Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Rebuilding After Hurricane Florence: Flood Repair Tips

Remediate flood damage

If you're renovating your own property after a major flood,
here are some things to consider before you dive in.

Although Hurricane Florence has dissipated, the storm is just beginning for locals. Millions of victims along the East Coast are returning home and beginning restoration projects after the hurricane pummeled homes in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. While some will call professionals, many more are remediating their own properties. The "do-it-yourself" locals might be contractors by trade, or just self-taught and fixing what they can. However, the process can be physically and emotionally draining no matter how much experience you have. Additionally, insurance companies may require certified professionals to perform the work in order to receive full reimbursement. If you've experienced flood damage and aren't sure where to begin, here are some tips to help you get started.

Please be aware that this year's hurricane season runs until November 30th. It's important to have an emergency plan if you live in an affected area. If you've been affected by Hurricane Florence, Zack Academy sends our deepest condolences. Please review these disaster relief programs to help you in your time of need.

Insurance: The first thing to do is file a claim with your homeowner or renter's insurer. If you don't have flood insurance, file a claim anyway. Then you can try to apply for disaster assistance, a FEMA grant, or loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA) - even if you don't own a small business.

Mortgage: Contact the company that holds your mortgage or rent. Sometimes, you can arrange payment plans or even temporary payment moratoriums in the event of a disaster. Keep records during this time as you may be eligible for tax benefits at the end of the year. 

Returning Home: If your home was flooded, chances are you had to evacuate. It's a good idea to return home as soon as it is safe to do so because the longer any floodwater sits in your home, the more damage will be done to your property. Be sure to ventilate your home as soon as you return to help air out any fungus. Turn on fans if you have electricity, but don't turn up the heat as warm air can facilitate mold growth.

Planning the Project: Before you jump into sanitizing your home, it's important to have a plan of what to do. Seeing your favorite items destroyed can be overwhelming for anyone, and when you're emotional, you won't make rational decisions. Survey your property and then make a list of what needs to be trashed and what can be salvaged. Be sure to:
  • Make note of the items you remove from your property.
  • Take pictures of the items with their model numbers, unique identifiers and descriptions.
  • Add flood-damaged items to your claim.
Cleaning and Repairing: Thoroughly check every item in your house for damage. If you're going to clean personal items, keep in mind that they may have been drenched with pathogen-filled water or contain mold. Particularly for residents of the Carolinas, E. coli and tetanus are huge public health concerns right now as many farms have flooded, releasing animal waste into flood waters. When it comes to flooring and walls, even if the floodwater has receded, there can still be pockets of moisture trapped in crevices. If you don't remediate these areas, you can cause lasting structural damage to your property.  If you're going to clean it all yourself, remember that:
  • You should always wear protective equipment when working in flood-damaged areas.
  • You should log the costs of all your repairs to add to your claims.
  • Rebuilding before your property is completely dry will only cause longterm damage. 
Calling a Professional: Even if you're a home contractor yourself, some types of flood repairs might be beyond your expertise. You can either call a professional for immediate assistance, or consider getting certified to perform specialty repairs if you have a big neighborhood project on your hands. Whatever you do, you're going to need specialized training for these types of flood repairs:
  • Electrical Damage: If you don't have the right equipment or experience, do not handle damaged electrical outlets or wiring. Besides the inherent personal danger, some states can fine you for performing electrical work without a license. If you're still determined to go at it on your own, at least consider a Basic Electricity Course.
  • Exposed Asbestos: Knocking down walls can expose asbestos-containing insulation and piping. The EPA is extremely strict about asbestos removal, so consider professional options before you handle asbestos. If you're interested in asbestos training, Zack Academy offers several courses.
  • Damaged Lead Paint: If your house was built before 1978, it may contain lead paint. Although you don't need an EPA Lead Renovator Certification to work on your own property that you reside in, it's highly advised to either consult a certified Lead Renovator or take the class yourself. Lead paint is extremely toxic and requires special lead-safe work practices.
  • Wastewater: Garages and tool sheds are often overlooked during aftermath renovations. This is a huge mistake; if you illegally dump water contaminated with chemicals like cleaners, fertilizers, and gasoline, you can be fined by the EPA. If you aren't familiar with wastewater laws, you can start with the EPA Clean Water Act. Consult a professional, or consider taking a basic stormwater course depending on the scope of your project.
  • Extensive Water Damage: When an entire structure has been flooded, you'll need specialized drying equipment. It's best to leave water damage restoration equipment to IICRC-certified Water Damage Restoration Technicians or Applied Structural Drying Technicians. They'll have access to commercial drying equipment that will get the job done faster. If you want to learn the techniques anyway, you can register for an IICRC Water Damage Restoration Technician Course.
Although the aftermath of flooding can seem daunting, it is possible to rebuild. To learn more about disaster relief programs, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency. To get certified to renovate before the next storm, visit Zack Academy. Zack Academy offers a variety of in-person and online vocational training courses relevant to disaster renovation.

