September 30 is National PrepareAthon! Day – Be Smart. Take Part. Document and Insure Your Property

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With signs of fall creeping up across the country, families may be feeling as if the hurricane season is over. The experts say no. In fact, September is not only the peak of hurricane season, September 30 is National PrepareAthon! Day the perfect time to take stock of disaster plans.

Today, National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Rick Knabb joined forces with Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson during a national satellite media tour to raise awareness about flood and hurricane safety, prevention and financial protection options.

“Hurricanes are not just a coastal problem,” said Knabb. “Their impacts can be felt hundreds of miles inland. You need to find out what types of hazards could happen where you live, and then start preparing for how to handle them.”

Chapman-Henderson concurs. “If a disaster strikes, having the proper insurance for your home is the best way to ensure you will have the necessary financial resources to help you repair, rebuild, or replace whatever is damaged.”

Before a disaster strikes, get #HurricaneStrong with these tips:

  • Be Smart. Take Part. Document and Insure Your Property. Have an insurance check-up. Coverage amounts, deductibles, and payment caps can vary significantly. Consult with your insurance professional to be sure your policy is right for you. Make updates based on new purchases, renovations, increases in property value, or increases in costs to rebuild or replace items. Buy flood insurance. This is not part of your homeowners’ policy and there is a 30-day waiting period before coverage begins.
  • Know your evacuation zone. Plan your escape route, where you will stay and what you will do with your pets. Storm surge is the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane regardless of wind speed.
  • Family Preparedness – Build a disaster supply kit. You’ll need to plan for two situations: Remaining in your home after a disaster or evacuating to a safer location. Keep cash on-hand because ATMs won’t function during a power outage.
  • Damage Prevention – Strengthen your home. The best place to start is with a Do-It-Yourself Wind Inspection to find out what needs attention. Make a list of what needs to be done, such as securing loose items that could be blown away by high winds. Trim your trees of dead branches that could become windborne missiles.
  • Community Service – Help your neighbor. Join with others to prepare for emergencies and participate in National PrepareAthon! Day on September 30.

For more information, visit ready.gov/prepare, flash.org or hurricanestrong.org.

View the Interactive MultiMedia Release

 

Foam, Dome & Drip – Tips for Preventing Frozen Pipes

 

As freezing temperatures threaten, prevent frozen water pipes, one of the costliest threats to your home, with three easy steps:

#1: FOAM

#2: DOMEBurst pipe

#3: DRIP

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. By keeping your water warmer, you reduce the amount of energy needed to heat water in the cold, winter months.

DOME: Place an insulating dome or other coverings on outdoor faucets and spigots to reduce the likelihood of water pipes freezing, expanding and causing a costly leak.

DRIP: Allow a slow drip from your faucets to reduce the buildup of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, the released pressure in the water system will reduce the likelihood of a rupture. If you are going out of town and suspect the temperature will drop, turn off the water and open all of the taps to drain the water system. This way pipes won’t
freeze and you won’t return home to a mess.

Your local home improvement store will have all of the tools and expertise you will need to complete these steps. FOAM, DOME, DRIP your way to a safe winter season free of costly home repairs.

For more information on protecting your home from extreme cold conditions, visit www.flash.org. To stay abreast of severe weather alerts and find more mitigation tips, download FLASH Weather Alerts at www.flashweatheralerts.org.

All Hail…Spring is Time for Impact-Resistant Roofing

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH consumer writer

There’s no mistaking it. When you hear what sounds like golf balls cascading on your roof during a storm, it means hail. Hail can pit, dent, and shred your roof. But it doesn’t have to. So here’s a homeowner tip—consider an impact-resistant roof.

Hail is no small matter. It causes about $1 billion dollars in damage to crops and property each year, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In 2013, there were 5,457 major hail storms nationwide, with most occurring in May, June, and July. Texas had the largest number of major hail storms, followed by Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

Impact-resistant roofs are typically asphalt or metal roofing materials. But, these types of roofs can also be made to appear like wood or slate—thanks to materials like concrete, plastic, recycled rubber, or molded polymer that can be fashioned to look like the real thing.

