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Category Archive: Insurance Loss Related Work: Water-Damage, Fire-Damage, Smoke-Damage, Mold, Etc.: Clean Up, Remediation and Restoration

Remodeling University: Got A Leak? Things To Do When You Have A Water Leak In Your Home


Two weeks ago, in our Getting Ready For Winter post, we have highlighted some essential steps you need to take before the onslaught of winter to minimize the likelihood of water leaking into your home. But leaks might (and do) happen, even with a brand new roof. Besides, not all water leaks would be rain or roof related: stucco or windows’ assemblies might be faulty and let rain water in, pipes might burst, toilets (or washing machines or dishwashers or ice maker lines) could leak – in short, there could be many reasons and sources for a water leak.

So, assuming you have a leak – what should you do?

1. Stop water from getting in: This, of course is common sense. If the leak is from the roof, have it covered and/or plugged temporarily so immediate leaking stops. Permanent repairs should not be attempted while its raining (please have licensed professionals address this. DO NOT climb your roof to plug a leak when its raining please). If the leak is from walls (from say, a bad lathing and stucco job), gutters, doors or windows have someone temporarily cover the area with plastic sheeting and address the issue when its no longer raining (again, please use licensed professionals to mount and fix plastic sheeting to the exterior when raining). If a water line broke, shut down the water and call for emergency plumbing repairs. And if a fixture (or an appliance) are the source of the leak – shut down the water to that fixture/appliance and call for repairs. Note that from a Homeowners’ Insurance standpoint it is your responsibility to take immediate and reasonable steps to mitigate the problem so as to minimize the loss.

2. Completely dry and vent the affected area: The issues here are long term damage to materials and mold. Wood materials are very sensitive to moisture. Large fluctuations in moisture levels will cause wood to swell. This in turn will irreversibly damage assemblies and finish products in your home; HDWD flooring would swell, warp and buckle, finish trim would separate and loose its shape, doors would swell and/or delaminate, cabinets would be ruined and so forth. Whenever any area gets wet from a leak take immediate steps to remove the water and dry the area. The other issue is mold. Mold spores float about everywhere. To become a problem though, mold requires a high-moisture surface to rapidly grow on. When surfaces are left moist on a regular basis, you will soon find mold (for example – the grout lines at the bottom of your shower walls). When you have a leak, water penetrates areas out of reach (such as inside wall cavities, under cabinets, etc.) The result? Mold growth within 24-48 hours. The longer moisture is allowed to remain, the bigger your mold problem becomes. At some point, not too much after the initial leak, mold will propagate to other areas of the home as well (aided by your home’s forced-air unit and duct system). It is therefore imperative that as soon as a leak occurs you not only notify your insurance company (regardless if you or they think it is a cover claim or not), but also take immediate steps to fully remediate the situation by drying and venting operations. Note that your homeowners’ policy might have strict caps on the amount associated with mold issues. As long as competent drying and venting operations are done within 24-48 hours of the loss, you should not have a mold problem. If, however, as is unfortunately so often the case, your insurance company ‘drags its feet’ in how they respond and moisture is allowed to fester, a mold will become a problem. You will certainly need competent representation in your dealings with the insurance company in this case. Either by a contractor well versed in insurance claims and/or by a competent Public Adjuster.

3. As relavant, file and pursue a claim with your insurance company: Not all water leaks are covered by your homeowners’ policy. Typically, accidental damage would be covered, while long term condition would not. Having said that, do not take your insurance company’s input with respect to denying a claim at face value. We’ve seen too many claim, initially rejected as ‘not covered’ by insurance companies, only later to be recognized and paid in full – once the homeowners got competent representation. But, as noted above, it is your burden and obligation to notify your insurance company of a loss as soon as practical. In preparing for the adjusting process and so that your interests are guarded, take a lot of pictures, keep a log of who you speak with and when and both submit and get everything ‘in writing’.

4. Get representation: It has been said that ‘he who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client’. This has never been truer as when dealing with your insurance company on your own. The insurance company is not your friend. It is not on your side and it will not fairly and amicably represent your interests in the loss. As a matter of fact, the complete opposite is true. NEVER deal with an insurance company on a loss without representation. At the very least, engage the services of an insurance contractor. A contractor versed in insurance losses to represent you and deal with the insurance company on your behalf. Note that NONE of the insurance company’s recommended or referred contractors qualify. They are all indebted to the insurance company (the source of their jobs) and regard the insurance company their true clients, at least in the long-term sense. Depending on the loss’s size and complexity and depending on your insurance company’s level of reluctance/resistance to meet its obligations, you might also need to engage with a competent Public Adjuster.

