House Fire

The 4th of July is a day away. You’ve got the grill and the fireworks ready to go. Now is a great time to stop and make sure you’re ready to celebrate safely.

An average of 18,500 fires are started every year by fireworks. We are in the fire damage cleanup business, so we see it all. One thing we know is that the person calling never thought it would happen to them.

Fire damage to property and injuries can often be avoided, especially around holiday celebrations. Here are 10 tips to make sure you have fun, stay safe, and don’t end up calling us the next day to start putting your fire-damaged home back together.

10 Fire Safety Tips for the Holiday

  1. Don’t mix drugs & alcohol with fire. This one may seem obvious, but let a “designated lighter” handle the fireworks.
  2. Make sure your grill has a wide clear zone. Move it away from the wall and be sure there are no trash cans or other flammables nearby.
  3. Take care of your used coals. It’s easy to forget about the clean up once the celebration starts, but used coals should be transferred to a metal container.
  4. Ensure an adult is present during fireworks. This one may be even more obvious than the alcohol tip, but all fireworks should be supervised by an adult… that is responsible enough for the task!
  5. Keep a bucket of water handy. Douse used fireworks before you throw them away and be ready to put out any small fires that start.
  6. Don’t modify your fireworks. Use them as purchased and as instructed.
  7. Don’t light fireworks near flammable materials. Dry grass can quickly catch fire and spread. Take the fireworks to a gravel or concrete surface.
  8. Never light fireworks indoors. ‘Nuff said.
  9. Obey local regulations.
  10. Call 9-1-1 if you see any fires start.

Fireworks are a great way to cut loose and enjoy your holiday. With responsible use, they are also safe and enjoyable. Taking the time to plan ahead can save you from the unexpected.

At Branch Environmental, we meet people in their worst moments. The moments no one expected to happen. Home fire damage happens quickly and is often avoidable with a little care. We stand ready to help you clean up from the fire and recover your life, but we also hope you never need to.

If you have damage to your home or property, the thought of navigating an insurance claim can be daunting. The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone!

At Branch Environmental, we deal with insurance claims every day. As your mitigation and restoration contractor, we consider it part of our obligation to remove as much of the insurance burden from you as possible. We’ll help you through each step of the process, often communication and negotiating on your behalf.

Whether you are using us or someone else, it’s helpful to understand the key steps of the process. Keeping things in line and on track will ensure your claim is processed efficiently and you get the maximum amount owed to you for your repairs.

The first thing to understand is that your claim will be divided into two distinct phases, Mitigation and Restoration.

Mitigation Phase

The mitigation phase is where you secure your property. The goal is to remove any hazards and protect the property from further loss due to water damage and mold. Generally, mitigation will include activities such as: removal of wet drywall & insulation, water extraction, removal of wet flooring, drying with fans and dehumidifiers, removal of fallen trees, boarding of windows, tarping roofs, etc…

During this phase, you will generally work fast without your insurance company pre-approving every expense.

Mitigation Step 1: Secure Your Family & Property

In the midst of property damage, your first priority should be securing the safety of your family and your property. Depending on your situation, this may mean relocating your family, calling 9-1-1, or calling utility providers to turn off electricity or gas.

After everyone is safe, you may decide to take measures to save valuable items from water damage. It’s not worth putting yourself in danger, but getting items out of water quickly can keep them from being destroyed.

Take as many pictures as you safely can to document the damage.

Mitigation Step 2: Notify Your Insurance Provider

Once you are safe and your property is reasonably secured, give your insurance company a call. You may have a local agent, or you may call a national number. Either way, your goal right now is to open a claim, let them know what is going on then:

  1. Verify your coverage
  2. Verify your deductible

You want to be sure that your policy is in good standing and the loss you are facing is a covered event before you start spending money. Typically, damage from wind, storm, fire, appliance leaks, or other perils will be covered. Damage due to flooding, faulty construction, or worn building materials is less likely to be covered. Every policy is different, so you want to confirm exactly what you are dealing with.

During the mitigation phase, your insurance provider is probably not going to send an adjuster rushing out to see you. Instead, they will likely advise you to proceed with mitigating the damage then they will send an adjuster out once the restoration is ready to begin.

Mitigation Step 3: Call a Restoration/Mitigation Contractor

As a homeowner and policyholder, it is your right and responsibility to protect your property from damage. In this case, that means mitigating water damage to prevent it from spreading and growing mold.

Time is of the essence in the mitigation phase and your insurance company will not expect you to approve expenses prior to completing work. They will want to you do what is necessary to dry the property and complete temporary repairs.

You should call a reputable water damage restoration contractor to handle the mitigation phase. They will be able to respond around the clock and walk you through the necessary steps to take. Most contractors will also be able to walk you through the insurance claim process.

