Flu Facts: Protect Yourself this Flu Season

It’s all over the news: this year’s flu season is a big one, the most aggressive in more than 13 years.  Dr. Dan Jernigan, Director of the Influenza Division in the CDC’s national center, shared, “It has been a tough flu season so far this year. And while flu activity is beginning to go down in parts of the country, it remains high for most the U.S., with some areas still rising.”   Therefore, it is still very important to stay vigilant and take precautions to protect yourself and your family from catching the flu.

Most people who get the flu, will experience a variety of symptoms including fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches, and fatigue.  Most people will recover following only a brief period of discomfort, however the very young, the elderly and the immune compromised are at high risk for more severe symptoms including death.  Interestingly, this year’s flu is also affecting the baby boomer crowd particularly hard, ages 50-65.

How Does Flu Spread?

The CDC website states, “People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.”   If you are sick, it is best to stay home to avoid spreading the flu to others.

The flu virus is not a very strong virus outside of the body and does not live on surfaces for very long.  It does live longest on hard surfaces, up to 24 hours.  WebMD, states that the flu virus lives only minutes on soft surfaces such as towels and pillow cases, but it is still best not to share.  Cleaning products that contain bleach, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and detergents (soap) can kill the flu virus.  Periodic wiping of hard surfaces can help reduce spread from surface contact, however the CDC shares that flu spread from hard surfaces is less common than airborne, droplet spread.

How Long Am I Contagious?

You may be contagious even before you know you are sick.  According to the CDC, “You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.”

Stay home if your symptoms are severe or you have a fever as you are likely still contagious.  The CDC recommends being fever free for 24 hours before returning to work or school.   Avoid exposing high risk people to the flu and stop the spread by observing these guidelines.

How I Can I Avoid the Flu?

  1.  Get a Flu Shot.  This years flu strain is one of the toughest (H3N2).  “When flu vaccines are well matched to circulating viruses, effectiveness is, at best, about 60 percent,” states the Washington Post.  This years vaccine is not well matched and the flu shot doesn’t work as well against the current strain dominating the US with only about a 10% effectiveness rate.  That being said, there is still an upside to getting the shot, with a reduced risk of getting the flu from other circulating strains. It is also not too late to get a shot as there are several weeks to go before this flu season ends.
  2. Avoid Sick People (Crowds).  You can’t get the flu if you are not exposed to the virus.  Do your best to avoid people who are showing cold or flu symptoms.  Crowds, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and schools offer increased opportunities for exposure.  If you are sick, do everyone a favor and stay home!
  3. Wash Your Hands…A Lot.  Wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.  Alcohol based hand sanitizers are also effective and great to put in your child’s back pack!
  4. Keep Your Hands Away From Your Face!  Your nose, eyes and mouth are the gateways for the flu to enter your body.
  5. Wear a Mask.  A surgical mask can reduce the exposure to droplet spread.
  6.  Wipe Down Hard Surfaces.  Although not a primary infection route, touching hard surfaces contaminated with flu virus and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes, can be a way to catch the flu.  Periodic wiping of commonly touched, shared surfaces, like door knobs, light switches, stair railings, faucets, etc. may help reduce your risk.
  7.  Stock Up on Hand Sanitzer.  In classrooms, offices, at home and elsewhere, easy access to alcohol based hand sanitizer can help control the spread of the flu.  There are even fun versions of this product available with glitter, perfume and color!  Kids might be more apt to use hand sanitizer if it is fun.  Check out Bath and Body Works to see their wide selection of minis.

What do I do if I Get the Flu?

Prompt treatment (within two days) with antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu are used to treat confirmed cases of the flu, particularly those at highest risk.   They can reduce symptom severity and decrease the amount of time the flu lasts.  These are prescription medicines that are different than antibiotics (which treat bacterial infections). Even if you have been vaccinated, if you develop severe flu symptoms or in a high risk group, you should see your doctor.