Where to Find Grants for your Small Business

small business grants
Finding small business grants doesn't have to be complicated.
Here are some resources dedicated to funding
small businesses.

They say you have to spend money to make money - but when you're a small business owner, every penny counts. That's where small business grants come in.

Unlike loans, grants are basically free money that federal, state or private provide to give your business a boost. Grants can go toward buying new equipment for your business, expanding your workforce, developing new techniques for your trade, and more. The only catch is that finding small business grants can be an arduous task. The competition for grants is fierce, and finding just one can take hours of researching and writing application after application. If you don't even know where to start looking, finding small business grants can seem impossible.

But if you're willing to put in a little work, the money is out there. Below, we've singled out some of the most helpful websites for finding small business grants.

Federal This site is a thorough,  if overwhelming, database of all grants supported through various government agencies. You can learn more about eligibility requirements and the grant process when you click on "Applicants". When you're ready to sift through the available grants, click "Search Grants". This website is a more specialized database where various government agencies offer grant money to companies that can produce solutions to issues such as energy efficiency, environmental pollution, and green building. Depending on your sector, these grants can be highly relevant.

Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program: This federal program is not technically a grant, but can bring in big money to your business. This program sets aside certain contracts for businesses where service-disabled veterans make up at least 51% of leadership. You have to register your business to be eligible for these special contract bids, but the application can be done online.

State The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) typically does not award grants themselves, but their local Small Business Development Centers can find help you find local grant opportunities. You can find your nearest Small Business Development Center on their website; be sure to check if there are multiple centers in your state because the funding can vary from center to center.

Rural Business Development Grant: This grant provided through the USDA supports expansion of small businesses in rural areas. Awardees can receive up to $500,000. Extra consideration is given to businesses that show job creation and community development in the local area.

State Business Incentives Database: This website compiles a list of incentives for small businesses such as tax credits and tax exemptions as well as grants.

Private/Industry Specific
Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant: The women's clothing retailer divides $100,000 a year to 10 businesses where women make up at least 51% of your business' leadership. Extra consideration seems to be given to women in sectors not typically dominated by women leadership- good news for female-led contracting companies!

StreetShares Veteran Small Business Award: StreetShares, a company providing loans and other resources to veteran-owned businesses, offers a yearly grant to three lucky winners. Consideration is given to businesses that have a positive impact on the American military veteran community. If your company employs a lot of veterans, give this one a shot.

FedEx Small Business Grant: Winners of this grant typically receive between $5,000 and $25,000. Any small business operating for at least a year can enter; the website updates with the application form when the contest re-opens, which is usually in May.

NASE Small Business Grant: The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) awards $4,000 to one lucky business every year. Although you have to be a member of NASE to apply, there eligibility requirements are quite simple.

These are just a few of the financial resources available to small businesses. If you're a small business owner, be sure to check out our best classes for business development.

To learn more about other small business training options, visit Zack Academy's Business Practices Training & Courses homepage.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

California Signs New Balcony Inspection Law

A new California law requires certain apartment buildings
to have balconies and other load bearing structures inspected
once every six years.

Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into action SB 721- a law that requires owners of multi-family apartment buildings with three or more units to inspect their decks, balconies, stairs, porches, and other load bearing structures at least once every six years. The law comes shortly after the Berkeley balcony collapse in 2015, where six UC Berkeley students were killed and seven more were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed.

