What to do if your property is affected by storm damage?

Here in Ireland, there is often a tendency to overlook such possibilities as storm damage due to our usually temperate climate.

However, with the stormiest winter on record occurring just last year in 2013, many people are now realising that coping with extreme weather conditions is becoming more and more of a necessity. This is particularly true of businesses and properties along the coastline, but those inland are not exempt either. If your property suffers from storm damage, here are a few key points to remember.

Lahinch

Luckily, these days we have at least 24 hours warning if a significant storm is imminent, which gives property owners an opportunity to prepare for any potential damage. Remove any important documents, electrical devices like computers and hard drives, or other valuable items from your property and keep them somewhere safe, preferably away from the area the storm will hit. Stack sandbags at the entrances to the building and turn off any electrical, heating or water supplies. Consider reinforcing windows with wooden boards if necessary.

Once the storm has hit, briefly assess the building for any immediate damage but only if it is safe to enter. Check for damage to the roof – particularly the roof tiles with can lead to leaks if removed – windows, floors, cables and electrical components, and look carefully for any cracks, leaks and structural damage. Remember the most important element, however, is that the building must be safe to occupy before anyone enters it.

Once the building has been deemed safe to enter by the relevant authorities (the fire brigade, for example), carefully document the damage with photos, videos, and written notes before beginning to clear away debris. At this point in the process, you should make contact with your insurance providers to begin your claim. The services of Clearys Loss Assessors will be invaluable at this stage, so it is of utmost importance to contact an assessor. The assessor will survey the property and create an extensive inventory of all damage and resulting losses which will help in your claim.

If the damage to the property is truly devastating, there are often disaster recovery services and government aid available. If the job of cleaning up the property is too big for a small number of people, contact Emergency Services and they will be able to send help.

What if your Property is Affected by Subsidence?

Subsidence is a tricky problem for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is difficult to prove without lengthy and time-consuming tests. Secondly, there is no ‘home remedy’ – the only way to solve the problem is to hire expert professionals who deal with soil erosion, structural foundations and the like. And thirdly, the longer you leave it unresolved, the worse it will be.

There are many factors that can cause subsidence. It could be because of soil erosion due to inadequate drainage under your property, or if significant tree felling occurs in the vicinity of the building this can cause soil to shift under the foundations. Signs of subsidence include widening cracks in walls or diagonal cracks rather than cracks that run along the joining corner of two walls.

Subsidence

Repairing the visible damage without addressing the problem itself is literally ‘smoothing over the cracks’ – the damage will reappear and will be worse each time. Not only does this leave the problem of subsidence unsolved, it’s also a waste of money, can devalue your property, and will cause ongoing problems.

Unfortunately, if you suspect your property may have subsidence damage, the only thing to do is begin the process of surveying, draining, testing and monitoring with a team of expert professionals who will devise the best course of action. At this point, before any major expenses have been incurred, it is vital to contact a loss assessor. The assessor will visit the property, document the damage (both to the property and to your business as a result), and compile a definitive report which you should then submit to your insurance company to aid your claim. Loss assessors are completely impartial, have expert knowledge, and will work to make sure the most accurate result is achieved from the insurance claim.

To minimise the risk of subsidence, check drains and pipes regularly for blockages or leaks. Make sure that any trees in the vicinity of the building are pruned regularly to reduce their water uptake, and if any new trees are to be planted in the area, they should be a minimum of the length the adult tree will reach from the property. Of course, keep an eye out around the building for tell-tale cracks too, and if necessary, take photos of them periodically to assess whether they are widening or not.

What your insurer should know in relation to your rental policy.

To ensure you are fully covered when you own a rented property, you should read these tips:

