Quote of the Day

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Why Does Mold Grow in Attics and Crawl Spaces?

This new post is in response to a question raised by another post of mine. 

Bob asked, 

"Can I ask why there is often mold in attics and crawl spaces ? It makes no sense, because mold and mildew need humidity. Because I have even heard that in many cases, you can have mold in your attic without it having any leak from the roof. Any opinions on this ???"

Bob, here is the answer.

Great question. There are many reasons that mold can grow in attic and crawl spaces. All that is needed is moisture, a food source, and the omnipresent mold spores can grow. 

Any broken or leaky pipe running through these areas will suffice, but there are other more subtle moisture sources. These are some I have actually seen.

Possible moisture sources in an attic:

  1. A leak from blown-off shingles or damage to the roof.
  2. A leak around a protrusion, like a chimney, furnace flue, or parapet wall rising up through the roof.
  3. A clothes dryer or exhaust fan that is vented into the attic.
  4. Insufficient ventilation, (lack of soffit, gable, and/or roof vents,) that allows normal moisture to build up in the attic rather than being exhausted outside, especially in climates with normally high humidity.
  5. Ice damning will push moisture up under the shingles and into the attic.
  6. Water from an air-conditioner or furnace condensate line that isn't drained properly.

Possible moisture sources in a crawlspace or basement.

  1. Ground water coming through cracks in the concrete floor or walls in a basement.
  2. Ground water percolating up through the dirt in the crawl space.
  3. Water from a leaky toilet or drain line on the main floor that drops into the crawl space.
  4. A clothes dryer or exhaust fan that is vented into the crawl space.
  5. Insufficient ventilation that allows normal moisture to build up rather than being exhausted outside, especially in climates with normally high humidity.
  6. Water from an air-conditioner or furnace condensate line that isn't drained properly.
  7. Broken or disconnected drain lines in the crawl space.

All of these, and possibly other sources, can provide the moisture needed for mold to grow. Because we seldom go into the attic or crawl space, we are not able to monitor these areas and these conditions can cause significant damages over time, including rot and mold.

Regular inspections, or just being aware when you are in these locations, will help to identify and correct these issues before they become problems. - dlm

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Honesty, Integrity, and Loyalty

Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, told the Harvard graduating Class of 1999, "Without mutual trust and market participants abiding by a rule of law, no economy can prosper." Then in 2005, he taught the graduating class of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, "In virtually all our transactions, whether with customers or with colleagues, with friends or with strangers, we rely on the word of those with whom we do business. If we could not do so, goods and services could not be exchanged efficiently."

His consensus that business cannot function without trust, which is rooted in honesty, not only applies to economics, but to the Rule of Law, as well. Testimony given “under oath”, is held up as the standard upon which life-altering decisions are made. The lives and fortunes of legal adversaries hang on the accuracy and validity of statements given by witnesses. So important is honesty in the Courts, that the violation of this oath is punishable by years of incarceration.

So, how do attorneys and experts navigate the minefield of seductive falsehoods and still maintain honesty, integrity, and loyalty to their clients? . . .

Simply be honest with the facts and always draw fact-based conclusions.

This does not imply that we must take every bit of evidence at face value nor refrain from diligently researching past decisions to find a ruling that fits our case. It means that part of truth cannot be omitted. Fabrication of facts or blatant misrepresentation of the truth, can never occur. Accusations are specific, and the defense of them should be as specific, but not censured.

There will always be times, nearly all the time, when facts contradict, don’t align, or are ambiguous. Rather than succumb to fact-less conclusions or inflammatory accusations, we need to concentrate our efforts to separate fact from fiction, align perspectives, and clarify conditions. It is our job to do so, it should not be a convenience if it happens. Anything less than this is a disservice to our clients and reflects on our level of competence.

Integrity is not something we do, it is what we have as a result of our actions. Without integrity we have no bearings, no character, and we lose the ability to be trusted. Integrity precludes stable opinions based on principles and the consistent implementation of those principles. It negates the need to remember which lie fits into which cubby, because the answers are always the same, even if they are adjusted to fit individual circumstances.

Loyalty to a client does not mean we have an obligation to provide acquittal. Loyalty in representation demands that we ensure the Rule of Law is followed, that our client has every opportunity to correctly present their story, and that miscarriages, injustice, and abuse are neutralized.

The first question a client usually asks an attorney is some variation of, “Can you get me off?” For some attorneys and experts, the answer is always, “Yes,” then any means available are employed to achieve that goal, whether it serves justice or not. This attitude thwarts the very reason for the Rule of Law. If laws are not enforceable, they cease to exist. We have cultures around the world where justice is doled out on the basis of who you know, who your family is, or what your status is in society. This is not justice, it is cronyism. Chronic abuse, theft, loss of liberty, and the destruction of lives and property, always follow such a course.