Property owners have until January 1, 2025 to complete their first inspection. The law applies to both the structures as well as waterproofing element such as coatings and sealants which can affect the integrity of load-bearing structures. The inspections must be performed by a licensed architect; a licensed civil or structural engineer; a building contractor holding any or all of the "A", "B" or "C-5" license classifications; or by a certified building inspector or building official as determined by the local jurisdiction.

SB 721 is one of several attempts from California to increase building code safety after the Berkeley balcony collapse. After it was found that dry rot and poor construction contributed to the failure of the balcony, California advocates have called for more stringent building standards and safety inspection laws. Prior this law, the city of Berkeley also adopted amendments to housing codes that required inspections of weather-exposed structures every three years.

Industry experts are expecting that the demand for licensed building inspectors will go up in California. One factor is California's expansive housing stock - The Golden State is home to three of the largest metro areas in the U.S. Another factor is the increased liability for these types of inspection jobs; because these structures will only be tested every six years, inspectors must be extremely accurate when they perform tests.

Overall, if you're a building contractor or inspector in California, now is the time to consider continuing education so you can take advantage of this new legislation.

For more information about SB 721, visit the California legislative website. For more information about contractor licensing and renewal in California, visit Zack Academy.

Common EPA Fines - And How to Avoid Them

Your company can avoid expensive EPA fines- if you
follow the rules. Learn more about the most common
EPA violations and how to avoid them.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued $2.98 billion in fines on businesses and individuals. The EPA is notorious for strict enforcement of its environmental regulations. These regulations protect citizens from the toxic effects of pollution; however, your business does not have to suffer expensive fines. Here are some common fines issued by the EPA - and the rules to follow in order to avoid them.

Violation of the RRP Rule
The EPA Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule are a set of guidelines regulating projects that disturb lead-based paint. This is by far one of the most common types of EPA fines. You can read more about the RRP Rule on the EPA website or on Zack Academy, where we've extensively covered its jurisdiction, its technicalities, and more.

Here are some general guidelines if you're working on a project where there might be lead paint:
  • You cannot perform qualifying work on a home or child-occupied facility built before 1978 without a valid RRP training certification and a valid EPA Lead-Safe Firm certification.
  • An EPA-certified Lead Renovator must be present on the jobsite at certain times during the project, and always available by phone while work is performed.

EPA will cite anyone in violation of lead paint regulations. Recently, hosts of the popular HGTV show Fixer Upper were fined $40,000 for violations against the RRP rule.

Thankfully, getting RRP certified only takes one day. Learn more about lead renovator certification here.

Mishandling of Asbestos
The Clean Air Act defines policies on handling asbestos. You can read more about these policies on the EPA website, but here are some rules you need to be aware of:
  • You cannot handle or remove asbestos without the correct certification. Asbestos is regulated carefully, down to the type of asbestos it is. Without the proper training, you can expose people to toxic, carcinogenic material, on top of receiving thousands of dollars in fines.
  • You must always notify the EPA or Authorized State before beginning an asbestos removal project. The EPA keeps detailed records on asbestos projects in order to ensure a project is safely handled.
  • You must dispose of asbestos in a manner that complies with EPA standards.
  • You must keep necessary documentation of your asbestos project. It is recommended to hold onto your documentation in case the EPA performs a record-keeping audit your project.
EPA asbestos fines can be severe. Recently, two Massachusetts construction firms were fined nearly $200,000 for illegal asbestos work.

Improper Wastewater Disposal
The Clean Water Act is not just applicable to stormwater professionals. Any business that accumulates waste water such as construction sites, restaurants, factories, clinics, and laboratories, must dispose of waste water in an EPA-compliant manner. 

If you're unfamiliar with the Clean Water Act you can read more about these policies on the EPA website. Construction firms should also be aware of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) which publishes additional water discharge regulations on construction activities.

If your business falls under the Clean Water Act, here are some rules to remember:
  • You must have an EPA stormwater prevention plan.
  • You must know which chemicals can be disposed of through drains, and which chemicals require a filtration system.
  • You must know which types of waste water can be disposed of through floor drains.
EPA wastewater citations are serious. Last month, a Hawaii-based commercial fishing company waste fined $475,000 for violations of the Clean Water Act.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

New to BPI? Quick FAQs on BPI Certification

Are you a contractor interested in energy efficiency training,
but don't know where to start? We answer several FAQs
about BPI, one of the most in-demand energy
efficiency certifications.