5. Repairs: Regardless if the loss is covered by your policy or not, beyond the emergency measures noted above, permeant repairs will need to take place. While finish materials in most cases would need to be disposed of and replaced (no, the warping HDWD floor should not be sanded and refinished – your insurance company’s posture notwithstanding), latent and pervasive defects and deficiencies would need to be addressed as well, else a leak will repeat itself again. Your best bet in this case is a general contractor with know-how and expertise in all building assemblies and systems. A roofing contractor may not be your best bet in assessing or addressing water penetration issues from the stucco, much like a kitchen remodeling specialist might not be your best bet in assessing or addressing water issues in the subfloor area. Make sure to not only address and repair visible surfaces and materials. Have professionals resolve the causal issue(s) as well.

Paraphrasing numerous volumes about buildings and ‘why structures fail’ in a word, that word would have to be ‘water’. At some point most of us would experience a significant water loss in our home. Addressed swiftly and properly, short and long term damages caused by it could be minimized and repairs, properly done, could effectively restore the home to pre-loss condition or better. The above guidelines and recommendations are a good place to start with. Beyond that, things would greatly depend on your insurance company and on the team you choose to represent you and your interests to them.

Good luck!

Mega Builders has handled, with remarkable success, over a thousand claims, including water and fire damage, smoke and soot damage, earthquake damage and so forth. We are often hired as Experts by attorneys representing the homeowners as well. If you have any damage to your home, be it water damage, fire damage, etc.) please do not hesitate to give us a call. We will represent you, the homeowner solely – we never represent the insurance companies. You can reach Alon Toker (Mege’s President) directly at 818-535-5656 (or at atoker@megabuilders.com) with any questions or comments. We welcome you call.

Remodeling University: Getting Ready for winter

With summer behind us, winter is not far off. In addition to changes to our wardrobes, there are steps we need to take to make sure that our homes are ready for the coming rains. Here are some suggestions;
1. Roof: If your roof leaked before and you put off repairing it – fix it now. It is always cheaper (and safer) to repair a roof before it leaks as it would be after, because once water penetrates the home you have to contend with leak damage as well – and water damage repair can be very costly! If your roof looks like it is at the end of its ‘shelf life’, get a qualified roofer or a trusted Los Angeles remodeling contractor to evaluate it and make recommendations.
2. Gutters: Have the gutters cleaned from leaves and other debris. Clogged gutters will lead to water infiltration into the wall and the interior of the home. I recommend that you use trained and properly equipped workers for that task and not attempt it yourself as the risk of injury is real.
3. Doors and windows: Check (or have a qualified contractor check for you) the condition of all the weatherstripping, door sweeps, glazing and caulking at your doors and windows. If in poor state of repair, water might infiltrate during significant rainfall or wind-driven rains. Even if water does not penetrate, poorly weatherstripped doors and windows will significantly undermine the thermal barrier, running up your heating bill.
4. HVAC: You are likely to use your central heating this winter – even if you live in Southern California. Have an HVAC licensed contractor test run your furnace, check your ducts for leaks and check your thermostats. If possible, duct cleaning might be a good idea as well.
5. Insulation: Not a winter item per se, but as viable for winter home-comfort as it is for summer and as attractive for winter energy savings as it is for summer. Is your sub-floor area insulated? Is your attic?
6. Yard and Storm drains: It is imperative to have all rain water shed away from the structure. Make sure your storm drains are not clogged or damaged. Review grading around the home’s perimeter and make sure it slopes away from the structure everywhere. If you have sump-pump assisted system, test the pumps and the system – BEFORE it rains.
7. Water usage: Fall and winter are great times to save on irrigation. While you can certainly do that manually but shutting off your sprinklers every time it rains, you might want to consider investing in an automation of that function. Many systems and devices offer that functionality, from rain sensors to soil moisture sensing devices. With such devices installed, you savings are will be most readily realized in the fall and the spring.
8. Power usage: During the colder months, your pool can do with less circulation. You can save 2-3 hours of pool pump operation daily. Change your timer accordingly.

To paraphrase numerous books about ‘why structures fail’ in one word, the word most experts would agree on is ‘water’. Of that, there is plenty of – even in a Southern Californian winter. A little care will go a long way here and will prove to have great ROI.

