Storm Proofing - Bob Vila

Category: Storm Proofing

The #1 Thing You’re Forgetting to Do Before Leaving on Vacation

A new survey reveals that when preparing to go on vacation, most homeowners are careful to safeguard against fire and theft, but fail to appreciate the degree of damage a leak can cause in their absence.


It’s one thing to leave your home unattended for a few hours. But when you’re preparing to go away for a period of days, you don’t just shut the front door and lock it behind you. Instead, like countless other homeowners around the country, you take precautions—triple-checking the stove to make sure it’s off, for instance, or asking the post office to suspend mail delivery. Once you’ve convinced yourself there’s nothing left to worry about back home, you can finally shift your focus to the holiday celebration or far-flung beach retreat you’ve been eagerly awaiting.

There’s only one problem here: You don’t need to be told that your home faces an elevated risk level whenever you’re not there, but new data suggests that you may be ignoring one of the biggest dangers of all—leaks. A survey sponsored by Chubb finds that before leaving on vacation, nearly 80 percent of homeowners do nothing at all to protect against the damage that can be caused by a runaway leak. In fact, the Chubb survey shows that for the majority of homeowners, leaks barely even register as a concern. Only 19 percent view water damage as a top threat to homes left unattended by vacationing (or otherwise absent) owners.


But industry statistics prove not only that the risk exists, but also that homeowners spend more than you might think to recover from leak-related incidents. In its study of 2010-2014 trends, the Insurance Information Institute (III) concluded that homeowners submitted more claims for water and freeze damage than for almost anything else. Furthermore, water damage appears to be growing more common. In 2011, water damage accounted for only a quarter of property damage claims, whereas in 2015, it accounted for almost half. What’s more, the III calculated that the average claim amounted to almost $8,000—no small sum!

How can H20 do so much harm? Well, you can’t fix a leak if you’re not at home to notice that there is one. It’s your absence that allows for even a minor leak to do major damage. Fran O’Brien, division president of Chubb North America Personal Risk Services, explains, “The time between when a leak occurs and when it is discovered is the single greatest factor in determining the amount of damage.” If you catch and correct the leak within 72 hours, it’s often possible to undo the effects without thorough restoration work. But after 72 hours, worse damage begins to set in, all while you may be none the wiser.

The irony is that the average homeowner goes out of his or her way to defend against other home hazards. For instance, the Chubb survey indicates that 94 percent of homeowners have installed fire alarms and as many as 54 percent have installed security systems. The implication? “Homeowners address what are perceived to be the most common property risks,” O’Brien says. Yet somehow, despite evidence to the contrary—despite the fact that 45 percent of respondents have experienced water damage in the past two years, or know someone who has—most continue to discount the risk potential of leaks, and few proactively pursue water damage prevention.

Prevention demands little of the homeowner. In fact, the simplest method of sidestepping the problem takes only a few seconds and costs nothing—shutting off the water main whenever you leave home for more than a night or two. Only 22 percent of homeowners do this, but cutting off the home water supply provides the most effective and comprehensive solution, given that most leaks occur in the plumbing system itself. Another option: Place leak alarms in any areas where you’ve had leak problems in the past, or where you suspect there may be one in the future. Doing so doesn’t prevent leaks, but it helps prevent the worst water damage.

For those seeking the utmost leak protection while away from home, experts recommend the following additional measures:

• Hunt for any pre-existing leaks throughout the home, especially around windows and doors.
• Check all appliance hoses and replace any that show signs of either age or wear and tear.
• Add insulation to water pipes that travel through uninsulated space, for example, a crawl space.
• Clear gutters and downspouts of leaves and debris to ensure proper storm water drainage.
• Cover basement window wells in order to block drainage-inhibiting debris from accumulating.
• Ask a friend or neighbor to inspect your home every other day for as long as you’re away.
• Survey the roof for missing or damaged roof shingles, and if present, make or schedule repair.


Think about it this way: Water courses through a network of pipes that spans the entire home in service of a diverse range of fixtures and appliances, everything from the toilet to the dishwasher; water literally surrounds us. But as much as we rely on it, and as much as we take it for granted, water never stops being a natural enemy of wood, drywall, and other key materials that make our homes healthy, safe, and aesthetically pleasing places to live. In this fragile situation, where we must closely coexist with water, leaks are more of an inevitability than a surprise. Act accordingly!


This article has been brought to you by Chubb.

Solved! What to Do When a Tree Falls on Your House

When disaster strikes and a tree falls on the house, follow this action plan to ensure safety for you and your family and mitigate the damage to your home.

What to Do When a Tree Falls on Your House


Q: We just experienced a strong thunderstorm, during which a tree blew over on our house! We have no experience with this sort of thing. What should we do now? Help!

