7 Preps to Save Your House Before It’s Destroyed

For the purposes of our conversation, let’s cut the fluff and agree that for about 90 percent of us, a structural disaster = house disaster.

And house disasters come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the mildly inconvenient to downright devastating.

Does the name “Katrina” ring any bells?

Hurricane Katrina was one of the most devastating and costly structural disasters our nation has known. But hurricanes, earthquakes and fires aren’t the only things that can cause you grief. Smaller scale “microdisasters” can ruin your house, even while the next door neighbor’s is just fine.

The Usual Suspects

Here’s a few flavors that structural disasters frequently come in:

  • Flooding. Broken pipes, faulty appliances, and even leaks in the roof or walls of your structure can cause flooding, and the damage racks up in a hurry! Flooding emergencies can ruin carpet, floorboards, drywall, short circuit appliances, and even cause damage to the framing and structure of a house. If not addressed quickly and thoroughly, flooding can also lead to mold, which can be very expensive to abate.
  • Infestation. It doesn’t take much for a pack of critters to take up residence in your house. In a matter of days, termites, rodents, or a swarm of bees can move in and begin causing serious damage. Bees in particular, can create a small hive of roughly 5-6 mid-sized sheets of honeycomb in a week. Unless the honeycomb is removed and the smell suppressed, bees will continue returning to that spot, until honeycomb is all throughout your structure.
  • Fires. Other than an earthquake, fires are perhaps the quickest way to cause total disaster to an otherwise fine structure.  Some areas are known to be prone to seasonal wildfires, but any house can fall to a fire caused by a stove or faulty electrical.
  • Mold. As mentioned above, mold can be caused by flooding, improper construction, and moisture accumulating due to general wear and tear on a house. Once mold sets in, it moves rapidly and can compromise a large area of a house if not treated quickly.
  • Windstorms. Even if high winds aren’t strong enough to topple your house on their own, they can still cause trees, telephone poles and other objects to come crashing down. In areas hit with windstorms, the damage is extremely sporadic. Your house may come away unscathed, or you could be the lucky one that has a tree fall and collapse your garage.
  • Earthquakes. Certainly one of the more violent disasters your home could experience, earthquakes tear even the most modern structures in just a couple seconds. If you live in an older home, or an area where earthquakes are infrequent, your structure is even more likely to sustain damage when an earthquake strikes. Earthquakes frequently come in a package deal with fires, due to gas lines breaking.
  • Hurricanes & Tornadoes. Although they typically occur with some degree of warning, there are certain exceptions to the rule. Hurricanes have been known to occur all different times of the year and in strange places. Sometimes they make landfall and continue for several miles (and even states) inland.  The effects of a these storms are devastating, and frequently require near total rebuilding.

Which of these things is not like the others?

Here’s a structural disaster that most people typically won’t think of in a conversation like this…

A home improvement gone awry.

No matter who you are, you’ve done repairs or improvements to your home. A roof replacement, bathroom remodel, new flooring, fixing leaky pipes, whatever.  It’s a necessary and beautiful thing. The scary thing however, is that when your dealing you’re your home, mistakes can be costly, dangerous, and sometimes fatal (especially when dealing with electrical!).

Good news, bad news, and more good news.

The good news is that for virtually any scenario you can imagine, it is possible to get insurance.

“But insurance costs money” you say.

That’s the bad news.

But don’t all preps? And like any prep, the money that you spend on insurance is a small hedge against potentially devastating structural disasters.

I recently chatted with a lady who has worked as a FEMA reservist for several years, and was specifically deployed to assist victims of natural disasters who lost their homes. According to her, the MAXIMUM compensation available at the federal level for those who have lost their homes in a disaster is $31,400. That’s the maximum.

Good luck rebuilding your house with that.

And remember, this is money that isn’t available without an official state of emergency and several other criteria.

Do yourself a favor and check your insurance today. Your house is your physical and emotional home base. Keep it secure.

How To Save Your House Before It’s Destroyed

  1. Purchase and maintain proper insurance. Like I mentioned above, by FAR, the biggest single thing that you can do to prepare for a structural disaster. Most homeowner’s insurance policies include fire coverage, but not flood and earthquake coverage. Both of these can be particularly devastating to your house, so think long and hard about adding them to your policy. Going without flood and earthquake coverage puts you at the risk of losing thousands, hundreds of thousands, and even millions of dollars in un-reclaimed property damages.
  2. Getting fire extinguishers—Especially in the kitchen and garage, having a readily accessible fire extinguisher can stop fires before they get out of control. Be sure you are familiar with a fire extinguisher’s rating.
  3. Getting smoke detectors—the best warning is an early warning. Properly installed and maintained smoke detectors are crucial to responding to house fires. A smoke detector’s primary function is to protect residents from physical harm, but in many cases, smoke detectors signal early enough for residents to still combat fire. Remember: if there is any question whether or not a fire is too big to handle—GET OUT! Don’t put yourself in any added danger by trying to be a hero. No house is worth dying for.
  4. Buy an emergency shutoff tool (for gas and water). This combo tool can do much to “stop the bleeding.” Particularly in cases of earthquakes and hurricanes, damaged utility lines can cause fires and flooding that end up do more damage than the original disaster. Such was the case in many areas along the gulf after Katrina hit.
  5. Using earthquake straps—for your water heater and heavy furniture (pianos, wardrobes, armoirs, etc). Earthquake straps are cheap and can be purchased at almost any hardware store. Tall, heavy items can be tipped easily and cause significant damage to the interior of a home. Even more importantly, they can fall on someone and cause serious injury or death.
  6. Getting a chainsaw—damage to a structure gets even scarier if people within the structure are trapped by debris, or fallen trees. Although chainsaws are pretty much known to be tools of destruction, after a structural disaster they are a godsend. Make sure you won’t be trapped helpless inside waiting for your neighbors that do have chainsaws. Chainsaws help clear the wreckage—both inside and out.
  7. Make sure contractors are licensed and insured–if you are hiring contractors to help you with your home improvements, make sure they are licensed and insured. If they aren’t, you will have very little recourse if/when damages are incurred. Most contractors will tout the fact that they are, so it isn’t hard to find out. Be safe and only hire guys that are on the up and up.

While following these 7 suggestions doesn’t guarantee you anything, mitigating risk is the name of the game, and they certainly do that.

Protect your castle!


Additional Resources:

  • Find out what’s covered in different home insurance policies here.
  • Check out my interview with Karrie Beardall (FEMA reservist) here.

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