Recent Posts

Landscape Grading & Keeping your Basement Dry

1/18/2018 (Permalink)

It's hard to imagine right now, but spring will be here before you know it.  And while spring may be a welcome sight for many of us, it isn't without it's problems.  Many of you will find wet foundation walls or even water in your basement during the spring thaw.  There are a couple of reasons why this might happen.  One of them is something many of us never think about and that's the grading of our yards.  

According to Wikipedia, "Grading in civil engineering and landscape architectural construction is the work of ensuring a level base, or one with a specified slope for a construction work such as a foundation, the base course for a road or railway, or landscape and garden improvements, or surface drainage."

It is important that the ground around your home slopes away from your foundation so that water, or surface drainage, from heavy rains or melting snow, runs away from your foundation and your home.  Ground that is flat or slopes toward your foundation is a recipe for wet basement walls or water in your basement.   

Proper slope and surface drainage is something that should be checked periodically.  Ground shifts and settles with freezing and thawing, erosion and other impacts of nature.  Settling ground is particularly pronounced in newer homes where the ground has recently been disturbed to build the home.  The ground will compress or settle downward.  Evidence of this will be more visually apparent in sinking walk ways or patios, but may not be as obvious in the ground around the foundation of the home as it is often hidden by shrubs and plants in landscape beds.  It's important to check for proper slope every year or so and fill in with dirt if necessary to help keep your foundation walls and basement dry.

What is the proper slope away from your foundation?  The consensus seems to be 6 inches for the first 10 feet extending out from your foundation.  This translates to a slope of 5%. According to the Spruce,  

"To find the slope away from your foundation, you will need:

  • Some string (at least 12 feet long)
  • 2 stakes (we will call them "A" and "B"), and something to pound them into the ground
  • A string level (that is, a type of level designed to fit on a piece of string)
  • A tape measure

Do You Already Have the Correct Slope?

Using the above supplies, take the following steps to determine if sufficient slope currently exists:

  1. Tie one end of the string loosely around stake A.
  2. Pound stake A into the ground right near your foundation
  3. Slide the string down stake A, so that it rests at ground level
  4. Tie the other end of the string loosely around stake B.
  5. Now measure out 10 feet down the slope from stake A, and pound stake B into the ground there (if there is excess string, just wrap it around stake B). The string between the stakes should be fairly taut, but still adjustable.
  6. Slide the string up or down stake B, so as to make it roughly level.
  7. Put the string level on the string, at about the mid-point between the stakes.
  8. Now adjust the string up or down on stake B, so as to make it exactly level.
  9. Measure the distance from the string on stake B to the ground. Is the measurement 6 inches or more?" 

And if you do find yourself with wet foundation walls or a wet basement, SERVPRO of Appleton is always here to help.

Electrical Fires & Arc Faults

1/17/2018 (Permalink)

Electrical fires are one of the leading causes of home fires.  And while things like faulty wiring, overheating appliances, misuse of extension cords and heating units, and even faulty light fixtures are most often the cause, it's important to note that the underlying cause is most often arc fault conditions.  The National Fire Protection Agency and the National Association of State Fire Marshals, estimate that 50 to 75 percent of all electrical home fires in the United States are caused by arc fault conditions.  An arc fault is a high power discharge of electricity between two or more conductors.  This discharge creates heat, which can break down the insulation covering wires and trigger and electrical fire.

So while it's important to take precautions like not overloading electrical outlets, inspecting appliance cords for damage, keeping combustible materials away from heat sources, and watching for signs of faulty wiring like switches that crackle or lights that dim, it's also a good idea to install arc fault circuit interrupters where appropriate.  While conventional circuit breakers respond to short circuits and overloads, arc fault circuit interrupters, detect an electrical arc and break the circuit if one is detected. Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters are selective. Normal arcs do not cue them to trip.  Their circuitry continuously monitors the electrical current and discriminates between normal and unwanted arcing conditions.  

Hot Water Heater Leaks

1/16/2018 (Permalink)

Most of us rarely think about our hot water heaters until they either fail to give us hot water or they leak all over our basement and cause significant damage. But in fact, due to the nature of what they due, water heaters are prone to leaks and often cause significant damage to your basement, especially if your basement is finished.  It's a much harder clean up if you have wet carpeting and drywall versus cement floor and walls.  

