Steve Smout, senior loss adjuster for Crawford & Company®, has extensive experience handling flood claims and was one of the first adjusters on the scene when the Somerset Levels flooded in 2013 and 2014.
Now, eight weeks after the first in a trio of storms struck the UK, Steve outlines the key steps taken by adjusters as they deal with claims arising from Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank.
“If you saw the news, then you’ll know how this town and its surrounding area were devastated by the floods at Christmas,” said Steve, who has spent much of the past two months working in the Carlisle area of northern England.
“Flood claims are one of the most complex types of claims Crawford manages and can take a considerable amount of time to conclude, depending upon the severity of flooding and construction of affected buildings,” he said. “Once the news cameras leave, the general population has no idea what goes into repairing and restoring flooded properties, but I can assure you it’s a significant task.”
What Happens to a Flooded Home?
Flood water either washes through the building quickly, causing minimal damage. Or, it stands for weeks, which inevitably causes more problems.
“Depending upon the flood, the length of time water stands, and the kind of construction, drying a property can take a few weeks to many months,” said Steve. “The loss adjuster’s job is to work with specialist drying companies to determine the drying regime for each property—ensuring the extent of a strip-out, equipment necessary and the drying period required. Once the property is dry, reinstatement begins.”
When significant flooding occurs, as the UK experienced during December 2015 and early January 2016, thousands of properties can be affected across a large area.
“After completing our first visits as soon as possible, our focus turns to managing the drying process. First and foremost, our job requires listening to customers and establishing what’s most important to them,” Steve added. “Each customer faces different circumstances and has lost most, if not all, of his or her most cherished possessions after a flood.
“Shelter is the next immediate goal—getting homeowners into alternative accommodations somewhere local. Ideally, we try to locate available short-hold tenancy properties. But when this isn’t possible, we look for hotels and frequently call on the kindness of family or friends.”
Enduring the Long Haul
Sadly, because of the amount of standing water properties were left in, thousands of complex claims have emerged from the UK’s winter storms. Steve said, “The journey for claims valued at more than £100,000 takes between six and 12 months, but it’s important that the property undergoes sufficient drying—no easy task when average rainfall is off the charts.”
The next stage is to list, photograph and remove wet contents from the property.
“Most items cannot be salvaged from a flood,” said Steve. “Electrical items are usually beyond repair; soft furnishings, books and documents will be ruined; wooden furniture usually warps as it dries; and even items like pots and pans should be thrown away because although they don’t appear damaged, they have been soaking in pretty unpleasant water. We try to recover items with sentimental value but aren’t always successful.”
The next step is for electricians and plumbers to safely reinstate utility supplies. This enables adjusters to undertake a property strip out—removing damaged building elements such as floor boards, kitchens, skirting boards, doors architraves and plaster.
“We also need to install heat sources in the property,” added Steve. “Restoring heat and creating an ambient temperature allows us to start the drying process before the drying companies install their equipment. It is critical to implement the correct drying regime so the building can be dried quickly and effectively. Typical equipment includes dehumidifiers and air movers of varying types, depending upon the size of the building.”
Speed drying is an alternative drying option that has been around for some time. “It involves using high temperatures, usually above 50° Celsius, to dry a building,” said Steve. “This isn’t always suitable but can be advantageous, particularly when ongoing alternative accommodation or business interruption issues ensue.”
When Waters Recede
Crawford’s teams are approaching the main drying period since flood waters have receded for a few weeks. But Steve warns that the longer a property was submerged, the longer the drying process can take.
“In Somerset, water sat in many properties for five weeks,” he said. “Speed drying allowed us to dry some properties in as little as seven days. Others required traditional drying methods and took four to five weeks.”
The UK’s typical housing stock includes numerous conjoined or ‘terraced’ properties, which creates additional post-flood challenges. “Many are mid-terrace Victorian houses,” Steve said. “If we dry the one in the middle, it absorbs moisture from properties on the left and right. So we need to coordinate the drying process.
“Another challenge is a lack of local builders. With so many houses damaged, we’ll have to draft in builders from other parts of the country,” he said.
Refurbishment Finally Begins
Three to four weeks before the building phase ends, the policyholders—who will have received cash payments from their insurers—can start placing deposits on their new white goods and carpets, choosing curtains and decorations.
“It will be August before you know it, and most policyholders will be back in their homes and ready for the new school year,” said Steve. “Being displaced from your home for months on end is far from ideal, but we do our best to minimise disruption. Crawford’s experience in dealing with a rising number of floods has led us to innovate numerous solutions—from speed drying to low-cost building networks. We always look for ways to deliver a better service when required next time.”