As attorneys and experts, we have to consciously review our past opinions to ensure they align with our present ones. Laws change and situations are often different, but if we move our opinions, there must always be concrete facts or evidence, that justifies such behavior.

There may be some who feel these remarks are a threat to their livelihood and that may be true. If people are looking to escape consequences or maliciously injure another, they may not engage an attorney or expert who will not bend or misrepresent the truth. Each may find a measure of success in this path, but ultimately, their actions will erode the pedestal under Lady Justice, until she eventually topples to the earth.

Without honesty, we cannot have integrity.
Without integrity, we cannot be trusted.
If we cannot be trusted, we are of no value.

Image courtesy of:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Fake News and Alternative Facts

There has been a lot of angst and controversy in the news lately over “fake news” stories and “alternative facts”. This has brought to my mind their relationship to legal cases and in working as an expert witness.

It is generally accepted that “fake news” is any story that deliberately contains information which is either not true or is accurate, but placed in such a setting that any person reading the article will be left with the wrong conclusion. There are many reasons that “fake news” exists, but they generally boil down to unscrupulous individuals trying to substantiate an opinion which has no credible facts. 

The fact that innocent, uninformed individuals repeat such nonsense, does not remove the fakeness from the information nor does it make it credible.

While misinformation is now referred to as “fake news”, not too long ago, in the 1990’s, politicians caught promoting misinformation, said that “I misspoke”. In my youth, we spelled “misspoke”, l-y-i-n-g. Regardless of how you spell it, you have still intentionally given false testimony.

“Alternative facts” are a different animal. It became a running joke when some people in President Trump’s administration refuted opposition claims with “alternative facts”. There was much derision and ridicule heaped upon the speakers implying that “alternative facts” were just another way to spin the facts. I am not sure of the actual intent, nor do I intent to try and unravel the facts, but I do want to clarify the important difference between “fake news” and “alternative facts”.

While “fake news” is a lie, and not acceptable in any legal arenas, “alternative facts” are not, in and of themselves, wrong. For clarification, I will define “primary facts” as those originally promoted by one side of the argument, and “alternative facts” as those secondary or tertiary facts that are submitted by the opposing side as a rebuttal.

Consider an example: A hypothetical Defendant is on trial for shooting and killing another person. You can have 10 people videotape the shooting, which would lay down the “primary facts” that the Defendant did actually shoot the Plaintiff, who then died. Based on those facts, the Defendant is guilty of murder. Case closed, right? Not necessarily.

The “alternative facts”, as explained by the Defense, show that the Victim was a 40 year old male, 6’ 4", 245 lbs., approaching the Defendant with a baseball bat, cursing, and declaring that he would bash in the head of the 22 year old female Defendant, who was 5’ 1" and weighed 105 lbs. Unless other “alternative facts” appeared, the Defendant's “alternative facts” would most likely be accepted as the complete truth and exonerate her from harm. (Providing, of course, that she was legally carrying a gun, and State laws allowed for lethal force when a person’s life or safety was in danger, but those would be additional “alternative facts”.)

We have all seen examples of this in our own professions, times when the original or “primary facts” were later superseded by “alternative facts” that overturned all initial opinions.

Several years ago, I was asked to opine on a local case. The Plaintiff’s house was located approximately 100 feet from and about 30 feet below an irrigation canal. On August 30 of that year, water began to percolate up through the concrete floor and the subterranean heat registers into the basement. This continued until September 30, which was actually 2 days after the Irrigation company had emptied the canal for the year. The owners of the home concluded from the “primary facts” that water must be seeping out of the sides or bottom of the canal, running under the ground, and emerging in their basement. There were also high levels of moisture in the air as well as mold growth in the basement, so the owners felt that there was still water in the basement from the original intrusion. They had other testimony and experts who supported these facts which motivated the lawsuit. Therefore they felt justified in suing the Irrigation company for over $1,000,000 in damages.

I was retained 2 years after the initial damage occurred by the Defendant. The owners had moved out of the home and had done no mitigation or repairs, other than installing sump pumps in the floor to lower the water level while the flooding was active. On my initial inspection, I did observe the mold growth that was detailed in the complaint. I was able to detect measurable moisture in the air and drywall and properly mapped it out. I was able to snake a camera down the heat register ducts to determine that there was no longer any moisture in them.

After I examined all the data from my inspection, plus other psychometric data provided by the Plaintiff, I was able to identify “alternative facts” that showed:
  1. The moisture from the initial loss was completely gone from the house.
  2. The moisture that was presently in the basement was from sprinklers that were spraying on the exterior walls and windows.
  3. All of the mold, except for a small 18” square on the floor, was from this water from the sprinkler.
  4. Therefore, any damage to the house was caused from the sprinklers and not from the irrigation canal. 