A: A tree falling on a home—for any reason, whether due to high winds, an ice storm, or a rotted tree simply toppling—can cause extensive structural damage. Immediately get your family out of harm’s way, and then focus on minimizing additional damage and having the damage repaired.

Call 911 and the electrical company if power lines are down. When a tree falls on the house, there’s always a chance it’ll take electrical power lines down with it. This creates a hazardous situation with an increased risk of fire or deadly electrical shock. Signs that a power line is down include no electrical power in the house or flickering lights. From outside, you may be able to actually see if a power line is trapped in the fallen tree. In some cases, a downed line may still be functioning, but it still creates a risk, so shut off the power at your breaker box if you know or even suspect that the tree took a line down with it.

Call the authorities and your local electrical company. If you smell smoke, get your family out of the house and call from your neighbor’s. The electrical company will dispatch technicians to repair the lines. Local law enforcement may need to block traffic on your street, and the fire department may send a unit to stand by as a precaution until safety is restored.

What to Do When a Tree Falls on the House


Prevent further immediate damage. A fallen tree can cause broken windows as well as a hole in your roof or siding; even brick and stone can be damaged by the impact. You could also potentially have damaged gas lines. While gas lines are buried, there’s a chance they could be affected if the tree fell in the area where they enter your home. As a precaution, it’s a good idea to shut off the gas at the meter until you’re sure the lines weren’t damaged. You’ll find a shut-off valve near the meter. To shut off the gas, use a wrench to turn the valve a quarter of a turn to the right.

Call a reputable contractor to tarp or board up broken windows and any holes in the roof or sides of your home. This step will protect your home’s interior and your belongings from additional weather damage. If you want to take part in covering broken windows, do so carefully, to avoid sharp glass, but it’s best to leave roof-tarping to the pros. Parts of the roof may not be stable enough to walk on safely.

Obtain accurate documentation for insurance claims. Take photos or a video of the damage—both outdoors and indoors—as soon as all immediate danger has passed. Remain on the ground and let a roofing professional take pictures of the roof. Document broken windows, damaged siding, structural damage, and damage to the contents of your home. Don’t leave anything out; the pictures you take now are vital as evidence for your insurance claim.

Call your homeowner’s insurance agent to start the claims process. You may be asked to consult two or three local contractors to get estimates for the repair work. Or, depending on your insurance company, a claims adjuster may be sent out to examine your home. In that case, the adjuster will determine the extent of the damage and the corresponding repair costs.

Consult your homeowner’s insurance policy to understand your financial obligation. You will probably be required to pay a deductible, after which the insurance company will kick in for the balance of the repair costs—up to a certain amount, based on your individual policy terms. Common deductibles range from around $500 to $2,000, and sometimes even more, depending on amount of premiums and the coverage limits. If you’re like most homeowners, you probably haven’t read all the fine print in your policy, so go through it now so you know what to expect.

If an “Act of Nature”—such as thunderstorms, ice storms, and high winds—caused the tree to fall on the house, in most cases, your policy will cover the repair expenses, minus your deductible. Your policy will pay even if the fallen tree belongs to a neighbor or a municipality in an “Act of Nature” situation. Your claim might be denied, however, if you caused the tree to fall through reckless action, such as attempting to cut it down without professional assistance.

Hold off on permanent repairs until you and your insurer agree on the amount of your claim. Depending on your policy, your insurer might impose limits on specific repairs, such as the price of tree removal. If costs are beyond the permitted amount to, you may be liable for the balance.

If the total amount offered by your insurer does not cover the cost of the estimated repairs, you have the right to appeal their decision and have them reevaluate your claim. If this happens, submit bids from contractors showing that the costs are higher than your insurer is allowing.

Keep track of expenses you incur related to the damage. Expenses incurred for emergency damage control are almost always covered, so save your receipts if you had a contractor tarp your roof or board-up windows. If your home is not habitable, your insurance company may also reimburse you for some of the expense of temporarily renting an apartment or staying in a hotel. Don’t just assume, however, that all your expenses will be covered—call your agent to make sure.

Make your final payment only when satisfied with the contractor’s work. Legitimate contractors often request payment for materials before they start work, but they should not ask for prepayment for their labor to make the repairs. If the repairs are extensive and will take more than a few weeks to complete, the contractor may reasonably ask for partial payments to be made on an agreed-upon schedule, but the final payment should be made only when the repairs are complete to your satisfaction.

9 Things You Won’t Believe Home Insurance Doesn’t Cover

Read the fine print on your homeowners insurance policy to ensure that you’re covered for everything. If you're not careful, these 9 high-risk liabilities might not make the cut.

Most homeowners insurance policies get squared away in the early stages of home buying and aren’t much looked at again until the time comes when they’re needed, say, after a burglary or significant storm damage. But don’t wait until the day you need to invoke it to learn what your policy doesn’t cover. A number of liabilities—ranging from trampolines to certain pests, and from out-of-the-home businesses to certain dog breeds—may not be included. So, before you’re caught off guard in a worst-case scenario, double-check your policy to make sure you’re protected for the following scenarios.