Taking care of yourself by staying hydrated and eating a well balanced diet can also help reduce the severity of symptoms.    Over the counter medications to treat your symptoms can help keep you more comfortable.  Consult your pharmacist or doctor for recommendations.

Mold Experts: Certified Mold Remediation Firm

Not all mold remediation companies are the same.  Helpers is an IICRC certified firm (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification).   The IICRC is responsible for setting international quality standards for restoration activities from carpet cleaning and water damage restoration to professional mold remediation.  These standards are based upon industry accepted best practices.

Helpers achieved certification by meeting rigorous requirements set by the IICRC.  Our technicians participate in ongoing, specialized training.  We are committed to provide our customers with exceptional services that meet the highest consumer protection standards set by the IICRC.   We don’t cut corners.

You can be confident that Helpers will restore your home or property to healthful living standards.  Look for the IICRC logo when selecting a disaster restoration company to insure you are getting the very best service and care for your property.   Only certified remediation firms can use the Clean Trust Certified logo.

The following is taken from the IICRC website and lists the requirements that Helpers is committed to:

IICRC Certified Firms have earned the right to display the IICRC logo as a symbol of quality. In order to achieve IICRC-certified status, firms must meet a rigorous list of standards in business ethics and expertise. All IICRC Certified Firms must:

  • Present accurate information to consumers and conduct business with honesty and integrity.
  • Require a technician on all jobs who has been formally trained and passed all required tests.
  • Require a continuing education program to keep technicians up-to-date on the latest changes in the industry.
  • Maintain liability insurance to protect all parties in the event of an accident.
  • Maintain a written complaint policy and agree to Better Business Bureau or similar arbitration to resolve disputes, and accept the conclusions and recommendations of arbitration.

Mold in Your Washing Machine? 5 Tips to Keep it Clean

Despite constantly being used for cleaning,  washing machines have all the necessary conditions for mold and bacteria growth: water and residue build up.  Have you noticed a musty smell in your washing machine or mold and mildew growing in your detergent dispensers?  You are not alone.

Follow these 5 prevention and maintenance tips to keep your washing machine and your laundry clean and healthy:

  1.  Washing With Hot Water.  Energy conscious homeowners are using more cold water to wash their laundry.  Mirroring this change in laundry habits, detergents are designed to be effective with cold water washing.   Using hot water can help kill bacteria and keep your washer from smelling musty.   Hot water use on highly bacteria prone items like musty towels, stinky socks or other odor laden materials can prevent bacteria from growing on the clothes and in your washer.  Hot water washing reduces detergent and fabric softener build up, a common source of odor and bacteria.  Running your machine periodically without any laundry with hot water and either vinegar, bleach or baking soda is a great cleaning option.  For best results, let the water sit in the machine for several minutes before you complete the washing cycle.
  2.  Wash Mold From Detergent and Fabric Softener Dispensers.  Build up of detergents and trapped dirt or lint combined with a moist environment are perfect conditions for fowl smelling mold growth.  In some machines, these come out really easily and can be soaked and scrubbed with either a bleach based cleaning solution or vinegar.   If you can’t remove them, simply clean them in place.  Avoid using too much detergent.  High efficiency washing machines require a lot less detergent and most homeowners are actually putting in too much leading to build up and odors.  Follow with Tip 1 for best results.
  3. Clean the Rubber Seal.  Most washing machines have a rubber sealing rim around the wash basin.  Periodically wipe this with a bleach based cleaner or cleaning wipe to remove residue build up.
  4. Use Washing Machine Specific Cleaning Products.  Many companies make detergents or pods that are specifically designed for cleaning your washing machines, particularly front loaders.    Found in the laundry product section, these can be used to help remove odors and bacteria.
  5. Don’t Let Wet Loads Sit.  I am a big culprit in our house for starting a load of laundry and then forgetting about it…for days.  If your laundry is starting to smell, it is a good idea to re-wash everything in hot water to help kill any bacteria.  If the washing machine is not cleaned following a bad smelling load…the smell will linger and spread to the next load and so on.    Follow your preferred washing machine cleaning procedures to get rid of that smell.

