What to do before the next storm

Well, if you’re tired of hearing and thinking about Irene and Lee (and it’s surprising that no one has written a cowboy lament about that outlaw couple), then you probably are surviving with your house mold-infected but intact, and are not among the truly unfortunate whose homes have been swept away or condemned. If you did make it through with minimal damage, or with repairs that are doable, listen up.

You might want to pay attention here, even if you have storm fatigue. This is the time you’ll want to make sure that you are ready for the next one. And that’s one of the delightful things about storms. You never know when the next one will happen.

In order to be prepared, we did some research and asked around.

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“There’s a lot to talk about,” said Mark Peritz of the Joy of Building in Woodstock. “We’ve done so many projects, we’re very busy now.”

He begins with some obvious choices.

“D-cell batteries are hard to find. It’s good to stock up on them and flashlights. Keep a flashlight in your car or truck that you don’t put in your house, don’t move it around. Check the batteries from time to time.”

Peritz recommends that you seek to keep the power on.

“If you don’t want to put in a permanent generator, put in any generator you can get your hands on and make sure it’s filled with gas and that you have extra gas, and that it’s in a dry place. Test it from time to time, on a regular basis. The best ones made are the quietest and most reliable, made by Honda and Yamaha. They’re expensive and hard to get, but they’re the state-of-the-art in generators and they’re quiet so you can live with them for an extended period of time. Don’t waste your money on the cheap Chinese ones, Look inside and see where they’re made.”

Over at Woodstock Building Supply, Andre Neher, the proprietor, agrees.

“Flashlights, candles … last storm you couldn’t even get a flashlight and a battery.”

Photo by Dion Ogust

Water, inside

Inevitably we talk about water.

“Be sure to have a sump pump,” Neher says. “Be sure it is in good working condition. I have eleven properties to take care of, and every day I was checking the sump pumps.”

Peritz adds one important instruction.

“If you have a sump pump, make sure it’s workable and that the place where it empties is far away and runs in the right direction — away from your house. And water. In the event that there are things like this, make sure your bathtub is full of water so you can flush the toilet. Keep some full five-gallon buckets, too.”

And one more thing.

“Don’t wait until the last minute to run to Home Depot,” said Robert Seckler, senior vice president of Fourmen Construction in Peekskill. “And if you have a sump pump, then you’ve got to have a generator, because if the electric is out, the sump pump won’t work. Don’t wait for it to hit. Be pro-active.”

Additional items that are recommended to keep on hand before the storms, according to the state health department, include ready-to-eat canned foods such as vegetables, fruit, beans, meat, fish, soup and juice. Oh, and make sure you have a manual can opener.

High-energy foods such as peanut butter, jelly, nuts, dried meat, granola, trail mix. Cereal and snacks, sugar, salt, pepper, instant coffee, pet food. All are necessities.

Lay in stocks of toilet paper, no-rinse hand soaps, toothpaste. A first-aid kit is something every house should have, in any case.

Keep some rope around for rescues and tying things down so they don’t blow away in high winds. A shovel, utility knife, work gloves, and of course duct tape, which holds the world together.

It is important to keep cleaning supplies up to date when a storm is coming, too — disinfectant, paper towels, sponges, trash bags.

Water, outside, where you want it to stay

Peritz wants us to be aware of outside conditions that will affect you inside your home.

“In terms of preparation,” he said, “Make sure all the watercourses around your house are free, clear and running in the proper directions away from your house. Check all your culverts from time to time to make sure they’re free from brush and wood and debris. Call a landscape or contractor to examine the site around your house to make sure it’s properly pitched away from your house if huge amounts of water are coming.

“If you have repeated issues of water seeping into your basement, you might want to get an evaluation of the viability of the existing footing drains, which are deep down below the soil. They get clogged up or broken over the years and are a major cause of basement flooding. It’s hard to tell if they’re working or not, but you know they’re not working if you get water in your basement.