The added impact-resistant roof protection is more expensive, but costs vary nationwide and by material. In Texas, for example, an asphalt impact-resistant roof can cost about $30 more per square foot—$1,200 for your average 4000-square foot roof, says John Hadden, loss mitigation coordinator for State Farm Insurance Company in Texas (State Farm is a FLASH Legacy Partner).

You’ll want either Class 3 or Class 4 roof material that meets the UL 2218 or FM 4473 test standards. Here’s why that’s important. Class 4 roof material has been tested to withstand the impact of a 2-inch diameter steel ball, simulating hail of a similar size and density, with no damage or fracture to the shingle. Class 3 roof material can withstand 1.75-inch steel ball.

Keep in mind, too, that “impact-resistant” doesn’t mean hail only. It also includes high winds and flying debris.

There’s another reason a Class 3 or 4 roof is important to you—it can save you money on your insurance premium. This varies by where you live and what kinds of weather and natural disaster losses your area faces. But, generally, discounts (that average around 15 percent) or can range from 1 percent to 29 percent, Hadden says.

Premium discounts last the lifetime of the roof—which varies by the type of material—and are transferable to another owner if you sell the house. The economics work well because the upgraded roof pays for itself over time.

Finally, keep in mind that not all roofing contractors who arrive in your neighborhood after a storm are reputable. Some will come seeking to sell impact-resistant roofs to homeowners, but these fraudsters won’t put on an impact-resistant roof, even if they charge for one. They’ll install a cheaper one instead and bill the insurers for the more expensive material.

So, homeowners should be on alert for these types of practices, and take steps to avoid fraud. Ask for references, and be sure to check them. Ask for proof of insurance, and never pay upfront before installations. Verify the roofing shingle products that the contractor is installing are the ones YOU ordered. Check the shingle package label and keep a copy for your records.

Remember, your roof doesn’t have to be damaged by hail. Consider an impact-resistant roof and be ready for hail, golf balls, or whatever comes your way.

8 Last Minute Extreme Cold Weather Tips for Families

With snow, strong winds and potential blizzard conditions in the forecast, FLASH offers the following eight (8) last minute tips to help protect your family and home.

Keep Safe & Warm

  1. Gather together an emergency kit and include flashlights, batteries, blankets, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, non-perishable food, a can opener, cash, and an external battery pack for mobile devices.
  2. Organize layers of loose fitting, lightweight; warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
  3. Use all heaters, fireplaces, generators and other appliances safely by remembering ventilation and avoiding use in wet areas. Never burn charcoal indoors.
  4. Fill up your car fuel tank at least half full in case of a prolonged power outage as gas stations rely on electricity to operate pumps and may not have a generator.
  5. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345) if you cannot safely shelter at home.

Protect Your Home

  1. Insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts with insulating foam. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy. If you cannot purchase insulating foam in time, consider wrapping towels around pipes and fastening them with duct tape.
  2. Place an insulating dome or other covering on outdoor faucets and spigots to help prevent inside the pipes from freezing, expanding and causing costly leaks.
  3. Drip faucets to reduce the build-up of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, you have released the pressure from the water system reducing the likelihood of a rupture. If you are going out of town, and suspect that temperatures will drop or a power outage will occur, turn off the water to your home and open all of the taps to drain the water system to avoid returning to wet and damaged flooring, walls and electrical.

For more winter safety and prevention information, tips and resources, visit the Great Winter Weather Party. To enter to win a KOHLER standby generator to keep your home running when the power goes out, visit the sweepstakes entry page.

13 Affordable Earthquake Safety Tips for Families and Business Owners

The nine earthquakes that rattled Dallas over the past 24 hours are reminders to take steps to protect your family, home, and business before an earthquake hits. FLASH offers the following easy and affordable earthquake safety tips for residents.

Look Up

1. Support ceiling fans and light pendants with bracing wire secured to a screw eye embedded at least an inch into the ceiling joist.

Look Around

Secure hanging artwork and heavy furniture with these easy and affordable steps.

2. Anchor the tops of bookcases, file cabinets and entertainment centers to one or more studs with flexible fasteners or metal “L” brackets and screws to prevent tipping.