Because of my report, another geotechnical engineer was engaged by the Defendant to drill test holes and map out the underground strata of the property. His “alternative facts” showed that the layers of gravel under the canal that would have moved water, dropped from the canal nearly straight down and leveled out over 12 feet below the level of the footings under the Plaintiff’s home. This made it virtually impossible for any water leaking from the canal to have percolated into the Plaintiff’s basement.

Now, with these “alternative facts”, it was concluded in court, that the water that entered the Plaintiff’s home was actually ground water that was normally present in the area. Oh, did I forget to mention the “alternative fact” that the home was situated in a rural, farming community and was surrounded by fields, watered with flood irrigation once a week? It was quite easy to conclude from all these “alternative facts”, that the height of the ground water fluctuates up and down depending on the amount of surface irrigation done by the surrounding farmers. Once the canal was emptied for the season, all the farmers stopped irrigating, causing the water table to drop below the level of the Plaintiff’s basement floor and stopping the water intrusion.

The Defense also had testimony that nearly all of the neighbors with basements suffered the same intrusion every few years, though not a serious, making the Plaintiffs experience typical of everyone else and not instigated by negligence on behalf of the Irrigation company.

So, while we can dismiss “fake news” that has no evidence, we must be careful in throwing out “alternative facts”; for often the complete story does not come out in the first quarter of the game. It is important to play hard all the way to the end to ensure that “all the facts” surface and truth prevails.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Lead-based Paint, Lead Poisoning, and Children at Risk

"This is ridiculous," I snarled. "Needing a license to remove paint is just another money grab from the government." 

I couldn't understand why I would need to become lead-based paint certified when I was already a Certified Restorer, Professional Mold Remediator, and a General Contractor. I had clean-up feces, mold, and dead bodies, lead-based paint didn't bother me. After 45 years of experience, what more did I need to learn about the building and restoration industry?

As I sat waiting for the class to start, I was angry to need to be there, frustrated that I wasn't out fixing some of the multitudes of problems on my list, and disheartened that I would also have to spend hundreds of dollars each year for another certification I didn't needed. 

I was peeved.

That was me, not a fictitious, composite character that I usually use for these articles, but the real me 5 years ago. I just couldn't fathom how this new license could possibly help me with my business, other than the thousands of dollar in fines we would be assessed without the training. We did flood and fire mitigation and repairs, which often involve sewage, mold, and other situations not conducive to dinner table discussions. But now, years later, I have a better understanding of lead, lead poisoning, and the devastating effects it can have on the innocent and I am passionate about making a difference.

Lead was everywhere.
I grew up in the era of lead in paint, lead in gasoline, and asbestos in nearly everything else. Lead was one of the first metals used by man because it was soft enough to manipulate with primitive tools. Alloys were added in later years to create pewter, which increased its strength and durability. Lead was added to paint before the birth of Christ to add durability and brighten the colors. It was added to automobile gasoline in the 1920's to improve combustion.

There were some doctors who recognized the problems of lead poisoning over 2000 years ago, but because lead worked for so many things, change was slow in coming. It was concluded early that lead cookware would allow lead to be absorbed into the body, but even then, it was hard for science, medicine, and government to agree.

Where is lead today?
So, we ended up with lead in the paint on our houses, lead in the paint on our furniture, lead in the paint on our appliances, and lead in our gasoline. Everyone thought we were safe from the lead, because we don't chew the siding, suck on the fridge, or drink gasoline. That is, adults don't do those things.

Children were eating the paint on window sills, their toys, and anything else they could put into their mouths. We had also missed another very important point, lead had been added to wine thousands of years ago to improve the flavor. Lead actually has a sweet taste. So it made the paint taste good, encouraging small children to lick and chew again and again, ingesting more and more lead each day.

Even though we didn't drink gasoline, once the gas exploded in our engine, the lead particulates flew out the tailpipe as part of the exhaust. These particles have settled on the roads and shoulders all over the world. As we walk along busy roads on the shoulder, sidewalk or gutter, we stir up lots of lead dust that settles on our shoes and clothes. We then, track this lead into our cars and homes.

Why is lead a concern?
Our bodies treat lead like it does calcium so it deposits it in the places that calcium is supposed to be. It then interferes with many of the body's processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues, including; the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, reproductive and nervous systems. It hampers the body's ability to create a proper nervous system in young children causing them to never achieve the intelligence their DNA is capable of.

Ingestion of a small amount of lead can begin to cause problems. Consumed again and again over time, lead continues to compound these problems.

If you have concerns, your doctor can perform or refer you to a doctor who can do a blood lead level (BLL) test. This test measures the level of lead in the blood so you can know if your child is at risk. If you or your child has elevated levels of lead, there are steps to remove the lead from your home as well as protocols to leach it from your body. Do not do either without proper direction from trained, certified professionals.