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  • If your entire property is or has been unoccupied for at least 30 days, then be sure to notify your insurer/broker.
  • If your property is in close proximity to or in an area recently or historically affected by flooding and you have not confirmed this to your insurer, you should do so immediately.
  • If your property is undergoing renovation or structural changes other than routine maintenance & repairs, you should notify your insurer or broker now with the details.
  • If your property is sub-let and you have not notified your insurer, you should do so.
  • If you have let your property under the Residential Accommodation Scheme (RAS} or to the Local Authority, you must notify your insurer with full details.
  • If the tenancy of your property has changed from that which is noted on your policy document or renewal notice, then make changes to your policy now. You are obliged under the terms of your insurance policy to notify your insurer at every renewal date of any material changes to the risk. This includes any changes in tenancy type i.e. working, student, social welfare or RAS etc.
  • If you have not notified your insurer of any non-standard flat roof section to your property which exceeds 25% of the total roof area, you should do so.
  • Your policy may be subject to certain fire precautions which are outlined in your policy document or renewal notice. These precautions may exceed those which are required by law. Be sure to read and understand them and put them in to operation without delay as failure to comply may result in declinature of a future claim.
  • If you cannot comply with the warranties, conditions, subjectivities or requirements noted on your insurance policy or renewal notice, you must contact your insurer or broker. Failure to comply with these may invalidate your policy or may affect acceptance of a claim.
  • You must notify your insurer or broker of any material fact which may alter an insurers’ acceptance of the risk. If you are in doubt, you should declare the information by contacting your insurer or broker immediately.
  • You should always read and understand your policy document and/or renewal notice or statement of fact received from your insurer or broker. It is not sufficient to say you did not read these terms in the event of a declined claim.
  • If you have recently upgraded your fire alarm system and installed smoke or heat detectors throughout your property and installed fire extinguishers or tire blankets also, you should notify your insurer as you may be entitled to premium discount.
  • It is your duty to ensure that ‘good housekeeping’ is employed by you the landlord at all times whilst running a private rented property i.e. batteries in smoke detectors are renewed at regular intervals, fire extinguishers maintained or renewed at regular intervals, fire blankets are in place or replaced, fire alarm system is tested and certified in accordance with installers or makers specifications, bin areas kept clear and away from property, rubbish cleared from common areas or fire escape routes. It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye to the safety of your tenants and your property from the risk of fire.
  • Portable heaters should be taken from your property as a fire preventative as they pose a very serious fire hazard. You should replace these immediately with either fixed wall heaters or oil filled ‘Dimplex’ type portable heaters. This may be a requirement of your insurance policy or renewal.
  • Insure your property for its full rebuilding/reinstatement value as guided by the House Rebuilding Cost Guide (www.scsi.ie} or by your Auctioneer or Valuer. Remember that the Average Clause applies to most Property Owner/Landlord insurance policies.
  • Ensure that any flat roof area forming part of your property is inspected at least once every two years by a qualified builder or property surveyor and rectify any defects immediately. This may be a condition of your insurance policy i.e. Flat Roof Warranty/Condition.
  • Ensure you have placed/posted a House Rules Notice and Fire Evacuation Procedures card in a prominent position within your rented property both in common areas and in each individual unit.

A lightning strike is not an “Act of God”.

A lightning strike can be a very powerful noisy and frightening event.
The wipe out of power to the property may affect all electrical items connected to the house, all copper pipe work and even structural issues. It is therefore impossible to know the extent of damage until power is back, everything is made safe and all electrical items are re-powered one by one.

lightning strike

Our client’s house lost power completely and all local supply was cut off for two days. The house was heated both electrically (under floor) and with an electric air to air heat pump system with heat exchanger.

All the contents of the freezer were thawed out and had to be used immediately or dumped. The house had no heat or other services for the following week. The alarm system was destroyed along with the telephone land-lines and computers which were plugged in at the time.

The violence of the strike broke the joints of the concrete ridged tiles on the roof and dislodged a number if the concrete roof tiles. Water found its way into the house in a number of places following the heavy rainfall during storms in the following days.

This required replacement of plaster board ceilings and redecoration in the areas affected. Before this work could be done the roof had to be stripped and repaired in a number of areas. It took time to source the 20 year old roof tiles and colour and match them.

The weather was too bad to get on the roof for nearly eight weeks after the strike and then the builder was busy on other work.

When the builder was on the roof we discovered that the solar panels were also destroyed and leaking into the roof and down into the insulation in the external timber frame walls.

The Loss Adjusters had made offers to settle the claim which were completely inadequate not only for the cost of work but also because the extent of damage was very difficult to establish and prove without detailed investigations.

The electricians carried out resistance testing on all systems in the house. It was then discovered that 3 circuits in the under floor heating system were shorting and therefore destroyed.

circuitboard

To repair these circuits would mean stripping out the rooms affected, taking up the 150mm screed, replacing the system and putting it all back again. This was extensive work and very costly.

Over time we also discovered that the storm had caused the failure of external LED lightning it had destroyed circuitry in an electrical Robot Lawnmower. The pumps and power supply to two water pumps on the site were also destroyed. Specialist technicians had to replace control panels in the heating system and the alarm system.

The whole event is a major disruption. The insurers were not in a position to assist with any of the repairs. In all our client had nine different Trades and Specialists involved for Quotations and Repairs. Insurers also sought their own competitive quotations. The whole process took six months to complete.

