Finding Normal After the Disaster: Cleaning

Finding Normal After the Disaster: Cleaning

Cleaning and restoration specialists help disaster victims get beyond the trauma

October 1, 2013 by Lisa Renze-Rhodes

Screaming headlines trumpet disasters — from tornadoes to hurricanes to house fires — and stories of families reeling from the devastation fill cable news shows. But when the reporters and photographers leave those scenes, the families left behind face the daunting task of beginning to rebuild their lives.

Finding that fresh start requires specialized laborers, skilled in cleaning and clearing the destruction. But it also requires a healthy dose of empathy, highly rated experts say. “In fires or anything else, you’re dealing with people in the first couple days who are in a daze,” says Mark Belcher, owner of highly rated Indianapolis General Contractors. “About the third day, they realize they’ve lost pictures, stuff their kids made for them, it really starts to sink in. We do a lot of holding hands through this.”

Before any work occurs, however, homeowners need to protect themselves from further harm, says Tom Egan, owner of highly rated American Cleaning & Restoration in Bradenton, Fla. Ask the contractor you hire to name you as an additional insured on their liability insurance policy, he says. “Because if this contractor flakes out or hits the road … you can pick up the phone and call the insurance company and say I want this fixed,” Egan says. That’s good advice, says Mike Barry of the Insurance Information Institute, because it protects homeowners from storm chasers, as well as unforeseen expenses. For instance, if a subcontractor gets injured on your property, the contractor’s insurance kicks in first for medical and other bills. “It’s a good idea to do it,” Barry says. “But it’s rarely done.”

Once work begins, contractors walk disaster victims through filling out insurance statement of loss forms, and going room by room to tag items to save and those to scrap. Following tagging, a pack-out occurs. A company like highly rated Moore Restoration in Indianapolis removes salvageable items from a home and stores them in locked storage pods.

The company then swings into action to clean the items, which requires a labor-intensive process to wipe down each item by hand using various cleaning solutions if necessary. For nondelicate items, Moore employs ozone gas as the final step. The gas permeates the objects — especially wood and cloth materials — and adheres to any microscopic soot matter that remains, then evaporates, and with it any lingering smells. The ozone gas also acts as an antibacterial cleaner.

Experts say conversations about what to save and what to replace go more smoothly if homeowners have good insurance and hire highly rated providers. “We work for the homeowner, but the insurance company has to pay the homeowner,” says Gabe Matthews, partner at highly rated Christian Brothers Cleaning and Restoration in Spring Valley, Calif. “If it’s going to cost $800 to clean a couch that [a homeowner] paid $1,000 for, you’re probably better off getting a new couch.”

In California, where more than 100 wildfires have burned so far this year, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Matthews says homeowners must be mindful of fire chasers. “They get the homeowner to sign a contract because [he] is freaking out, then they just ... take the insurance company to the cleaners,” he says. “Don’t sign anything immediately. No matter what, do your homework.”

To find a highly rated restoration specialist, search the Water & Smoke Damage category.

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