Six Affordable Home Insulation Tips for Winter Weather

According to the Insurance Information Institute, frozen pipes are the second most common cause of home insurance claims in the United States. And this week’s arctic blast is a reminder to prepare your home and family today. Pipes that are either inadequately insulated or exposed to outside temperatures can freeze, rupture, and cause costly damage. Following these six simple and affordable tips from FLASH will help ensure your home is properly insulated—saving you money and energy too.

Prevent Pipes from Freezing

For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can prevent frozen pipes.

  1. Foam:Insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts.  For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy.
  2. Dome:  Placing an insulating dome or cover on outdoor faucets and spigots will reduce the likelihood of water inside the pipes freezing, expanding, and causing costly leaks.
  3. Drip: Drip your faucets to reduce the build-up of pressure in the pipe as even if the pipes freeze, you have released the pressure from the water system and reduced the likelihood of a rupture. If you are going out of town, turn off the water to the home and open all taps to drain the water system. This will keep you from returning home to a frozen, soggy mess.

Insulate Your Windows and Doors

  1. Check for air leaks around windows and doors using a lit incense stick. If the smoke is sucked out of an opening, seal the leak with caulk, spray foam or weather stripping.
  2. Remember, the most beneficial place to insulate is your attic. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests at least 12 to 15 inches of insulation on the floor of your attic, and more if you are in a colder climate.
  3. If you don’t have energy-efficient windows, consider using a shrink film window insulation kit from a local hardware store to keep warm air in and cold air out.

For more information on how to protect your home from winter freeze, visit the Protect Your Home in a FLASH Blog and the Great Winter Weather Party preparedness campaign.

 

Tale of Two Homes Superstorm Sandy: A Family and the Decision that Saved their Lives

toth 2

It’s been two years since the rare and devastating Superstorm Sandy, but the timeless story of the Sochacki family and their survival endures. As Sandy barreled onshore in New York and New Jersey on October 20, 2012, John Seth and Karyn Sochacki barely escaped from their 1940 bungalow only to watch the storm wash it out to sea. Fortunately, they were able to take refuge next door in an elevated concrete home that weathered Sandy with little to no impact.

The Sochackis have turned their devastating loss into triumph by sharing their story and inspiring others to build with resilience in mind. The fourth installment of Tale of Two Homes video series that showcases their experience is now the most popular in the series with more than 8,500 views on the FLASH YouTube channel.

FLASH met the Sochacki family though its partners from the Portland Cement Association (PCA).  According to PCA’s Donn Thompson, “We appreciate the Sochackis’ willingness to share their story and inspire other families to build safe and strong. We are proud to partner with FLASH and share their dedication to helping families build to survive in the face of natural disaster of all kinds.”

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

By Terry Sheridan – FLASH Consumer Reporter

Most of us have heard “it takes a village” to do something. That hits home hard when it comes to surviving natural disasters. It takes you, your neighbors, your subdivision, your condo or homeowners association, and your town to prepare to survive.

September 1 marked the beginning of National Preparedness Month, a month-long campaign to raise awareness about disaster preparedness and inspire people to take action before a disaster strikes. The campaign culminates on September 30 with America’s PrepareAthon!, a day for “the village” to come together to practice preparedness through drills, group discussions, and exercises.

Kevin King, executive director of Mennonite Disaster Service in Lititz, Pa., knows all too well the importance of taking action to be disaster aware ahead of time, and the dangers that follow when you don’t. “If we try to do it on our own, we lose energy and focus,” says King, who offers recovery services nationwide and in Canada. “People say, ‘What’s the big deal? Why develop a disaster plan?’”

Then, in the aftermath, he hears, “If only I prepared.”

King offers the following preparation tips for your family and town to heed. We’ve suggested a few, as well.

  • Communications plan: Businesses, houses of worship, schools, homeowner associations – any operation that involves numerous people who may scatter before or after a disaster – should have a list of everyone’s cell phone numbers, where they would go if they leave, and emergency contacts’ names and phone numbers.
  • Inventory: Whether it’s your home or business, document what you have. Take photos, make lists. Scan these to your computer or a flash drive that can be stored in a safe deposit box, use cloud storage sites, or simply email the images to yourself so you can access them from any computer.
  • Copy important documents: Also scan and/or email to yourself insurance policies and cards, car titles, loan and mortgage paperwork, passports, driver’s licenses, prescriptions, and a list of medications you need. For good measure, consider carrying hard copies with you.
  • Pack a survival kit: Include water, non-perishable food, medications, documents, cell phone charger, blankets, maps, multi-purpose tool, personal hygiene items, first-aid kit, flashlight, batteries, and cash (ATMs won’t work during power outages).
  • Gas up the car: Unless a station has a generator, pumps won’t work during power outages.
  • Plan for your pets: Find out ahead of time which shelters allow pets. And bring water and food for them, too.
  • Practice your plan: “It’s even more important than having a plan on the shelf,” King says. Would your house of worship or school know how to get everyone to the basement if a tornado threatens? Who decides how it’s handled?
  • Know what’s coming: Whether you use a weather radio or your smartphone, know the status of approaching trouble. Last year, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes released a Weather Radio smartphone app that provides alerts for up to 100 types of events. The app also includes safety and preparedness tips.
  • Take time to clean up outside: Remove debris, dead grass, leaves, and twigs, and cut back hanging tree branches. Clean out gutters to help move rain water from the home.
  • Strengthen your home: Visit flash.org to learn simple, affordable ways to mitigate damage from hazards of all kinds.

