearance & re-occupancy
- Reduced risk of re-contamination or call-backs
What Is a "True" HEPA Filter?
HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, also known as absolute filters, are much more efficient than other types of filters for removing microscopic particles from the air. By common definition a HEPA filter must provide 99.97% minimum efficiency during use. In other words, no more than three out of 10,000 particles (0.03%) of the 0.3-micron particles pulled in can pass through.
Filters must meet Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (IEST) Recommended Practices that cover filter media, filter media testing, filter design, construction and labeling, and completed filter testing.
Are All HFDs Equipped With True HEPA Filters?
HFDs and the filters used in them can apparently fall well short of HEPA performance based on various industry studies and in-field testing. The differences can be much larger than they perhaps seem. Compared to HFDs with true HEPA efficiency, a 99%-efficient HFD will have over 30 times more leakage, a 97%-efficient HFD 100 times more leakage, and a 95%-efficient HFD over 165 times more leakage!
What Causes Less-Than-HEPA HFD Efficiency?
Some of the more common causes of reduced filtration efficiency can include:
- Each completed filter was not individually efficiency-tested. The use of true HEPA media is no guarantee that the finished filter will be HEPA efficient because a large percentage of completed HEPA filters require repairs to fix problems such as media damage or improper sealing between the media pack and filter frame. Without testing these problems cannot be found and corrected prior to filter shipment and use. In particular, a low percentage of the aftermarket filters in use today are individually tested per IEST requirements.
- The filter was not tested at the proper airflow. Completed filters tested at airflows far below the rated airflow of the device in which the filter is used may not provide HEPA efficiency in use. The fact that a filter meets HEPA standards when tested at 500cfm or 1,000cfm airflow doesn’t mean it will when operated at 1,500cfm or 2,000cfm.
- The filter was not made with micro-glass HEPA media. Some HFD “HEPA” filters are built with synthetic media that has an electrostatic charge applied to it to enhance initial efficiency above 99%. In-use efficiency can be reduced substantially as moisture in the air begins to dissipate this charge. This can force users to replace a costly filter after (and possibly during) each job.
- The filter is HEPA- efficient but the HFD still leaks. Use of a less-than-HEPA efficiency pretty much guarantees that HFD performance will be compromised, but use of a true HEPA does not ensure overall HEPA efficiency. Leakage elsewhere can significantly compromise the overall integrity of the device by allowing unfiltered air to bypass the HEPA filter.
What Do HEPA Filtration Devices Do?
HFDs help control airborne contaminants during every restoration job, and are absolutely essential for water loss jobs, particularly those involving black water or structural mold contamination. Their most critical task is capturing microscopic bacteria and mold spores released into the air during the drying process, but can also capture larger particles like drywall dust stirred up during demolition and construction activities and, when equipped with carbon filters, odors off-gassed from microbes, paints and other chemicals.
Are There Different Types of HFDs?
Yes. HFDs generally fall into one of three design types, all of which can be used to perform the same tasks:
- ‘Large Box’ Negative Air Machines (NAM) are boxy-shaped units with galvanized steel or rotational molded polymer cabinets mounted on four casters. Designed primarily for use on large asbestos abatement projects, NAM typically provide the most airflow per purchase cost dollar, but are larger, heavier & more cumbersome than other HFD types. They are not well suited for jobs involving movement up or down stairs or in tight spaces.
- Upright Portable Air Scrubbers are more mobile units with rotational molded polymer or stainless steel cabinets that are moved by tipping them back and rolling them on two large wheels like a hand truck. These devices typically offer more convenience features than NAM but less airflow per initial cost dollar. However, more and more users today find that upright PAS provide the greatest productivity, mobility and ease of use.
- ‘Small Box’ Portable Air Scrubbers are small, compact devices with rotational molded polymer or stainless steel cabinets and are typically light enough (35 to 45 lbs) to pick up and hand carry. With peak airflow generally in the 400cfm to 600cfm range they are ideal for smaller jobs. However, because multiple units can be used on larger jobs, small box HFDs are also increasingly popular with restoration companies today
How and When Should HFDs Be Used?
HFDs should be put into operation immediately at the start of the job and operated continuously until, and in many instances after, all work is completed.
The negative pressure containment mode offers the highest level of assurance against contaminants from the affected space escaping into “clean” areas when only a portion of the structure is affected. A physical barrier is erected to seal off the affected area and HFDs are operated continuously within that area to reduce airborne particle counts. Lower (negative) pressure is created within the affected area by ducting air filtered out. This pressure differential helps protect unaffected indoor areas from contamination.
HFDs are often operated in the recirculation mode whenever the entire indoor space is affected. In this mode no pressure differential is created and there is typically no barrier. The HFD simply continuously filters contaminants from the air to reduce airborne particle counts and exhausts cleansed air directly back into the indoor space.
How Much Airflow Do I Need?
A common industry design parameter is four to six clean air changes per hour (ACH) or more. More is better, and it’s prudent to increase the design ACH to build in a margin of safety for airflow losses due to factors such as filter loading or exhaust ducting. If you need 5 ACH for example you might design for 6 ACH. Here’s a fast and easy way to figure out the total cubic feet per minute (cfm) of airflow required:
- Calculate the total air volume in cubic feet by multiplying the length times the width times the height, all in feet. If there is a contained work area, use the dimensions within that area. If there’s no physical containment barrier the volume of the total space must be used.
- Divide the air volume by 10 for 6 ACH, by 12 for 5 ACH, or by 15 for 4 ACH.
Example: The minimum airflow required to maintain 6 ACH in a 30 ft. x 20 ft. x 10 ft. contained work area would be calculated as follows:
Volume = 60 ft. x 20 ft. x 10 ft. = 12,000 cu. ft.
Airflow Required for 6 ACH = 12,000 / 10 = 1,200cfm
HEPA filtration device can help mitigate a lot of problems. Do your homework, select them carefully, and use them properly and you, insurers and their customers can all benefit. SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island has wide selection of HEPA Filtration Devices to tackle any size job. We have trained IICRC technicians with experience in everything from Mold Remediation to Bio Hazard Cleanup.