3. Secure loose shelving by screwing into the cabinet or with earthquake putty placed at each corner bracket.

4. Secure china, collectibles, trophies, and other shelf items with earthquake putty.

5. Install a lip or blocking device to prevent books or other articles from falling off shelves.

6. Secure televisions, computers, and stereos with buckles and safety straps that also allow easy removal and relocation.

7. Install latches on cabinet doors to prevent them from opening and spilling out their contents.

8. Hang mirrors, pictures and plants using closed hooks to prevent items from falling.

9. Cover windows with approved shatter-resistant safety film to protect against broken glass.

Look Down

Prevent post-earthquake fires with these easy and affordable steps.

10. Ensure appliances have flexible gas or electrical connectors.

11. Strap the top and bottom of a water heater using heavy-gauge metal strapping secured to wall studs.

12. Locate your gas shutoff valve and ensure you know how to turn off the gas supply to your home with the use of a suitable wrench.

13. Relocate flammable liquids to a garage or outside storage location.

For additional resources for businesses visit the FLASH and FEMA QuakeSmart initiative. For more how-to earthquake information, residents can visit the Protect Your Home in a FLASH video library.

Holiday Winter Preparedness Gift Ideas from FLASH

Freezing temperatures and snow arrived earlier than normal this year making it even more important to take steps to prepare for winter conditions during the remainder of the season.

What better way to help your family and friends prepare than giving a gift that keeps them safe, warm, and protected inside their home?

This week, when you begin, or maybe as you finish holiday shopping, consider adding safety gadgets to your shopping list. The list below will get you started if you want to choose gifts for family and friends that will help prepare for weather of all kinds.

Safety and Comfort

  • AM/FM radio with extra batteries
  • Blankets
  • Car power inverters
  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • External cell phone battery pack
  • Fire extinguisher and fire escape ladder
  • First-aid kits
  • FLASH Weather Alerts app
  • Hand-crank powered appliances such as cell phone chargers, power supplies, radios and weather radio
  • LED flashlights with extra batteries
  • Power generators
    • Portable gasoline-powered generators
    • Permanent LP or natural gas home generators
  • Solar-powered backpack to charge laptops, tablets, and other portable devices
  • Windshield scraper

Home Mitigation

  • Attic insulation
  • Gift certificates for professional home inspections
  • Insulated doors
  • Insulation for hose bibs, exposed plumbing, pool equipment
  • Replacement windows
  • Storm doors
  • Weather stripping

Click here for a complete list of tips on how to stay safe and comfortable during power outages. For more tips and resources on winter safety, visit The Great Winter Weather Party campaign, and for comprehensive information on weather of all kinds, visit FLASH.

When Frozen Pipes Go Bang in the Night – One Family’s Story

By Terry Sheridan – FLASH Consumer Reporter

Missouri’s the “Show Me” state, and last winter it did just that to St. Louis homeowner Flora Dimitriou, who learned at 1:30 a.m. on a frigid January night what happens when water pipes freeze.

Awakened by a loud bang, Dimitriou knew a pipe had burst in an upstairs bathroom and rushed downstairs to shut off the water line. At first, there was no water to be seen. The fractured pipe was in an exterior wall of a bathroom – the only one of her 3.5 baths to have an outside wall.

But as the water in the pipe thawed, the water came – leaking what amounted to four buckets of water onto the ceiling of the den, directly below the bathroom.

Dimitriou moved aside furniture and punched eight holes in the den ceiling to relieve the water pressure. Buckets under each hole caught the dripping. Hours later, the leaks finally stopped.

Repairs included a teardown and replacement of at least half of the den ceiling, and cutting out and replacing the damaged portion of the bathroom pipe, which required removal and replacement of wall tile, and insulating the pipe. The cost: $1950.

“We had two options: Leave it alone and insulate what was there or actually re-do the way the plumbing was installed, which would mean tearing down the whole ceiling in the den and turning the shower around so the pipes would be coming in from an inside wall,” she says. She says there’s actually one good thing about the experience: The leak started in the bathroom’s linen closet. If the burst pipe had been under the two sinks, the cabinets would have had to be replaced.