Hazards to children
  • Damages the kidneys and nervous system.
  • Decrease in intelligence.
  • Causes attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities.
  • Speech, language, and behavior problems.
Hazards to pregnant women:
  • Lead is passed from the mother to the fetus and can cause:
  • Miscarriages.
  • Premature births.
  • Brain damage.
  • Low birth weight.
Negative health effects of lead in adults include:
  • High blood pressure.
  • Fertility problems in both men and women.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Nervous disorders.
  • Memory and concentration problems.
  • Loss of sex drive and/or capability. 
  • Muscle and joint pain.
  • Physical fatigue.
Lead poisoning is a problem, but removing it incorrectly can exacerbate the problem. It is important that proper lead renovation protocol is used. I will discuss that more in another article.

For more information, check out:
Renovate Right, EPA document on lead poisoning and renovation
The Truth About Lead Paint Poisoning, tri-fold brochure
Steps to Lead Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting
American Healthy Home Survey, Lead and Arsenic Findings, April 2011

Images courtesy of:

Dr. Ralph Spezio Proved Lead Poisoning Was Making His Students Stupid

Dr. Ralph Spezio was made Principal of Enrico Fermi School #17 in Rochester City School District 3 decades ago. It was a school with nothing but problems. Chain link fences, metal detectors, armed police, violent students, and the lowest test scores in the State, made it the last place in the world you would want to send your children to gain an education.

Working tirelessly with a dedicated staff, Dr Spezio was able to turn the school around. Test scores improved, violence was reduced and an atmosphere of learning and safety began to permeate the school.

But despite these gains, Dr Spezio was still concerned about the large numbers of students that still had severe learning and behavioral difficulties.

Still searching for answers, he was able to build a health care clinic and dental office adjacent to the school so that all the children could have the health care they needed. But still problems seemed to nag a large group of children, many from good and loving homes. It was of grave concern to him.
Students who couldn't seem to master the basic concepts of math and reading.
Students who would jump straight over anger to violence,
Students who were taught a skill and then an hour later couldn't remember how to do it.
Then one day, he heard 2 nurses in the clinic talking about the unusually high levels of lead in a student's blood. Piquing his curiosity, Dr Spezio began to check the lead levels in the records of all the students he had. The results were shocking.

He found 41% of the 3, 4, and 5 year old students had blood lead levels that were over twice that recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.  
Everyone of the "special needs" students also had high blood lead levels.

Listen to Dr Spezio talk at TEDxRochester, November 2010, and see the complete results of what he found, but more importantly, what happened as the community reduced the lead from their students environments and bodies.

For more information, check out:
Renovate Right, EPA document on lead poisoning and renovation
The Truth About Lead Paint Poisoning, tri-fold brochure
Steps to Lead Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting
American Healthy Home Survey, Lead and Arsenic Findings, April 2011

How Do I Know If My House Has Lead?

"I don't want my kids poisoned by lead," Paul thought after reading these articles. His 1 year-old and his 3 year-old were the joys of his life. 

They were so full of excitement and energy. Everyday they learned something new and were growing so fast.

It would just kill him to watch his sweet children devolve into people unable to cope with life. But how can he know if his house is safe?

How can he protect his children?

I have discussed in previous articles the dangers, risks, and challenges associated with lead poisoning. Now that we understand the problems, we can tackle the solutions.

How do you know if you have lead in your home?

Option 1, When was your home built?
Lead was introduced into paint millennia ago. We used it in the United States until it was banned from most paint in 1978. The graphic below shows the percentage of homes built during specific years and the probable percentage of homes that contain lead paint.

As you can see, homes built before 1940 have an 87% chance of having lead based oil paint. For practical purposes, that is nearly all of them. Many of these older homes have been painted over with latex paint, reducing the likelihood of lead particles becoming airborne, but not eliminating the chance. If the oil surface was not primed properly, the latex paint easily chips off exposing the lead paint underneath. Dents, holes, or remodeling will also disturb the lead in the original paint.

For those homes built between 1940 and 1960, there was a 69% chance of lead paint. The percentages drop because of the introduction of latex or water based paint. Latex paint could be thinned and cleaned up with water, making it a popular choice for both homeowners and professionals alike.

Homes built between 1960 and 1978, about 24% of them had lead based paint. Latex paint gained more popularity as the product became more durable and easier to work with.

If it was built after 1978, there is almost a 0% chance of lead paint. Having banned lead in paint, without special permits, no one could buy lead paint. Exceptions would be if someone purchased and stockpiled lead paint in 1977. The law only banned the manufacture of lead paint, not its application.