“In the work I do, I encourage homeowners if they’re doing a major amount of work on their property and they have concerns about water problems or flooding, I would encourage them to excavate critical spots around the foundation and check to see whether the footing drains are still functioning. This is a fairly expensive process if you find out that they’re not, but it will revitalize your house, and it’s the only way to do it.”

Neher mentions keeping your gutters in good condition, and Peritz and others agree.

“There are these smaller measures — make sure you keep your gutters and leader pipes clean, three or four times a year,” said Peritz. “Leader pipes often go into pipes buried in the ground, designed to direct water away from your house. From time to time you should check them by running a garden hose down through these pipes to make sure they’re free-flowing. If they’re not, measure the length of garden hose, try to locate where the pipe should be, and if you can’t free or unblock the pipe with water you should dig up and cut it out and put in a new piece of pipe. They’re usually not deeply buried, maybe a foot or so.”

Seckler agrees.

“It’s not so much the gutters, it’s the leaders that keep the water away from your house.”

More preparation

Jody Brown of HB Painting and Construction Inc. in Hurley advised to “Make sure all your lawn furniture is picked up. And make sure any dead trees are taken down, that the power lines are free and clear.”

Here’s another one that Brown brought up. “If you have skylight windows, make sure that they are covered over. Have some 2×4 boxes that are framed together with half inch plywood, to put over them to protect them from flying debris. Don’t want your skylight windows to get damaged. And make sure that there’s no debris that can fly and take out your solar panels.

Thinking about wind that can gust up to 100 miles per hour, Brown said, “if you have a carport made of steel piping with a tarp like cover, you may want to take those buildings down or make sure they’re staked down. Awnings should be taken down. Bicycles, children’s toys should be taken in. Basketball hoops, those portable ones should be taken down, at least laid flat, so it doesn’t fall on the car.”

And he says to pay attention to your swimming pool. “You may want to pump it down so it doesn’t overflow and take out anything that may be around or leak into your basement.

In these big storms, people don’t think about hoops and skylight windows, damage to flashing. I had some damage done to my skylights and it makes me think of it.”

Just as important, in your home, move all your important papers, electronics and easily movable appliances (but don’t lift your refrigerator) to upper floors. Make sure your tools and cleaning supplies are also on the upper levels, where you can get at them. If your basement floods before you have a chance to shut off the electricity, don’t go down there, please. Call the power company.

If it looks like you’re going to have to leave, turn off all the electrical appliances. Turn off the electricity at the main fuse or circuit breaker, unless there is a sump pump. Turn off the water at the main valve, and if the temperature looks like it is going to freeze you must drain the plumbing. After you’ve turned the water off at the main, turn on your highest and lowest hot and cold water taps and let them drain. Flush your toilets and remove the water from the lowest bowl. Leave all the taps open until you can return.

Sandbagging

“If you have a driveway that’s on an incline toward your house,” says Neher, “you might want to keep some sandbags around. But don’t get the paper sandbags, get the cloth ones. Those you can reuse. They keep the water from getting in.”

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He stresses that you should make sure your overhead garage door works by hand as well as with the electronic opener. But make sure it’s soundly constructed because it may be your last dam from water running down your driveway.

“Sandbags work wonders,” says Seckler. “You know Mother Nature, she’ll find her way in. Sandbags make for a good temporary dam.”

Though there are many more suggestions for preparations before the storm, all sources stress the importance keeping the emergency supplies in a safe, accessible location and of making sure everyone in the house knows where that is.

For the worst of times, have an evacuation plan. How are you going to get out in an emergency, where are you going to go, what is happening with your pets. Make sure everyone in the family knows those plans.

Most of the suggestions here do not deviate radically from the way most people live, and won’t require extensive preparation. The ideas for dealing with drainage outdoors will take more consideration and may be helped by consultation with a contractor or landscape architect. Your preventive measures can be considered expenses that improve the property in a general sense, rather that specifically for radical storms.

Good luck, and keep a watch on the sky.

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