Finally, register for America’s PrepareAthon! and pledge to prepare your family and community before it’s too late.

As King and Benjamin Franklin put it, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Floods Happen Anytime, Everywhere: Protect Your Home and Finances

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

Just one inch of water in a 2,000-square-foot home can cause $21,000 in damage.

That startling fact, courtesy of the National Flood Insurance Program is something to keep in mind about the trauma of flood damage and loss in Boulder, Colo. Many residents there had much more than an inch of water. One anonymous posting on the city’s flood website reported that 7.5 feet of water poured into the finished basement. Everything was lost, the resident said.

Of course, not everyone had 90 inches of water lapping at the basement walls. A homeowner might have had an inch of water while a neighbor had several feet. Some with crawl spaces had little or no water while others with crawl spaces are still pumping out. Others saw water leak in from the roof, too.

It’s seems like a head-scratcher but there’s some logic to it. The position of homes, how and where storm drains back up, positioning and diameter of gutters and downspouts, types of foundation waterproofing, and whether there are flood vents in basements and crawl spaces are just some factors that affect a flood’s impact.

Neighbors Michael Leccese and John Pollak learned firsthand about the vagaries of nature’s impact.

Leccese’s home has a crawl space about three feet below the ground floor. A tiny furnace room sits deeper at what would be basement level. The crawl space remained dry but about an inch of water seeped into the furnace room, which took Leccese an hour to remove with a wet vacuum.

Pollak had only a small amount of water in his crawl space. But the basement of his rental triplex took in more than two feet of diluted sewage. He gutted the basement, removing drywall, carpeting and anything else 2.5 feet above the floor. When the doors kept leaking, he realized that their hollow cores acted like straws that couldn’t contain all of the water they had absorbed. So the doors were removed, too.

Here’s what Leccese and Pollak would like you to know from their experience:

  • Install concrete flooring in the basement instead of wall-to-wall carpeting.
  • Inspect the roof regularly.
  • Get a sump pump. If you’ve already got one, service it and check it during storms or flood alerts.
  • Consider flood insurance. Don’t assume you’re OK because flood maps say you’re not in the flood zone. Some flooding was the result of rising water tables, rivers and creeks that found new courses, debris that created dams, overflowing irrigation ditches, mudslides and drain overflows.
  • Check the waterproofing of your home’s foundation.
  • Install larger diameter downspouts and gutters, and extend the downspouts farther away from the house.
  • Know what your homeowners insurance covers. Will damage from backed-up drains be covered or will your insurer refuse because it’s a flood?
  • Consider installing drywall several inches above the floor and covering the gap with base trim. That way, the drywall won’t start slurping up the water until you’ve got several inches.

Learn more about flood protection at www.flash.org.

Editor’s Note: Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire.

5.1 Magnitude Earthquake Off the Coast of Florida Reminds Us to Be QuakeSmart

Make it Your Business to Be QuakeSmart

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

This is the second of two blog posts marking the 20th anniversary of the 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake that devastated a four-county area of Southern California in the early hours of Jan. 17, 1994, killing 60 people, injuring 7,000 and damaging 40,000 buildings, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Veterinarian Ayman Ibrahim’s one experience with an earthquake a few years ago was enough to convince him that he needs to prepare his Mission Animal Hospital in Palmdale, California for a far worse experience.

He’s anchoring animal cages and cabinets to the walls, converting shelving units to cabinets so that they can be anchored, and considering buying a generator for the 3,000-square-foot space. Business records are backed up on computers and also kept on paper.

Ibrahim also is designating one cabinet for a week’s supply of emergency food, water, first-aid items and medications. “I figure I’ll be the one to stay full-time in the building after an earthquake,” he says.

By facing what needs to be done, Ibrahim already is a few steps ahead.