Option 2 - Use a DIY lead test kit

These kits are available in most lumber and hardware stores and they really do work. The problem is that they are invasive, messy and difficult to use.

Here are the top 3 selling DIY lead test kits on Amazon currently. They ranged from $9.00 to $20.00 per kit.

I have used the 3M kit and know it to work and is easy to use, but I will not recommend one over the other.

The 3M kit consists of a plastic tube with a brush tip filled with a chemical. In the tube is a glass vial with a liquid. If you break the vial inside the tube, the chemicals mix together and turn red when exposed to lead.

Other kits have a liquid that you paint on the surface with a Q-Tip

All you have to do is brush some of this liquid on the suspect surfaces and they will turn red if there is lead. False negatives occur when the lead paint has a couple of layers of latex paint on top.

The solution to this is to break off or cut through the latex paint exposing the multiple layers beneath. Then the test will work. If it's red there is lead.

Option 3 - Have a certified lead paint inspector check your home with a XRF analyzer.
These guns are the slickest thing since sliced bread. It is a gun that you simply point at the surface you want to test, pull the trigger, and presto, you have a reading. There are only 3 problems:

1. These are actually X-ray machines and you have to have a special license and training to own and operate one.      

2. They cost between $20,000 and $50,000.

3. They also have to be calibrated every year to ensure accuracy. Other than that, they are super cool because they will read through multi-layers of paint and give you the results without damaging the surface.

Now, you can still have your home tested with an XRF analyzer. You just need to have a certified professional come and do it. They usually cost about $75 - $150 per test. That's a little better than $50,000.

If the test results are positive, how can you remove the lead and protect your children? 

Read How Do I Get Rid Of Lead in My Home?

For more information, check out:
Renovate Right, EPA document on lead poisoning and renovation
The Truth About Lead Paint Poisoning, tri-fold brochure
Steps to Lead Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting
American Healthy Home Survey, Lead and Arsenic Findings, April 2011

How Do I Get Rid Of Lead in My Home?

We discussed the problems with lead, especially how it harms children, and how to determine if you have lead in your home. Now we need to learn how to remove it or compensate for it.

Toys, appliances, etc.
Portable personal property items, such as; toys, cooking implements, decorations, etc. can easily be discarded and replaced with non-lead products. That's the easy part and don't bypass this step. I know of one family that was poisoning all of their children by using a lead alloy mortar and pestle to prepare food. Fortunately it was discovered, and now their children are improving in a lead-free environment. Many slow cookers, electric skillets and other older appliances have lead in the paint. They are not hard to test and easier to replace.

Lead paint on the walls
Lead in the structure of your home is not impossible to remove, but a little more difficult. Lead can be in the paint on the walls, the door and window trim, doors and shutters, floor finishes, etc.. The best way to remove it is to remove the surface it is painted on. 

  • This is easy for doors, trim and shutters, but more difficult for walls.  
  • Walls can be laminated with a layer of 1/2'' drywall trapping the lead and reducing the chance of contamination. 
  • Floors can be sanded and refinished with a non-lead product. 
  • Many surfaces can be painted over with 1-2 coats of a non-lead paint. It is important to clean the surface and apply a good primer, such as; Kilz or Zinsser, so the new paint adheres well and won't peel off later.
  • But there are a few caveats called safety precautions that must be understood and followed when removing or working around lead paint.
Safety precautions for lead renovation
Lead only becomes a problem when we breathe or swallow it. When you tear a wall out, or sand the surface of the paint, millions of tiny lead ladened particles become airborne, waiting to be ingested. We can consume a lifetime of lead in a few minutes during a sanding project. That is why the EPA established basic rules for remediation to ensure a safe environment during and after renovation.

1. There must be plastic laid out and taped to the floor, walls and ceilings for 6 ft each direction inside a home and 10 ft each direction outside a home.
2. All dust must be contained and not allowed to spread out of the environment. Often this requires a completely enclosed containment barrier with negative air pressure.
3. There is to be no eating, drinking or smoking inside the contained area or outside the area until workers are decontaminated.
4. Restrict access to the renovation area, especially children and pregnant women.
5. Anyone inside the contained area must wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including; disposable clothing, gloves, breathing protection, eye protection, etc..
6. Turn off any furnaces, air conditioners or fans before the work begins and and do not turn them on until the work is completed and the area is cleaned.
7. Post warning signs to keep unprotected or high risk individuals from entering.
8. At the end of the renovation, all equipment must be thoroughly cleaned and all disposable barriers, clothes, etc, must be doubled bagged and disposed of. 
That's way over my head, what can I really do?
There are many people, who, with the proper instruction and training, could remove the lead from their home without problems to their families. Many others would have a very difficult time, crash and burn, and likely contaminate themselves and those they loved. 