Ridding Your Home of the “Smoke” Odor After a Fire: Five Steps Your Remediation Company Should Take

Fire DamageIf you have ever experienced a fire in your home or business you know that putting the fire out is only the beginning of the recovery process.  After the fire department leaves, your property will be drenched with water from the fire fighting efforts and the smell of smoke will be evident in just about all of your property contents and spaces.  With proper remediation steps, it is possible to recover your home and get rid of any lingering smoke odor.

Clay Buerger, Project Supervisor, and Helpers’ fire remediation specialist, put together a list of the top five things our remediation company will do to help restore your property to its former condition and make sure the evidence of smoke related smells are removed.

 

Five Important Smoke Odor Fixes

1. Charred and/or smoke damaged, porous materials will be removed, including any charred building or structural materials.  These will be replaced in the reconstruction process. Heavily damaged and charred materials will continue to off-gas for extended periods, expelling odor and as a result can keep the smokey smell around.

2. Ducting, HVAC, and furnaces are professionally cleaned as smoke can easily enter these hidden areas. Fire pressurizes the property interior, forcing microscopic smoke particles into ducting and furnaces that will continue to recontaminate the home with smoke odor if not properly cleaned.

3. The entire property is HEPA vacuumed.  HEPA filtration equipped vacuums will lift and capture the microscopic smoke particles that can coat every surface within your home or business following a fire. These particles must be physically removed and HEPA vacuuming is an effective way to accomplish that.

4.  All smoke and fire damaged, fibrous, structural materials will be encapsulated.  Materials continue to release odors for long periods of time.  Sealing the structure with a specialized shellac product contains odors.

5.  The entire space will be treated with thermal fogging.   This helps to further eliminate odor.  This process involves thermal fogging with both a Masking and Pairing agent.  These environmentally safe chemicals, fill the smallest spaces found in building materials.  The pairing agent, will chemically alter the odor molecules. The masking agent adds a desired odor to the home, helping overcome the smell many fire loss victims are challenged with.

Trust Our Experience

Helpers’ has experience with successful smoke and fire remediation.  Our team is always sensitive to your unique situation and the impact that such as event can have on you and your family.  We work with you to make sure the process is as easy and efficient as possible, supporting you from start to finish and navigating the complicated insurance claim process.  If you have any questions about Helpers Fire Remediation services, please contact Clay at clay@helpers.solutions.

The Risks of Being an Uninsured Renter: You Could Lose it All

Did youmud sink by dark day know that if you rent a home or commercial space every item that you moved into that space is at risk for losses from fire, theft or flood, unless you purchase renters’ insurance?   That’s right…no matter the origin of the damage, your personal property is not covered under the property owner’s insurance.

We have seen first hand renters’ lose all of their property following a home fire because they did not purchase renters’ insurance.   One of our clients had significant smoke damage to her personal property after badly burning a turkey in her oven.  She was unable to afford the cost of replacing and repairing her damaged furnishings, and without renters’ insurance, she had no options but to swallow the loss.

Another client experienced a flood in their basement level rental.  Even though the flood came from a damaged water main, his personal items were still a total loss because he did not have insurance.  His landlord did have insurance..but this only protected the landlord’s property.

Another benefit of renters’ insurance is that should you be forced to temporarily move out of your home because of a significant event, often your insurance will cover the costs of moving you out and housing you while your home is repaired.  Coverage will also usually pay to clean, repair or replace your damaged property.

Some landlords make it mandatory that their tenants purchase insurance.  For as little as $10.00 to $30.00 a month, you can protect yourself from a catastrophic loss.  Don’t leave your property and piece of mind at risk.  Talk to your insurance agent today to find out more about renter’s insurance.