When your contractor arrives, they will likely ask you to sign a work authorization. The purpose of this is twofold:

  1. You will need to authorize them to conduct work in your home and accept standard liability and disclaimers.
  2. You will establish that you are responsible for payment of mitigation activities.

Hang on!… I thought insurance was paying for this?

Well, they will, but the agreement with the contractor is with you as the homeowner. The contractor will perform the work, then the insurance company will reimburse you, then you will pay the contractor.

If there are issues with insurance coverage, you will still be responsible for payment. This is why it’s a good idea to get your insurance company in the loop quickly. It may feel a little unnerving moving forward without an approved estimate, but that is the way the industry works. As long as you have verified your coverage your insurance company should not have an issue paying mitigation activities.

Mitigation Step 4: Get Paid

After the mitigation is complete, your contractor will create an invoice and send it either to you or directly to your insurance adjuster.

The adjuster will either negotiate the invoice with the contractor or pay it in full.

Payment will come to you as the policyholder (less your deductible), then you will pay the contractor.

Mitigation phase is complete!

Restoration Phase

While the mitigation was fast & furious, the restoration can slow down a good bit. This is where more parties get involved, negotiation takes place, and the project is planned.

Restoration Phase 1: Meet Your Adjuster & Contractor

Your mitigation contractor may also perform the restoration, or you may select a new contractor. Either way, you will want to arrange an on-site meeting with the adjuster and contractor so they can agree on a scope of work.

When selecting your restoration contractor, be sure to choose someone with insurance claim experience who is willing to negotiate directly with the adjuster on your behalf. This will ensure the project moves quickly and you get the most coverage for your repairs.

Restoration Phase 2: Negotiate an Agreed Estimate

Here is where the process can really slow down. Unlike the mitigation, the restoration will not proceed until an agreement has been reached with the insurance adjuster.

The contractor will start by submitting an initial estimate to the adjuster. The adjuster may accept the scope of work as-is or may come back with revisions.

Once both parties have agreed to the work that needs to be done and the amount that will be paid, the adjuster will release payment.

It is important to note that improvements or changes beyond the scope of the insurance claim will need to be negotiated directly with your contractor. You may choose to change paint colors, put in a better hardwood floor, or a variety of other things that may cause your restoration to cost more than the insurace settlement.

After the scope of work is finalized, the contractor will give you a draw schedule and payment terms.

Restoration Phase 3: Wait for the $$$

The initial check your insurance company will send is likely going to be the Agreed Total (less) Depreciation (less) Remaining Deductable.

Don’t let that depreciation deduction scare you. They will pay it to you after the repairs are complete on the tail end of the project.

The check will come directly to you, and will likely be made out to both you and your mortgage company.

From there, call your mortgage company for further instructions on processing the check. They may have a local bank you can take it to, or you may have to endorse the check and send it to them.

Next, you will have to wait for the mortgage company to process the check and release the first payment to you. Depending on your mortgage company and size of the claim, they may release the full amount, or they may release only 50%.

During this whole process, you have a decision to make. Based on the payment terms of the contractor, do you want to wait for the cash or do you want to proceed with your own money and/or credit.

This is an entirely personal decision that you need to make on your own. That said, it is a good idea to wait until that first check comes in from the insurance company. There is no better confirmation that everything is on track than that first released check. Even if you decide to go ahead and front the money while the mortgage company turns it’s slow wheels… at least you will have seen that the funds are actually there.

Restoration Phase 4: Complete Work

Once the money is settled, you can go ahead and pay the first draw to your contractor to get the ball rolling. Since every project is unique, there’s not a lot more to say about it here.

Restoration Phase 5: Supplement the Insurance Claim

Throughout the course of your restoration, it is likely that additional expenses will be incurred. Even the best estimator cannot foresee everything that will come up or be revealed during the project. Often time the damage turns out to be more extensive that anticipated and the scope of work changes.

This is typical for any insurance claim and you don’t need to stress as the price rises. For routine items, your contractor will likely proceede without slowing down the project. For bigger things that arise, they will likely stop work to discuss with the adjuster.

At the end of the project, these additional expenses will be submitted as a supplemement to the initial claim.

Depending on the size and nature of the supplement, the insurance company will send out an addition check as before and you will start over at step 3.

Generally speaking, you have 1 year to file items on a claim once it is opened.

Restoration Phase 6: Receive Depreciation and Mortgage Balance

After all the work is complete, you will be able to receive the balance of any money withheld.

Your adjuster may conduct a site visit or may simply ask for pictures. Once they see the job is done, they will release any depreciation that was withheld.