Good luck and stay dry!

Mega Builders is a leading Los Angeles contractor, with specialized know how, certifications and experience in ‘green remodeling’, home damage restoration, solar PV, design and large scale remodeling projects.

Remodeling University: What You Should Call Mega Builders For

The tern ‘home remodeling’ is far too encompassing and general to be of real value. All too often we get a call or an email from a homeowner who approaches us because we are a Los Angeles remodeling contractor with questions about work elements that we do not do at all.

So here is a short run down of the areas in which we have developed a level of expertise, proficiency and know-how that enable us to not only give you the best possible product, but also helps us do it for the most competitive price:

1. Design/Build – almost without exception, we designed all of the hundreds of projects featured on our site. We are very proud of our core competency in design. From a kitchen remodeling to a custom home, our new floor plans and designs are always creative, magnificent, rewarding to live in and, as importantly – your budget centered. Our expertise include complete teardown and rebuild, additions (first and second floors) and whole-house remodeling projects. We have done hundreds of those through the years to our clients complete delight.
2. Kitchens – we have remodeled well over 1000 kitchens to date. Of particular note in this regard is the fact that we are the exclusive North American distributor for the Mal Corboy Cabinets. These amazing museum-caliber creations are on par with or exceed the quality, fit and finish of the best of the European brands, from Poggenpohl kitchens to Snaidero and so forth. Aside from Mal Corboy Cabinets we have extensive lines of custom cabinets for almost all budgets and styles.
3. Home Damage Restoration – since the 87′ Whittier quake we have handled thousands of insurance related losses. Dealing with an insurance loss (examples of which would be fire damage repair, water damage repair, etc.) is very different than dealing with a regular remodeling project. Securing a fair, complete and amicable settlement from the insurance company should not be taken for granted and rarely happens without massive, concerted and particular effort on behalf of your ‘team’. You need representation when dealing with an insurance company (never go at it on your own!) and we put together a team of the best professionals (public adjuster, etc.) out there. Repair work for home damage restoration too is very different than ‘run of the mill’ remodeling.
4. Solar – We carry a specialty license for solar. Although we could ‘do’ solar with our general contractor’s license, it was important for us to demonstrate to our clients that we have the particular core competencies involved with solar power panels, solar systems, building science and green technologies. The fact that our expertise and experience also include building and roofing makes us particularly equipped (unlike almost anyone out there) to deliver a quality product that will serve you without fail for many years. Our design awareness and know-how is helpful as well. We do our best to come up with solar system solutions that are not only well priced, reliable and efficient – but also architecturally pleasing.

Anyone can lay claims for expertise and experience. But the ‘proof is in the pudding’ as the saying goes. The many projects featured on this site speak volumes to that end. Furthermore, our multiple licenses and certifications (not to mentions media coverage, awards, etc.) should be further proof. Last, but not least, our top rating with the BBB (a rating of A+) is second to none and ahead of almost all companies in this industry. It is reflective of our client-centered approach and unwavering dedication to our clients’ satisfaction and to delivering on (and exceed) all of our promises.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: Dealing with Hazardous Materials

A couple of days ago I had a call from a gentleman, whose parents hired a Los Angeles contractor that removed acoustic ceiling material as part of the demolition work at their home. The problem was that no one bothered to test the material for asbestos beforehand and, after it was all removed, it turned out asbestos was present.

Why is this a problem? Asbestos, once air born (no longer encapsulated) remains suspended in the air, contaminates flooring, walls, furnishings, clothing, etc. It becomes extraordinarily expensive to abate such contamination and complete success is questionable.

And why is that a problem? Because studies have conclusively demonstrated that long term exposure to asbestos leads to many health issues, not the least of which is cancer!

And that gentleman’s parents? They are very elderly and are staying in their home, in spite of the asbestos. Guests and family though, cannot visit them due to fear for their health, as the house is massively contaminated. Both the state and federal governments are now investigating. And the contractor? Well, not surprisingly – no sign of them (and this was a license company, as best the owners could tell).

Of the possible hazardous materials at homes, asbestos and lead would be at the top of the list (there are others). Please read a previous post regarding new lead-paint regulations. Like asbestos, the adverse effects of lead exposure are well researched and documented. Lead is especially devastating to kids and to pregnant woman. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you, your family or the workers you hired are placed in harm’s way.

