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Was The Broken Water Main & Leaky Pipe Caused By The Wrath Of Rahm?

The Wrath of Rahm still is a force to be reckoned with in the Windy City even though our mayor has lost some of his all-encompassing power.

Over the past year, the Home Front column has criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel for committing the following offenses that have had a negative effect on the future of Chicago and its residents:

• Pushing through a $588 million real estate tax hike, while picking the pockets of average citizens through speed camera fines that generated millions in traffic violation cash.

• Focusing on enhancing Millennium Park, Navy Pier and McCormick Place and promoting downtown development while creating few jobs for South Side and West Side blacks as gang murders rise.

• General indecision, while fighting with Chicago Public School teachers, and fiddling with the pensions of police and firefighters as the city of Chicago goes bankrupt.

Could noting these transgressions in the column have caused this writer to suffer the Wrath of Rahm? When the city of Chicago repaired a broken water main on my block in early January, the water was shut off for four hours. When the water was turned back on, mud and dirty water surged through my pipes.

According to my veteran plumber, a copper hot water pipe in my upstairs bathroom cracked under the pressure and eventually caused thousands of dollars in damage and untold hardship on the residents of my house.

“A broken water pipe sounds like a minor home-repair problem, but you’ll never know how bad it can be until it happens to you,” said insurance agent Karl Riehn, president of Chicago-based Karl H. Riehn Insurance.

“Water can cause just as much damage—maybe more—than a fire if it gets out of hand.”

Water damage can often be far more extensive than a homeowner realizes. Water seeps through walls, insulation, floors, drywall ceilings and if not contained will eventually warp wood floors.

If water isn’t removed quickly, mildew, mold and rot can begin below floors and under walls. Moisture can be absorbed into carpeting, drapes, furniture and even into electrical fixtures and wiring.

Most homeowners religiously pay their homeowners insurance and pray they never have to collect for a loss. However, when disaster strikes, remember—take action.

Noticing a water mark on the family room ceiling, this writer thought it was caused by an ice dam on my roof and a chimney. As the water drips continued, three waste baskets and a bucket were placed to catch the flow.

Our handyman checked the gutters for an ice dam, and none was found. However, my roofer found heavy ice build-up around the base of the chimney, and a few gaps around the chimney flashing and caulked them.

But the leak continued. Finally, the handyman opened the family room ceiling, found the leak, and traced it back to the shower wall between the bath and master bedroom. After that wall was opened, Boehm Plumbing quickly repaired the broken copper pipe.

However, two days had passed and the water damage already had soaked the family room ceiling, the bedroom wall, carpeting, padding and subflooring.

We immediately called our agent—Riehn Insurance—and reported the first loss in 10 years of homeownership at this address.

My veteran Realtor, Sara Benson a former appraiser and a former compliance inspector for the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, called Servpro of Ravenswood, and immediately arranged to have the water damage evaluated.

Then, Riehn put us in touch with The Hanover Insurance Group’s senior property adjuster, Michael Goff, who would settle the damage claim.

Led by company owner Tom Williams, Servpro’s professional team swiftly moved into action. The furniture from the family room and master bedroom was quickly moved out of the way and covered with plastic.

A large 3-by-10-foot section of drywall from the family room ceiling along with a 4-by-6-foot section of wall board removed plus a 9-by-4-foot section of the upstairs bedroom wall. Insulation and baseboards were removed.

The open areas were sprayed with organic disinfectant to prevent mold. Plastic film and tubes were connected to the family room ceiling to start the drying process. Then, Servpro brought in 19 pieces of equipment, including heaters, dehumidifiers and air scrubbers and dried out the water damage over the next six days.

During this period, there was so much machinery noise and demolition dust it was impossible to sleep in the house, so Hanover Insurance agreed to send us to a hotel.

The family returned to the home-construction war zone, just as the drywall, insulation and painting contractors started repairs. With the master bedroom under construction, and other bedrooms filled with furniture, we slept on couches, for four days.

However, we were forced to return to the hotel because we had allergies and couldn’t breathe. Servpro was kind enough to bring back two air scrubbers to improve the air quality.

Because this writer volunteered to serve as general contractor on the job, it was my job to return to the house daily to oversee how the work was proceeding. Altogether, we spent a total of 19 days and nights living and dining in the hotel.

In addition to drying out the walls, ceiling and floors and installing new insulation, drywall, trim and paint, here are a few of the major items covered by the insurance claim:

• Silk drapes. The master bedroom drapes were sent for cleaning to Davis Imperial Cleaners, the outfit recommended by Servpro, and the company did a professional rehanging.

• Oriental carpet. Fred’s Carpet Cleaning picked up the 8-by-10-foot Oriental rug from the family room, clean it and delivered it to the house within a week.

• Carpet installation. Home Carpet One installed new wall-to-wall carpeting in the master bedroom.

• Fireplace cleaning. Steve Alleyne of Firefixer cleaned plaster dust out of the gas fireplace log set and service the automatic gas log lighter which was not working.

• House cleaning. It took our cleaning lady two visits to clean the kitchen, family room, dining room, living room and master bedroom.

• Duct cleaning. With Hanover Insurance’s approval, Servpro sent out Juan Mora and the Air Root team to clean plaster dust out of the heat ducts on my dual-system furnace. The very thorough job took two men seven hours to complete.

• Mattress replacement. Between the mildew, possible mold, and stench of the broad-spectrum disinfectant products used to sanitize the bedroom our king-size mattress had absorbed all the foul odors. Apparently the air scrubbers did not eliminate the smell. Mattress Firm of Skokie delivered a new mattress.

• Water filter. The muddy water that started this messy loss had plugged up the filter. Environmental Futures, Inc., came out to replace the filter.

• Lighting. Three can lights in the family room were water damaged and three dimmer switches were fried because of shorts in the can lights. Electrician John Podgorski was called in to make repairs.

• Clothes cleaning. The mildew had gotten into the closets, so we gathered up our business suits, blazers, sport coats, jackets and slacks from the master bedroom closets and brought the garments to Sauganash Cleaners.

• Accurate records. A complete list of all general contracting expenses was compiled for Hanover Insurance Group in a ring binder. In addition, Hanover Insurance urged us to compile a complete breakdown of our out-of-pocket expenses for putting the house back together, along with bills for hotel lodging and meals.

“This is one of the most comprehensive records of an insurance loss I have ever seen,” said Michael Goff, Hanover Insurance’s adjuster.

Let’s hope we never have to file a claim again.

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit

“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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