Methods for Proper Mold Removal
The IICRC S520 establishes the standard for microbial remediation, which lays out general work practices and methods. While this document is considered the standard and may be considered the Bible for remediation companies like SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island, there are additional effective work practices. At the end of the day, safety to our workers and customers is the top priority.
Below are five methods employed by SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island to safely and effectively remove mold.
Establish Critical Containments
Before you do anything, make sure to mitigate the spread of spores by establishing critical containments upon arriving at the loss. Typically, we will seal off the visibly affected areas with plastic and tape. This helps contain the spores to the affected area and will impede the migration to other areas of the property. Adding a dehumidifier to control the humidity will also help to stop the occurrence of secondary damages caused by the elevated humidity, should there still be moisture present.
Slow Things Down to Speed Things Up
Common mistakes made by technicians are often a result of their tendency to hurry through a job. The more time they put into establishing an effective containment and employing dust free work methods will result in safer and cleaner jobs, with less call backs and re-cleans. Adequate measures should be taken to see that the walls don’t collapse, such as using the correct tape and staples where necessary. Dust free practices should also be used, such as saws equipped with vacuum attachments. Lastly, technicians should avoid kicking, smashing or any other aggressive methods of building material removal.
Proper PPE and Fit Tests
We all know how important it is to protect our workers when performing mold abatement; however, it is also important to make sure that the worker is physically able to perform the work. Before entering containment and donning a respirator, every worker should pass a respirator fit test and pulmonary physical examine. Fit tests can be performed by someone in your company who is a certified fit test instructor; however, the pulmonary physical examine should be performed by a medical professional. Together these tests will ensure that the workers are safe to be performing work in contained environments and under the physical stress of PPE.
Scrub Mode vs. Negative Air
Scrub mode and negative air are both effective methods of filtration. When technicians are working in the containment, it is standard practice to establish negative pressure, which helps mitigate the spread of mold spores to the outside of the contained area. When workers are not onsite, air filtration devices can be set to scrub mode. I recommend using lay flat ducting to route the exhaust air back into the containment. Furthermore, I would also recommend routing the ducted exhaust air to the opposite end of the containment, allowing for the path of air to travel across the affected areas. This will help pick up any mold spores that may be lingering. Should there be additional equipment available, adding extra air scrubbers to the inside of the containment will allow for even more filtration. Some experts may believe this is overkill, but I always recommend this practice in order to ensure a pass on the microbial clearance test.
Angle Grinder with Wire Brush Attachment
Traditionally, we are taught to sand the affected framing to remove surface mold, which is still an effective method; however, it is more effective and efficient to use a grinder with a wire brush attachment. With this attachment, technicians are able to complete jobs much faster and with fantastic results. Technicians also prefer the wire brush method to the sanding method due to ease of use. If done correctly, after the wire brush treatment there will be no visible indications of mold and sealing the building materials should not be necessary to pass a microbial clearance if the surfaces have been properly cleaned.
SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island is a certified Mold Remediation Company. We can handle any size loss both Residential and Commercial. If you suspect you might have a mold issue, call us for a free inspection.
Commercial Restoration--Selecting the Proper Equipment
In the world of equipment many restorers still use the “WOT” method of equipment selection, as in “Whatever’s On the Truck.” SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island has once or twice fallen into this practice in its initial stages. We quickly changed that way of thought and adopted a more functional method.
I want you now to consider the “WHAT” method, as in “Whatever the Project Requires.” Have you ever lost a bid when you were sure you charged less per day for air movers or labor than anyone else? You may have thought someone had the inside track and maybe so, but most likely you lost the bid on the total bottom line, not on just the bid price.
As we discussed, it is the occupant that pays rent to the owner, who then pays the bank and insurance. So if we keep the tenants happy, we have a better chance of keeping everyone pleased. A successful selection of equipment and deployment depends on the parameters of the job not what you have on hand.
So what are the parameters? How do I get to the total bottom line? Once again, Zig Zigler says it the best: “You can get what you want if you just help enough of the right people get what they want.”
We now know who the right people are; we just need to provide them with a finished project with as little cost and interruption to their services as possible. This is what they want.
Imagine a disaster has just struck your business: fire, flood, earthquake, tornado or maybe like me by a little hurricane called Katrina. After making sure everyone is safe, what are your concerns about your business? Can I stay open? Can I get supplies from my vendors? How long will it take to get the place back together? How are we going to pay for it all?
Our job is to help answer these questions and provide the best overall solution. This is Bottom Line Drying. What we need to do is combine these concerns and needs with equipment available on the market to produce the best result. The fundamentals of drying dictate that adding energy (heat) to a material while passing the driest available air over its porous surface will invoke evaporation of unwanted moisture from the material and thus the building itself. We call it HAT (Humidity, Airflow and Temperature).
Seriously, let’s look at the parameters individually and deploy equipment accordingly.
The first is, can the business stay open? This is determined by structural integrity: Is it safe for occupancy? Can the occupants vendors supply the occupant with the materials or services needed in order to conduct business on a day to day basis? Is there Business Interruption Insurance?
This is of primary concern, because the occupancy of the building is one of the most important factors when developing an allowable temperature range. If people are going to be in the building shopping, eating or working, then noise and temperature level – as well as equipment visibility – are important considerations. So large equipment located away from customers, with air movers on low, and comfortable temperatures are best. You may even need to constantly relocate air movers for aesthetic reasons.
Make sure everyone involved is on the same page
By the way, a hot-air drying unit works fine here if it is cool and dry outside, or you can use localized or “spot” heating for specific, tough-to-dry materials. If the business will be closed for a few days, we do not have creature comfort or visibility concerns, but we have to check on materials and products in the building before we allow for elevated temperature drying (generally above 80 F).
The building’s design is the second most important consideration. You must understand, this consists of the building’s construction materials and physical layout as well as the contents. Most building materials have no problems handling temperatures up to 120 degrees and most materials, especially the denser or less permeable, actually dry better in these higher temperatures.
