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.

10 Tornado Safety Tips to Keep You Safe Before, During and After a Storm

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)®  offers the following tornado safety tips to help before, during, and after a tornado strikes.

Before

  • Have a family tornado plan and know where you can safely take shelter.
  • Closely monitor NOAA Weather Radio
  • Install a tornado safe room or storm shelter built to FEMA 320 guidelines or the ICC/NSSA 500 standard. Always use a licensed contractor to install a safe room within, adjacent to, or outside of your home.
  • View this video playlist to find out Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You.

During

  • Take refuge in a tested and approved storm shelter, safe room, or a community shelter labeled as an official tornado shelter. Community shelters may include stores, malls, churches, even airports.
  • If no shelter is available:
    • Are you indoors? Go to the lowest floor, to a small, central, interior room, under a stairwell, or to an interior hallway with no windows. Crouch down as low as possible to the floor, face down, and cover your head with your arms. Cover yourself with a blanket, mattress, helmet, or other thick covering. Wear footwear with thick soles to your safe location.
    • Are you in a mobile home? Get out. Even if your home is tied down, it is not as safe as a sturdy building. Go to a nearby permanent structure. Do not seek shelter under an overpass, bridge, or in a drainage ditch. If you cannot safely exit your vehicle, park it out of traffic lanes. Stay in your vehicle with your seatbelt on. Put your head below the windows and protect it with your arms and a blanket, coat, or other cushion.
    • Are you outdoors? Shelter in a sturdy building. If no shelter is available, lie face down on low ground protecting the back of your head with your arms.

After

  • Keep your family together in a safe location and wait for emergency personnel to arrive.
  • Stay away from power lines, downed trees, and puddles that could hide live wires.
  • Watch your step to avoid sharp objects.
  • Stay out of heavily damaged structures, as they may collapse.
  • Do not use matches or lighters in case of leaking natural gas or fuel tanks.
  • Listen to your radio for information and instructions.

6 Days, 6 Ways To Protect Your Home and Family This Winter

With extreme cold weather affecting families from coast to coast and tomorrow marking the first official day of winter, we have put together six ways you can protect your home and family from winter weather conditions.

Day 1:  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

Day 2:  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. 

Day 3: 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.

Day 4: Check your portable heaters and fireplaces. 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. 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.

Day 5: 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.

Day 6: 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.

21 Ways to Weather Winter

Preventing 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.

1. Insulate the floor of the attic. Consider also using a dehumidifier to control water vapor.

2. Seal all openings that would allow vapor to rise into the attic; this includes any holes       created from installing light fixtures or ceiling fans.

3. Provide good 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.

4. Keep gutters and downspouts clear to allow melted snow and ice to flow away from your home.

5. Never climb up on the roof to remove the snow. You can cause significant damage to your roof coverings not to mention yourself if you were to slip and fall. And don’t install large pieces of equipment in the attic. This will only raise the temperature in the winter months.

6. Don’t use salt or other minerals to melt the snow on your roof. These are very damaging to roof shingles and tiles not to mention gutters and downspouts.

Prevent Frozen Pipes

Damage from frozen pipes is the second most common cause of insurance claims in America. The average homeowner will have to spend thousands to repair damage from a frozen, leaking pipes.

7. 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.

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

9. DRIP: By allowing a slow drip from your faucets, you 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.

Check Your Insulation

Doors and windows are just some of the places that you should ensure are well insulated before the temperatures start to drop.

10. Check and refresh caulk annually before cold weather sets in.

11. 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.

12. The easiest place to insulate that will generate the biggest results is your attic. The US Environmental Protection Agency suggests at least 12 – 15 inches of insulation on the floor of your attic (more if you are in a colder climate).

13. If you don’t have energy efficient windows, consider using shrink film window insulation kit from a local hardware store.

Winterizing Outside Your Home

14. Before the storm approaches, lay down a layer of deicing sand/salt to minimize the buildup of ice during the storm.

15. 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 of steps and walkways.

16. Move outdoor furniture, grills, toys and other items to a covered protected space.

17. Seal your deck to protect it against snow, ice, rain and all of the other elements it is vulnerable to.

18. If you have plants outside that cannot take cold weather, consider moving them indoors bringing a little life and décor to the inside of your home. If this isn’t possible, cover plants and shrubs when temperatures are forecast to drop below tolerable levels.

19. Clean your gutters of any debris once all the leaves have fallen and install gutter downspout extensions a minimum of four feet from the house.

20. Turn off and drain all of your outdoor plumbing including hose connections, pool connections, sprinkler systems, etc. After you’ve turned off the water, leave faucets in the “on” position and remove any plastic components.

21. Drain the gas from your lawn mower and service your snow blower with a tune-up.

For more information on weathering winter this season, visit www.greatwinterweatherparty.org or www.flash.org

Black Friday Winter Preparedness Gift Ideas from FLASH

Black-Friday-Graphic

With families experiencing colder-than-normal temperatures already during the month of November and with freezing temperatures over the Thanksgiving holiday, the FLASH team suggests adding a few winter safety items to your Black Friday shopping list.

There’s no better gift than one that offers your loved ones safety and protection and even has the potential to save their lives. FLASH developed a comprehensive list of winter-weather preparedness gift-giving ideas that can protect friends’ and families’ homes and ensure their safety.

Winter storms from coast to coast are redefining this year’s must-have gift list. Here are suggested gifts that provide Comfort and Security as well as Home Mitigation:

Comfort & Security

  • AM/FM radios w/extra batteries
  • Automobile power inverters
  • Blankets
  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • First-aid kits
  • Hand-crank powered appliances such as cell phone chargers, power supplies, radios and weather radio
  • Cell phone battery pack or case
  • LED flash lights w/extra batteries
  • FLASH Weather Alerts app
  • Power generators
    • Portable gasoline-powered generators
    • Permanent LP or natural gas standby generators
    • Solar-powered backpack to charge laptops, tablets, music players and other portable devices

Home Mitigation

  • Attic insulation
  • Insulated doors
  • Insulated faucet domes
  • Storm doors
  • Portable generators
  • Standby generators
  • Gift certificates for professional home inspections
  • Gift certificates for professional winterization services
  • Insulation for hose bibs, exposed plumbing, pool equipment
  • Weather stripping
  • Replacement windows

For a complete list of tips on how to stay safe and comfortable during power outages, click here. For more tips and resources on winter safety visit www.greatwinterweatherparty.org. For comprehensive disaster safety and home mitigation information on weather of all kinds visit www.flash.org.