Plumbing Leak Becomes a Remodel

Our client suffered a plumbing leak in their kitchen and dining room when the vendor who was installing their new microwave put a fastener into the main drainpipe. When we arrived, the demo contractor hired by their insurance company had completed the tear out as shown in the before photos.


The client’s insurance company estimated the total cost of repairs and paid our client $11.458.45 to restore them to pre-loss condition. They asked us to help. We supplied the insurance adjuster with detailed cost estimates and documentation, and we answered all his questions. Final settlement from the insurance company: $48,032.40.


Our client invested some of their own money to make a few upgrades, and to purchase new appliances. The white cabinets and black countertop make for striking combination, while the black handles on the cabinets and drawers add a sophisticated touch. If you look closely at the tiled backsplash, you’ll see that each tile has beveled edges which add interest and reflect the light. Speaking of light, we also replaced the client’s boxy overhead light with a new, more contemporary round fixture in brushed nickel to match the faucet. And don’t miss the drawer and doors on the back of the peninsula. No more struggling the get items stored in the corner cabinet – what a clever idea!

We hope our clients enjoy their beautiful new kitchen for many years to come!

PRO TIP: If you’re dealing with an insurance claim for damage to your home, don’t go it alone. We are experts in insurance restoration, and we know how to work with adjusters. We’re here to help!

When the Mammoth Oak Falls!

When a severe storm passed through the area, it dropped a huge oak tree on this property. When we arrived a few days later, the tree had been removed and the roof had been tarped, but the damage left behind was extreme.

Outside, an entire section of the roof had been crushed and several other areas had puncture holes. We found broken roof rafters and ceiling joists, damaged shingles and roof decking, and broken soffit and fascia.

Inside, there was water damage to the drywall, insulation, kitchen cabinets, and the flooring throughout the house.

After a lot of back and forth with the homeowner’s insurance adjuster, we able to start putting the home back together.

First up was the roof. We installed seven new rafters and a few new ceiling joists. All the damaged roof decking was replaced, and new GAF Timberline HD shingles in Weathered Wood were installed. New flashing, pipe collars, and drip edge restored the roof to pre-loss condition. Replacing and painting the damaged soffit and fascia completed the exterior work.


Moving inside, the kitchen, living room, and hallway had the worst damage. Of great concern was whether we would be able to match the client’s custom hickory cabinetry. The cabinets had been installed in 2009, but we were lucky enough to find that the local builder was still in business. He custom fabricated a new sink base and peninsula that are a near-perfect match to the original ones.

The original countertops were laminate, and they would have to be replaced due to damage, so the client decided it was a good time to upgrade. They chose a level one granite in “Venetian Ice” which looks great with the hickory cabinets. It is similar in color to the original laminate, but it will be much more durable.


To complete the interior repairs, we replaced the insulation in the ceilings of the kitchen, living room, and hallway, installed new drywall, and added fresh paint. New Shaw luxury vinyl plank (LVP) flooring in “Touch Pine” was installed throughout the house.

The repairs look great, and the homeowners are enjoying their home sweet home once again.


PRO TIP: An insurance restoration project typically takes longer than a homeowner-funded remodel and dealing with the adjusters can be challenging. We are experts in this type of work, and we speak the same language as the adjusters. If you or someone you know has experienced a loss that will be covered by insurance, and you live in the Hampton Roads, VA area, give us a call at 757-706-3110 or fill out our online contact form. We’re here to help!

From Disaster to Design


From Disaster to… Design!

What do you do when you have water damage in your kitchen, but your insurance only covers the single cabinet that was damaged? Do you try to find something close and hope it blends? Do you repaint all the cabinets so, at least, the color matches? Or do you think outside the box and get a little creative?

When a pipe burst in Alicia’s home while she was at work, it flooded the entire house. While all the floors, baseboards and some drywall sustained damage, only the sink base cabinet was affected. The rest of the white cabinetry was not damaged or covered for replacement. The mitigation team hired by the insurance company carefully removed all the base cabinets for reuse, but damaged the granite countertops, so they would also have to be replaced. Luckily, this was covered by insurance.