Please be careful on total temperature (air or material), because sprinkler systems are part of many commercial buildings and their heads are designed to rupture on temperature, not from sensing flame, and some are rated as low as 130 degrees. (How good is your liability insurance? Want to find out?)
The contents are a mixed bag of every material you can imagine, and many are sensitive to temperature or even low humidity – operational computers or server rooms are obviously concerned with high temperature, but low humidity may induce static discharges into the system, doing serious damage.
You need to consult with the occupants and building engineer about temperature- or humidity-sensitive items, and get them to sign off on any elevated temperature drying so you will not be held responsible for something you did not know was there.
The layout generally determines air mover placement and quantity, but it also very important to the drying system selection: LGRs, desiccants or heat-based systems. Here, the general guidelines are simple: it is much cheaper to rent one big piece of equipment than many smaller pieces, thus decreasing the bottom line.
This is why many commercial projects that have large common areas or hallways use desiccants or larger trailer-mounted heating systems. But if the layout is one of multiple exterior entrances (1,000- to 3,000-square-foot individual units) like condos or hotel rooms, LGR’s are going to be the fit. Layout also includes site access and power availability, as they are also major determining factors, as well as what equipment happens to be available when you need it (as much as I hate to say it, sometimes “WOT” is all we have to work with).
Use the right equipment to suit the project’s needs
Then there is the Question of All Questions: “How long is it going to take?” “It will be dry when it’s dry” is true, but that’s not what I mean. Lately, a lot of focus has been on drying as fast as possible, and that is great in the residential or commercial market when the building is unoccupied, but when a commercial customer needs his facility to conduct business, being out of business even for two days can be unacceptable.
Businesses such as restaurants and hotel ballrooms have planned functions. Since Mrs. Jones will probably have only one 50th anniversary party, are you going to tell her she can’t have the party tonight? Many times you can dry the carpet/flooring in several hours, have it safe for the party and start the wall drying after hours, when the guests have left.
In this case, you are going to spend a few more days drying with increased equipment billing and labor hours, but there would be no business interruption payout, again making the bottom line lower. I call this “Ghost Drying” because you are constantly working on the wet structure, but anyone who uses the facility hardly even notices you are there. You have just made the insurance company, the building owner, the occupant, and Mrs. Jones very happy.
The last word in drying is communication: Be sure that when you are bidding on a project that the owner, tenants, insurance folks and all of your people are on the same page. Just because you know the benefits of how you custom tailored this drying project for them does not mean they understand it.
It is important to start every bid submission with a meeting of all concerned and continue with these meetings on a daily basis until the project is complete. This openness in working together as well as showing concern and understanding for all involved will make you a successful Bottom Line Dryer.
SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island carries every type of equipment that might be needed on a Drying project. Commercial or Residential, you can rest assured we have the trained and qualified personnel to determine the equipment needs.
Commercial Sewage Losses--Getting Paid
While most insurance policies exclude coverage for cat 3 water, for decades they were paid out anyway by adjusters. Now, things are changing, and getting category 3 water jobs paid for is not so easy.
For unknown reasons, claims adjusters must have read the 12-year-old fungi and bacteria sublimits on property policies in 2016 and started pulling the trigger on denying claims under the sublimits of coverage.
The relatively sudden change in claims handling protocols on property insurance is evidenced in the 2016 loss experience of Environmental Impairment Liability insurance policies sold to commercial property owners. A mold claim never reaches an EIL policy if the property policy is paying for the loss.
Almost all mold-related EIL claims in 2016 came in from commercial buildings like hotels, condos, schools and shopping malls.
In 2016, there were more mold losses paid on Environmental Impairment Liability (EIL) type insurance policies than from all other sources of contamination losses paid for under that type of insurance. EIL policies were designed for use by industrial firms and waste disposal companies. Today, there are more mold claims under EIL policies than the claims arising from industrial spills, leaking landfills and pipelines.
Almost all mold-related EIL claims in 2016 came in from commercial buildings like hotels, condos, schools and shopping malls. These firms are not traditional buyers of EIL-type insurance policies and almost all of these buildings do not have this coverage in place today. Problem!
Here is why mold evolving as the #1 source of claims under EIL policies is such an important development to a restoration contractor wanting to get paid for commercial work:
Less than 1% of all commercial buildings are insured under a EIL type insurance policy today;
99% of building owners are needlessly uninsured for mold/bacteria related damages today;
Only claims that are not covered in the property and liability policies of the property owner make it to the EIL coverage for payment;
The amount of mold work country-wide in 2016 was stable to the levels of 2014 and 2015;
The number of EIL policies insuring commercial buildings only grew 8% over those three years;
Which means for EIL policies to get a surge in mold claims, claims adjusters must have started to deny more mold related losses under the standard property policies in 2016 and;
With only a 1% market penetration for the EIL insurance product line in commercial construction in 2016, there must be a lot of property losses where the property owners are not getting the claims settlements they were expecting from the property insurance company;
All this translates to more bad debts for restorers.
Getting paid for sewage loss
The solution to the mold/bacteria coverage gap is a specially designed EIL type insurance policy that insures losses form “pollutants” including all sorts of microbial matter.
Mold-related claims being denied coverage will financially challenge many property owners. A large uninsured property loss could leave a restorer in a lurch financially if the restoration work has been completed before the stakeholders in the building figure out that the insurance coverage is only going to pay a $10,000 sublimit of coverage for a loss that involves a speck of mold.
To make sure a property owner has the money to pay for water restoration work in a world of enlightened claims adjusters, it will become increasing important for commercial property to be insured under and specially modified Environmental Impairment Liability (EIL) insurance policy.
Today, less than one out of 100 commercial properties actually have this type of insurance in place. Which means today less than one out of 100 property owners will have the insurance needed to pay more than $10,000 for a loss involving a speck of mold or bacteria in any sequence to the loss event.