The next step? 
Use a Certified Lead Renovator. These contractors have taken the EPA approved courses, have the proper equipment and trained employees to do a thorough job. 

You can find local trained contractors in your area by going to the EPA site. On this page, you can select the link to your State where you should find a link to a list of Certified Renovation Contractors. If you state is not listed, there is a form you can fill out and send to the EPA so they can help locate the closests firms.

No you know who, what, why and how. Protect your family from the ravages of lead poisoning.

For more information, check out:
Renovate Right, EPA document on lead poisoning and renovation
The Truth About Lead Paint Poisoning, tri-fold brochure
Steps to Lead Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting
American Healthy Home Survey, Lead and Arsenic Findings, April 2011

Image courtesy of:

Freddie Gray, Lead Poisoning as a Child Lead to a Life of Chaos, Violence and an Early Death

Freddie Gray, the young man who died in police custody in Baltimore, had serious issues with lead poisoning. As a child, he lived in an apartment where paint was peeling from nearly every wall and window sill. There were always piles of paint chips on the floor that his mother continually tried to sweep up.

In 2008, the family won a judgement against the owner of the apartment building he grew up in because of the unprecedented exposure to lead. Freddie and his family were living off of the judgement at the time of his death.

How do we know that Freddie suffered from lead poisoning? It is all documented in the lawsuit.

Freddie has his blood checked for lead 3 times before he was 2 years old. At 22 months of age, his blood lead level (BLL) was at 37 micrograms. That level is more than 7 times the amount recommended by the CDC for children and nearly 4 times the amount recommended for an adult. 

Since it is documented that lead poisoning in children contributes to or causes; learning disabilities, anger management issues, physical complications and social problems, it is no wonder that Freddie Gray had been arrested over a dozen times and spent 2 years in prison by age 25.

The body treats lead, like calcium, depositing it in the same places the body uses calcium; primarily the nervous system and the bone structure. It is possible that the acute lead poisoning left his bones compromised and made him primed for a broken neck from the scuffle with the police, something that would likely not have occurred in someone without lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning is by no means justification for Freddie Gray's negative behavior, but it is a warning shot across the bow of society of the social and emotional cost of lead poisoning in our young people. Ever more reason to have children checked, homes renovated and lead out of our bodies.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How Do You Keep The Cash Flow Going?

This was the question I posted on the RIA forum on LinkedIn. This particular forum is populated with contractors that are working in the restoration industry. They are all primarily owners of restoration companies, sub-contractors and suppliers.

There were many great insights and suggestions to remain solvent, especially during the heavy crunch times. Here is the list of tips I distilled from the discussion.

1. Always have a line of credit available. If you can't get a line of credit, have 10% of your annual gross income as cash in the bank. If you can't do that, life may be hard at times.

2. Acquire the line of credit in advance of emergency needs. Once the heavy freezes happen or the tornado strikes, you don't have time to get a line of credit. It may also take a month or more to gather all the documentation, gain the approvals and set up a line of credit.

3. Make the conscious choice, in advance, to not extend credit to clients. It's like loaning money to family, don't do it unless you expect to not be paid back. There are many good people that will commit to a schedule and pay you back in full. The problem you face is, usually you are not set up to offer credit, charge interest, and follow up on collections. Also, once the emergency is past, the insurance adjuster and the owner lose their urgency to act now and make you happy.

4. Bill mitigation costs separately and invoice immediately. Progressive billing is the easiest way to avoid long payment wait times. Lien holders and mortgage companies do not have claim on any mitigation costs so they are left off the check. This enables you to get paid much faster with less effort on your part.

5. Once the building is stable, take the time to: 
        A. Complete repair estimates. Now that the building is 
stable, you can more clearly see what should be done and write an accurate estimate. Always include a comment to allow for supplementals that may not be included in your estimate. 

        B. Agree on a price with the payee. With an accurate estimate in hand, you can arrive at an agreed upon price with the adjuster or owner. Without a concrete price, everyone is uneasy with the situation. In some States, it is actually illegal to sign a contract without a price and a completion date included.

        C. Sign a contract. Until you sign a contract, you are dependent on the integrity of the owner for payment. Even if the insurance company pays the owner, you may not get paid if there is not a signed contract in place with the owner.

        D. Collect mitigation fees. You should always insist on the mitigation payment before any work begins on the repairs. Again, once the work is done, urgency and oral commitments seem to dissipate in the wind.

        E. Collect a deposit for the repairs before starting the restoration. Just as with payment for mitigation work, you should also get a deposit before you start the repairs. There are smaller jobs where this seems impractical, but 10 - $5,000 jobs quickly equal $50,000 in receivables that you may not be equipment to float.

