What happens when your property gets damaged?

21 October 2021

Has your home suffered water damage? How do the cleanup, repairs, and insurance actually work afterwards? No one is immune from extreme events, design flaws or wear and tear that result in property damage. But no matter what damage you suffer or how severe it is, you’ll probably want things back like they were before as soon as possible. There are, however, steps you should take before starting any renovations after damage has occurred. Let’s have a look.

Many kinds of possible damage

Flooding, fire, sewer backups, mould problems, air contamination, vandalism, blocked drains, iron bacteria, persistent moisture or odours, cracked structural elements, wind-damaged cladding, pool ripped open, oil or toxic chemical leaks, frozen pipes—the list of potential property damage is long. Fortunately, there are solutions for each one.

Damage severity

The scope and severity of the damage must be taken into account. An overflowing sink is generally much less of a catastrophe than a roof fire. • Immediate: Some damage happens quickly and is serious enough to require urgent and effective action. • Evolving: Other damage occurs over time—the deterioration isn’t obvious, and there is more time to correct it. Depending on the problem, specific actions must be taken. The more appropriate the action, the lesser the consequences—and the lower the repair costs.

Caution and safety matter most

A disaster can be dangerous when it occurs and, if it does, human safety should be prioritized. The scene must be quickly evacuated, and emergency services must be called (police, fire, ambulance). In no case should lives be put at risk.

Mitigating a disaster

In cases where it’s possible, however, one of the first things an occupant should do is help stop the situation from deteriorating by cutting off the building’s supply of electricity (central panel), water (main supply valve) or gas (supply valve). If there are small amounts of water, they can be mopped up, and small fires that have just started can often be extinguished using a household fire extinguisher. That being said, talking photos is always a good idea. These measures will simplify matters when filing an insurance claim.

Contact the insurer

Another unavoidable part of a disaster is calling your home insurance company or broker. This initiates a whole process, because the insurers will be sending their own claims adjusters. They may also use independent firms. They will observe the damage and examine the circumstances. Their report will be used to estimate the damage costs and the amount of compensation to which the owner is entitled.

Preparing for what comes next

If the insurer has not done so, it is also important to contact a firm specializing in disaster recovery. It can take over from emergency responders (firefighters, police) and install equipment to stabilize the situation (to dry things out, ventilate spaces, solidify the structure, etc.). At this point, we’re not yet talking about major cleanup or repair work. But these “recovery experts” will remain in contact with the insurer, and as soon as the claims adjuster has finished their work, the insurer will let them start the cleaning and refurbishing efforts.

Full disaster cleanup and repair services

People who have suffered severe damage may be dazed or unable to cope. In this case it’s better to do business with someone who can handle everything. These certified post-disaster service providers communicate and work with the insurer; stabilize, protect, and provide surveillance for the premises; provide accommodation to victims; perform emergency or cleanup work (after authorization); contact victims to obtain technical and legal information; store furniture and artwork; clean clothes; plan and carry out repairs or rebuilding work; and more.

Getting good quotes from post-disaster cleanup and renovation businesses

Insurers require quotes from owners (protected in case of a disaster) who expect to have their repair costs fully reimbursed. However, not all contractors are recognized by insurance companies. It’s important to select contractors that are experienced in refurbishments and specialize in post-disaster inspection and recovery. Their estimates are credible, and their quotes are accepted by insurance companies. They know how to work with insurers to ensure that there is sufficient compensation to cover all planned repairs.

Disaster cleanup is important for what comes next

After an emergency response like putting out a fire or pumping water out of a flooded basement, the cleanup phase is critical. Even in the case of minor damage, the consequences will depend on how well and fast cleanup is performed. Good companies have state-of-the-art equipment (air cleaners and scrubbers, HEPA filtration systems, dehumidifiers, axial fans, odour neutralizers, decontaminators, drain cameras, graffiti removers, etc.). Of course, the scale and type of disaster play a big role, but the earlier and more effective the cleanup, the fewer repairs you may have to do. In the event of flooding, a response is required within 48 hours given how fast mould can take hold. While some companies specialize solely in cleaning, others can also carry out post-disaster repairs, which will depend on how everything has been stabilized and cleaned up. Hiring a qualified professional to restore a damaged building is the best option.

Post-disaster repairs

A building inspector will often be appointed before the reconstruction or repair work begins. While it’s important that your contractor works with the inspector, it is equally important the contractor has the required training and certifications. This will ensure quality restoration work. Since 1972, the industry authority in Canada has been the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC).

Post-disaster restoration specialists

Post-disaster restoration is a specialized field. Contractors must not only be fast and efficient, they must be able to identify everything that has been damaged, be adept at tearing down structures cleanly, removing what needs to be removed, and replacing anything that may have medium- to long-term consequences on the structure, and know how to harmonize new materials with the old, perform strength testing, and more. This is not something for a do-it-yourselfer!

Leave no grey areas

With post-disaster restoration, the worst mistake you can make is to jump into things blindly. A good contractor will replace and repair only what’s necessary, but without cutting corners, in order to ensure that your home or building retains its integrity, solidity, and health. Let’s look at this more closely.

House partially burned down

A house has been damaged by a fire. Only the garage burned, but a lot of smoke infiltrated the rest of the home. After finishing the ventilation work, the contractor must determine whether the high temperature has affected the properties of materials that appear intact (for example, their load-bearing capacity). Another example is checking what kind of smoke was produced (wet, dry, greasy, organic, etc.) and how deeply it penetrated things. Even though no trace of smoke may be visible, some materials can trap odours and release them after restoration work. It’s important to replace them at the outset.

House with water damage

In the case of major water damage, for example, in the basement, much of it will be hidden and tend to increase over time (for example, moisture in the walls will promote the development of toxic mould). Any renovations must include a preliminary phase of thorough inspection and hygrometric measurement. Any unhealthy materials must be removed, and confined areas must be completely dried out.