Advice on water damage, flood, cleanup and insurance.
December 17, 2013 10:39 PM   Subscribe

Our finished basement flooded thanks to a backed up sink and the iron filter discharge running. As far as we've been able to discern, our insurance does cover this. We've had a cleanup crew sent out by the insurance company. However, I've got some concerns on how it's being handled, specifically that not enough and not enough of the right work is being done.

First, I apologize for the length, I'm trying to capture as much detail as possible. My home insurance is through State Farm, and I am in Wisconsin. The house is a bi-level, so there isn't really a true basement, rather the lower level is half underground and finished.

The flooding happened late Saturday night, my spouse and I were both in bed at the time. I came downstairs, probably around 11pm, to see standing water. A quick check of where all the water came from (sort of quick, I was half asleep and stunned, it took me a bit to wake up enough to figure it out). The sink in the laundry room was nearly full of water. The whole house iron filter was repaired recently, and it's discharge is much faster than before and I think that may have contributed to the flooding. But we don't know what caused the sink to be plugged, all I know is that when I discovered the flood, the sink was full and water had filled the laundry room floor, seeped through the walls into the living room, down the hall way, into the space under our stairs, and into a bedroom.

I think it was a slow drain, because water was going down in the sink, about 4 inches when I found, it. It just must have been going really slowly. The iron filter usually starts around 9:30pm, I can't recall how long it runs for. The iron filter discharges a lot of waste water, and under pressure, so when it's working right, it really puts out a lot of water. We were able to clear the drain with a plunger, but nothing actually came up from it so I still don't know the cause. The iron filter is off for the time being.

The laundry room is linoleum. The living room is carpet but no pad. The bedroom has carpeting and a pad. The walls are drywall.

My husband got the water cleaned up as best he could and set up a bunch of fans. He did the work so we could wait to call our insurance company rather than calling an emergency service. He contacted the insurance company Sunday morning, they instructed us to wait until Monday to have their people come out. Says it will be fine if it's addressed within 48 hours. So we did. Meanwhile, the air was so awful that I ended up going to a hotel in the wee morning hours Monday (about 4am). I have allergies and asthma though, and was getting a migraine. My husband opted to stayed home with the pets as it wasn't affecting him like it was me.

Monday afternoon, the water damage remediation people come out with my husband home, start getting some fans set up, molding removed from the walls and a big dehumidifier set up. However, they decided there is just too much stuff down there, so they need to get a portable storage unit to move things out of the downstairs before they can get serious.

Yesterday (Tuesday), they came back and I'm the one that was there with them. They spend their time focusing on the living room, but I keep asking, what about the laundry room, as it's pretty cramped, and how are they going to get that dried. They gave me a hand wavy answer that they've got moisture detectors as long as one side is dry, it will "suck" the water out of the other side. So I asked them about the bedroom, which has a carpet with a pad, and they say the same thing. Now, the bedroom, just inside where it flooded, has two shelves and I was concerned water may have made it under there. The cleaner is not concerned. He says the way their equipment works, it won't be a problem. In fact, supposedly their dehumidifier is so powerful, it could be a risk to some fish tanks in another room, and they promise to put up a plastic barrier to that room.

As they're focusing on the living room, I ask about the laundry room side of things, and in talking to the lead guy, he thinks that the flooding started at the iron filter, in another room also adjacent the living room, but across the hall from the laundry room. I explained the whole thing again; that started in the laundry room, at the point where the iron filter discharges into the sink, not actually at the iron filter. He says not to worry, they'll get everything up on blocks and put their big fans in there. (And checked with my husband later that night, he indicated he had trouble getting them to understand the same thing).

They did find one place with mold, which they said the insurance company will not cover because it takes more than 72 hours for mold to visibly grow. I asked how that could be since we have, you know, mold right where it had flooded, and they said that it could have leaked from the furnace which is right next to that wall and if it was a slow drip, could have been it. Possible, we've had trouble with that furnace and ac a couple years back having to have the furnace replaced, and additionally, the home inspector that reviewed our home before we purchased it missed a bunch of things, it wouldn't surprise me he missed something like that. Unfortunately it's taken us years to find those things, so I don't think we could do anything on that end.

