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Sunday, July 21, 2013
Many readers last week were moved by the plight of Harold and Peggy Wright and their sodden, moldy finished basement, which flooded after a deluge of rain early this month.
Harold Wright is still working on the cleanup, between juggling his job as a mechanic with shuttling his disabled wife back and forth to adult daycare.
In the wake of Thursday's column about them, readers offered a lot of good advice about basements and flooding, homeowners insurance and mold remediation. It's worth sharing.
First, one update: The Wrights are preparing a claim with the Western Virginia Water Authority because the muck that entered their basement through some basement floor drains appears to have come from a sewer line.
It's unclear yet whether that claim will be approved. But Tom Crawford of Bedford called me Thursday and said when something similar happened to him four years ago, the city covered the cost of all repairs. (Bedford is now a town).
The key, Crawford added, is the location of a backup. If it's a clog on a homeowner's property, the cost of repairs is the homeowner's responsibility. If the clog is off the property, damage may be the responsibility of the government or authority that maintains the sewer pipes.
An overwhelmed sewer line during a 200-year flood is often a different matter though.
"If we didn't have a blockage in the line, if it was merely an overabundance of storm water, the authority doesn't have a liability," said Sarah Baumgartner, a spokeswoman for the water authority. It investigates each claim case-by-case, she added.
Don Weeks of Franklin County had another suggestion. He has a brother who lives in the Brookside area of Roanoke County, and whose basement suffered frequent flooding from a floor drain when rains hit hard.
Once, "water was all the ways up nearly to the floor in his house," Weeks told me.
The solution was a check-valve, which allows water to flow out of a drain but not in. Any plumber can put one in, Weeks said. "He had one installed in his house and he's never had any problem since," Weeks added. "A little bit of money now could save a whole lot of money later."
A caption with Harold Wright's photo in Thursday's paper noted he'd been using gallons of bleach to clean mold in his basement.
That prompted a call from Roger Elkin. He's the managing partner of Hall & Associates, a large real estate company that manages more than 1,000 properties. They have experience dealing with mold in homes.
"It's a disaster to use bleach," Elkin told me. While bleach may kill visible mold, it won't work on porous surfaces. And the simple act of wiping mold with bleach can send spores into the air, he said.
That can spread the infestation and make it worse. Meanwhile the person cleaning it may inhale spores and suffer health consequences, Elkin added.
Some good mold-cleanup products are available at hardware stores. One that Hall & Associates uses is called Moldstat. It and similar products bind to the mold, denying it the oxygen it needs and preventing spores from spreading. Breathing masks should be used in every mold cleanup, Elkin added.
I put him in touch with Harold Wright. Wright said Elkin and his wife showed up Thursday night at Wright's house with some complimentary mold-cleaning supplies. How nice, eh?
Finally, I spoke with a former insurance executive who asked me not put his name in the paper because he's still acquainted with many in the industry. He said the Wrights' problems raised three issues.
The first was filing a claim. If your insurance agent ever tries to dissuade you from making a claim, he said, you should go straight to the insurance carrier's claims department. That's because in certain circumstances agents may have hidden incentives to recommend their clients not pursue claims.
The second concerns sewage backup protection. Nearly all homeowners' policies don't include it, but it can be purchased relatively cheaply as a rider on a policy.
The third was this: Sewage backup protection probably won't cover damage caused by groundwater flooding or seepage. Even if your home is not in a flood plain, separate flood insurance may be necessary for that. The problem is, it can be expensive and typically has a high deductible.
Often, he added, landscaping that directs water away from your foundation is much cheaper in the long run than flood insurance, and more effective.
Baumgartner echoed the insurance guy's second recommendation.
"We strongly encourage every homeowner to talk to their insurance agent and get the sewage backup protection for their homes," she said. "It doesn't cost much - mine's only about $25 a year."
Dan Casey's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
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