Hot water heaters operate by bringing cold water into the tank at the bottom.  This water is then heated using natural gas, propane, fuel oil or electricity.  The hot water then rises to the top where it is released to wherever warm water is needed in your home, while more cold water comes back into the tank to replace it, and the cycle continues.  This process results in various spots where water can leak.

  • Whenever you have a plumbing connection or plumbing lines, you have the potential for a leak and there are several near your water heater
  • Because water is being heated, water heaters have a temperature & pressure relief valve.  These valves can be faulty and cause a leak, or they can leak due to excessive pressure, overheating, or becoming stuck
  • Your water heater has a drain valve.  This drain valve can fail to close completely and can cause leak.   
  • If you have an electric water heater, leaks can occur due to a loose heating element or a bad gasket
  • The tank itself can corrode and water can leak out the bottom

To protect yourself from significant water damage from a leaky hot water heater, you can install an automatic water shut off valve.  Moisture sensors are placed on the floor near or under the water heater.  If a leak is detected, the sensors send a signal to the control box which in turn closes the valve, shutting off the water supply.   

Frozen Water Pipes

1/8/2018 (Permalink)

Much of the country recently experienced a severe cold snap.  And as temperatures began to rise this past weekend, we at SERVPRO were inundated with calls to clean up water damage at both commercial and residential properties due to burst water pipes.  It may seem counter intuitive.  The temperatures are rising, so why are pipes bursting now?

Without getting into the chemistry of water and what causes it, suffice it to say that water expands as it freezes.  While this expansion can cause a weak pipe to burst, it's usually not the direct cause of a burst pipe.  Pipes usually burst where little or no ice has formed.  That's because the break is usually the result of increased pressure in the pipe and not expanding ice.  Pipes burst when water thaws and begins to flow, but then runs into other, still-frozen parts of the pipe and builds up pressure.  

What can you do to prevent burst pipes?  The simple and most direct answer is to keep your water pipes warm and prevent them from freezing.  Typically homes in Wisconsin are built with the water pipes located on the inside of the building insulation, which protects the pipes from subfreezing weather.  That said, if your homes insulation is inadequate, you may have a problem. Also consider that any hole on an outside wall for things like television or cable wires, phone wires, or even furnace exhaust vents, can let cold air in.  These openings need to be properly insulated as well.  If you're building a new home, or doing a home remodel project, it's also a good idea to locate your plumbing pipes on inside walls versus outside walls whenever possible. 

To further protect your water pipes, it's a good idea to insulate the pipes themselves.  Most hardware stores or home improvement stores carry foam rubber or fiberglass sleeves that most homeowners can install themselves.  Plumbing supply stores and insulation dealers carry pipe sleeves that feature extra-thick insulation, as much as one or two inches thick.  These sleeves will obviously cost a little more but may be worth the extra cost.  

One last thing to consider.  The best insulation in your home, and on your pipes, may not be enough to protect your pipes from freezing during a particularly cold spell like the one we recently had, if your furnace goes out while you are out of town on vacation.  If you plan to be out of town during the winter months, you may want to consider purchasing a remote temperature monitor.  A remote temperature monitor is a digital thermometer that tracks ambient changes in temperature.  The sensor then streams the temperature data using wireless technology such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or GSM to your computer, tablet or cell phone.  This way you can be alerted to any problems at home, even when you're away, so that you can send someone to address the problem before it's too late.  Remote temperature monitors are not terribly expensive.  They can be purchased on-line or at hardware stores and home improvement stores for as little as $50 or less.

And as always, if one of your water pipes bursts and floods your home or business, the experts at SERVPRO of Appleton are here to help.    

2018 CE Classes for Insurance Professionals

1/5/2018 (Permalink)

SERVPRO of Appleton is proud to announce that we will once again be hosting free continuing education classes for insurance professionals at the Timber Rattlers Stadium.  There will be a 3 credit morning session on Ethics and a 2 credit afternoon session on Mold in the Restoration Industry.  This years event will be held on March 14th.  This is always a popular event, so register early.