6. Partner with companies that insure receivables and guarantee payments. There are some companies that will buy your receivables. Once the work is done, they collect the amounts owed. These companies are actually credit companies and have the machinery in place to collect money, something the typical restoration contractor doesn't have.

7. Offer instant credit card services for owners to pay deductible or emergency services on the spot. There some credit card companies that will do on-the-spot approvals. Many retail outlets use them for Lasik surgery, cosmetic surgery, expensive sewing machine and other equipment sales, etc. It is literally a phone call and 5 questions, then approval is issued on the spot. The credit limits range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Synchrony is one institution that offers these types of cards.

8. Possibly consider "program work" as shorter, guaranteed payment schedules often offset the lower prices paid and keep the cash flow going. Many start-up restoration companies can benefit from "program work" offered by large insurance companies. There are trade offs, but generally you have guaranteed payments on a shorter schedule. These programs are rife with regulations, monitoring and paperwork, but can help keep you solvent.

9. Lower your overhead costs by purchasing the equipment that you use everyday and renting all other specialty or seldom used equipment and labor. Generally you can rent equipment 10 times for the cost to purchase it. If it is not in the field every week or two, sell it and rent. This lowers your storage costs, equipment purchase costs and maintenance costs. You can set up accounts with your local rental facilities like Sunbelt or Interlink. Many times these rental places will also maintain and service the equipment on site, which also lowers your labor costs.

10. Sub-contract work to pre-screened, pre-trained contractors. Using the same principle as in #9, keep only the staff you will use on a daily basis and sub out the other work. You should screen and train these subs so that they will do the same quality of work as an in-house crew. When the lean times come, you don't have to lay them off, they will just work for someone else until your work picks back up again. If you take good care of them, they will always want to come back and they will put your jobs ahead of others.

11. Maintain a constant presence with the payee regarding invoices due. Call regularly and/or email often. Be just persistent enough to not quite be irritating. This will keep your invoice constantly moving up to the top of their piles. 

12. Provide incentives to pay quickly; discounts, interest, start of work, etc. It is easier to give a discount of 5% if the bill is paid within 10 days than spend weeks or months on the phone trying to collect. For many, 5% may seem like a lot, but look at the numbers. 

On a $50,000 job, 5% is $2500. If you spent 3 hrs/week for 16 weeks (4 months) trying to collect, you spent 48 hours. If your time is worth $50/hr, then you have lost another $2400, 48 hours x $50 = $2400. But, if the $47,500 came in without you have to spend any extra time collecting, you could use that 48 hours to generate additional work, and realize thousands of dollars in extra income, far more than you sacrificed. 
13. Never return contents or property to the owner without payment first. Once you have relinquished control of the property, you have lost all leverage you possessed. Let it be known from the onset, that nothing will be returned until it is paid for in full. All moving and storage companies will not release the property until it is paid in full. You may also need a clause that states, "Any property not paid and claimed within 30 days will be sold." The storage unit companies do it all the time.

Now, go to and make your business grow.

Photos courtesy of:


Friday, July 11, 2014

Re-ordering the Line Items in an Xactimate® Macro

Currently Xactimate® has no mechanics to re-order the line items in a macro, but there is a work-around that will enable you to quickly place the items in the order you wish them to appear.

The ideal way to order your macro is to enter all the items in the order you wish them to appear. Problems arise when you:

     1. Add one or more new items - the new item(s) are placed at the bottom of the list.

     2. Modify an existing item - the modified item(s) are moved to the bottom of the list.

     3. Import a macro - the macro is often inverted with the first item being last and the last item is first.

Since there is currently no way to drag and drop the line items, nor is there an arrow to moved items up or down, we need to use the existing protocol to change the order.

How to re-order a macro:
 Use the following steps to move items where you want them to be.

     1. Input your line items, they can be in any order or

     2. Make any modifications or edits to any items in the macro.

     3. Select the item you want to be in #1 position.

     4. Select Edit.

     5. Select Add Item.

     6. This will move this item to the bottom of the list.

     7. Select the item you want to be in #2 position.

     8. Select Edit.

     9. Select Add Item.

     10. This will move the item to the bottom of the list.

     11. Continue this procedure until you have gone through all the line items.

     12.They will now be in the order you wish them to appear when imported into 
           your estimate.

     13. A macro with 10 line items should take about 20 - 30 seconds to re-order.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thanks for Reading

Disaster Survival Tips has been around for 6 years. This month we topped 7000 page views from all over the world. While this is nothing like The Drudge Report that has over 700 million hits per month, I hope I have been able to help some people with the problems they face with their homes and offices.

Thanks again for reading.