Next, your mortgage company will likely send out an inspector to verify the work is complete then release the remaining balacne they are holding.

On many projects, these inspections and release of funds will happen once at the end. On larger projects, they may happen several times throughout the project to keep up with your contractor payment schedule.

Restoration Phase 7: Settle Up With Your Contractor

While funds are being approved and released by your insurance and mortgage company, you will still need to keep up payment terms with your contractor.

Often, your contractor will work with you to manage the cash flow throught the project.

That Wasn’t So Bad!

It’s a lot of moving pieces and the language is unfamiliar, but there is no need to be intimidated by the insurance claim process. Choosing the right contractor can go a long way towards a smooth resolution.

Call Branch Environmental for all your water damage mitigation and insurance claim restoration needs!

It may be slow coming to us the year, but freezing temprature is around the corner and now is the time to get ready. Georgia’s mild winters often keep us from preparing our homes as we should. Cold tempratures can wreck havoc on plumbing, and a burst pipe will quickly rack up costly damages to your home.

Fortunalty, staying ahead of the game is easy. Here are a few simple tips to prepare your pipes for winter.

1. Prepare Your Outside Faucets

Your exterior faucets are directly exposed to the weather and are the most vulnerable pipes you have. Start by disconnecting and draining any garden hoses. Place a Foam Faucet Cover over each spigot to keep them insulated.

2. Insulate Unheated Pipes

Find any pipes that run through unheated areas such as garages, crawlspaces or attics. These will be more prone to freezing and should be insulated with pipe wrap or heat tape.

3. Leave Water Dripping

If you are expecting a particularly cold night and want a little extra peace of mind, leave your faucets running at a trickle. This will keep water moving and prevent freezing.

4. Keep The Heater Maintained

If your heater has not been serviced recently, there is a good chance that it will go out on the coldest night of the year. Get ahead of the game by having the pros service it now. Be sure to change the filter every month. This simple step will keep your pipes safe and keep you warm!

5. Plan For Travel

If you are leaving town for any length of time, take a few simple steps to protect your pipes. First, keep your heat running at 55 degrees or warmer. Next, leave the cabinets open so heat can easily get to the pipes. Finally, shut off your main water supply to the house and turn off your water heater at the breaker. These simple steps could save thousands in water damage repairs.

Finally… Know Who To Call

If the worst happens and you are faced with water damage from a burst pipe, have our number handy. Branch Enviromental is on call 24/7 to handle you emergencies.

A water leak in your home can quickly go from an annoyance to an all-out catastrophe. As a broken toilet or dishwasher supply line spews water, the gallons quickly add up and damage to your home mounts.

You may not be a plumber or even a handyman, but there is one thing you should be able to do: QUICKLY TURN YOUR WATER OFF!

Being able to stop the flow of water into your home is the single best thing you can do to minimize damage, and it is easier than you might think.

Step 1: Determine if you are supplied by municipal water or a well.

This one is easy… if you pay a water bill you are on a municipal supply.

Step 2: Find Your Shutoff

If you have a well, you can simply go to your pressure tank and find the shutoff valve. Close the valve and the water should stop.

If you are supplied by municipal water, head to the street and look for the water meter box in the ground. It’s probably a few feet off the street somewhere along your property line.

When you lift the lid off the box, you should be able to see your water meter. It is a dial with numbers that show the amount of water you have used. Next to the water meter is your water valve. There is a good chance you will have to dig some dirt out of the box to find the valve. Once the valve is clear, use a pair of pliers to turn it back and forth a few times. It probably will only take 1/4 of a turn fully close.

That is it! Now you know how to shut your water off in an emergency.

Step 3: Be Proactive

We get frequent calls from people returning home from vacation to find their homes flooded. One of our own team members had a mouse chew through his dishwater supply line while he was out of town! These unexpected leaks can lead to massive damage. Taking the simple step of shutting off your water when you will be away for a few days can save you from big repairs.


Faucet on frozen pipes

After the far-below-freezing night of January 6th, we received dozens of calls regarding frozen pipes bursting. The pipes freeze, expand, crack, and then flow freely when they thaw. It’s not pretty, and we empathize with our clients in this situation.
It can happen to anyone when it’s that cold — 7°F! — so we want to provide a few tips on how to prevent frozen pipes from bursting, ruining parts of your home, and certainly ruining your day.

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes from Bursting

1. Find out where your water shut off valve is.

It’s usually by the street and has a metal cover over the inground box. The valve is inside and can be closed using a crescent wrench or a water shut off tool found at most hardware and home improvement stores for under $10. Turn the valve clockwise, or to the right, to shut off the water. Don’t wait for the emergency—find it in advance. If you’re not sure where it is, call the water department and ask them to show you where it is located.