You can register by calling our office at (920) 832-1110 or email: jleadley@SERVPROappleton.com 

Preventing Bathroom Mold

1/3/2018 (Permalink)

What does mold need to grow?  In order for mold to grow, it needs oxygen, moisture, warmth and food.  The ideal spot for mold to grow would be a warm place (somewhere between 77 and 86 degrees), with a high amount of humidity or moisture, and organic matter, like cotton, paper or wood for the mold to feed upon.  This makes our bathrooms an ideal spot for mold growth.  Our bathrooms tend to be warm, they contain things like towels, toilet paper, and woodwork for the mold to feed upon, and they often have high levels of relative humidity from running water and steam from hot showers.  So what can you do to prevent mold from growing in your bathroom?  

First make sure that your bathroom is properly ventilated. Poor ventilation is one of the most common causes of bathroom mold.  Without proper ventilation, steam/moisture in the air from hot showers and running water, settles on bathroom surfaces and makes a perfect environment for mold growth.  Every bathroom should have a clean and properly functioning ventilation fan permanently mounted in the ceiling and it should be turned on every time someone showers.  They are inexpensive and can be purchased at most hardware and home improvement stores.  A properly installed and functioning, ventilation fan in your bathroom's ceiling will help move the air out of your bathroom and clear the humidity caused by hot showers and other running water.  It is important however to ensure that your ventilation fan has been properly installed and is venting the moist bathroom air outside of your home versus into your attic or some other room.  If it improperly vents into another area of your home, you are simply transferring your problem from one location to another. If your bathroom does not have a ventilation fan, instead of showering with the bathroom door closed, as most of us do, an alternative until a ventilation fan can be installed, would be to leave the bathroom door open while showering.  This will allow the steam/humidity to dissipate over a larger area reducing its impact.  Another alternative during warm weather months, or in warm climates, would be to open a bathroom window while showering or even putting a box fan in the window with the air blowing out of the bathroom versus in.  And of course, abstaining from very long, hot showers is always recommended when trying to prevent mold.   

Regularly cleaning your bathroom by wiping down all surfaces at least once a week will also help keep mold in check.  And when it comes to cleaning/preventing mold, wiping is always the best approach.  Molds are fungi that reproduce by releasing spores into the air.  Spraying bleach on mold may look like an easy fix.  When you spray bleach on mold it looks like it almost instantly disappears.  Unfortunately, when you spray bleach on mold, you are releasing the mold spores into the air.  Think of it like a mature dandelion that you have just gently blown upon and released the seeds floating into the air on their white dried flowers.  The mold spores that you have just released by spraying bleach upon them, float through the air and settle onto new surfaces, where they can begin to grow again if the conditions are right.  Wiping with soap and water, or another cleaner, and then throwing away any rags that may contain beginning mold spores is your best bet.

Also when it comes to mold in bathrooms, consider that caulk and grout are there to block or keep out water and moisture.  If you have missing or broken caulk or grout, water and moisture can get behind the tiles and mold can form behind the tiles where it's impossible for you to see or clean. It's important to regularly replace and/or maintain your bathroom caulk and grout.

Lastly, painting your bathroom with a mold resistant paint and/or primer will help you battle mold in your bathroom.  As indicated earlier, mold needs a food source of organic matter.  Drywall paper can be a source of food for mold.  Using a mold-resistant paint on bathroom walls can help stop mold before it starts by sealing off access to a food source.   

And as always, if you do develop a problem with mold, SERVPRO of Appleton is here to help.

Kitchen Grease Fire

7/19/2017 (Permalink)

Your home’s kitchen is where heat, electricity, water, and grease come together. It’s no wonder, kitchen fires are the number one cause of home fires.  And the most common type of kitchen fire is a grease fire.  A grease fire is extremely dangerous as it can get out of control quickly and spread from the stove throughout the kitchen and other rooms of the house. 

There are two common types of grease fires in the kitchen.  One is in the cooking pan itself and the other is under the burner in the drip pan. Often, drip pan fires result from previous cooking sessions. When something is spilled into the drip pan it cannot be cleaned until the burner and the stove has cooled.  It’s not uncommon for people to forget to go back and clean the drip pan, setting themselves up for trouble the next time they cook.    