If you work on homes in any capacity, you know that energy efficiency is one of the biggest design trends right now. If you're really in the know, then you've probably heard "BPI certification" tossed around in these conversations. As clients increasingly seek out contractors with home energy experience, more contractors are looking into energy efficiency training. But with so many options out there, what makes BPI stand out? Is BPI the right fit your business? What is BPI anyway?

If you're new to BPI and have these questions, Zack Academy has you covered. Here are some common questions about BPI training in order to get you started.

What is BPI?
The Building Performance Institute (BPI) is a nationally recognized authority on home energy performance. BPI publishes standards, certifications, and approves programs to train professionals of all trades in energy efficiency.

What is Home Performance?
Home performance is taking an integrated approach to how the home's or building's systems can work together to provide the most comfortable and efficient living space.

In other words, home performance looks at lighting, heating and cooling systems, appliances, insulation, and more to see how efficiently energy is used in the structure. If one system is leeching more energy usage than necessary, then the home performance rating goes down. The goal of home performance is to use as little energy as possible to make the home a safe and comfortable place. Benefits of better home performance include lower energy bills and a reduced environmental impact.

Who Should Get BPI Certified?
BPI certification is extremely relevant to any professional involved in building design or maintenance. Just a few professions that benefit from BPI training include:

  • Construction Professionals
  • General Contractors
  • HVAC Contractors
  • Energy Auditors
  • Green Building Professionals
  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Building Maintenance Professionals

Why Should I Add BPI Certification to my Skill Set?
  • It's In Demand: Green building, sustainable design, and energy efficiency are some of the biggest buzzwords in contracting right now- and construction trends show that they'll be here to stay. BPI is one of the biggest names in the energy efficiency industry, meaning that when clients see your BPI certification, they'll know you're a contractor they can trust.
  • It Pays For Itself: Some energy efficient upgrades are eligible for "kickbacks". For example, some appliances meeting Energy Star requirements are eligible for rebates. There are also state programs that provide rebates directly to contractors for energy efficient upgrades- one such program is Energy Upgrade California. In a way, BPI certification will pay back for itself.
  • You Probably Have Experience: If you're already a home contractor, HVAC technician or construction professional, adding BPI certification is an easy way to bring in more business. Your clients already trust you to remodel their properties, so they will trust your advice on energy efficient upgrades. Furthermore, many of the principles covered in BPI training are skills that you know as a contractor.
What Type of Work Will BPI Certify Me to Perform?
In general, all BPI Professionals use building science in order to improve building performance. Specifically, there are several courses that train on individual mechanisms that affect overall building performance. These mechanisms include:
  • Building Science
  • Building Shells and Retrofits
  • Thermal and Pressure Boundaries
  • Air Leakage and Infiltration Diagnosing
  • Blower Door Testing
  • Heating and Cooling Systems
  • Weatherization and Insulation
  • Lighting and Appliances

Do I Need to Have Experience to Get Started?
No specific experience is necessary to take entry level BPI courses. Most professionals with construction backgrounds will take the BPI Building Analyst course and move up in training certifications from there.

For individuals with no industry experience whatsoever, the BPI Building Science Principles course offers fundamental knowledge of home performance.

How Do I Get Certified?
In most cases, all you need to do is take a BPI approved course and pass any written and/or field exams administered in the course. Depending on your certification, there are certain refresher requirements but these are reviewed extensively in class.

IICRC Launches New Trauma and Crime Scene Technician Course

IICRC's new Trauma and Crime Scene (TCST) certification
offers restoration professionals thorough training
in crime scene cleanup- a booming industry.

Recently, the IICRC debuted its latest certification: Trauma and Crime Scene Technician (TCST). This new certification is based on the IICRC S540 Standard for Trauma and Crime Scene Cleanup. Technicians are taught how to safely remediate crime scenes and other areas with hazardous, infectious waste - a skill that's in high demand in today's restoration industry.

Historically there have been minimal barriers for entering the crime scene cleanup field. However, technological advancements such as new specialized equipment and new hazard protocols have made specialized technicians extremely sought after. With the endorsement of IICRC, an international authority on cleaning and restoration, this new certification is expected to be the new benchmark for crime scene cleanup.