Disclaimer: Depending upon your personal needs and the terms of the coverage purchased the amount of coverage you are eligible for may vary. Helpers has no affiliation with any insurance broker, agent or carrier and does not profit in any manner from the provision of this advice.  We strongly advise you to contact a licensed insurance broker to learn more about the coverage options that are best for you.

Mold Removal with Dry Ice Blasting: Faster and Cleaner

Check out our newest mold remediation technique: Dry Ice Blasting.  The benefits of Dry Ice Blasting include:

  • Reduced cleaning time
  • Reduced labor requirements
  • No secondary waste
  • Chemical-free process
  • 99% mold spore removal on wood when IAQA standards followed
  • An environmentally responsible clean

5 Point Winter Checklist: Water Emergency Prevention

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Brrrr.  The temperature is starting to drop outside, with the first official frost of the season on its’ way.  Are you ready?  More importantly, is your home ready?

It is no coincidence that winter time is Helpers’ busiest time of the year for indoor flood calls.   Plummeting temperatures, lack of preparation or deferred maintenance can put your property at risk.

Check out this 5 Point Checklist to run through to help prepare your home for the winter:

Maintain Outdoor Plumbing Fixtures:  Outdoor hose spigots are a significant source of home water damange in the winter.  If you have an indoor shut off control make sure you turn this off and follow any instructions to drain lines before freezing temperatures arrive.  If you cannot turn spigots off internally, you can replace them with freeze and frost proof spigots or cover them with foam faucet covers to prevent freezing. This includes outdoor showers or dog washes (if you are lucky enough to have them).

Insulate Piping:  Any plumbing that is located in an unheated area of your home such as an attic, basement  crawl space or garage, as well as pipes that are located close to an exterior wall, are at greater risk for freezing.  Installing foam pipe insulation can help reduce freezing risk.

Kitchen plumbing located on an exterior wall can be warmed on really cold nights by opening the cabinet doors and letting additional heat in.    If you live in an older home or have areas of your home that have poor insulation, you can add foam or fiberglass insulation to hold in the heat.  Caulking and spray foam can be used in smaller spaces to keep the cold out.

Protect Your Home When You Are Away:  Planning on escaping the cold for a warmer destination?   Make sure your home will be safe while you are away.  Houselogic recommends setting your thermostat no lower than 55 degrees and turning off your main water supply. They also suggest draining your water lines by running water and flushing toilets.  If you have a heating system that relies on water or a fire suppression sprinkler system, consult a plumber before you take this step.

Clean Your Eaves-troughs:  Your eaves-troughs can clog with leaves and other debris creating dams for water.  These dams can freeze and expand which can not only damage the troughs themselves, but can also cause water to back up into your home.  If you have a low sun exposure area, you can add heat tape the length of a drain pipe, eave or in an area of the roof line to prevent ice build up.

Close Crawl Space Vents:  During the summer, moisture build-up in crawls spaces is prevented by opening vents located around the perimeter of the space.  Because winter months tend to be dryer, starting around October, these vents can be closed in the winter to reduce cold air entering your home.  Be sure to open them back up in the spring before moisture can begin to build up in the space.  Also, DO NOT close off any venting that is installed to vent furnaces or appliances!

 

Proper Cleaning of Contaminated Flood Events in Your Home: Carpet Cleaning is not Enough

E Coli Bacteria

Sewer overflows and back-ups are common property water emergencies.   Proper remediation of your home is essential to restore a healthful and safe environment for occupants.  Restoration procedures for these types of events are often extensive and costly.  Understandably, consumers want to make sure they are getting the right service for their money and not getting taken for a ride.   What do you need to know to make sure the job is done right?

Understanding the Situation

The type of water introduced to your home environment during these events, in our industry, is labelled Category 3 water.  Each category of water (there are three) has its own remediation standards and risk ratings.  Category 3 water is defined as ” …grossly unsanitary, and could cause severe illness or death if ingested.  Sources for category 3 water include, but are not limited to, sewage; flooding from rivers or streams; wind-driven rain, water from beyond the toilet trap; water from the toilet bowl with feces [basement ejector pumps]; and standing water that has begun to support microbial growth.”