Here are some tips for preventing kitchen grease fires:

  1. Before cooking anything, make sure the burner is cool and wipe up any spills in the drip pan and around the burner before turning on the heat.
  2. The most common reason for a grease fire is leaving a hot pan unattended. Keep your eye on all pans while cooking.
  3. Pay attention to heat ratings for cooking oil. Some oils can be heated more than others before catching fire.  If you are cooking and the oil starts to smoke, it is too hot.  The flash point of a grease fire is 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease will smoke furiously before it ignites, so if you notice smoke, turn down the heat immediately.
  4. Keep cookbooks, towels, paper towels and anything combustible away from the stove. A grease fire can quickly turn into a bigger fire if it catches onto other combustibles. 
  5. Avoid heating grease before putting food into it. Food can fall quickly into the grease and make it splash out, causing grease burns to you or hitting the heat source and catching fire.
  6. When deep frying, use a pan or cooking container designed for deep frying that will allow equal space of the grease and food contents above what you are frying. For example, if you are cooking chicken and the grease and chicken are three inches deep, the pan sides should be at least six inches deep. 
  7. Have a class ABC fire extinguisher in your kitchen. Experts recommend having at least three fire extinguishers in your home; in the kitchen, garage and main living area.
  8. If a pan does catch fire, the best thing to do is smoother it, by using an oven mitt and placing a lid on top of the pan or by using a fire extinguisher. NEVER throw water on the fire or try to run it to the sink or outside. 

And if a kitchen grease fire does get out of control, resulting in damage or odor to your home, our experts at SERVPRO of Appleton are here to help.  We can clean your home "Like it never even happened."   

Preventing Attic Mold

6/2/2017 (Permalink)

Mold Remediation Preventing Attic Mold Anatomy of an Ice Dam

Anywhere in your home with moist, warm air is an ideal environment for mold to grow.  For some of us, moist, warm air can be found in our attics.  And unfortunately, many of us rarely, if ever, go up in our attics, so any problems can go unchecked for long periods of time.  It’s important to check your attic periodically for common causes of attic mold.

Anything that introduces water or moisture to your attic can be a problem.  Things like:

1)       Leaking Roof - Sometimes a roof leak is bad enough that water leaks into the floors below and becomes immediately apparent.  However often the leak is small enough to cause attic mold, without being apparent in the living spaces of the home. 

2)      Dryer Vents, Plumbing Vents, and Kitchen or Bathroom Fans vented in to the attic -  This practice can pump warm, moist air into the attic where it can be trapped and begin the cycle of mold growth.  It is always best to vent these items outside of the home.

3)      Missing or Improperly Installed Insulation -   Missing or improper installation of the wrong kind of insulation can cause problems in multiple ways.  Moisture from the lower levels of the home can rise and get trapped in the attic.  Additionally, it can create moisture or condensation in your attic.  Think of your attic like a cold glass of ice water outside on a hot summer day.  The water is a much lower temperature than the air around it and condensation develops on the glass.  If there is missing or improperly installed insulation, this same principle can apply when your home is air conditioned to 70 degrees, but your attic temperature is 99 degrees.  Lastly, missing or improperly installed insulation can lead to number four……

4)      Ice Damming – An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow (water) from draining off the roof. The water that backs up behind the dam can leak into your home and cause damage to walls, ceilings, insulation, and create a perfect environment for mold growth. It’s important before winter to clean your gutters so that winter’s melting snow and rain can properly drain off your roof.  Additionally, improper insulation can contribute to ice damming by allowing warm air from inside your home to escape into the attic.

5)      Inadequate Ventilation - It seems counter-intuitive, but the basic ventilation principal for your attic is to keep it as cool as possible during the cold season.  Pay attention to your roof after snow storms.  If you look at your roof several days after a snow and you see an even distribution covering your roof, that’s a good sign that your attic is properly ventilated.  If on the other hand, you see sections where snow has melted, that suggests an area in the attic where warm air has been trapped instead of being properly vented to the exterior.  Make sure your soffit vents are clear and free of things like debris, bird’s nests and insulation.

6)      Water Heaters or Furnaces installed in the attic -  While not a common practice in Wisconsin, sometimes homes without a basement will have water heaters or furnaces in the attic. You may also see this practice in larger homes with several heating and cooling zones, as well as spa style bathrooms with a huge soaking tub, where it is common practice to have designated systems to support these luxuries.  Unfortunately, this practice can contribute to adding moisture to your attic and contribute to mold growth if there are any leaks from these items.    