Anyway, I wasn't about to fight over it; I told them to remove it and we'll eat that cost, so they did.

I had to leave while they were still working, and they called me when they were done, letting me know they'd be back tomorrow (Wednesday) to check the progress. Now it's been a dizzying couple of days, and I've finally gotten a chance to look up more information on water damage and cleanup. And I have some big concerns.

The biggest is that I keep reading in cases of flood that you need to trash the carpet and any drywall that got damp, up to 12" above the water level, otherwise you risk mold growing inside the wall. However, I've also read a number of things that suggest the mold panic is overblown. Several websites have said that sometimes they can just drill into the wall and put a water sensor in there, and determine from there if they need to remove the drywall. That was not done either.

The laundry room seems to be an afterthought. They did not put everything on blocks, but did move a shelving unit away from the wall. They did not remove the molding. I'm not sure if they still don't understand that is where the water problem came from or if they just gave up. They would have to get behind the dryer, the furnace, and two closed and plumbed 30 gallon barrels of water (for my fish). I asked them repeatedly if I needed to empty those or not, and was told not, they'd just "tip them and get blocks under there".

They did zero with the bedroom that had water seeping in. In fact, they closed the door so there is no realistic way that their fans could pull water.

They didn't put the zipper vapor barrier up to the room with my fish like they said would be necessary. We've closed it and padded the bottom of the door with a towel for the time being.

Lastly, we don't have great power in the place, especially where they need to put the fans. We told them that, and ran an extension cord to the washing machine circuit. Yet they plugged additional fans into outlets we told them couldn't carry that much load, and managed to trip a circuit and didn't tell us; I discovered it when getting back home and the clock was flashing. I don't know if I should be upset about this, but it left a bunch of fish equipment not running because it needs to be manually restarted. Fortunately I was home a couple hours later to fix it.

They are supposed to come back tomorrow and check the progress. However, even if they come back tomorrow and , it will be past the magic 72 hour window they quoted me for things needing to be lifted up and dried.

I'm concerned that they aren't doing enough to ensure a mold overgrowth. And I'm concerned x number of months down the line we'll have a mold problem, which the insurance company emphatically states that they do not cover. I'm not sure if what they're doing is enough, or if we should push for more. Right now we've mostly been dealing with the lead remediator, except for the initial contact to the insurance agent. I'm not sure if what they're doing is acceptable, or if we need to hire someone independently to verify what they did is okay. (And if I do, how to find someone trustworthy). If we should be pressuring the insurance agent, or if we need to take it even a step further and get a lawyer involved (this may be premature, but water damage and subsequent mold problem horror stories abound).

One thing to note is that the carpet isn't in the greatest condition to begin with. It came with the house, the previous owners had dogs and we have dogs and cats. So it's well-worn, but it's serviceable. We were eventually going to replace it anyway, or possibly put in something new like some of the nicer vinyl floors (wood would be too risky and tile to expensive), and in a way even if the insurance company won't pay for it, now might be an ideal time since they've removed so much from the downstairs. However, we also just paid the deductible, which means we may not have the money to afford doing it now. I mention this because I wonder if the insurance company is trying to avoid replacing it because it's in shoddy condition. I'm not sure if that's a possibility.

I also fully accept that these guys are the experts and I really might not have any idea. The internet is, well, the internet. I don't know if I'm reading worst case scenarios, or if there really is a problem with how this is being handled. And they sound like they know what they're doing. It's just what I read is different than what I'm hearing from the remediators. My husband and I are absolutely out of our depths on this.
posted by LANA! to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
Photograph and videotape everything. EVERYTHING.

Document everything you are concerned about, especially what they said needed to be done and then did not do.

Tomorrow, call your insurance company and demand a new company come out, STAT.

Tell them you are immediately getting a second opinion since they have failed to address the room where the leak started with fans, blocks, and dehumidifiers.

Your insurance company is not your friend any more. Be nice but firm.

Your last step is to tell them you are considering legal representation - then really do look into having someone handle this claim for you. Lawyers are AWESOME for dealing with insurance companies! I mean it!!