Once the demo was completed, and the home was dried thoroughly, it was time to make some decisions about the next steps. Initially, the plan was to find a similar sink base and to paint everything. Unfortunately, because this was an older home, the cabinet shop could not find a close style match.

Time to turn this disaster into a design! One of the more popular trends these days is to have a contrasting kitchen island, or to select upper and lower cabinets in coordinating or contrasting colors.

The homeowner chose a light grey sink base that had a bit more detailing and trim than the original cabinetry. Working off the new grey and white palette, she selected new granite in a color called Luna Pearl. The old backsplash tile was a simple, white subway style. We changed it up with glass mosaic tile in black, grey, and pearl white, and finished it with Raven black grout. Light grey laminate flooring in a color called “Normandy” carried the theme through the kitchen and dining area, into the living room, down the hall, and into the bathroom. New carpet in “East Beach” was laid in both bedrooms.

The new kitchen is stunning, and the remainder of the home was restored to pre-loss condition. If you’re facing the repair vs. replace conversation with your insurance adjuster, give us a call. We will be happy to show you how to make the most of what you have to work with!

Navigating Disaster Claims and Repairs – What to Expect

In your typical home improvement project, things move along pretty quickly. The homeowner and the contractor meet to discuss the project, agree on a scope of work and a price, and set a start date. Permits are pulled, materials are ordered, and work commences. The homeowner pays a percentage up front, to cover materials, and makes progress payments until the work has been completed.

When disaster strikes – a tree falling on the house, a flood, a fire, etc. – this process can get complicated in a hurry:

  1. The homeowner contacts their insurance agent, who files a claim on their behalf, and sends out an adjuster to view the damage and write an initial scope of work. If this is a major storm event, it may take several days or weeks for an adjuster to reach you. Add another week to this for the adjuster to complete their written scope of work and estimate for repairs.
  2. The insurance adjuster completes an initial rough estimate. The purpose of this estimate is, chiefly, to get an initial check into the client’s hands quickly. (Neither the insurance company, the adjuster, nor the contractor expect the adjuster’s initial rough estimate to cover the actual cost of the complete repairs.) Next, the contractor reviews the adjuster’s estimate, to understand the scope of the work for which the insurance company is willing to pay. The contractor then amends the adjuster’s estimate with his own scope of work and estimate of the cost of the actual repairs. If the adjuster is working multiple claims in a disaster situation, this process may take several days.
  3. Once the scope of work and the price have been agreed upon by all parties, the insurance company writes the check. Depending on the dollar amount of the loss, homeowners may be surprised to find that the check is made out to them AND to their mortgage company. In this case, the payments to the contractor may only be released at the discretion of the mortgage lender, who may call for inspections at certain phases of the work. These inspections are in addition to the ones required by the city or county where you live, and they may cause the work to stop until a particular phase is approved.
  4. The contractor will apply for permits from the city or county. Each locale has their own rules and regulations, so the permitting process can take a few days or a few weeks.
  5. The homeowner requests the contractor’s deposit amount from the mortgage lender. The check usually arrives in 5-7 business days. (Get used to this process. It will be repeated every other week as the contractor bills for progress payments.)
  6. Materials are ordered and work commences.

As you can see, the average remodeling job is very streamlined, compared to the disaster repair. It’s easy to get frustrated with the process and the delays. Keeping the lines of communication open with your agent, adjuster, and contractor will help with this. Understanding the reasons for potential delays will give you a realistic expectation of the timeline for the repairs.