Cleaning Your Grill

5/11/2017 (Permalink)

Summer grilling season is upon us!  Here are some tips for getting your grill ready for the season.

"To clean the grill surface when it is heavily caked with baked-on food, follow this procedure.  Simply wrap the rack in a peace of heavy-duty aluminum foil, dull side facing out.  Heat the barbecue to high heat and place the rack over the coals or flame for approximately 10 to 12 minutes.  When you remove the foil after it has cooled, all the burned-on grease and food drippings will fall off and your rack will be spotless and ready to grill again."

To clean the outside of your grill, try this fast and easy method.  "It works well on charcoal and gas grills and will make them look almost like new.  Take some Go-Jo Waterless Hand Cleaner (available at grocery stores, hardware stores and home centers) and rub it on the outside of a cool grill with an old rag or paper towel.  Work it into the metal well, paying special attention to any grease or barbeque sauce spots.  Do not rinse; instead, take paper towels and buff the grill surface and watch as the dirt is replaced by a great shine." 

"Talking Dirty with the Queen of Clean" Linda Cobb

Dehumidifier Recalls

5/9/2017 (Permalink)

We all know that spring and summer can bring increased humidity levels in the air.  This can present a special problem for areas of our home that are already prone to high humidity levels like basements and laundry rooms.  Dehumidifiers reduce indoor humidity which is important because excessive humidity can cause mold, mildew and an increase in other potential allergens. Additionally, humidity can make the indoor temperature feel hotter than it is.

But you should also be aware that as with any other electrical appliance in your home, dehumidifiers bring the risk of fire. They have numerous moving parts that generate significant amounts of heat, including motors, compressors and condensers. Dehumidifiers often run for long periods of time out of view in the basement, which amplifies the risk. 

Don’t forget to clean and maintain your dehumidifier regularly according to the manufacturer’s directions and be aware that in recent years, there have been multiple dehumidifier recalls due to fire risk.  SERVPRO of Appleton and SERVPRO of Winnebago County has been called in to clean up multiple fires caused by dehumidifiers.

In November of 2016, ABC News reported that a recall of millions of dangerous dehumidifiers that can overheat, smoke and catch fire was reannounced, in an effort to get more consumers to check their units.  Gree USA and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission jointly publicized the recall for a second time.  The CPSC first announced the recall in September of 2013.  The recall affects about 2.5 million dehumidifiers sold in the United States and 55,000 sold in Canada.

According to ABC News, “The appliances were manufactured by Gree Electric Appliances of China and sold under various brand names including Danby, De’Longhi, Fedders, Fellini, Frigidaire, GE, Gree, Kenmore, Norpole, Premiere, Seabreeze, SoleusAir and SuperClima.

Retailers that sold them included AAFES, HH Gregg, Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s, Menards, Mills Fleet Farm, Sam’s Club, Sears, Walmart and other stores nationwide and in Canada, and online at Amazon.com and Ebay.com.

The recall involves various models of 20, 25, 30, 40, 45, 50, 65 and 70-pint dehumidifiers.

For a full list of affected model numbers, click here.

The model number and date code are on a sticker on the back, front or side of the dehumidifier.

If you have one of these dehumidifiers, immediately unplug and stop using it and contact Gree for a full refund. You may call toll-free at (866) 853-2802 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time Monday through Friday or go to www.greeusa.com and click on “Recall” for more information.”

In November of 2016, ABC News also reported that, “Midea announced a recall of 3.4 million units – for similar reports of smoke and fire -- sold under these brands: Airworks, Alen, Arcticaire, Arctic King, Beaumark, Coolworks, ComfortAire, Comfort Star, Continental Electic, Crosley, Daewoo, Danby, Danby & Designer, Dayton, Degree, Diplomat, Edgestar, Excell, Fellini, Forest Air, Frigidaire, GE, Grunaire, Hanover, Honeywell, Homestyles, Hyundai, Ideal Air, Kenmore (Canada), Keystone, Kul, Midea, Nantucket, Ocean Breeze, Pelonis, Perfect Aire, Perfect Home, Polar Wind, Premiere, Professional Series, Royal Sovereign, Simplicity, Sunbeam, SPT, Sylvania, TGM, Touch Point, Trutemp, Uberhaus, Westpointe, Winix, and Winixl.”

Be sure to check if your dehumidifier is one of the recalled units.