Ironically, Dimitriou did the things you’re supposed to do to protect water pipes from freezing: They were insulated, dome covers shielded outside spigots from snow and ice and water lines were drained or allowed to drip to prevent freezing.

But in her family’s 12 years in the house, the side with the corner bathroom had always been cold – even after the builder re-insulated it, she says.

“The next house I buy, I’d want to know more about the plumbing and make sure there was adequate insulation,” she says.

Meanwhile, Dimitriou expects to start using a small space heater near that bathroom a little sooner than usual this year.

Learn more about “foam, dome, and drip” precautions to protect pipes and other winter weather tips for your home at FLASH’s Great Winter Weather Party.

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.

 

Hurricane Charley and the Tale of Two Homes: 10 Years Later

Rebuilding 188

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Charley tore through Punta Gorda on Florida’s Gulf Coast – a Category 4 monster that was the strongest to hit the U.S. since Andrew in 1992. Punta Gorda homeowner Jim Minardi survived Charley, but he isn’t about to throw any anniversary parties. The August 2004 storm pummeled his 43-year-old home, shearing off the roof, blowing out windows and trashing all of his possessions. Fortunately, he and his dogs were unhurt, and his partner, Teresa Fogolini, was out of town.

When the storm was farther south around Sanibel Island, Jim thought he could make a run for it out of the area. After all, Charley was a Category 1 storm with winds below 100 mph at that point. But, as hurricanes often do, it grew more fierce. By the time it churned through Charlotte Harbor, Charley packed a lot more muscle. By then, it was too late to leave.

Jim hunkered down in a windowless interior bathroom and waited. There was little damage to his home before the calm of the eye passed over. So during “halftime,” as he puts it, Jim went to a neighbor’s shuttered home to wait out the rest of the storm. It was the back end of the storm that ripped into Jim’s home – and his roof crashed into that same neighbor’s pool screening.

Thanks to interest from Home Improvement expert Bob Vila and FLASH, one year later, Jim and Teresa were in a new home built to state-of-the-art building codes and hurricane protective measures. You can see the before-and-after and what was done to bolster their new home’s safety in this “Tale of Two Homes” video. Despite a much more hurricane-resistant home, the Charley ordeal and aftermath left Jim wiser – and worried during hurricane season, particularly for people with older homes.

Retrofit, retrofit, retrofit as much as possible, he urges those homeowners. Roofing tie downs and hurricane shutters are “cheap insurance,” Jim says. The rebuilt home has impact-resistant windows, so Jim believes he can forego shutters.

There’s one thing he considered adding to the new home: a safe room. Punta Gorda officials pointed out it would only be useful for tornadoes, not hurricanes, because the home’s waterfront location made it vulnerable to rising waters from storm surge. Officials warned that Jim and Teresa should always consider evacuation because they could drown if they stayed behind in a hurricane.

So, given that his home is much sturdier than the previous one, would Jim leave or go through another storm? “I ask myself that all the time,” he says. While he believes the reinforced home would withstand the impact, the trauma of what he endured with Charley lingers.

“I think I would leave,” he says. “But I’m pretty confident the home will be there after the next storm.”

Find more information about hurricanes and how to protect your home at 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.

Disaster Savings Accounts Would Help Shore Up Homes and Finances

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

Residents of Oso, Washington were traumatized on March 22 when a massive mudslide swept through the area engulfing homes and claiming lives.  Months later, residents are still handling the aftermath of this tragedy as best as possible, but the financial burdens of rebuilding often become as traumatic as the disaster itself.

Help could be on the way in the form of proposed federal legislation allowing homeowners and renters to set aside up to $5,000 every year in a disaster savings account – tax-free if the money is used for post-disaster repairs or pre-disaster mitigation.  The money rolls over every year and there’s no limit to how much can be accumulated.

If the Disaster Savings Accounts Act which is still wending its way through Congressional committees passes, homeowners and renters alike could establish accounts to use for future natural disasters.