Of course, limiting the coverage for the entire loss to only $10,000 assumes the insurance claims adjuster is paying attention to the exact words in the exclusions for fungi or bacteria in almost all types of commercial insurance policies. On small losses the adjusters tend to ignore the sublimits or errantly apply them to only the part of the loss involving the direct remediation of mold or bacteria. The problem is the bigger the loss, the ones you would never want an uncollectable bill from, the more claims supervisors there are looking at it. The smart supervisors realize every time they pay a mold or category 3 water loss like the sublimits do not exist, they undermine the insurance company’s ability to use the flood exclusion which is built under the same insurance design. As a result, the larger the loss the less likely the property insurance company is going to pay for it.
The solution to the mold/bacteria coverage gap is a specially designed EIL type insurance policy that insures losses form “pollutants” including all sorts of microbial matter.
These new generation EIL-type policies will be marketed under various brand names, we have one that took eight years in research and development to create. We brand named our EIL policy for commercial property the ARMR-HPR insurance program. HPR stands of Highly Protected Risk. The HPR part of the insurance product is we will only insure a property at the very favorable rates if all of the insured locations covered under the policy have an Emergency Ready Plan in place with an approved restoration firm such as SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island, and that each building has been walked through by the restoration firm.
With a ERP in place from SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island we can insure commercial buildings for about half the cost of an EIL type policy sold without an ERP plan. Typically, the premium for the ARMR-HPR product is less than 15% of the current property insurance premiums, which puts the needed coverage to close the gaps in insurance coverage created by mold and bacteria exclusions and sub-limits on property and liability insurance policies within the reach of most property owners and management firms.
Connecting the dots on all of this it is looking like the mold claims in EIL type policies can only be explained by changes in claims payment practices under traditional property insurance policies. Since 2005, property insurance policies have had sub-limits for mold and sometimes bacteria related damages as little as $10,000. As many property insurance policies are written, the most a claims adjuster should pay for the entire job involving cleaning a speck of mold in any sequence to the project is the amount of the sub-limit. To have adequate coverage for mold/bacteria related work in commercial buildings, property owners and managers need to either dramatically increase the mold/bacteria sub limits from $10,000 to a far larger amount or procure a separate specially designed EIL type insurance policy.
Handling Category 3 Water Claims
The best way to get paid for mold and bacteria contamination work is to have an insured building. More than 99% of commercial building are under insured today for mold or bacteria related losses.
Restorers with EIL policies can help property owners procure this needed coverage for mold and bacteria related losses by providing Emergency Ready Plans to property owners and managers. By encouraging property owner and managers to get insured for what a water intrusion event involving mold or bacteria is likely to cost is the best way to assure you will be paid for the work you do on any loss involving a speck of any form of mold and sometimes bacteria. The best way to get paid for mold and bacteria contamination work is to have an insured building. More than 99% of commercial building are under insured today for mold or bacteria related losses.
Call the experts at SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island to set up an appointment for your ERP. It’s a free service so don’t delay. We are always here to help.
Quick Response is the Key to Water Damages
Floods, rainstorms and tornadoes can become massive water damage threats to businesses during the often-stormy spring and summer months. Facilities plagued with such water woes this season must take quick action to control many possible problems, experts say.
You won’t see it emphasized on the nightly news when a disaster hits, but water damage can represent potentially huge disasters for businesses and building owners and operators.
Water damage can mean much more to a business than just wet and soggy carpets. There are other common, more significant problems businesses face when water wreaks havoc on property, such as indoor air quality problems. Mold and mildew grow rapidly in damp, humid environments, leaving behind an unpleasant smell that permeates floors, walls and ceilings, even after the water has been removed. It also can create health problems for employees.
Damage to the building’s structure and foundation also can be an issue. When water sits inside a building for a period of time, the walls, ceilings and floors absorb the water, which threatens the overall structural integrity of the building and creates an unsafe environment. Total reconstruction of the building often becomes the only option.
Another major threat to business is the loss of expensive equipment, which often can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace.
To minimize water damage, there are two critical steps that need to be taken:
- Act fast to assess the situation; and
- Control the environment within the building.
Act Fast and Call an Expert
The absolute first step to take is fast action. Damage resulting from water and flooding is very progressive. The longer the water flows or wet conditions are allowed to exist, the greater the recovery problem becomes. A water damage consultant, such as SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island, must come in immediately to survey the situation.
In a typical scenario, a team of water damage recovery professionals is dispatched to the site to perform a thorough inspection and fully determine the extent of the damage. A disaster reclamation partner also will develop an intense restoration plan and determine which items are worth restoring and which are better replaced.
You can’t always save everything by drying, but you can save a tremendous amount. It’s not unusual to save between 30 and 70 percent of the cost needed to reconstruct a facility.
Controlling the Interior Environment
Another key in limiting water damage is to quickly control three conditions of a building’s atmosphere: relative humidity, temperature and air circulation. Fast, effective action at this point will generally confine the damage to the area that was directly affected by the water damage event.
The most effective way to control these conditions in a high-moisture environment, especially a large facility, is to employ professional disaster drying that combines air movers with desiccant dehumidifiers.
Disaster drying often eliminates the need to rip out and replace walls, carpet, floor covering, hardwood floors and the building structure, which can be a huge expense. On top of that, you preclude the odors and staining caused by mold and mildew. These problems can come back to haunt you weeks later in a superficially dried building.
The Desiccant Way
When a facility has been severely water damaged, you need high volume desiccant dehumidifiers. Some larger desiccant dehumidifiers can pull 800 gallons of water out of a building in one day, compared to the typical small refrigeration units that remove about five gallons a day.
Many people are surprised that “solid” materials such as concrete and hard woods absorb moisture. But they do and rather quickly.
Getting the water back involves a phenomenon called migration. Migration is the tendency for water molecules to move toward a low vapor pressure. When a room is filled with very dry air, which has low vapor pressure, trapped water migrates outward and is evaporated from the surface by the dry air. As the air in the room fills with water vapor, we expel it. We then replace it with more dry air and the process continues.
It’s also essential to be sure the equipment being used is sized right. Inappropriately sized drying equipment can lead to insufficient drying and long-term problems with the building. Only large-volume dehumidifiers could provide the massive drying power needed to dry the space quickly and thoroughly.