Monday, February 24, 2014

What To Do With Wet Electronics

Alan growled as he started down the basement stairs and found the light switch didn't work. There was no way to replace it without fishing through the semi-darkness below and finding a new bulb. As he stepped off the bottom step onto the floor, an icy cold sensation entrapped his foot sending chills up his spine. Then the other foot landed with a splash and the shock of the cold water grabbing him above the ankles made him shiver. "Courtney," he screamed to his wife, "bring me a flashlight! And hurry."

In the eerie glow of the flashlight, standing safely on the bottom step, Alan and Courtney surveyed the damage to the family room. A large piece of drywall had fallen from the ceiling above the computer desk. Water sprayed from a broken pipe and cascaded down the monitor, printer, and computer into 6 inches of water on the floor. What a mess.

After the water was turn off and drained from the floor, Alan approached the computer. All of his records from his home-based business, decades of family photos, and years of genealogical research were stored in that plastic case. Without that information, continuing his work and family would be a nightmare. He had to know if it still worked.

He turned on the monitor and pushed the button on the computer. Nothing happened. No lights, no sound, . . . no hope.

So, what do you do when your electronics get wet?

First, we must define electronics as any item that has an electrical cord or a battery. The list is daunting, but it includes:

Stereos, cell phones, and sensors;
Tablets, TV's, and toasters;
Coffee makers, clocks, and computers.
First step:  Do not turn it on or plug it in.
Unfortunately, our immediate response is to see if our phone still works. We plug it in or turn it on and thereby cause most of the damage. Older electrical appliances like a toaster, lamp or vacuum can have power applied to them with minimal damage, although they often will not work while wet. But items with circuit boards, which includes any "smart" appliance, most adjustable gadgets and all equipment with a display screen, can be permanently damaged if they are turned on while still wet.

Here is the reason why.

Electricity is used to power electronics. Electricity travels very quickly through conductive materials like copper, aluminum or water. When there is enough water in a device to span one or more wires or conductors carrying power, the electricity jumps between them, causing a short and often burning up a component. In older items that have larger insulated wires, the terminals are far enough apart that they need to be submerged in water to cause a short. Since they have no small transistors, resistors or capacitors to burn out, they often just blow the breaker in the electrical panel of the home.

Circuit boards, on the other hand, are specifically designed to have many conductors in a very small space. They are packed with transistors, resistors and capacitors that control and define the flow of electricity. Chips and processors for computers, phones and watches can have hundreds of feet of uninsulated wire in an area smaller than your fingernail. A single drop of water can span dozens of wires and cause enough electrical shorts to completely destroy the unit.

Second step: Dry it out completely.
Professional electronics recovery laboratories have dedicated drying rooms that heat the temperature up as high as 140 degrees F. Dehumidifiers and exhaust fans pull any moisture from the air creating an environment dryer than the Mojave Desert. Electronic devices are dis-assembled, batteries removed and left in the drying chamber until completely dry, usually as little as 24 - 48 hours. Most computers, laptops, and printers, etc., have small batteries on the mother board in addition to the operating battery and/or power supply. These need to come out too as they can cause corrosion to their contacts through electrolysis.

Sometimes in the case of fires or mud, parts are first washed and rinsed with de-ionized water, then dried thoroughly in the chamber.

Some sources on the internet suggest placing wet electronics in a bowl of uncooked rice. This works because the desiccant properties of dry rice suck the moisture out of the phone. It works better if you remove the cover and battery, then bury all the parts in the rice.

Hair dryers could work if you didn't get the item too hot thereby damaging additional components and you could hold it there for 24-48 hours. Most hair dryers will over-heat and turn off in about 15 minutes, but if they didn't, the rest of us have other things to do today and tomorrow.

I have cell phones, digital thermometers, and watches that I have dried completely at home. Open them up, remove the battery and set them over a heat register in the winter or on a window sill on the south side of your house where the sun shines in most of the day. The display screen on my digital cooking thermometer was half full of water after it fell into the sink, but 24 hours on the window sill, it was dry and worked perfectly.

Third step: Re-assemble and see if it works.
Most of the time, electronic gadgets, dried properly, will work just fine, especially if they were turned off when they became wet. If not, then you will feel justified to pay for a replacement.

I once did a fire where the family had boat-loads of special collectables worth tens of thousands of dollars. With three-quarters of the house completely destroyed, it was impossible to reconstruct even part of the list of damaged items. Then the mother remembered that she had gone through the house with her son's digital camera a week before the fire and photographed all her collections.

We found the camera in the basement bedroom submerged in 6 inches of dirty, sooty water. We took the SD card out, cleaned in off, dried it and recovered all the photos. We could have saved the camera too, but the expense would have been greater than cost of a new camera.

So, to review.

What do you do when your electronics get wet?
First step:  Do not turn it on or plug it in, make sure it is off.
Second step: Open it up, remove any batteries, and dry it out completely.
Third step: Re-assemble the appliance and see if it works.