“Disaster Savings Accounts would provide people the opportunity to protect their belongings and families,” says U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), co-sponsor of the bill with U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government agencies provide limited relief to disaster victims, “… recovery assistance is after the fact,” Ross says. “We want to equip homeowners so that they can protect themselves before a disaster strikes and not when they’re forced to rummage through the remains of their homes after a flood, hurricane or earthquake.”

Ahead of a disaster, the pre-tax savings can be used to pay for home fortifications such as a safe room, wind resistant windows and doors, or elevating structures in flood zones.  After a disaster, savings can be used to help close the gap between insurance deductibles and other recovery funds.  In that case, the event must be a state or federally declared disaster and the homeowner or renter must have uninsured losses totaling at least $3,000.

“Insurance doesn’t cover all losses or cleanup expenses, particularly personal losses,” says former FEMA director James Lee Witt, Democratic candidate for the 4th Congressional District in Arkansas.  For example, if the bill was in effect at the time of the mudslide, Oso residents with accounts could have used them to cover uninsured personal casualty losses above $3,000 because they are in a formal disaster area.

Supporters for the bill come from all sectors, e.g. FLASH, The Home Depot, National Association of Home Builders, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, The Nature Conservancy and leaders like Moore, Oklahoma Mayor Glenn Lewis and former FEMA director James Lee Witt.

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 wildfire protection your burning desire

By: Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

Jeff Shapiro admits he should have known better about wildfire precautions. He is, after all, a fire protection engineer. Shapiro got his wakeup call in 2011.

The catastrophic Bastrop County wildfire of Labor Day weekend in 2011 burned 32,400 acres and destroyed almost 2,900 buildings – most of them homes – southeast of Austin in central Texas. It’s described as the most destructive wild land urban interface wildfire in Texas history.

During the same weekend, wildfire destroyed 23 homes in the Steiner Ranch community on the northwest side of Austin. Shapiro lives just five miles away in Jester Estates.

Before Bastrop, it had been decades since the last wildfire in the canyon behind his house, Shapiro says. “When I purchased my lot in 2000, everything was wet and green,” he adds. No one in his neighborhood really thought about wildfires, including him.

But the hot, dry climate change and Jester’s position atop a plateau surrounded by fire-friendly wild land raises the community’s burn potential. So Shapiro got to work.

He installed a fire sprinkler system in a home already constructed of fire-resistant concrete board and stone, and Class A fire-retardant asphalt shingles on the roof; trimmed low-hanging branches on trees to make “fuel breaks” that slow a fire’s upward climb; and created open spaces between pockets of trees instead of having continuous vegetation that would feed a fire.

But wildfire protection requires community action to be most effective. Though Jester Estates is now a “Firewise Community,” a designation by the National Fire Protection Association, not all homeowners have embraced the effort.

“People are apathetic if there hasn’t been a fire recently and, if there has been, there’s a denial factor,” says Shapiro, chairman of Jester’s Firewise Community safety committee. “There seems to be an expectation that the fire service will save you.” But depending on the number of fires and fire-fighting resources, that protection may not arrive, he adds.

From a firefighter’s perspective, Justice Jones says homeowners who followed recommendations to protect their homes during the Bastrop fire had a greater ability to survive the fire without firefighters’ help.

“That’s not to say that firefighters won’t make every effort to defend homes. But applying these tactics improves the chances of protecting  the structure,” says Jones, Fire Adapted Communities coordinator for the Austin Fire Department’s Wildfire Division.

In addition to Shapiro’s precautions, Jones offers these tips to protect your home.

  • Embers are the biggest danger.  Install ember-resistant roof and foundation vents or 1/8-inch metal mesh behind the openings. Check local building codes first.
  • Remove leaves, pine needles and other combustible material from gutters.
  • Create a barrier surrounding the house, and decks and porches, that’s free of mulch and other combustible material.
  • Protect your home with non-combustible roofing and siding material.

Find more information about wildfire protection here :

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

http://www.firewise.org/?sso=0

Editor’s Note: Celebrate National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on Saturday, May 3, a national effort to reduce wildfire risk through volunteer cleanup and clear-out projects. 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.