During the course, participants will receive hands-on training on the precautions to be taken when performing trauma and crime scene cleanup. Specifically, participants will receive training on:
  • Principles of Trauma and Crime Scene Cleanup
  • Safety and Health
  • Biocide and Antimicrobial Technology
  • Administrative Procedures, Documentation, and Risk Management
  • Inspection and Preliminary Determination
  • Equipment and Tools
  • Limitations, Complexities, Complications, and Conflicts
  • Structural Remediation
  • Vehicle and Machinery Construction
  • Contents Remediation
  • Containment and Disposal of Waste or Sharps
  • Confirmation of Cleanliness
Crime scene cleanup is a booming industry with opportunity for growth; market analysts have valued the market at $346 million in 2012. The Trauma and Crime Scene Technician (TCST) certification has no prerequisites- meaning that individuals interested in this type of work can get started in the industry fairly easily.

Zack Academy's partners currently offer the course in two states - Florida and Arizona. More locations will be added soon.

To learn more about the new Trauma and Crime Scene Technician course, visit Zack Academy's website. Zack Academy offers the best in-person and online vocational training courses all in one place.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

EPA Stormwater Lawsuit Against Colorado Springs Begins

Trial proceedings for the lawsuit against Colorado Springs
filed by the EPA began last week. Colorado Springs allegedly
neglected its stormwater system, leading to pollution of the Arkansas River.

Last week, opening arguments began for the lawsuit filed against the city of Colorado Springs by the EPA. The lawsuit alleges that due to gross neglect of its stormwater system, Colorado Springs allowed over 295,000 tons of runoff waste to flow into the Arkansas River.

Filed back in November 2016, the plaintiffs include the EPA as well as communities south of Colorado Springs, such as Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley. The lawsuit hinges on three specific areas in Colorado where failure to upkeep the city's stormwater sewer system resulted in pollution. Inadequate maintenance allowed trash and sediment to accumulate in waterways and degrade several tributaries along the Arkansas River. As a result, creeks along the river grew out of control during storms, leading to flooding and erosion.

With the natural course of the river altered, some communities further south of Colorado Springs found their waterways contaminated. Allegedly, the runoff flowing downstream was allowed to accumulate in these areas and cause pollution.

"As the runoff flows over land or impervious surfaces (paved streets, parking lots, and building rooftops), it accumulates debris, chemicals, sediment or other pollutants that can adversely affect water quality, erode stream banks, destroy needed habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and make it more difficult and expensive for downstream users to effectively use the water," the plaintiffs said in an official complaint.

The City of Colorado Springs failed its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) inspection in both 2013 and 2015. Repeated violations including lack of stormwater controls, improper drainage and "many deficiencies in the City's review, approval, oversight, and enforcement of construction" prompted the EPA to take legal action.

Colorado Springs and CDPHE contend that the failures are a result of inadequate funding to its stormwater program. Recently, Mayor John Suthers implemented a city stormwater fee to generate more funding. Colorado Springs city officials also reached a deal with Pueblo County to spend $460 million on stormwater projects over the next twenty years; however, these actions have not led to a settlement of the lawsuit.

"I'm very disappointed with the approach the plaintiffs have taken in this case. The city of Colorado Springs has done absolutely everything its power to implement the best stormwater system in the state, to include voter endorsement of a monthly residential and non-residential stormwater fee. I had hoped that these would be the results that the plaintiffs would want to see, rather than expensive and unproductive litigation," Mayor John Suthers said in a recent press release.

For citizens of Colorado Springs, the outcome of the lawsuit is significant. If Colorado Springs is found at fault, then the city could be fined millions of dollars or face a court order to spend more on restoration projects. The money must come from somewhere- whether it's taking away from other areas such as roads and parks, or more fees such as the stormwater fee program.

However, the stakes are just as dire for residents in communities south of the Arkansas River. Remediating poor water quality can be expensive, but increased levels of E. coli, erosion and flooding are extremely dangerous to residents. A victory in their favor could help quickly restore affected areas.

The bench trial is expected to end soon this week and presiding Judge Richard P. Matsch will either issue a ruling or take the lawsuit under advisement.

To follow the litigation, visit the Colorado Springs Independent. To learn more about stormwater management, visit Zack Academy.