NIR’s Executive Leadership Conference always includes a variety of topics highlighting the latest trends and techniques in the business. But if one thing is apparent from these gatherings, it is that we all share common problems whether we’re in California, New Jersey, Minnesota or Florida.

All restoration contractors must deal with public adjusters, the limitations of preferred contractor programs and the challenges of drying wet structures. Now we are navigating the new frontiers of social networks and trying to decide where these sometimes quirky communication channels fit in our marketing plans.

Watch Out for Double Meanings

During the conference, someone described drying out a mold-infested crawl space and said that you need to be sure that what remains under the house is “clean” dirt.

This elicited the response that you should not use the term “clean dirt” to a homeowner, because homeowners think all dirt is dirty.

Those remarks led to a discussion of what other terms should and should not be used when discussing restoration work with property owners, particularly homeowners.

Here are a few of the dos and don’ts we came up with:
  • Never say you are going to sanitize a room or structure. That implies you are leaving a sterile environment, something even hospitals are unable to accomplish.
  • Never say you are going to use chemical cleaners; instead, use the term “cleaning products.”
  • When you are talking about damage to wood floors, make the distinction of whether a floor is cupped or buckled. A cupped floor can be dried out and restored; a buckled floor must be ripped out and redone.
There was a longer list of phrases that, if said to a homeowner, can get you in a heap of trouble. Have any of these comments ever landed you in hot water?
  • I know exactly how you feel.
  • This loss is covered. (That’s for the insurance company to determine and discuss with the policyholder.)
  • Your insurance company will take care of everything.
  • We’ll add this in for free.
  • Don’t worry about this damage. You’ll never know it happened.
  • I guarantee this will be finished in a week.
  • I guarantee you’ll be happy with the results.
  • The adjuster is looking out for you.
  • I can’t believe that guy did this. How stupid can he be? (Never throw other contractors under the bus. It makes you look unprofessional, further angers the property owner and greatly raises the expectations for your work.)
Everyone who has been in this business for any length of time has learned the hard way to choose their words carefully. If you have other additions to this list, email me at

Restoration contractors are remarkable people. This industry is filled with those eager to learn about new training, and grounded by a strong sense of ethics. I am amazed at the growing body of knowledge we must keep up with, and the continual drive for excellence within our ranks. That’s why I am proud to have been in this profession for more than 40 years.