waste advice from ZTERS

Ask Angela: How to clean up after a storm, fire, or disaster

Angela Phillips is a Senior Account Manager III at ZTERS Site Solutions. She helps customers with some of their most challenging site service issues, and she answers your questions here on our website.

Angela, we’ve been watching news coverage of weather and flooding and wondering about the process of cleaning up after a storm. Can a waste services company come in and clean everything up, or does the city help, or are we on our own as homeowners? Thanks in advance.

Angela: This is a really great question. We all hope no one ever has to rebuild their home—whether it’s from a storm, a tornado, a fire, or even a flood like we’ve experienced in our hometown of Houston—but, the fact is, it does happen. And as a homeowner, you may not know your options.

First of all, when you have catastrophic damage, there’s a good chance you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks before you can start removing debris at all. If you had a house fire, most cities will have you wait a few weeks before that debris can go to a landfill. If it’s a large-scale catastrophe, like a flood, it might take a couple of weeks for an appropriate location to be chosen to receive all that debris.

Now comes the question of what you can do. Unfortunately, as a homeowner you’re kind of on your own for removing debris. Most people hire a general contractor to manage the process, and that company may or may not work directly with your insurance company to get that removal paid for.

Some people go out on their own and try to manage the process themselves. That’s totally up to you, and we have worked directly with homeowners before. Just know most haulers and waste service companies won’t deal directly with insurance companies. It’ll be up to you to know your insurance coverage and sort out payment on your own.

Sometimes people think FEMA will come in and clean up after a catastrophe, but they don’t clear private property. We actually wrote a blog post about storm debris dumpster rentals, so you can check that out for details.

It’s a good idea if you live in an area that’s prone to events like flooding, tornadoes, and extreme weather, to get some kind of game plan in mind in case you ever need to rebuild. Educate yourself on what licensed contractors do and what your home insurance covers. Hopefully it’s information you’ll never need, but the aftermath of an event isn’t the best time to figure out how rebuilding works.

If you decide you want to do it yourself and be your own contractor, keep in mind dumpsters and portable toilets will probably be in short supply after a major event. Prices will go up because haulers may need to borrow units from other areas and ship them in—and that’s going to add to the expense. Expect delays in deliveries and services, but know most dumpster and portable toilet companies are small operations and will work to accommodate everyone in a fair and timely manner.

At ZTERS, we do help people find dumpsters and portable toilets after catastrophic events. Usually we get calls from contractors, but we’re glad to help individuals, too. One thing we always tell people, though, is be sure you understand your insurance policy coverage. Haulers and portable toilet vendors—whether you go through a company like ZTERS or not—aren’t going to bill an insurance company. They’ll bill you or your contractor. So, make sure you know how your coverage works before you set out to DIY.