2. Leave the sink faucet dripping overnight.

You’ve likely heard this one, but it’s a good practice to remember. Unfortunately, if the temperature drops low enough, the water flow won’t always save your pipes. Note: We DON’T recommend this for outdoor faucets. See tip 6 below to learn how to protect outdoor faucets.

3. Make sure you have adequate insulation in the walls.

Most of the frozen lines that we’ve fixed have been in exterior walls, which you can’t easily open to investigate. It may be worth calling an insulation provider to check how protected your water pipes are. Insulation should be on the exterior side of the pipes.

4. Heat pipes from the inside the house.

If you think you have a non-insulated wall and you have access to it on the inside, a space heater in the adjacent room can help keep lines warm and prevent them from freezing.

5. Insulate water wall lines in the attic.

A lot of pipe bursts happen in attics. Do you have exposed, non-insulated water lines in your attic? If you can see them, then the answer is yes. Cold air coming in through soffit vents can freeze your pipes inside the attic. The attic is a really bad place for a leak, because the leak can soak the ceiling below it and cause it to come crashing down. By properly insulating your attic, you protect your pipes and save on energy costs.

6. Cover outdoor faucets.

The best thing to do on the outside of the house is to use outdoor faucet covers. These come in various styles and are constructed of plastic, styrofoam, or even fabric. Don’t wait until the day of the cold-snap, because like milk and bread at the grocery store, faucet covers are one of the first items to sell out when cold weather is on the way.

In that case, wrap your faucets with towels, insulation, and waterproofing material, like a garbage bag or or plastic sheeting. Secure with bungie cords and/or duct tape. Ideally, pick up the store-bought covers next time you’re near a home improvement store. Better early than sorry!

Unfortunately, even with all these precautions if it gets cold enough your pipes can still freeze and burst. If that happens, stay calm and follow our quick guide on what to do if your pipes burst!

Flooding from burst pipes

After the frozen first week of January, calls about burst pipes started pouring in. Dozens of folks suddenly had a lot of water on their hands, and the below-freezing weather didn’t help.

We don’t usually get this many calls about burst pipes because it usually doesn’t get this cold in the Athens area. But freezing temperatures aren’t the only culprit of unexpected flooding. Dishwashers, washing machines, and toilets can all flood and cause serious damage to your home. What do you do in these situations?

First Steps to Take When Your Home is Flooding

1. Stay calm, find the water shut off valve, and turn it off!

It’s usually by the street and has a metal cover over the inground box. The valve is inside and can be closed using a crescent wrench or a water shut off tool found at most hardware and home improvement stores. Turn the valve clockwise, or to the right, to shut off the water. It is incredibly helpful to know where the water valve is located before the disaster happens. Make it a goal to make sure you know where it is before going to bed tonight. Your local water department is happy to help.

While you’re turning off the valve, have someone call us so we can get there ASAP to help. Add our number into your phone now in case of emergency: (706) 310-0097.

2. Begin containing water in a single area.

Use buckets, towels, and/or a shop vac to keep the water from running all over your home. Essentially, you’re trying to sand bag in an area to prevent further damage.

3. Keep the water away from hardwood floors if at all possible.

Some hardwood floors can be refinished, but some have to be removed and replaced. If you can contain the water in a room with tile or vinyl floors, you’ll be able to avoid an inconvenient remodel.

4. Use whatever you have to get the water out.

Scoop the water up with a dustpan or plastic container and throw it in the sink or out the door. It’s important to remove as much water as fast as you can to mitigate damage.

5. Remove all affected carpet pad.

If the flooding has reached your carpet, pull back the carpet and remove the wet carpet pad. If you don’t, the carpet pad will hold water like a sponge, allowing the water to soak into the subfloor and cause extensive, and expensive, damage.

6. Take pictures and document the damage and work you perform.

Do not forget this important step. If you plan to file an insurance claim, you will likely need documentation of the water damage and any work you performed to mitigate the damage. Pictures showing how far the water traveled are invaluable, as are pictures of wet carpet pads and the burst pipe or plumbing fitting. Some insurance companies will require you to submit the damaged water line or fitting, so make sure to ask your plumber to leave the damaged part with you after he or she performs the repair.

If you do these things right away, you can dramatically reduce the level of flooding damage in your home, but please don’t think “All under control, I’ll call Branch next week.” Mold can start growing in 48 hours! Water behind baseboards and cabinets, wet carpet tack strips and other areas that are hard to reach are a ticking mold time bomb.

Call a professional as soon as possible, or the problem will grow exponentially and become much more expensive to fix. To learn how to prevent burst pipes in the future, check out our 6 ways to keep frozen pipes from bursting.