In Alabama we get a significant amount of storms, everything ranging from small rainstorms, tornadoes, blizzards and even hurricanes and tropical storms. It comes as no surprise that we have to be prepared to weather a storm.
1. Trim and Clear. I see this on just about every list online, trim and clear trees back from your house. In areas of the country with prominent forest fires keeping a fire barrier between the wood line and your house is often a building code requirement. Though its not a requirement in the South East United States it still passes the common sense test to do the same.
Blown down trees will damage power lines, roofs, and even structural supports of your home. One heavy log can cause thousands in damage, and don't forget you wont be able to cosmetically match paints and shingles very well, so you’ll likely be viewing the mismatch until it’s time to completely redo it. Any home owner with a chainsaw and a ladder can get trees and limbs cleared up so nothing is over-hanging your house.
Required materials: Ladder, Chainsaw or limb saw, pruning shears, rope
3. Walk the yard. Grading is important and with the amount of home inspections we do in a year in Birmingham I can tell you one of the most common causes of moisture issues is grading and gutters. Even if the site was fine last year, its important to realize your land settles and it may not be graded correctly anymore; It doesn’t usually hurt to go more but a rule of thumb for the minimum is 1 inch every 10 feet from the house.
At the same time you should check the gutters discharge too. We see a lot of houses during inspection that discharge water immediately next to the house. Short term this can cause water entry in a bad storm, but long term you’ll start to rot the wood all around it, and even damage masonry. Even if it’s not touching the brick, concrete foundation and mortar all soak it up and absorb it into the surrounding area. This causes a significant amount of damage over time.
Required materials: Shovel, fill dirt, 6 foot level, tape measure, splash blocks.
4. Back Ups: Two is one, and one is none. During a bad storm is not the time to have things quit working on you. However, this is the time we can almost guarantee some things will. I live out in the country, it’s pretty well a guarantee that anytime we have a decent storm ill lose power for a short term, and during the snow storms ill lose it over night. if not longer This is a minor irritant unless you have a freezer stocked full of food and rely on electricity for your heat.
As home inspectors we always recommend two sources of heat for just this reason… even in the South! Im not suggesting you have two types of furnaces, but2 days below 30 degrees with no heat can be deadly. If you have electric heat and a gas log fire place you can at least get some heat in the house. Whether you have backup heat or not, having a generator is invaluable. It can run a freezer so food doesn’t go bad and allow you to use your electric cook top, microwave, or oven. More than that if you have a basement or problematic crawl space it will allow you to run your sump so you don't get flooding.
On that same note sump pumps are inexpensive enough it doesn’t hurt to have a back up, and it doesn't need to be a high quality backup. They’re cheap and having one you’ll never need is good insurance against a flooded basement with $10,000 in mold and water damage. Required materials: Sump pump, generator, back up heat system, back up cooker, propane.
5. Have your emergency supplies ready. I wont give a huge list here, there’s lots of experts on the subject and an entire blog post could be devoted to just this. I will, however, through some basic principles on the subject. Food, water, shelter (meaning clothing and blankets), and comfort should be readily available. A plastic tub of some sort stored in a convenient area (somewhere you can get to without a light) filled with necessities can handle any number of issues, FEMA recommends 3 days worth. Include in this tub:
You may be wondering about some of these items and why we recommend keeping it in a tub. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and severe tropical storms can have you leaving the home. Having everything you need to do so, packed in a water-resistant container offers obvious advantages should the need arise. But even in things as minor as power outages it is safe and secure to have everything in a place you can get to without the lights on.
You may keep your important papers in one secure place like a safe. In the military it was common practice to have what was referred to as an “I love me” book with all this information in there. Any documentation that would be needed to start life over on a move: land deeds, vehicle titles, court documents etc.
Flooding, forest fires, tornadoes all can force you to start over. During that mess is not the time to be hunting down birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates (or divorce decrees) etc.
6. Check with your insurance provider to ensure you're covered against any issues that may arise. Rebuilding a home from cash while paying off your mortgage to a house you no longer live in, all because you didn't know it wouldn’t be covered sounds like a horrible way to spend the next ten years of your life.
7. Service your equipment: Having a GOOD HVAC technician review your equipment and verify it’s working correctly can save you $1000’s. At a minimum they should top off your freon, check the lines, acid wash the coils, and take temperature readings.
This is also a good time to have the hot water heater serviced but this is something you can do yourself with minimal knowledge. We will publish a blog soon on how to do that.
The bottom line is that during a storm is not the time to have your heater go out. As I mentioned if you are on electric you will likely lose it anyways, so do all that you can to avoid the loss.
8. Put your plumbing on drip: This is one of the things we tend to neglect if we are home but can save a significant amount if your heat goes out while you’re asleep. Blankets and the brandy you were drinking will likely ensure you a solid nights sleep even if it gets a little cold. Put a tap on drip because even if you have freeze proof exterior hose bibs, the plumbing in your walls can still freeze. This is true even with the heat on and you at home!
Give the water a little room to expand and you can sleep easy knowing it cost you less than $0.05 to run the drip all night and your pipes can release pressure.
I am a United States Army Veteran with over 10 years construction experience prior to my service. After my time in the military I enrolled in InterNACHI's rigorous course work to become a certified member and prepare for the National Home Inspectors Exam. I continue to push inspection courses and education, attaining and exceeding the required continuing education courses