Best Defense: An Emergency Ready Plan
To minimize damage and costs, companies need to think ahead about what to do in a water damage event and contact a water damage expert like SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island to create an Emergency Ready Plan (ERP).
An ERP can limit the extent of water damage occurrences by defining and prioritizing the recovery of areas within a facility and stating immediate next steps. Proper planning and fast action are most certainly the best defense to preventing a catastrophic water damage event.
Estimating Damages after the Storm
It seems like yesterday, but it was 1979. I was a college student and given the opportunity to work as an adjuster (I had to ask my buddy exactly what “an adjuster” was) estimating claims for an adjusting company handling flood claims for the National Flood Insurance Program.
Back in those days, only the federal government wrote flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program or NFIP. However, in 1983 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the administrators of the NFIP, created the “WYO” or Write-Your-Own program allowing private insurers to sell flood insurance and adjust (estimate) the flood claims arising out of the policies they sold under their brand. The government was (and still is for the most part) the “bank” and pays all claims sold by the WYO insurers. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), remains the governing body. The NFIP administers the day-to-day operations of the flood program and provides adjusters (estimators) with the do’s and don’ts as to what should and should not be paid for in the event of a flood claim. Complicating the landscape even more, FEMA and the NFIP allow the WYO insurance companies to estimate their flood claims as they deem appropriate for their policyholder and their brand.
Back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s (the “Wild, Wild West” of the flood program as I like to refer to them) adjusters wrote estimates by hand and there wasn’t as much control and oversight over their content as there is today. Technology has caught up with the NFIP and the flood program’s estimates of today have little in common with those of years past.
We could spend an entire day-long class in the art of writing flood estimates for the NFIP and WYO companies. The information provided here will provide some of the basics needed to prepare flood estimates in a proper and acceptable format for flood adjusters and the federal auditors who review NFIP claims.
Keep in mind, the NFIP requires all flood adjusters to write their own estimates. Adjusters may refer to contractor’s estimates for scope and specific pricing information, however, adjusters are required by law to prepare their own estimates.
Basic Flood Estimate Formatting
All NFIP flood estimates must be written on a room-by-room basis. Each room or area must be individually named with a complete list of all measurements for that room or area. Drawings or sketches including measurements are great but the NFIP requires these measurements be shown right on the estimate.
Rooms and areas should be ‘scoped’ in some logical order. A telltale sign of many poorly written estimates is when the estimator, for whatever reason, starts at one end of a building and then skips from room to room in random order.
We suggest when preparing flood damage estimates, scope rooms/areas either in a clockwise or counterclockwise manner, so it is easier for someone to follow along and virtually or actually “walk through” of the house while reading the estimate.
Each room or area will have its only set of estimate line items. Estimate line items should be fully detailed. Each line item should contain the following information:
- Quantity of materials to be used
- Unit of measure used for the material
- The scope or operation to be performed with that material
- A detailed description of the material to be used in the repair
- The unit cost for that operation and material as described
- The “extension” or total cost for the line item as described
The adjuster has the added responsibility to consider any depreciation which may apply to the line item materials, but that is not a concern of the contractor or repair specialist.
Line Items should appear in each room or area in the same order throughout the estimate. This makes the estimate easier to read for all parties and reduces the risk that a line item may be left out.
Since we are preparing a flood estimate (ground water), it is always recommended the estimator start with flooring-related items and scope their way up the walls and finally to the ceiling (if affected by the flood waters). Estimates, where the preparer may have started with the wall repairs, then to a few floor repairs and then back to a wall item, will be looked upon by the adjuster as unprofessional. The adjuster may request the items be re-ordered to be consistent with the adjuster’s estimate. It is good practice to keep estimate line item order consistent both in their order of appearance in a room/area as well as where the item is physically located in that room or area.
Today’s leading computer estimating systems detail estimate line items for the estimator automatically. However, estimators should always review how the estimate’s line items are displayed to ensure consistency and professional appearance. If there are line items which contain multiple operations within them (i.e. assembly type line items), additional notes should be added to further explain the repair to the adjuster.
After all rooms, areas and their corresponding line items are entered, each estimate should end with a Summary or Totals page. This page should display any contractor overhead and profit fees, sales tax and any other cost information which would apply to the whole estimate. The last line of the summary/totals page should be the total cost of the restoration work. The adjuster will take care of any flood insurance policy limitations deductibles in his or her estimate.
The National Flood Insurance Program is a government agency. The money disbursed in paying policyholders’ claims is considered U.S. Treasury dollars and taken very seriously by the feds. Although the NFIP wants all policyholders treated fairly and to have a positive “customer experience,” the government auditors who examine these estimates, sometimes months or years after an event, take a sharp pencil when performing their reviews. Adjusters submitting their estimates take exceptional care as to how the final estimate is presented in the closing documents of the flood claim. It is for this reason adjusters may ask the contractor to be more detailed in their scope of loss than they might be in a typical homeowner’s water claim estimate.
The follow are some things to consider when preparing flood estimates which may differ from preparing other types of water-related appraisals. Adjusters are the persons ultimately responsible for adhering to NFIP policy coverages, limitations and exclusions. Some estimators reading this article may feel uncomfortable following these recommendations. We offer them only as items to consider when preparing estimates for the flood adjuster.
All Flood Waters Should Be Considered Toxic – The NFIP considers all groundwater floods as toxic (i.e. Black/Level III) water. Any mold found in a flooded building should be removed. The flood adjuster will not consider any remediation measures short of complete removal. All porous materials such as plywood, drywall or carpeting should also be replaced. Remember, flood waters are ground waters and contain all types of bacteria and fecal matter brought into the building from surrounding areas. Estimates containing attempts to clean and restore these items will probably not be acceptable to the NFIP adjuster without detailed explanations as to why these items are salvageable. If the estimate includes any remediation or repair type items, detail the reasoning behind their inclusion in the estimate.