I've been through flooding and these guys sound like they are doing a half-assed job. Holes should be drilled, carpets taken up, EVERY ROOM SATURATED NEEDS A DEHUMIDIFIER.

My policy replaces an item with a new one, no negotiating for age or wear and tear, check your policy for same.

I'm worried about the linoleum more than anything, TBH, but yeah, I'm confused why the carpets have not been ripped out.

Start documenting.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 11:04 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks Jbenben. Why the linoleum? I thought that would be the least worrisome.
posted by LANA! at 7:47 AM on December 18, 2013

I have had apartment floods, so I don't think I can address a lot of your stuff precisely like the linoleum (they replaced mine one time and left it alone the second), but I had guys in my apartment with giant fans everywhere within, bare minimum, an hour of finding the flooding. They ripped out my carpet as soon as I could move everything out of there, so within about 24 hours. I do think it sounds like they are slacking here to some degree. And what jbenben said. EVERY ROOM NEEDS A DEHUMIDIFIER, indeedy.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:45 AM on December 18, 2013

Response by poster: For posterity's sake and if anyone is following along, I thought I'd post an update. This is not going well. The remediation company and insurance company continue to drop the ball and I'm not exactly sure where to go with it next. The remediation guys have been back daily to check the moisture and they're expecting it to be done by tomorrow.

Part of the issue seems to be as follows. We used the company that the insurance company recommended. We have State Farm and they recommended either Service Master, or Service Pro. We said we didn't care, just send the one they prefer which turned out to be Service Master. From reading up on Service Master since that time, I discovered that they and Service Pro work mostly through insurance company referrals. There seems to be a lot of complaints from people that they do far to little unless you fight for it. Both will deny they have some sort of deal, but it's pretty apparent from others testimonial and from a conversation I had they are pretty in bed together; more on that shortly.

I have been diligently researching this now that the initial shock has worn off, I've been researching and everything that has been done seems to be wrong. Both the EPA and the CDC say that water needs to be dried within 24 - 48 hours to avoid mold. The remediation company didn't even get to our home until the 40 hour mark, and didn't start drying in earnest until the following day in the afternoon (they had to rent a portable storage unit and remove items from the house so the dry).

I spoke with the insurance adjustor about my concerns, and she said we had to trust the remediation company. She switched from helpful to defensive when I started expressing my concerns, what work I expected, the timeline for drying that was missed, and the sources of information on drying varying from what Service Master was saying. She said she couldn't decide anything (which seems odd, she's the adjustor) and that the remediation company would be the one to speak to about how it's being handled and what my concerns are. But she also said the remediation company guaranteed the work. She couldn't give me the specifics on that and said they'd have to tell me what the guarantee entails because they are a separate company from the insurance. I asked about seeking another opinion, and she said I had to use Service Master. I corrected her, knowing that legally I had the right to correct the situation with a vendor of my choosing, but as so much work has been done, she'd need to see some sort of evidence that the work Service Master was doing wasn't right, and we'd have to pay for someone else to come out.

I later spoke to the remediation company and was told that there was a 72 hour window of safety to dry everything; which I both disputed the time based on the government agencies as well as it didn't start to be dried until close to that time window and their own equipment is registering moisture still. I was told I need to refer to the IICRC which are the guidelines they use. And that as long as they started the drying process in that time line, it would be fine (which sounds silly, mold doesn't care when you start to dry things.) I also asked about the guarantee, and the lead guy kept repeating their was a guarantee, but couldn't give me the specifics. I asked to see the details of exactly what was guaranteed in writing so I could verify I was satisfied I was covered in the event the work was inadequate. I was told I'd need to speak to the insurance company about that. To which I responded that they were the ones that told me to talk to him about it, and he said he'd have to ask the insurance company himself.

I then read up on the IICRC guidelines. The specific guidelines the IICRC has are pay-only, but they have a consumer facing site that says the same thing I have been saying, that drywall, linoleum and vinyl, and carpet need to be torn up, and that the water needs to be removed in that 24-48 hour window and that mold growth starts in 48-72 hours. Now, the serious drying didn't even start until 60+ hours after the flood (3-4pm Tuesday when the original flood was sometime between (9:30pm and 11:30pm Saturday night.)