Here’s is what to do:
1. Age of home: Neither asbestos nor lead should be found in new construction. Asbestos wise, there might be a risk if the house (or ceiling material) is from 71′ or before. Lead paint wise, your ‘cut off year’ is 1978. If your home is newer, odds are good you should not worry about asbestos or lead.
2. Testing: do not let anyone scrape off your (71′ or older) acoustic ceiling until and unless it was tested for asbestos. Asbestos test is inexpensive. Not doing it is a fools’ bargain. With regards to lead paint, starting April 22, 2010 no one is allowed to disturbed more than 6 square feet of interior paint (or replace a single window) unless they either tested the paint for lead or assume lead is present and take the required precautions. Lead testing is more involved than asbestos (more sampling is required) but it might be cheaper than to spend money on precautions if lead is not there.
3. Contractor: make sure your contractor is an EPA certified firm to deal with lead paint. This is applicable to your general contractor, to your painter, to your window replacement company or to any person or company working on your home, as the replacement of even a single window, as mentioned above, falls under the EPA regulations. No exceptions.
4. Records: review the credentials of the testing company/lab. Ask for a copy of the results and keep all pertinent paperwork for your records. If any abatement work is done, keep those records as well. This paperwork may become handy when you are selling your home or when a CalOsha or an EPA inspector comes calling.
5. Educate yourself: Reading this blog is a very good start. There are many online resources and publications available (EPA and CalOsha have great publications available free of charge) that can help you get a sense of what the correct abatement or defensive procedures should be. Educate yourself so that you could intelligently review your contractor’s efforts and confirm that what is done at your home is in compliance with the ‘best practices’. Its your family’s health that’s at stake here.
6. Cut costs at your own peril: Abatement can be costly. There are endless stories about homeowners that opted to ‘save’ by not properly handling and disposing of hazardous substances. If you don’t get caught “all that’s at stake” are your family’s health (and that of the workers – a potential liability issue for you to consider). If you do get caught (neighbors complain, a worker complained, an inspector drove by, etc.) the costs could be enormous in fines and in remediation work that would be needed to undue the damage.

“Knowledge is power” if and when it is intelligently acted upon. You now started collecting the knowledge. Next you ‘simply’ need to take the needed action. Think of Hazardous Materials as just one more thing to consider when planning a remodeling project.

If your home falls within the ‘problematic’ age group, a little caution will go a long way.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: If You Have Water Damage

Possibly the most common of damages to homes in Los Angeles, water damage presents particular challenges to the homeowners and their team.

You should be mindful that not all water damage is a covered loss under your policy. Most policies would limit coverage to accidental loss. So if a pipe burst in the house caused a flood and damage the home and its content, the loss is likely accidental and should be covered. If, on the other hand, you have a balcony that was not built or sealed correctly and during the last rain storm water leaked to the room below, your homeowners’ policy might not afford you coverage. You may have a construction defect claim against your builder or a warranty claim against whomever sealed this balcony last, but for the purpose of our discussion here (water damage loss and repair under your homeowners’ policy), this might not be a covered loss.

It is always a good practice to assume that you are covered. Do not rely solely on your insurance company’s input regarding coverage. When in doubt, check with your agent and have a Public Adjuster review your policy for feedback. I have seen claims rejected by insurance companies (especially in this area of loss, i.e. claims originating from water leaks), only to be later accepted and covered after we got involved.

While often not conceived as such by most homeowners, water is remarkably destructive to homes. Aside from the obvious staining and the bad smell standing water can cause, water is negative and pervasive in its affect on structures. It penetrates all assemblies (thus affecting and undermining substrates hidden from view), it delaminates adhesives (thus damaging structural plywood and all other wood products), left standing it can become a health hazard and, if water or moisture are allowed to remain, it promotes the growth of mold.

The first objective is therefore to to completely remove all water and excessive moisture from the building. The longer the water is allowed to remain behind, the greater the scope of the loss and the more expensive the remediation work would be. Unfortunately, insurance companies so often try to get by with doing less rather doing all that is needed and, just as often, move at glacial pace when demands are made by knowledgeable homeowners and their team members for proper testing and repairs, that what is an uncomplicated loss to start with becomes a very complicated and expensive loss to remediate and repair in the last.