“Owners may not face the business continuity aspects they have to deal with,” says Mark Benthien, global coordinator of Great ShakeOut drills. He’s also director of education and outreach for the Southern California Earthquake Center and executive director of the Earthquake Country Alliance at the University of Southern California-Dornsife.

“Their employees may be more concerned about their homes or even move away, water and utilities are out and the business can’t operate, and supplies and products can’t be delivered,” he says.

Follow these steps to safeguard your business.

  • Identify your risk: Is your business located in an earthquake hazard area? Are your vendors and suppliers?
  • Determine your structural and non-structural risks: Does your building meet the latest building codes? Non-structural items such as office furniture and equipment should be anchored or braced. Don’t forget to safeguard equipment that could cause fires, and windows and ceiling fixtures.
  • Make a plan: Determine how you’ll protect each and every item. Watch this short earthquake video for an idea of what to do. Inventory, accounts, payroll and other records will need protection, too.
  • Prepare disaster supply kits: Emergency services will be directed to schools and hospitals, so you may be on your own for a few days. Have a three-day supply of non-perishable food and water, plus sanitation needs, for each person.

Keep in mind that the earthquake mantra is “drop, cover and hold on.” You and your employees should drop close to the floor, find a sturdy object to hide under and hang on. That’s why it’s so important to anchor heavy objects that could topple onto you and your employees.

Find more information at:

www.flash.org/quakesmart

http://flash.org/peril_earthquake.php and

http://www.earthquakecountry.org/roots/7StepsBusiness2008.pdf

Editor’s Note: Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas.  She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes.  She now lives in New Hampshire.

Make Your Home QuakeSmart

Look up, Look around, Look down: Make your home QuakeSmart

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

This is the first of two blog posts marking the 20th anniversary of the 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake that devastated a four-county area of Southern California in the early hours of Jan. 17, 1994, killing 60 people, injuring 7,000 and damaging 40,000 buildings, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Like most college students at 4:30 in the morning, Mark Benthien was fast asleep in his UCLA dorm room when the Northridge quake hit. The shaking ground tumbled bikes, a TV, books and odds and ends to the floor.

He wasn’t hurt. But others died in ways that likely could have been prevented with a few safeguards. News accounts describe a man who died from head injuries sustained when a microwave oven crashed into him in his mobile home. Two people died when hundreds of pounds of books, model trains and other collectibles crushed and suffocated them.

Benthien, now an earthquake expert who coordinates Great ShakeOut drills and directs education and outreach for the Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California-Dornsife, says complacency about earthquake risks can be your biggest foe.

“We diminish what we’re told about risk,” he says. “And certainly that’s true about earthquakes because the larger ones happen less often and people feel smaller earthquakes on a somewhat regular basis.”

Getting too comfortable with quakes that do little or no damage to your home might lead you to assume your house is earthquake-proof, he says. And then the big one comes along.

Benthien has spent thousands of dollars on shoring up the 1,000-square-foot home that he bought in 2007. Built in 1926, the house and surrounding homes were damaged in the Northridge quake — including toppled brick chimneys that couldn’t withstand the sideways motion from the shake.

Retrofitting the foundation cost $6,000, and included bracing and bolting the “cripple wall” between the foundation and first-floor joists. A cripple wall carries the weight of the house and creates a crawl space. If it isn’t braced to withstand horizontal movement, it can collapse – and so can your house.

Before the ground shakes again, here’s what you can do to protect your home.

  • Look up:  Overhead objects like ceiling fans and chandeliers should be bolted to ceiling joists or beams with wire cable that has slack to allow sideways movement.
  • Look around: Objects hung on walls, heavy furniture, shelved items, electronics and cabinet doors can be fastened or held down with a variety of hooks and straps screwed into studs, Velcro or museum putty, and latches to keep items from becoming airborne, falling over or opening.
  • Look down: Secure appliances and protect water connections and gas lines. Consider installing an automatic gas shut-off valve outside.
  • Prepare a disaster survival kit:  Have enough food and water to last each person for three days. Don’t forget medications, pet needs, cash, important papers, keys.
  • Contact your insurance company or agent and consider buying earthquake insurance today.
  • Consider an expert:  Have an engineer examine your home’s structure to make sure your home is properly braced and secured to the foundation.

Special Note:   In recognition of this historic event, experts, policymakers and thought leaders from across the country will gather for the Northridge 20 Symposium January 16 – 17 in Los Angeles to discuss lessons learned and best practices, share new advances in technology and engineering, and consider innovative policies and programs to reduce earthquake risk.