Consider Only Direct Physical Damages – NFIP adjuster guidelines dictate only direct physical damages caused by flood waters may be included in flood estimates. Adjusters are instructed by the NFIP only to include items “touched” by flood waters. This fact affects what adjusters can include in their estimates. NFIP will not allow its adjusters to match the upper cabinets, which were not damaged by the water, with the lower cabinets which were in flood water.
Another example would be ceilings. NFIP will not consider ceiling repairs, even cleaning or painting, unless the water physically affected the ceiling. Although, there are some situations (usually in major flooding events when repairs cannot begin for weeks or months) where “non-touched” items may be included in a flood estimate. In general, when preparing flood estimates carefully consider if the line item being considered was directly affected by the flood water. Bottom line with this consideration – if you are not sure, check with the adjuster.
Consider Removing All Openings from Area Calculations – This includes all doors, windows, wall openings of any kind. It also includes items such as cabinets, vanities and other wall and floor type items which could be subtracted from an area’s total wall and/or floor quantities. The NFIP does allow for additional cutting, taping and masking around these types of items. These additional operations should be detailed in the estimate for them to be considered by the adjuster.
Contents Manipulation Considerations – Even though the NFIP does allow adjusters to include manipulation of specific contents items (i.e. pianos, pool tables, safes, etc.) in a building estimate, the policyholder must have contents coverage for the estimator/adjuster to include the cost of contents manipulation. Also, NFIP will not accept hourly charges or lump sum amounts for general contents manipulation – the manipulation must be specific. Remember to check with the homeowner to see if they have contents coverage before adding any type of contents manipulation in the estimate. If coverage is not verified with the homeowner, be aware that any contents manipulation included in the estimate may not be considered by the adjuster or included in their estimate.
Flooding is one of the most devastating forms of natural disasters a community can experience. The NFIP and WYO programs are in place today to lessen the financial and emotions blows to those communities. The ultimate objective of the NFIP is to return victims of flood and their communities back to normal as quickly as possible.
To the insurance savvy restoration contractor, the National Flood Insurance Program may, at times, seem more like a “program” rather than “insurance”. If the professional restoration contractor, like SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island, has some basic knowledge on how the NFIP functions and what it requires to write solid flood estimates, that contractor can be a great asset to the flood adjuster.
The sooner the restoration and insurance adjusting professionals can agree on the scope of the damages (considering the guidelines of the NFIP or WYO insurance company) the sooner homeowners receive payment for their damages and the affected communities can be restored to normalcy “Like it never even happened.”
Flood Waters and Oriental Rugs
In the 20th century, floods were the No. 1 natural disaster in the United States as counted by lives lost and the extremity of damage to property. More recently, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Oklahoma all experienced powerful storms that drenched the areas in a matter of days, sometimes hours. Once heavy rains reach the ground, creeks, lakes, and rivers swell affecting surrounding communities.
Once floodwaters subside, the need to provide prompt drying begins; the longer it takes the greater the potential for damage to textiles. Floodwater frequently contains fecal matter that overflows from sewage systems often containing millions of microbes; these tiny organisms present a long-term destructive danger to health.
Contamination of textiles with polluted water poses additional challenges to cleaners, homeowners, and building occupants. Restoration of textiles has been promoted through specialized cleaning or laundering, but these approaches lack sensitive methods to detect hidden microorganisms and a complete understanding of the effect of cleaning solutions or cleaning methods.
The widespread incidence of flooding on textiles makes it inevitable that microbial contamination of textiles will occur in buildings with water damage. Authors of cleaning standards (ANSI/IICRC S500, 2006) have speculated that specialized laundering could return these materials to a hygienically sanitary state.
Fields, farmlands, and sewage systems release contaminants into floodwaters, transporting them inside local homes, schools and buildings. In the case of river flooding, when dwellings become contaminated, a heavy load of organic matter can penetrate into the built environment causing extensive contamination of porous materials, especially textiles such as rugs due to their location on the floor.
Organic matter and water-saturated materials can be used as a substrate for the growth of microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi. Large quantities of water inside homes evaporates, causing high humidity that contributes to microbial growth on organic materials
Indoor contamination is a complex function of water sources, exposure time, and lack of immediate or ineffective cleaning and moisture control. Inside buildings, microorganisms adhere to surfaces, including heirloom Oriental rugs and other high-value textiles and porous materials. In particular, Oriental rugs, because they are highly prized, often remain in the home despite floodwater contamination; capturing and allowing microorganisms to proliferate, their complex yarn structure acts like a sink.
Which organisms grow on materials in flooded homes depends on a series of factors: the physical and chemical makeup of the materials, as varying materials inherently provide micro-specific food sources and, most importantly, the degree of saturation, as this further determines the type of organisms likely to abound.
Microbial growth is largely dependent on the water content, as well as adsorptive or absorptive forces throughout the capillary spaces and on the surface of water-damaged materials. Moreover, every organism has its own particular growth requirements, such as temperature and moisture levels, minimum and maximum water activity (aw) values for various categories of organisms, and optimum levels where organisms thrive.
Where high levels of moisture are available, hydrophilic types are usually observed. If the material is not dried quickly and becomes wetter over time, we may find a succession of inhabiting organisms. Therefore, recovery must be quick when water threatens valuable textiles.
Many people have Oriental rugs that provoke fond memories and hold sentimental value; they may be one-of-a-kind works of art. These strong attachments, especially following floods, often create a desire to salvage as many of these items as possible. Nonetheless, practical concerns regarding how sanitary these items are following flooding raise the question of safety.
My concern is that the role of exposure to contaminated textiles is poorly understood, as is the role of mitigation and its emerging importance. Where we stand today in our knowledge of how microbial ecologies shift when flooding occurs is far ahead of where our industry was just 10 years ago. Yet in spite of the number and magnitude of losses, studies about cleaning efficacy are lacking. Our lack of research as to whether we have returned our belongings to a sanitary state or simply visually clean state is a concern. We know floodwaters ultimately cause materials to break down, but how effective are our cleaning processes?