The final hurdle came when the bank would not cash the insurance company’s cheque because the bank account was in the name of husband and wife but the Insurance Policy is in the name of one person and this ridiculous position took another three weeks to sort out.

The total cost of repair was in excess of €30,000.

A few lessons from this case:

  1. Insurers pay for lightning strikes (It is not excluded because of Act of God or the like).
  2. The issue is very complicated and time consuming.
  3. You need an experienced Loss Assessor.
  4. The Loss Assessors fees should be paid for by the policy because the whole process requires expertise. If client had to get an Architect, Electrical Engineer, Quantity Surveyor and Project Manager fees would have been 20% of the cost at least.

What to do if your business suffers from malicious damage or burglary?

All properties are at risk of malicious damage or burglary, no matter how good the location or how well-respected the business is. It is a potential hazard for any property owner but if it occurs, it is thankfully relatively simple to deal with and resolve.

Malicious damage comes in many forms and many degrees of severity, from simple graffiti or glass breakage to the more extreme end of the scale, such as robbery or arson.

Burglary, Malicious DamageIn all cases, the extent of damage should be determined by a professional loss assessor before an insurance claim is made.

  • The first step you should take when malicious damage or burglary is reported or discovered is to ensure that the building is safe to enter. Inform any employees or others who will need to be aware of the situation and if the damage is particularly extensive, do not open for business until you are certain that no further damage will be caused by doing so.
  • Next, call the guards. Try to leave everything exactly as you found it – avoid moving items or cleaning up until after they have visited the site. They may need to gather evidence, dust for fingerprints, and determine the motives and methods of those responsible for causing the damage. If you have CCTV in operation on the premises, have it ready for them to review as this will be essential to their investigation.
  • At this point you will need the services of Clearys Loss Assessors to gain a full picture of the damage caused. If cleaning up and repairs are vital to make the building secure, and the loss assessor is unable to visit the site immediately, take extensive photographs, video, and written inventory of the damage. However, if at all possible you should wait until they have examined the building before beginning any of this.
  • The next step in the process is to make an insurance claim and, depending on the outcome of the police investigation, press charges against the perpetrators. In either case, you will need to keep extensive and meticulous records of the incident including CCTV, photographs and videos, details of repair works, financial losses, etc.
  • Finally, take precautionary measures to reduce the risk of malicious damage or burglary occurring again. If you have not already done so, install an alarm system and camera surveillance, new durable locks, and if necessary, security personnel to man the property after hours.

What to do in the event of an escape of water below ground.

An escape of water below ground usually comes in the form of burst pipes or damaged plumbing systems which cause damage to properties either by water seeping into the building from below, or in less severe cases, by affecting water pressure and flow in the plumbing system of the property.

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In both cases, if the problem is left unnoticed or unfixed in the long term, significant damage can occur. If such an incident occurs, here is some advice on how to handle the situation:

  • Find the location of the leak (or leaks): This should be done by a plumbing professional. The operator will locate any leaks by closing off controlling valves, which will reduce or stop the flow to the affected water main. At this stage you will have a reasonably accurate idea of the impact and severity of the escaped water. Once this has been done, shut off the water valve until repairs have been completed.
  • Find what caused the leak: In the case of water escaping below ground, this could be many things; the age of the pipes and material they are made from, soil conditions that may have caused corrosion of the pipes, ground or water temperature causing the pipes to expand and contract, or changes in water pressure exacerbating weak spots in the pipes..
  • Making an Insurance Claim: Most insurance policies will cover escape of water claims. Contact Clearys Loss Assessors to get a professional account of the damage. Take photos or videos of the affected parts of the property as soon as possible, in case there is a delay in arranging for the assessor to visit the site. He or she will take a full record of all damage and the losses inflicted in order to process an insurance claim. Contact with the loss assessor should be made as soon as possible, preferably before repair works have begun.

In cases where below ground escape of water has been occurring for years, subsidence can be a problem. This is when the soil under the property’s foundations has become unstable due to water washing away the soil particles. As a result, the foundations of the building begin to subside. A thorough check on this should be carried out in any significant case of escape of water below ground.

What happens if your business is affected by fire?

No matter how prepared you may be or how many precautions you take, the risk of a fire in your commercial property is always present. Thankfully, most fires result in only minor damage to equipment or paint work. A serious fire, however, can have a devastating effect on a business and incur massive financial losses, both through temporary ceasing of trade and the cost of repair works. The services of a loss assessor are key in this instance and will ensure both you and your insurance broker are getting the fairest assessment of damage and compensation.

