Gentlemen (and ladies), start your powerwashers! Right now is the perfect time to implement some better business practices to help your company avoid some common financial pitfalls.
Previously we talked about what happens if your have a claim, but even better, let’s talk about how to avoid them.
Educating yourself about equipment, chemicals, technology, and safety practices will help you to avoid claim situations, as will attending appropriate training classes and certifications seminars, and properly screening and training your employees.
Then it is time to educate your customers. A lot of touchy situations can be smoothed over during the bidding process, before the work even begins. Chris Yates of C Yates Power Washing, Marlton, NJ, credits his nine claim-free years to what he refers to as the principle of “Expectation vs. Realization“. Discuss the job in detail, find out what your customer is expecting from you, and help them to set realistic expectations about what will really happen. An old roof will look cleaner after you wash it, but it is not going to be new.
No one likes to turn down work, but a claim can end up costing you more than you’ll make for the job. Even if the claim against you is unsuccessful, there are costs to your time, energy, and reputation. If you and your potential client can’t agree on what would be a reasonable outcome, or if the damage you notice is too great (like oxidized aluminum siding), just say no.
Survey the Property
Walk the property with them, similar to how a rental car agent inspects a car prior to handing over the keys. Find out if they have ever had the property powerwashed before, and what the results were. If they have been dissatisfied with other contractors in the past, take pause. Ask why and listen discerningly to whether they had a legitimate complaint.
If you decide to take the job, ask questions about any known leaks or drafty windows. Drafts indicate a bad seal. If air can get in, so can water. Mark down any existing damage and point it out to the homeowner or property manager. Get them to acknowledge the pre-wash conditions in writing. Take “before” photos that are date and time stamped.
Take special care to cover any electrical outlets, automatic door sensors, alarm panels, or password keypads you noted in your walk through. While it seems obvious, ensure all windows are shut prior to beginning. Block off any gapped door thresholds where water could seep in and give some thought to gravity. Most properties are not perfectly level. Which way will your run-off run?
Sound like too much? PWNA Board Member Andy Reinsel of A 2 Z Pressure Washing LLC, Aliquippa, PA, says it is a balancing act. You don’t want to spend more time inspecting the property than it will take to wash it, but you don’t want to miss something that will cost you in the long run. He says “with time, experience, and common sense, you will get pretty quick at surveying the job and surroundings. The key is to be observant and detail-oriented”.
Most importantly, be consistent. Make these practices your “habit” so that, if ever called into question, you can state that you do these same steps on every job.
If you ever find yourself in a court hearing where you need to defend your actions, consistency will play a big factor. Documentation will also carry weight toward your defense. The more evidence you can calmly and clearly present can only help. The aforementioned “before” photos are an example of documentation, as is the contract you and your client signed.
I would suggest that you ask your lawyer how to include specific references to the scope and limitations of the job, or perhaps, the client’s responsibility to reveal any known damage or other extenuating circumstances prior to allowing someone to perform work on their property.
This diligence doesn’t end once the contract is signed. Once on the job, make note of the surroundings. What is near or adjacent to the surface to be washed. This includes your customers’ and the neighbors’ lawn furniture, rose bushes or koi pond (Yes, believe it or not, we have paid three separate claims for dead fish) or anything else that may be in your “over-spray” area, including people!!!
If your bleach solution mists someone’s skin, or gets into their eyes, it is most likely going to requires medical attention. Take care to cordon off your work area, and keep an eye on the wind speed and direction. Caution signs or tape are a good idea, but do not absolve you from liability for bodily injury. If someone trips over your ladder or hose, or walks through your run-off and then steps inside onto a tile floor with wet shoes, the subsequent fall will most likely be considered your negligence. Be vigilant about keeping people safe on and around your jobsite.
When asked about some of her most memorable claims over the years, my colleague Bonnie Bradburn just laughed and shook her head as she told me about a claimant who had their home washed while they were on vacation. The contractor did not turn off the water when they left and the homeowners came back to a flooded basement.
My most interesting powerwash claim involved a multi-pitched rood on a large beach house in South Carolina. Three days after the roof was washed, all the granules started pouring off the shingles…actually pouring! Dante Rodriguez, of Bay Area Roof Cleaning Co Inc, Pasco, Florida says “never clean a roof without checking the manufacturer specs on the shingles. Max psi is one concern, as is knowing what those shingles may have been treated with. Is your preferred solution compatible with that treatment or sealant? The same principle can be applied to decks, driveways, painted surfaces. It is not only important to know what you are going to do, but what has been done by anyone previously. A true example of this is if a homeowner painted their exterior trim with interior paint.
Remember, this is not an all inclusive to do list, more a compilation of best practices. In the meantime, keep your eyes and ears open, adopt ideas from anyone or anywhere if they will make your operations safer, and if you have questions about a particular job or situation, we’d be happy to talk it through with you, so give us a call at 1-800-878-3808.
Article Written by Darla Renk – Joseph D. Walters Insurance 2015
Edited by Jessi Price