Often, this water may appear mostly clear, and homeowners might assume that is not actually “dirty water”.  Appearances can be deceiving.   According to one definition, sewage consists mostly of grey water (from sinks, tubs, showers, dishwashers, and clothes washers), black water (the water used to flush toilets, combined with the human waste that it flushes away); soaps and detergents; and toilet paper.  Even though this flood water may not contain obvious feces (although it can), the connection to your septic and home waste removal system, creates a pathway for the introduction of bacteria and contaminates none-the-less.  Ejector pumps for example, often clear waste water from lower level bathrooms where traditional plumbing in not available.  The basins for these pumps contain raw, untreated, sewage.

Is Carpet Cleaning Enough?

Depending upon the surface exposure to contaminated water and the nature of the material, it is recommended by industry experts, that “[Remediation Companies] remove and dispose of carpet and carpet pad from all affected areas and remove and discard all contaminated porous and semi-porous structural materials (e.g. wooden baseboard, saturated drywall and wall coverings)”.  Materials not removed, may remain impregnated with the contaminants from sewage (e.g. viruses, bacteria (including e-coli), and fungi) .  Beyond the obvious risk of exposure to these substances, a fertile ground for mold growth can be created.

Frequently, we will meet customers who have had category three water events in their home and have merely extracted the water and steam cleaned the carpets.   A remediation specialist who proposes that this is sufficient, in an attempt to save you money, is not really doing you any favors.  As industry experts, certified technicians, know that this falls short of the recommended steps for a safe and complete home restoration.  The cost of full restoration, may lead consumers to make decisions that can leave their homes and its inhabitants at risk.

According to the Carpet Buyers Handbook, “This type of flooding [unsanitary water] can produce serious health effects…All floor covering materials must be discarded and other surfaces should be carefully evaluated.”   In fact, only in instances of sanitary water leaks, is extraction of water sufficient if handled immediately.

What are the Recommended Steps?

Our industry standards of care are taken from the ANSI/IICRC S500 and S520 guidelines for professional water damage restoration (The American National Standards Institute/Institute of Inspection and Cleaning and Restoration Certification).  To properly address a Category 3 water event, your remediation specialist should:

  1. Locate the source of the water and stop any further intrusion. It may be required to contact a professional plumber or other contractor.
  2. Protect furniture and personal items.
  3. Extract water from carpet and/or pad using a sub-surface extraction tool.
  4. Apply a biocide to all affected surfaces to help prevent and retard the growth of microbials.
  5. Remove and dispose of carpet and carpet pad from all affected areas. Remove and discard all contaminated porous and semi-porous structural materials.
  6. Inspect all areas that water may have traveled. Document all moisture levels in affected areas.
  7. Install air movers (approx. every 10-15 linear feet) and dehumidifiers. All air movers should be blowing in the same direction.
  8. Monitor job daily. Record all drying data and keep accurate records.
  9. Reinstall carpet with new pad after drying is complete.
  10. Replace all structure materials that were removed.
  11. After drying is complete, all affected areas will need to be cleaned.

 

Because all water events are unique, Helpers will assess a home flood to determine the source and the extent of work that should be completed to insure full restoration.  These standards are well known within our industry and established by our certification body.  Carpet cleaning and extraction may be sufficient for clean water floods, such as with an over-filled tub or a burst pipe, however, if the source is more nefarious, make sure you know what the proper procedures are.  Helpers’ mission is to restore your home to pre-event health and safety.  We wouldn’t cut corners in our own homes and we won’t cut corners in yours.

 

Flood: Fast Water Shut-Off Reduces Loss

Do you know where your home or office water shut off valve is? In times of flood or water leak events, fast shut off of your main water supply can significantly reduce structure and property damage. Helpers recommends that you take time to locate your shut off valve and show others who might be the first to respond to a water emergency where it is and how to shut the water off.

water shut off