As consumers become more knowledgeable about public health issues surrounding floodwaters, they rely on properly trained and certified cleaners. This is in part why our industry has evolved. Our industry involves restorers such as SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island, who are expected to be collectively qualified by education, training and experience to appropriately execute a key set of “core skills” on water restoration projects.
While the training towards developing core skills is admirable, I believe additional research is needed. Moreover, organizations must continue to look critically at the accuracy or completeness of the information, which they provide. ANSI/IICRC standards and reference guides are constructed in good faith and are reliable yet will need revision as developments occur and research provides new technology and procedures.
If you were to find yourself in a Flood situation, call on the experts at SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island, to help you assess the damages and start the process of getting your home to a safe, livable condition.
Handling CAT Loss Contents Restoration--5 Key Elements
CAT losses are a prime example of how the restoration industry relieves a lot of stress, anxiety and pain for so many. In a mass flooding situation, a restoration contractor, such as SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island is the equivalent to the emergency room doctor. Everyone is looking to you for guidance, answers and some sense of calm amongst the chaos. And just like a doctor, the contractor needs the right equipment, systems, manpower, support team and prior training to be able to do their job.
- Support Team
Right off the top, you need to have a base of operations to handle the logistics of organizing and coordinating all the contents jobs. People at the base need to be a really good support team for those out in the field. Location is not critical – it could be on site, at the office, or even in a different state.
SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island, usually sets up a command center at a local hotel room. The center handles things like billing, specialty subcontractor coordination, hotel, food, transportation needs, manpower issues, supply inventory and more. This base supports my teams out in the field and helps handle the backstage stuff so work doesn’t get bogged down on the job site. This also helps our teams be more organized and on top of it on site for the homeowner, making us look more professional.
There are many moving parts to CAT losses. Training for these events needs to happen long before you are on the ground handling jobs. This includes being able to do estimates quickly, using software in the field (we will cover this in a moment), gathering important details from each job, having the right paperwork, knowing how to use all the equipment, and knowing what adjusters need in situations like this. Bottom line about adjusters: they need to be able to understand the big picture of the loss and get all their questions answered quickly. This is key to getting paid quickly and in full.
Let’s get specific. How do you know when to dry it, log it, or just throw it away during a category 3 water loss? Obviously, some items have no value and just need to be thrown away – like most old magazines. Then there are items you can clean and dry. These contents should be treated as contaminated in a category 3 loss and cleaned accordingly using an antimicrobial solution. Once the item is cleaned you can now dry, inventory and pack it.
This is a topic I get asked about a lot. Finding good, dependable help can be tricky in a CAT loss scenario. Restoration work needs to happen quickly, and without enough hands, you can only handle so much. Utilizing temporary labor sources is usually the best option here, but the key is to have your own trained supervision.
For instance, when I was back in Houston working Hurricane Harvey, I had two supervisors with me and we each ran a team of five to 10 people who came from the local temporary labor companies. By doing this, my manpower grew from three employees to 20-30 employees overnight. Each of my supervisors was trained and certified in all aspects of CAT loss work. They watched over all aspects of the job, monitoring quality control and proper protocols. It’s very important you have proper protocols in place when using labor in this way so you do not wind up on the wrong side of a lawsuit.
You can also call on others you may know in the industry to see if they can send any help to work with you.
- Billing Software
Using proper billing practices in a CAT loss situation can literally make or break your business. I have seen restoration contractors become millionaires and watched a few go bankrupt doing CAT losses.
You need to have a good billing software program set up on a laptop, computer or other device and be able to complete your scope of repairs for payment on the spot from your homeowner or to send to your adjuster as soon as work is complete on a job. Staying on top of your billing is very important.
SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island uses Xactimate as it is the most widely used insurance billing software in the industry at this time. And most adjusters are familiar with it. Understanding how to fully utilize your billing software is crucial to your bottom line. After all, you don’t want to be leaving thousands of dollars on the table and not even know it. You need to understand how to properly fill out the notes and details on each job so that your scopes will get approved and paid quickly without hassles. This is something to invest in when looking for training to gear up for these types of losses.
I think it is also important to mention verifying coverages. A flood is very different than a “traditional” water loss. You may be dealing with FEMA instead of an insurance company when it comes to getting paid and they have some different rules in regards to billing and work done.
A good contents inventory system or software is also important for billing and job tracking.
There is a lot of equipment needed to handle CAT losses. For contents work in major flooding situations, the equipment you need isn’t a lot different than the equipment you use on a CAT loss fire situation. You will need dehumidifiers, air movers, HEPA machines, odor removal equipment and HEPA vacuums.
You can rent a lot of this equipment instead of sinking a lot of cash into purchasing equipment that may only be in use for a few weeks before being shelved. Renting can a good way to leverage yourself into large losses without going into debt.
No matter how you get the equipment, you need to track it. You should be able to see at any given time what equipment is on what job and how long it has been there.
If you own the equipment, it should be marked and numbered with a complete inventory being done before it goes out into the field.
Most rental companies will have their equipment numbered, making it easy for you to track as well. Be sure you have a complete inventory done of rental equipment before it goes out. This is not only important so you don’t wind up losing expensive pieces of equipment, but also so you can justify your charges to your homeowner or adjuster if need be.
As you can see, jumping into a CAT loss situation unprepared could be pretty disastrous not only for the restoration contractor, but for everyone involved. However, with some preparation and good planning, you could be that contents restoration contractor that becomes the hero to those in need.
Flood Insurance in Texas--Cost and How it Works
Texas doesn't require homeowners to purchase flood insurance, but if your property is in a high-risk flood zone, you may need to buy coverage as a condition of closing on your mortgage. Flood insurance is also a good consideration in Texas, as flood damage isn't covered by homeowners or renters insurance policies. Flood insurance will help ensure your home and valuables are protected against damage from flash floods, hurricanes and other threats. While the average cost of flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is nearly $600 per year in Texas, you may be able to find lower rates by comparing quotes from private flood insurance companies.
Do You Need Flood Insurance in Texas?