1. You Run Your Business Out of Your Home.

What Does Homeowners Insurance Cover - Not Home Businesses


Typically, home insurance covers only minor damages on at-home work equipment, up to a $2,500 loss limitation for business property, such as computers. Yet, for those who keep large amounts of inventory on their premises, such a small payout in all likelihood wouldn’t cover the cost of replacement. So, for business conducted in your home—not to mention liability for potential lawsuits—it’s wise to purchase a separate business insurance policy.


2. The House Sustained Flood Damage.

If you, like many homeowners, mistakenly believe that your homeowners insurance policy covers your property for flood-related damage, you’re not alone. Most people are surprised to learn that floods are excluded from coverage on almost every standard homeowners policy. Those who want protection need to apply through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, which is run by FEMA.

3. Your Sewer Backed Up.

With a strong El Niño predicted for 2016, torrential downpours could cause sewer backups into your drains and basements, causing thousands of dollars in damage. Most sewer backups, however, are not covered under a standard policy, nor are they covered by flood insurance. The good news: You may be able to purchase a separate rider for protection.


4. You Own a Certain Dog Breed.

What Does Homeowners Insurance Cover - Not High-Risk Dog Breeds


According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than $500 million in homeowners insurance liability claims paid out in 2014, constituting more than one-third of all homeowners insurance claims. While most injuries caused by pets are covered by home insurance, some policies exclude those caused by certain “high-risk” breeds, like German shepherds or pit bulls. Check with your agent to be sure your dog’s breed won’t compromise your coverage.


5. You’ve Detected Termites.

According to the National Pest Management Association, in the United States termites cause an estimated $5 billion in damage each year—none of which is covered by homeowners insurance. While you can sometimes obtain something like termite coverage through a pest removal service, you’re much better off taking measures to prevent the problem. Trim back trees, keep your roof in good repair, and avoid ice dams caused by snow accumulation in order to keep these pests from penetrating your property. If your home is prone to termites, schedule a regular inspection with a pest professional.


6. Everything Is Under Construction.

What Does Homeowners Insurance Cover - not poor remodels


Considering a remodel this year? It’s nearly impossible to collect on a claim from your homeowners policy for faulty, inadequate, or defective workmanship, materials, or maintenance. That means, if you plan to hire a contractor, it’s important to confirm that he is licensed for liabilities. Request a physical or digital copy of any contractor’s insurance certificate from his insurance company. In the event that a contractor does something that injures someone or damages your home, he’ll be liable to pay for it—not you. You may also want to invest in additional coverage, such as a “builder’s risk policy” (also called a “course of construction” policy), to protect the premises during the construction process from damages including wind, rain, and even theft.


7. Burglars Found the Cash.

Let this be a lesson: Don’t go stashing significant cash underneath your mattress or between couch cushions. A standard homeowners insurance policy offers very limited coverage on lost paper money, typically capped at $200 (although the amount of coverage depends on the individual insurance company and the specific policy). Cash often gets lumped into the same category as collectibles, coins, medals, and banknotes, as “personal property,” with an aggregate limit in a standard homeowners policy. Unless the policy specifically states otherwise, don’t expect to be reimbursed for those bills lost during a burglary.


8. Your Pool Rivals a Water Park.

What Does Homeowners Insurance Cover - Not Diving Boards


While you could jump from a diving board at nine out of 10 in-ground swimming pools about 15 years ago, today those boards are a much less popular addition—with good reason. Depending on the policy, premiums may increase significantly or liability claims may be denied due to these “high-risk” pool features. Such equipment may even disqualify a home from coverage altogether. Weigh the risks against the rewards before walking the plank.


9. You Set Up a Trampoline.

Similarly, while kids consider trampolines a blast for the backyard, most insurance companies call them a liability. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission cites that trampoline-related accidents account for nearly 92,000 emergency room visits each year. Some homeowners insurance policies will not cover trampolines at all, meaning that if you, your kids, or any neighborhood kids get injured on the trampoline, your insurance company is not liable for the claim. Adding a trampoline could even result in non-renewal of your current policy. Before you buy or install a trampoline or any other “high-risk” playground equipment, you’ll want to read the fine print on your policy.

Bob Vila Radio: Fending Off the Next Flood

With a small handful of home upgrades, you can gain control over an influx of floodwater, going a long way toward preventing the most devastating damage. Keep reading to learn more.

With severe weather events becoming ever more common, it may be wise to prepare for the possibility of your home being subject to a major flood.