Some helpful tips:

  1. Choose a local contractor who is properly licensed and insured. In a major storm event, you are likely to be approached by someone who promises to get started immediately, if you give them a big up-front payment. While these “storm chasers” may be qualified to do the work, they are usually from out of state and won’t be around later, should you need to address any issues with their repairs.
  2. Ask your contractor whether he is familiar with Xactimate. This is the program most adjusters use to determine the scope of work and budget for your repair. If your contractor “speaks the same language” as the adjuster, negotiations on your behalf will go much more smoothly.
  3. Open a separate bank account for the insurance proceeds, and pay all damage-related expenses from this account only. This will help you keep track of what’s been received, and what’s been spent. You may need to account for this money on your tax return, so having all your expenses in one place will help.
  4. Know what your insurance policy covers (and what it doesn’t). Check in with your agent annually to ensure you have enough coverage, especially if the value of your house has increased. Ask about flood insurance, whether you live in a flood zone or not. Consider adding riders to your existing policy for big ticket items like electronics and jewelry, which may not be covered under a basic homeowner’s policy. Take a photo or video inventory of each room periodically, and keep it in a safe place. 


Choosing the right contractor and understanding your insurance policy, before you need to file a claim, can provide you with peace of mind during a very stressful time.

Storm Damage Restoration Project

Fire Restoration Project in Yorktown


A Letter to a College Classmate: Thoughts on Insurance Repairs


I’m sorry I don’t work in your State, I would be more than happy to help you out with your recent “kitchen flood”.   Hopefully, I can answer some of your questions about the process you are going through from the perspective of a Professional Remodeling Contractor that has been involved in his share of insurance restorations over the years (Four Hurricanes to date, not to mention all the other things that “happen” to homes)

All flooring and drywall had to be removed because of water heater failing in attic
Water Heater in Attic Failed – all materials that could not be dried were removed

I’d like to start this discussion with a saying that my very close friends who are in insurance and I share: “99% of insurance adjusters and contractors give the rest a bad name”.  I have great friends in the insurance business who are ethical and honorable people. We all have very strong opinions on the matter and theirs are every bit as valid.  I hope they don’t get too mad at my opinions, here.

Insurance adjusting is done by an entirely separate department of the insurance company.  The agent has little to no interaction and the personal relationship between the agent and the customer is usually not in play.  The “Adjustment” or estimating the value of insurance losses has become “a game” in the home repair world.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, the game stinks.

This is what your house looks like after all the moisture damaged materials are removed
This is what your house looks like after all the moisture damaged materials are removed

Insurance Adjustment for repairs is a silly game that some contractors refuse to play.  I know of ZERO Award Winning Professional Remodeling Contractors who specialize in insurance restoration or repairs.  All of us have to do them from time to time because crap happens to people we care about and we want to help our friends and neighbors.  The insurance “game” is so tedious that most of us contractors run from it.  Unfortunately, homeowners are the ones who suffer.   Here are a few of my thoughts from my experiences with insurance repairs:

There is no "refurbishing" a fireplace insert that has been damaged this badly. Replace it.
There is no “refurbishing” a fireplace insert that has been damaged this badly. Replace it.

I. Insurance Adjusters and Professional Contractors Estimate Projects Using Different Methods.

The insurance companies all use a program called Xactimate to estimate the cost of repairs. Without going into a long, boring explanation, suffice to say a legit pro can’t do the repairs for the amount that Xactimate allows for.  No builders or remodelers I know use Xactimate for their estimating  (I know a few contractors that specialize in insurance restoration that use it). Therefore, the homeowner is left with a few options:

  1.  Use the contractor the insurance company recommends. This is a contractor that has agreed to “choke down” the slop that the insurance company will feed them.  They believe they can:
    1.  Make it up on volume of work that the insurance company will graciously bestow upon them or play games with the Xactimate program to find hidden charges that the insurance company must eat.
    2.  Cut enough corners that they can lower their labor and material cost on the job in order to make a decent margin under the “fixed” price they have agreed to .
    3.  Needless to say, I am often called in afterwards to fix what the other contractor fixed…of course it’s a year or so later, out of warranty and out of the owner’s pocket.
      1. Case in point, here are the my office’s notes for my 4pm appointment today – “needs structural, electrical, and plumbing repairs. had a full renovation under insurance and it was not done correctly. needs it redone up to proper codes and standards”
  2. Get their own contractor and pay for the difference between what the insurance company will allow for and what the contractor will do the job for.
  3. Get their own contractor and fight with the insurance company to pay the right price for the right job with their choice of contractor.
    1. This happens to be the law by the way: The homeowner has the right to chose the contractor they want.
    2. But the insurance adjusters are adept at pulling the wool over the homeowner’s eyes. It usually sounds something like
      1. “We are committed to paying you for your full loss, Mr. Jones, but this contractor’s prices do not appear to be in alignment with the current market. I can bring in another contractor right now to do it for what we are allowing”
      2. Or my favorite: “It’s no problem, Mr. Jones. If you find that the repairs exceed what we’ve allowed after the job is complete just file a SUPPLEMENTAL claim.”  (Read: pay for it out of your pocket, go through this whole nightmare claim process again and we’ll send another guy out here to start all over.)
        1. The only way I’ve ever seen this work is when the homeowner stands firm about their choice of contractor and says “THIS is my contractor, I’m not using ANYONE else. THIS is the price. PAY IT.”
        2. Unfortunately, most homeowners don’t have enough trust & confidence in one contractor to stand up for themselves to the savvy insurance adjuster.
Flood damaged home's electrical panel
Flood damaged home’s electrical panel

II. The biggest problem: Adjuster and Contractor are not on same page as to the Scope of Work:

  1. For what it’s worth, I have learned a technique that works quite well when I have to compare an insurance adjuster’s estimate with mine.
  2. If you can imagine the two estimates usually come in quite far apart pricewise, which usually prompts the less “seasoned” adjusters and contractors to call each other “crazy” – basically because each of them are confident that they priced their project very carefully and how could anyone in their right mind be that far off??
  3. So, what I’ve learned to do is sit down with the insurance adjuster and say “let’s put price aside for the moment and just focus on:
    1. Scope of work – exactly what work is being performed in each of our estimates.
    2. Specifications – to what standards & quantities the work is being performed. (i.e. “install soaking tub”  vs. “install 6 ft porcelain on cast iron 89 gal tub”)
    3. Selections – what fixtures are being used for plumbing? What fixtures are being used for electrical? What type of tile?
    4. I have found that when the two estimates are lined up with those three things, the prices are almost dead even every time.
      1. How does this happen? Xactimate doesn’t work this way – it takes time and effort to develop an estimate with this detail.
      2.  Therefore, I know in the beginning, if the prices are way off, the two estimates are not pricing the same job (scope, specifications & selections).
        What kind of bathroom vanity will the insurance allow for?  What kind of sinks? What kind of fixtures? How do you know?
        What kind of bathroom vanity will the insurance allow for? What kind of sinks? What kind of fixtures? How do you know?


        III. Moisture –

        1. The good thing is that you had a remediation company come out to do the demo and dry-out and they probably documented the areas that had higher moisture levels. That documentation is critical towards getting the insurance company to agree to the scope of the work that is performed.  Anytime you need some leverage as to the adjuster agreeing to what moisture damaged areas should be removed and replaced, merely say “I’m fine with not replacing that as long as I get in writing from you that you are liable for any mold that may develop in the future.”
          1. The word “mold” strikes blind fear in the hearts of insurance adjusters. They will never take a chance on it.  Any liability to the insurance company because of their negligence will mean their job.
        2. If you had a flood and you have to demo the kitchen floor, it would be in your best interests to have an independent person get in the crawlspace and ensure that there is no additional hidden moisture damage or mold growth on subflooring, framing or any standing water.
          mold growth on AC ducts in crawl space due to water heater flood
          mold growth on AC ducts in crawl space due to water heater flood


          IV. Practical Money Tips –

          1. If there was ever a time you thought about improving or changing your kitchen, now would be the time to do it. However, a few tips:
            1. Settle the insurance scope of work and financial compensation with your insurance first. Don’t mix the “estimate to repair the old stuff” with the “estimate to change it”
            2. Keep the insurance company completely out of the discussion about any changes. Only speak to them about the cost to restore your home as it was with “like kind and quality”.
            3. Write a completely separate contract and detailed scope of work with the contractor about how the area will be changed, put back together and finished. It is as important to define what is “excluded” from their scope of work as it is to define what is “included”.
              This is Key

