Is Bathing During a Thunderstorm Safe?
Did your mother used to tell you that you should avoid bathing or showering during a lightning storm because there was a chance that you could get electrocuted?
As a child, this kind of warning was terrifying. As an adult, it has the ring of an old wives’ tale. But is there any truth to it?
As it turns out, yes: there’s a real possibility that you could be electrocuted if you take a shower during an electrical storm. Our source? The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/15/health/15real.html
As the NYT writes, and as every graduate of fourth-grade science class knows, both metal pipes and water are extremely conductive of electricity. While your house was likely built with some kind of mechanism for channeling the electricity from a lightning strike into the ground, it’s not always perfect. According to Ron Holle of NOAA, between 10 and 20 people every year get electrocuted while bathing, using faucets or handling appliances during storms.
So if you take a shower, is it likely that you’ll be electrocuted? Probably not. But there is a chance.
Why is Flood Water Considered to be Category 3?
In water damage restoration, we use different categories as a shorthand to assess the level of contamination in the water that we encounter. Category 1 water is relatively clean (e.g. a water supply line); Category 2 water is significantly contaminated (e.g. a dishwasher leak); and Category 3 water is grossly contaminated (e.g. sewage).
Many people are surprised to find out that flood water is considered to be Category 3. In their minds, flood water either came from heavy rains or from a nearby body of water. While you might not want to drink the water from your local creek, it hardly seems like it should be considered to be “grossly contaminated.”
With flood water, this categorization usually stems less from the source of the water and more from what the water picked up on the way. You have no idea what kind of sediment, pathogens or contamination that the water encountered before it made its way into your structure. Since the water is likely full of hitchhiking contaminants, we consider it to be Category 3 and treat it accordingly.
What Makes Something a Flash Flood?
The weather report often gets a bad rap for being unreliable and imprecise. The meteorologists on TV might call for rain and get sunshine, or vice versa, and all of a sudden people start to discount everything that they say.
While the science of predicting the weather can sometimes be a probabilistic guessing game, the language that we use to describe particular weather events is usually very, very precise.
Take the difference between a “flood” and a “flash flood.” You probably have a vague grasp of what separates the two, but could you put it into writing?
A flood is defined by the National Weather Service as “an overflow of water onto normally dry land.” Water levels rise in existing waterways because of precipitation, and floods spill out and cause trouble.
Flash floods, meanwhile, are tied to a timeline: six hours. If the rainfall that caused the flooding occurred in a six-hour timespan, and the flooding was nearly immediate, then it’s a flash flood. Actually, flash floods can be declared even if no rain has fallen so long as there’s an influx of water, as in a dam or a levee breaking.
What to Do During a Flood Watch or Warning
Floods can be extremely dangerous events. Not only are the waters themselves capable of causing enormous amounts of damage and loss of life, but the water itself is often contaminated with infectious disease and chemical hazards.
If there’s a flood watch or warning happening in your area, it’s important for you to spring into action immediately to prepare for the worst. The CDC recommends doing the following during a flood watch:
- Gather up your emergency kit (and if you don’t already have one, make one!);
- Stay tuned to local updates on TV. If the power’s out, use a self-powered radio to monitor.
- Build up a supply of clean water. You may want to consider filling your bathtub, sink and any clean plastic/glass bottles that you have as well. Sinks should be well-sanitized before being filled.
- If you keep anything outside (like patio furniture or your grill), bring it in or tie it down.
- If you have to evacuate, turn off your utilities and close your gas valve.
- Follow evacuation instructions exactly. Even if there is no evacuation order in place, consider leaving if you are in a particularly vulnerable location (e.g. somewhere at a low elevation).
By following these tips, you’ll be prepared in case the worst happens.
Returning Home After a Flood
If your home or business has suffered flood damage, then it is incredibly important to react intelligently and safely. Even if the standing water itself has dissipated, there still may be serious threats to your and your family’s health lurking where you’d least expect. Even returning from the evacuation point can be dangerous.
To the greatest extent possible, you should avoid coming into contact with flood water. Definitely do not use it as an alternative to regular water, even if you’re just using it to quickly rinse your hands off. Flood water can contain contaminants and pathogens that can cause health effects.
Do not return to your home until you’ve been cleared to do so. It can be tempting to come home as soon as possible, but you should follow the instructions of your local authorities to the letter.
If you’re traveling, avoid driving through standing water. Even levels as low as six inches can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
If you follow these tips, you should be able to return to your home safely.
Cleaning Your Home After a Flood
Imagine that you and your family have been forced to evacuate because of a flash flood in your area. You rush to the evacuation shelter, wait it out, and get the all clear to return home. Your worries are over, right?
Wrong. If your home has been affected by flood waters, there are still serious health effects that you need to be aware of as things get back to normal.
A good mantra is “when in doubt, throw it out.” If any of your food or water has come into contact with flood water, even if it’s in a container (like bottled water), you should toss it out.
Similarly, any drywall, carpets or insulation that have been contaminated with flood water should be thrown away as well. This practice is consistent with the IICRC’s Standard of Care.