What should you do:
1. Never rely solely on the insurance company’s feedback regarding coverage.
2. Assemble an experienced and qualified team to represent you. Start with a top-tier contractor that also has a lot of experience dealing with insurance losses (not any that your insurance company suggests- these contractors have experience dealing with insurance related losses, but from the insurance company’s side.) Your team should also include a Public Adjuster and an Hygienist. Your contractor should be able to help you locate the best consultants there.
3. This is a different ‘exercise’ from a typical remodel. Look for the best contractor you can find. Not for the cheapest you can afford. You are not paying for the repairs.
4. Report the claim right away to both the insurance company and your agent.
5. Document everything. Log all phone calls, conversations, etc. noting date, time, who you spoke with and what was said/discussed/decided or promised. Take a lot of pictures.
6. Find your policy, read it and familiarize yourself with your coverage and your rights.
7. Hand over management of the claim to your PA or to your contractor as soon as possible.
8. Remember: you are under no obligation to get the insurance company 3 estimates and you are under no obligation (neither is your contractor) to accept the prices proposed by your insurance adjuster. These numbers rarely make sense.
9. It is the insurance company’s obligation to remediate, restore and repair all damages and bring your home to pre-loss condition! This is a huge statement, the ramifications of which can only be fully realized when you have a competent team representing you.
10. Never deal directly and without representation with your insurance company.

No one plans on water damage. Los Angeles homes are built to resist rather significant earthquakes. None is immune to water damage though. When water does accidentally causes damage to your home, follow the above to insure your loss is properly adjusted, adequately scoped and professionally and fully repaired.

Good luck!

Remodeling University: When your work is insurance related

You were prudent and selective when you evaluated insurance policies for your home. You made sure the policy is issued by a reputable insurance company and that your policy limits are adequate. You have also been paying your home insurance premiums like clockwork for years. Now, that unfortunately you have some accidental damage to your home (fire damage, water damage, smoke damage, etc.) you fully expect your insurance company to take care of you. After all, you are covered, right? Dream on.

All insurance companies are for-profit enterprises. They realize their profits by minimizing their outlays for losses (i.e. paying out as little as possible). The more they pay on a loss – the less they make. It’s as simple as that. There is a built-in bias therefore, for your insurance company to under-value and under-pay your claim. So first, when you are about to deal with an insurance comapny on a loss, remeber the following:

1. The insurance company is NOT ON YOUR SIDE! They are not your friends nor is your best interest their principal agenda.
2. Your insurance company’s estimate of the value of the loss (or that of the contractors they send your way) is (more often than not) but a distant echo of what quality work to restore your home to pre loss condition would actually cost.
3. You are under no obligation to use their recommended contractors.
4. You are under no obligation to provide them with several estimates (all that accomplishes is further enabling them to save on your claim while in all likelihood short changing you of quality repairs).
5. Neither you nor your contractor of choice are under any obligation to work for their submitted estimates.

Dealing with your insurance company directly or with the help of a remodeling contractor that is not an expert in the field of insurance loss claims, restoration work and insurance related repairs, is akin to acting as your own attorney in an important trial. “You’ll have a full for a client”.

So what do you do to protect your position and to ensure your home is restored to its pre-loss condition with no short-cuts and without any potential issues remaining hidden?
These are your to-dos:
1. Never deal with an insurance company without expert assistance (I know this is repetitive. This is because repetition is the mother of skill – a skill I hope to help you quire).
2. Your best bet in a tenured Public Adjuster working for you. Be mindful and selective though. Like contractors and any other professionals, PAs come in many shades of competence and commitment to your best interest. Public Adjusters are paid a percentage of the entire settlement amount. These fees could be substantial.
3. A quick settlement should not be your primary goal. An amicable one, that addresses all loss issues is what you should insist on.
4. Have a ‘top shelf’ advocate contractor deal with the insurance company on your behalf. That means a contractor that is not only excellent at the construction end of things but also one that has great experience and facility dealing with insurance companies, claims, etc.
5. for large losses (you loss might be huge and you might not even know it. Don’t rely on your insurance company for input here) you need a team – a competent Public Adjuster, a top-shelf contractor with insurance related expertise, a reputable remediation company, a sharp hygienist and more. Your PA, hygienist and/or contractor should be able to put together a dream team for you.
6. Last, it is almost never too late to bring a representative on board. Even after a lot was already done to both remediate and repair and even after you accepted and deposited settlement amounts from your insurance company.

The insurance companies have the ‘home’ advantage and they always play to win. Adopt the defensive actions recommended above to level the playing field. With the right team at your side this should be a fair game where things get done as they should.

Good luck!