              V. Rules to Remember:

              1. “The faintest ink beats the best memory”
              2. “It doesn’t matter, until it matters”
              3. “Unmet expectations lead to friction and trouble.” (ensure all expectations are defined up front in writing)
              4. The most important decision you will make in this entire process is the selection of the contractor. The right contractor will make the process go as smoothly as possible, with the least disruption to your life and family as possible and provide you with a quality job with quality materials that will serve your family well while you live in the home and that will appreciate in value with your home and eventually pay for the job itself.
              5. Only the truly wealthy can afford the “low bid” contractor, because only the truly wealthy can afford to pay to have it fixed properly a second time.
roof hail

Client Questions: How do I Select a Roofing Contractor When I Have Hail Damage?

A storm of hail this size can devastate a roof
A storm of hail this size can devastate a roof

A friend recently wrote me a question about how to evaluate roofing contractors to determine who she should use to replace her hail damaged shingle roof: 

Hey Jim,

I have a question for you.

Our house in Colorado Springs needs a new roof due to hail damage. I contacted three Roofers and got their estimates.Two work with USAA and the other with the manager of our house. He has the lowest estimate 6.000$. The other two are the same….around 11.000$.
What do we have to look for when picking one of them? I know one roofer is going to use a thicker pad for underneath….but otherwise….

This is a great question! My response was as follows:

I would be cautious of a roofer with that low of a price. When it comes to hail damage, ensure that you are using an established local company that will be around for years to come after all the storm chasers leave town or you might find yourself paying for repairs in the future that should be covered by warranties of contractors who are no longer in town.

Due diligence:

  • Drive by the place of business and put your eyeballs on it. Is it a legit business? Will they be there in ten years?  You’re about to spend $11,000 on something, don’t you think you might want to visit the business that’s providing it?  Are you concerned enough about your home to knock on their door and ask to be shown around as a part of your process of evaluating contractors? Trust me, the legitimate contractor would jump at the chance to show you their office, even if it’s unannounced.
  • Get online and go to the website of the shingle manufacturer of the shingle they are proposing to use (Certainteed is my favorite). Are they listed as an approved installer? This isn’t a deal breaker but it does indicate how much support you can expect from the shingle manufacturer if there is a product problem. It also is a good indicator as to how committed they are to their trade.
  • In my opinion the BBB is less than worthless, but Angie’s List can be helpful. Also, don’t exclude Facebook or other social media! Put the names on there and ask if anyone has any experience with these roofing contractors. Use your network: it is the best and most honest source of unfiltered info!


I would be less concerned about the felt paper used and more concerned (especially in Colorado) if they are installing ice and water shield at the eaves and valleys. I would also ensure they are removing and replacing all old flashing with new flashing (don’t fall for the “there’s nothing wrong with it” argument- nails don’t go back in the same holes. ) Also: all vents should be replaced, for the same reason as the flashing.

Here are some more articles I’ve written that discuss the technical side in more depth:

Should Flashing Be Replaced When Installing a New Roof?

Should you add a Ridgevent when you have a new roof installed?

Selecting Shingles for Quality and Price

What will it be like when they replace my roof?

Why is checking out roofing contractors so important, especially when it relates to hail damage?

There is an entire contractor industry that is devoted to chasing hail nationwide. Most companies are based out of Texas and have computer monitoring systems that they pay for that alert them to any and all reports of hail nationwide. I have met many of these contractors and their logistics are quite impressive if you can get past the fact that so many of them are scam artists.

YouTube video

YouTube video

YouTube video


Success Profile for Jim Hicks in Hampton Roads Magazine

"I just want to see my smiling face on the cover of The Rolling Stone"
“I just want to see my smiling face on the cover of The Rolling Stone”  (click on image to enlarge)