Any porous belongings should also be tossed. Things like mattresses, pillows and even stuffed animals cannot be properly sanitized after coming into contact with flood water and should be thrown away.
Non-porous materials, on the other hand, may be able to be cleaned with household bleach. Make sure you dilute the bleach to the proper concentration before using it.
Remember: flood water is generally considered to be “grossly contaminated” with pathogens, on the same level as sewage. Treat it with extreme caution.
What's So Bad About Soot?
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And there’s also soot, which can actually be one of the most tedious and difficult to deal with aspects of fire damage cleanup and restoration. Despite its appearance as black dust or dirt, soot is chemically different than any regular soil that you’d encounter in your home, and it takes a professional to deal with it effectively.
How can you recognize soot? Usually, it’s brown or black and powdery. It’s what makes something that’s been exposed to fire look charred, but it can also fly around your home and settle on things that were not seriously damaged by the flames.
In fact, soot is made up of the things that were burned by the flames. It’s the leftover particles that were not totally combusted. To that end, not all soot is the same - its qualities are dependent on what was actually burned.
Because of that, the cleaning process for soot is also very dependent on what was actually burned. The chemical composition of burnt plastic, for instance, varies greatly from that of burnt proteins, and must be handled accordingly.
No matter the type of soot, though, you don’t want it in your home. The presence of soot, even if it isn’t obviously visible, can lead to drastically reduced air quality, which in turn can lead to serious health effects. If you have soot in your home, don’t take any chances - leave the cleaning to the professionals.
Why Hire IICRC-Certified Fire Restoration Technicians?
We heard an interesting story the other day about a fire damage cleanup that we’d like to share with you (without naming any names, of course).
A fire recently swept through a lovely apartment building. While the fire itself was contained to a single unit, the smoke from the fire infiltrated hallways, common areas and apartments throughout the building.
The property manager hired what she thought was a professional fire damage restoration company. As it turned out, this company relied mostly on temporary labor, overseen by managers who spent most of their day herding cats instead of strategically approaching their restoration projects.
After the cleaning was done, the property manager was disappointed to find that the apartment still reeked of smoke. While she did not visually see any remnants of the fire, she had a bad feeling that she’d been given a raw deal. So she called SERVPRO.
During the initial walkthrough, it didn’t take our manager very long to shake his head and ask whether the cleaners had been IICRC-certified technicians or temporary workers. The property manager confirmed that they were temps, and asked how our manager knew.
“Simple,” he said. He lifted a framed photo off of the wall - behind it was a rectangle of heavy soot. No one had bothered to tell the temps to clean behind the photos, so they hadn’t. The property was still infested with soot particles - just none that you could see without a proper investigation.
It’s so important to trust your fire damage restoration to a reputable company that employs certified technicians. With restoration, it is very easy to cut corners in ways that aren’t always immediately obvious. The consequences of that kind of poor workmanship, however, can be deadly serious.
Furnace Puffbacks: Sometimes Silent, Always Dangerous
We’d like to share a story about a very dangerous situation that we ran into recently.
A wonderful woman (let’s call her Jean) lived alone in her home, with her adult children living nearby.
Every time her children came over, they would express surprise that their mother (who had always kept a spotless home) was allowing her house to become so overrun with dust.
“I can’t keep up,” she told them. “I dust every day - it just comes back.”
Nobody thought much of it until one day, her son walked in to find his mother passed out on the floor. He rushed her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with severe respiratory issues and barely made it out of the ICU.
After some investigation, the son found out that the dust they’d been commenting on was not dust at all - it was soot. His mother’s newly installed furnace had been improperly set up, and for over a year, it had been venting noxious fumes and toxic soot into her house every time she turned it on.
The problem was soon rectified, and appropriate actions were sought against the installer. The next step was to call SERVPRO of West Seneca/Lancaster to clean up the mess - a cleanup that turned out to be fully covered by his mother’s homeowners insurance.
Today, Jean is in excellent health and back in her home. But let her story be a lesson to you - if you have any reason to suspect that soot is building up in your home, or that your furnace is puffing back, do not wait to seek professional guidance. Your health may depend on it.
Is Arson Covered by Insurance?
Here’s a question that we hope that you never have to ask yourself: is arson covered by my homeowners insurance?
The sad fact of that matter is no - in most cases, your insurance will not cover a fire that was set maliciously by another party. We’ve run into plenty of cases where fires have been caused by spurned romantic partners, disgruntled employees and bored kids, and insurance coverage has always been notoriously hard to come by for the victims.
Insurance carriers have a good reason for denying claims related to arson: it eliminates the incentive for people to set fire to their own homes, or to pay someone to do it.
That said, there have been cases in the past where insurance carriers will deny a claim simply on the suspicion of arson, without solid evidence that arson actually took place. In situations like this, the homeowner’s best bet is to work hand-in-hand with the fire department’s investigator to gather evidence and build a case of their own. They may even want to hire an independent investigator to help them. By presenting this evidence to the insurance carrier and insisting on fair treatment, they stand the best possible chance of getting their loss covered.