While the state of Texas doesn't require homeowners to have flood insurance, you may need to purchase coverage as a term of your mortgage loan. This is usually the case if your home is located in a high-risk zone on flood maps, as it’s considered to have a higher risk of flooding.
Even if you're not required to purchase flood insurance, you may want to buy coverage as Texas consistently has some of the highest fatality rates and property damage costs due to flooding. And nearly one in four flood losses occurs in flood plains that aren't considered high-risk, so even when coverage isn't required, it doesn't necessarily mean your property is safe.
A number of weather events that may occur in Texas can cause flooding, such as flash floods, heavy rains, tropical storms and hurricanes. Flood damage isn't covered by homeowners or renters insurance policies, so you would likely have to pay the associated costs out of pocket. Even if a federal emergency is declared, disaster loans average less than $10,000, and significant damage to your flooring or personal property can easily exceed this amount.
Texas Flood Insurance Coverage
Flood insurance from the NFIP has maximum coverage limits of $250,000 for your house's structure and $100,000 for its contents, although you can usually purchase a larger policy through a private flood insurance company. If you're a renter in Texas, then your landlord would be responsible for the structure, and your policy would be limited to $100,000 of personal property coverage through the NFIP.
Even if your flood insurance claim is less than your coverage limits, the policy still has limitations in terms of what will be paid for. An NFIP policy in Texas will generally cover the following.
- Standard home systems. This can include systems such as your electrical system, furnace, water heater, plumbing system and air conditioner.
- Carpeting and installed features. This includes damaged sections of built-in cabinets, bookcases or paneling.
- Appliances and personal property. Appliances, such as your refrigerator and washing machine, are generally covered unless they're kept in your basement. The same applies to your personal items, including clothing, electronics and furniture.
- Foundation and support structures. Staircases are covered so long as they're built into your house.
- Detached garage. A maximum of 10% of your policy's dwelling coverage can be applied to a detached garage.
A federal flood insurance policy has a large number of exclusions though, so you may not receive the full payment expected if you're not familiar with them. Here are some common reasons an NFIP flood insurance policy would not cover damage.
- The damage can be attributed to earth movement, such as a sinkhole or landslide, even if the earth movement could be traced to flooding.
- Damage occurred to the basement or property contained within it.
- In some cases, flooding damage from sewer backup wouldn't be covered.
- The flood damage was done to your vehicle. You would need comprehensive auto insurance in order to cover this situation.
- If you lost income or temporarily had to relocate due to flood damage, these costs would not be covered.
- Certain detached property features wouldn't be covered by flood insurance. These include property such as plants, decks, patios, fences and walkways.
Cost of Flood Insurance in Texas
The average cost of flood insurance in Texas is $595 per year for policies purchased through the NFIP, but rates can vary significantly. Depending on several factors—where your house is located, how it's built, the property's elevation and how often you occupy the home—flood insurance rates can range from $200 to more than $2,000. In the largest cities in Texas, premium prices range from $468 to $1,117 per year.
Two of the most influential factors in determining flood insurance costs are your home's location on a flood map and elevation. However, premiums also account for usage factors. For example, each NFIP flood insurance policy has an annual surcharge, typically $25. However, the surcharge increases to $250 if your house is used as a rental property or you occupy it less than 50% of the year.
NFIP flood insurance can be purchased from most insurers and agents in Texas, and they will all offer the same premiums for coverage. To make sure you're getting the best rates, we recommend comparing quotes from private flood insurance companies as well. Private flood insurance policies typically come with similar or lower rates than you'll get from the NFIP, and you will usually have more options to customize your policy. If you're purchasing flood insurance as part of your mortgage requirement, check with your lender first, as not all mortgage lenders will accept private flood insurance.
In the event that you go through a storm event and your structure is flooded, call on the experts at SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island. We will work diligently to get your life back to order and help you resume your life as you knew it before the event.
Fire Damaged Windows--6 Steps in the Cleaning Process
Cleaning windows affected by fire damage can be very time consuming. If you are lucky enough to get a job where the windows actually lift out or fold in for cleaning, then you’ve got it easier than most of us.
The first thing you will need to do before any cleaning begins is thoroughly inspect the window for damage like a broken seal, warped areas or heat cracks. If any of these things exist, the window will need to be replaced not cleaned.
A mild cleaner
An aggressive cleaner
Window cleaning solution
Regardless of the type of window (wood, metal or vinyl) you are dealing with, the cleaning procedures are basically the same. Most of the time, you’ll be dealing with vinyl.
Let’s walk through this process, step by step.
Step 1: Vacuum out the window sill, frame and runner to remove any loose, dry particles.
Step 2: Wipe the sill, runner and frame with a microfiber cloth using a mild degreaser. Always start with the mildest cleaner you feel will get the job done, then step up to a more aggressive cleaner if a test area doesn’t come clean with the first product.
Step 3: Keep cleaning, scrub, scrub, scrub! This step might take some time if there is a lot of greasy residue and soot to remove. Cotton swabs are great during this process. Be sure to clean all the tiny crevices and hard-to-reach places. Using something as small as a cotton swab (aka Q-Tip) may sound overkill, but trust me when I say the client will see the difference.
What if the windows are wood? If the windows are wood, you may need to use a wood cream product on heavily damaged areas. However, take care when you apply the wood cream as it can be quite difficult to get out of small areas. Again, cotton swabs will help you get rid of any oily residue left behind. You may also want to use a chem sponge for light contamination and skip the wet cleaning stage when possible on wood windows.
Step 4: Deodorize! You can do this by using a microfiber cloth dipped in an odor counteractant. The cloth needs to be good and damp, but not dripping. Your goal here is to touch every surface of the window you can to make sure everything gets damp.
Step 5: Rinse the window, sill and runner with a hot water on a microfiber cloth to wipe off any excess.
Step 6: Use a window cleaner to clean and shine the glass!
Cleaning a window takes a lot of attention to detail. In a heavy contamination situation, you want to be sure to test each window in a small area to make sure you will be successful cleaning it.
SERVPRO of East Brownsville & South Padre Island has highly trained technicians that can tackle any size fire loss job.