I've come back from the hotel, the air still hurts my lungs; I've barricaded myself in a bedroom, shut the vents and have a HEPA filter running. It's okay in here, but if I spend any time out of the room my asthma/allergies start to kick in. I'm fortunate to have coughing-variant asthma, but it is still very uncomfortable. I may go back to the hotel.

Mistakes I made:
- I didn't think to photograph things until after we had the water cleaned up and I didn't take enough detail. There is photographic evidence, but not as much as I would like.
- We initially attempted to clean it up ourselves that night instead of calling a company, not fully understanding the extent of the damage.
- We listened to the insurance company and did not have the water remediation team come out until Monday afternoon, nearly 40 hours after the initial flooding.
- We let the insurance company pick the company that came out; I've been researching, and it sounds like there are two companies that work closely with insurance companies and there are a lot of complaints about cases being handled poorly because the company is there for the insurance, not us.

Service Masters is supposed to come back tomorrow and do a final test for moisture. I intend to confront them on the specific guidelines that they referred me to that agree with what I am saying, not what they are saying. I also am going to try the insurance adjustor again; once again giving them an update of the situation and see if they have any specific instructions.

At that point, I don't know exactly what I will do. We have a lot of items in the portable storage; we may see about keeping it on our dime for the time being, and contact either a lawyer or a public adjustor. Maybe both.
posted by LANA! at 11:14 PM on December 19, 2013

I read your update.

I already suggested a lawyer once. Do this, ASAP.
posted by jbenben at 3:21 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: *sigh* Thanks, I was hoping we wouldn't have to go there. I'll be asking around for local lawyer suggestions in the morning.

This is going to sound like a dumb question, but what do I do now in regards to the insurance company and the remediation company? Right now, I do not want Service Master, the remediation company, near our house again. The more I read on water damage remediation, the more apparent their screw ups are. The more I read on the company, the more I find out this isn't uncommon. They're a franchise, and it looks like they have minimal training - and quality varies significantly between the different franchises.

The remediation company has our belongings in a portable storage unit in the driveway. I am worried that they'll try and take it as a way of holding us hostage. I've read they've done that with remote storage to other unhappy customers but that's remote storage. This is in our driveway, but we only have one car so can't park it in when my husband is at work.

I did tell the remediation company my concerns on Friday and that I wanted to have someone out for a second opinion; and so I told them to give me a week before we start putting items back in the house. I also give me a quote to repair everything I think needs to be repaired, at that point I don't know if the whole of what was done wrong had sunk in. Incidentally, the quote was sent over and they *still* didn't include the bedroom that had flooding even though I was very clear that was one of the places I was concerned. The price also seems incredibly low, which I'd like to say is a blessing, but I kind of feel like it's likely a bad sign.

When my husband and I were doing some post "getting back to normal" cleanup this weekend, we noticed some very obvious water damage on one of the cabinets we thought should be moved in one of the rooms they ignored. We missed it because we were freaked out; but I think it would be fair to assume that a company that specialize in water damage repair would have noticed it, especially when I kept asking, "what about this room?" I'm less concerned about the damage to the cabinets, but they're sitting on a carpet that is padded, and against the wall that was flooded so obviously water made an incursion into that area.

Do I tell the insurance company that I'm unhappy with the remediation company's service and seeking a new company? It might take a few days to get my feet under me and get a lawyer involved, especially being Christmas week.
posted by LANA! at 11:30 PM on December 22, 2013

Response by poster: Oh yes, I forgot to add, we purchased a moisture meter; it's meant for wood or concrete so I don't know how well the results translate but the drywall closest to the laundry room, the source is giving us a dampness reading at the base up to 19% on the wood setting, while the further dry wall that was likely hit with less water for a shorter time wasn't reading anything. Our next step is going to be to drill a hole in the wall and throw a humidity probe in there - we have one that's mean to go outdoors but I've been using it inside (like when they washed the carpet, the humidity got up to 55% and didn't come down for 24 hours, with a humidifier and fans running
posted by LANA! at 11:36 PM on December 22, 2013

« Older Mavericks Server   |   I Went Out With A Dreamboat and It Went Well - Now... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.