Find out more at these websites:

FLASH DIY Mitigation Video – Earthquake

http://www.flash.org/peril_earthquake.php

www.flash.org/quakesmart 

www.earthquakecountry.org

Editor’s Note:  Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire

12 Days of Winter Safety

With extreme winter weather conditions persisting across the country, FLASH today released 12 Days of Winter Safety tips and resources as a part of the Great Winter Weather Party digital media campaign launched in 2011. This comprehensive and cost-effective list is aimed at arming families with the necessary information and tools to winterize their home and better protect families from extreme cold and winter storms.

1st day of Winter Safety:  Enter to win a Kohler Generator. A home generator will keep systems running to protect your home and family. Generators:

  • Provide heat to keep you warm and comfortable
  • Prevent  pipes from freezing and causing water damage
  • Keep communications systems running so you can stay informed of weather and travel conditions for friends and family
  • Ensure that water removal pumps or sump pumps are protecting the basement from water damage as snow begins to melt
  • Preserve food and fresh water for the family
  • Support well pumps for running water/toilet flushing

2nd Day of Winter Safety: Purchase a weather alerting device. Get warnings on severe weather in your area by downloading the FLASH Weather Alerts App for $7.99 or paying an average of $44 for a NOAA Weather Radio.

3rd Day of Winter Safety:  Prevent Frozen Pipes by Foam, Dome or Drip. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy, money and frustration. When water freezes in a pipe, it expands and can exert pressure of up to 2,000 pounds per square inch – enough to rupture almost any pipe filled with water. When a pipe bursts, it can spill several hundred gallons of water per hour, resulting in the second most common cause of home insurance claims in America.

4th Day of Winter Safety: Check for air leaks around windows and doors using a lit incense stick. If the smoke is sucked out of an opening, seal the leak with caulk, spray foam or weather stripping. Don’t forget about holes in the attic, basement and crawlspaces. The easiest place to insulate that will generate the biggest results is your attic. The US Environmental Protection Agency suggests at least 12 to 15 inches of insulation on the floor of your attic.

5th Day of Winter Safety:  Winterize your backyard. Move outdoor furniture, grills, toys, plants and other items to a covered, protected space to prolong the life of these items and make it easier to clear snow and ice from decks after a storm. Clean leaves from gutters. For as little as $5 you can install gutter downspout extensions a minimum of four feet from the house.

6th Day of Winter Safety: Check your portable heaters. Half of all fire-related deaths are caused by items placed too closely to heat sources. Make sure that your heater is tested and labeled by a nationally recognized testing company, such as Underwriter’s Laboratories. Keep portable heaters at least three feet away from drapes, furniture or other flammable materials. Place the heater on a level surface away from areas it can be bumped or knocked over.

7th Day of Winter Safety: Make your car winter safe. Create a car emergency kit with flashlights, a distress flag, blankets, extra food and water. Keep it there throughout the season.

8th Day of Winter Safety: Clean and check your fireplace. Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials. Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment. Make sure all vent pipes extend at least three feet above the roof.

9th Day of Winter Safety: Check your furnace. Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition. Have a licensed professional inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line and make any necessary repairs.  If the wall is hot or discolored, additional pipe insulation or clearance may be required. Check the flue pipe and pipe seams to make sure they are well supported, and free of holes and cracks. Soot along or around seams may be an indicator of a leak. Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system.

10th Day of Winter SafetyPrevent fires from outside of your fireplace.  Be sure to stack firewood stored outside at least 30 feet away from your home. Keep your roof clear of potential fire starters like leaves, pine needles and other debris. Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents. For as little as $25 you can cover all vent openings to the attic, eaves/soffits, foundation, etc. with a corrosion-resistant non-combustible 1/4 inch or smaller wire mesh or screen that prevents firebrands from entering the home.

11th Day of Winter Safety: Prepare the outside of your home before and after winter storms. For as little as $5, you can keep your family and friends safe from icy walkways. Before the storm approaches, lay down a layer of deicing sand/salt to minimize the buildup of ice during the storm.  After the storm, lay down layers of deicing sand/salt to melt the snow and ice. Once it begins to melt you can chip away at the layers with a snow shovel to move it off steps and walkways.

12th Day of Winter Safety: Prevent Ice Dams. Ice dams are formed when air in the attic is warm enough to cause snow and ice on the roof to thaw and refreeze repeatedly. Pools of water then become trapped under layers of ice that seep under your roof covering (tiles or shingles) into the attic. Keep the warm air downstairs where it belongs with sufficient insulation on the floor of the attic. Consider using a dehumidifier to control water vapor. Seal all openings that would allow vapor to rise into the attic; including holes created from installing light fixtures, ceiling fans or disco balls. Provide attic ventilation to replace warm air in the attic with cold outside air. Consult a professional for the best way to avoid ice dams and water damage in your home. Keep gutters and downspouts clear to allow melted snow and ice to flow away from your home.