Flood Control Tips


mp3 file

Listen to BOB VILA ON FLOOD PREVENTION or read the text below:

Before doing anything else, consult literature from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) to learn whether or not you live in a flood-prone area. If you are located in a vulnerable zone, don’t delay purchasing flood insurance, bearing in mind that many policies take at least 30 days to go into effect.

At home, there are a few other protective measures you can take. For one, make sure to label all the circuit breaks in the electrical panel. That way, you don’t waste any time in an emergency. Further, consider using bricks or pavers to raise up any appliances in the basement, and that includes the furnace and water heater.

An additional option: Hire a professional to add check valves to your plumbing system as a means of preventing wastewater from backing up into your drain lines. Another smart move is to set up a sump pump (or two) that would discharge any groundwater that enters the basement in the wake of a storm surge.

Finally, if you live in a particularly risky area, you may even want to think about constructing a levee. Neighbors might be willing to partner up for the project.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

Staying Safe: 5 Home Must-Haves for Storm Emergencies

Don't wait for storm clouds—or warnings—before taking steps to keep your family safe. Here are 5 things you can do today to keep you safe and storm-ready should rough weather strike tomorrow.



The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is especially true when it comes to storm emergencies. Almost everyone knows you should have batteries and water on hand when the weatherman sends out the warning. Still, so many people end up scrambling at the last minute, with wind and rain bearing down, waiting in long lines at stores that are already sold out of storm essentials. Don’t get caught unprepared. Here are five home must-haves to keep you—and your family—safe should a storm emergency occur.

Energizer Weatheready Area Light

1.5-Volt Energizer Weatheready® 360-Degree Area Light at The Home Depot for $17.97.

1. Light & Batteries. When the power fails, it’s essential to have an alternative light source—and the batteries to power it. Consider something that is compact, yet offers abundant light, like the Energizer® Weatheready® 360-Degree Area Light, available at The Home Depot. The 1.5-volt lantern powers an LED bulb and operates on either AA or D batteries. (You can also use it for camping or wherever an additional light source may be required.) Make sure to have an ample supply of batteries not just for it, but for flashlights and portable radios as well.

2. Food & Water. You should keep a supply of food and water set aside for storm-related emergencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends storing at least one gallon of water per day for each member of your family, and to store a two-week supply. If you can’t store that much, store what you can. You should also consider storing a two-week supply of food. Include foods that are high in calories and nutrition, and that don’t require refrigeration, water, or special preparation. Canned food, dry mixes, and cupboard staples are all good to stock. Keep your stores in a cool, dry place—dark, if possible. Monitor the expiration dates, and be sure to use things before they go bad, replacing as necessary.

Sentry Safe

Sentry®Safe Waterproof, Fire-Safe® Security Chest at The Home Depot for $28.97

3. Protection for Documents & Records. Storms and natural disasters can displace people from their homes, and sometimes destroy their homes altogether. It may be unpleasant to think about, but prepare for the worst. Recovering from disaster is hard enough—it’s even harder if you can’t prove who you are. Protect your important identification documents, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, marriage certificates, adoption papers, passports, and naturalization documents, in something like a Sentry®Safe Waterproof, Fire-Safe® Security Chest. It will keep everything safe from water and fire damage, and, because it is compact and portable, you can take it with you if necessary. Other documents you should protect are wills, living wills, powers of attorney, and property deeds and titles. You can also store important DVDs, portable disks, and flash drives.

4. Plan for Evacuation. Should a big storm come your way, it may be necessary to evacuate. You’ll fare better if you are prepared, so develop an evacuation plan before your area is threatened. In devising your plan, keep a few considerations in mind:
– Be aware of low-lying areas on your evacuation route, and prepare for ways to circumvent them if necessary.
– Choose a destination to evacuate to that is outside of the affected area, preferably with family or friends who live close to your home, but who won’t need to evacuate. Hotels and motels fill quickly in evacuations, so if you do need to stay in one, make a reservation as early as possible.
– If you can’t get to family or friends or a hotel or motel, plan to go to a shelter. But be prepared to bring your disaster supply kit with you, and make arrangements for any pets, as shelters will not accept them.
– If you’re evacuating by car, be sure your tank is full of gas. Traffic jams are a given, and fuel supplies on the road could be very limited.

3M First Aid Kit

3M™ 169-piece First-Aid Kit at The Home Depot for $19.97.

5. First-Aid Kit. Be ready to handle minor injuries, because emergency workers will be stretched thin during a major storm. Have a first-aid kit on hand, such as the 3M™ First-Aid Kit, which comes in a portable carrying case and includes bandages, gauze, a cold compress, scissors, tweezers, and more.

With proper preparation, you can ride out a storm or natural disaster in relative comfort, with a modicum of inconvenience. So, don’t wait for the governor to declare a state of emergency.  Stock up now, be ready, and have peace of mind.


This article is sponsored on behalf of The Home Depot. Its facts and opinions are those of