Dublin Fire

To help make the process run as smoothly as possible, here are some steps you should take in the event of a commercial property fire:

  • Once the fire has been dealt with and the immediate danger has passed, it is critical that you inform your insurance company and landlord (if you don’t own the property) about the event straight away. Arrange for a loss assessor to visit the site and get a better indication of the damage; your insurance company may also send a loss adjuster to verify the condition of the site.
  • Next, ensure the premises are safe and that there is no risk of further damage. The fire brigade will be the best judgement of this. Only when they say it is safe to do so should you re-enter the building. Thoroughly examine all gas and electricity appliances and outlets, and make sure the supply for both is turned off.
  • Remove any valuables from the building; any business or accounts records, trading licenses, cash, employee documentation, etc. Secure the building and protect it from further damage (through vandalism, theft or weather) by informing the police. Do not leave the site until it has been fully secured.
  • The loss assessor will then visit the site. Take photographs and create an inventory of damage to aid them; they will keep their own corresponding version. The loss assessor will handle contact with the insurance company during this stage. During repairs, keep meticulous receipts and records at all stages of the work to supplement your claim.

Insurance Claim Form

The insurance company will then determine the exact details of the claim, which will vary depending on the cause of the fire, damage incurred by it and any financial losses as a result. You will be notified as soon as a conclusion is reached, and then the claim can be processed.

Drying up your home after the floods is a challenge

The Office of Public Works recently published a guide to restoring your home or business from the recent floods in Ireland.  We suppose that almost a month after the disaster the initial restoring works like cleaning are already done, but if you still struggle with the longest process of all – drying you place, then we can help you. Here is a short guide to how to deal with remaining water or moisture in your home or business building.

House Flood

Air circulation is the best way to dry out a property and clear the air inside. Be patient and make sure the property is completely dry before you move back in.

Some Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Do open your doors and windows to ventilate your home.
  • Do ensure your house is secure.
  • Do unblock airbricks and vents.
  • Do wash your hands with disinfectant if you came into direct contact with water.
  • Do check external walls and the roof for structural damage before entering a property.
  • Don’t attempt to turn on any services until they have been checked by an expert.
  • Don’t attempt to move any heavy or unstable objects by yourself – get help.

Drying the property:

  • You can allow your property to dry naturally, but that can take months. Forcing the drying process can speed it up so that it only takes a number of weeks. Whatever way you choose to dry your property, make sure that the moisture trapped within the structure of the property is removed. Sometimes the walls may feel dry on the outside but they are still damp internally. If in doubt get a professional in to ensure that your property is completely dry.
  • If your heating has been tested by a professional and is certified safe to use, it can be turned on to help dry the house. Keep the temperature at around 20 to 22 degrees celcius. Excessive temperatures should be avoided as rapid heating may lead to cracking of plaster work, etc.
  • Be aware that temperature alone will not dry your property. Air circulation and humidity are critical factors to consider.
  • Good ventilation is essential so keep windows and doors open during good weather and ajar during wet weather.
  • If you are using a dehumidifier leave external windows and doors closed, especially during wet weather.

If you haven’t still contacted you insurance company for a claim settlement, you can always first refer to an expert loss assessors company like Clearys Loss Assessors. Hence, you might get an additional advice and guidance for obtaining a better settlement.

Holiday season is here! Get your property ready!

Holiday season is the time when many people decide to leave their home and spend the Christmas vacation in the mountain or in their holiday home. Before you leave there are a couple of things which you have to take care of so that your primary residence stays in top shape. We have thought of everything. Take a look at these simple steps to follow when you have to winterize a house.

“Pack, lock and go”

But before that make sure:

  1. Make sure motion sensor lights and central station alarms are working and set before you leave home.
  2. Turn off water at the main shut-off valve, unless some household items require it to remain on. Such items may include an ice maker, an automatic sprinkler system that doesn’t have a separate shut-off, and a pool.
  3. Most newer water heaters are equipped with”vacation” mod setting. Turn it on. The water heater will run occasionally but not nearly as often as it does normally.
  4. Toilets can collect bacteria, which can cause stains. Pour a half cup of chlorine into the bowl (not the tank).
  5. A continually dark house, both inside and out, can be a signal to a burglar that no one is home. Turn off all lights except the ones you want as security measures. Put the security lights on variable timers
  6. Make sure to hide the keys to the garage in a safe and not visible place and to lock the door that leads to the garage. Do not leave any spare keys for the car in the house in case the car is parked in the garage.
  7. Make sure the fridge is empty or at least that the food left in there will still be good after the holidays.
  8. Turn all ringers off and the answering machine muted.
  9. This is the perfect time to spray the house for pest control.
  10. You have done a great job! Bravo! Now go and have fun!