Hail Storm Dangers

Hail doesn’t discriminate and rarely comes with an advanced warning – it can happen anywhere, at any time. Between 2000 and 2013, U.S. insurance companies paid out more than $54 billion in hail damage claims, with 70% paid between 2008 and 2013. In 2015 alone, the United States had more than 5,000 hailstorms. While most hail damage affects property and crops, unpredictable storm conditions can also put you in harm’s way. The following are three reasons why you should be wary of hail storms.

1. Hail can be as small as a pea (1/4 inch in diameter), as big a softball (4.5 inches in diameter), or even bigger in rare cases. The largest hailstone ever recorded in the U.S. fell in Vivian, Nebraska in July of 2010, measuring eight inches in diameter and weighing 1.9 pounds. Can weather forecasters predict the size of hail in advance? Sometimes. Hail forms when a strong storm’s updraft (upward-moving current of air) carries rain into freezing layers of the atmosphere, creating tiny hailstones. They get bigger when they run into super-cooled water droplets. If these updrafts are especially strong, they can hold the small hailstones aloft, allowing them to grow larger until eventually they become too heavy and fall to the ground. In other words, the stronger the storm, the larger the hail. Fortunately, baseball-sized and larger hail isn’t very common, on average just 24 people per year are reported injured by hail. But such injuries can be very dangerous and painful,  so it’s important to pay attention to your local forecast if you suspect storms are nearby.

2. No matter its size, hail still poses major risks. Small hail (half an inch in diameter) can reach speeds of 20 mph and usually comes down in larger quantities than large hail, creating a greater risk for damage. What is the typical scale of a hail storm? It varies considerably. Hail falls in paths known as “swaths,” or “streaks,” which can cover anywhere from a few acres to 100 miles wide and 10 miles long. Dense swaths of hail of any size can do serious damage to both people and property.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to prevent major hail damage to your home and cars. But if you live in a hail-prone part of the United States, you can take a few steps to lessen the aftermath of the next major storm:

  • Keep your car parked in a garage if possible. If you don’t have access to a garage, cover it with heavy blankets for a little protection.
  • Consider impact-resistant shingles for your roof.
  • Install storm shutters on your windows and doors to protect them from shattering.

3. Any type of thunderstorm can produce hail, but “supercell” storms (severe, rotating thunderstorms) are responsible for most big hailstones. If you see large hail (the size of a quarter or larger) that could mean the storm has tornado activity as well. What signs point to a possible tornado? Large hail usually falls north of a tornado, but just because you see hail doesn’t mean there’s a funnel on the ground. If a storm suddenly drops hail, immediately take cover and listen to your weather radio for storm reports in your area.

If you’re inside, you should stay there until the storm completely passes:

  • Make sure everyone is safe and indoors.
  • Stay away from windows and doors.
  • Don’t go outside for any reason.

If you’re driving, try to get somewhere safe like a garage, gas station, or bridge that’s nearby:

  • Do not leave your car until it stops hailing.
  • Cover your eyes, and if you can, get on the floor or lie down on the seat with your back to the windows.
  • Protect small children with your body or heavy clothing.

If you get caught outside during a hailstorm and can’t get inside a structure, protect as much of your head and body as possible:

  • Avoid ditches and low areas that could suddenly flood.
  • Don’t seek shelter under a tree, as it can lose limbs and may attract lightning.

Most types of hail can pose significant risk to you and your property. But with a little upfront preparation and some common-sense safety measures, you can keep your home and family safe the next time this weather threat emerges.

Power Outage Tips

Whether or not you know it’s coming, a power outage can be a major disturbance. It never hurts to be prepared and to know what to do once the lights go out.

Before

  • Power outages can happen at any time and are unavoidable, but the costs associated with them can be lessened by installing a home backup generator at a home or business.
  • Have a place in your home where flashlights, a battery-powered radio, and extra batteries can be easily found.
  • If you know the outage is coming, set aside extra water and buy or make extra ice. You can use the ice to keep perishable items cool.
  • Make sure the battery in your smoke detector is fresh. Test the smoke detector on a monthly basis to make sure it’s working.
  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the freezer. If the freezer is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder when the power returns, all the food is safe.

During

  • If possible, use flashlights instead of candles for emergency lighting. Candles used in unfamiliar settings can be dangerous fire hazards.
  • Turn off or disconnect any appliances, equipment, or electronics that were on when the power went out. When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary “surges” or “spikes” that can damage equipment such as computers and motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer, or furnace.
  • Leave one light on so you know when the power returns.
  • Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer. This will help keep your food as fresh as possible. Be sure to check food for signs of spoilage.
  • Use generators safely. If you have a portable generator, only run it outdoors with adequate ventilation. Never use a generator indoors or in attached garages. The exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide, which can be deadly if inhaled.
  • Listen to the radio for updates.

The Backup Differences

Storm Water Backing Up

In many older houses with basements (mostly pre-1980), there is a perimeter foundation drain outside the exterior wall, at the level of the basement floor, next to the footings at the time the house was built. A pipe was usually installed from the perimeter foundation drain to the street where it was connected to the city storm sewer system.

This can become a problem as the city storm sewer system becomes too small when more development causes more rain runoff. When this happens, the rainwater in the sewer system can get so high that water flows backwards toward the house.

Usually, the installation of an interior perimeter basement drain system connected to a sump pump will take care of the problem. If it doesn’t, the (more expensive) alternative is to dig up and cap the pipe that is running from the house to the street from the perimeter foundation drain. However, this is not always possible; many times, this pipe is also draining sanitary waste from toilets and sinks in the house.

Sewer Water Back Up

If the water is coming up through floor drains or sink drains in the basement, then the problem is often water backing up from the municipal sanitary sewer system. During heavy rains, combined sewer systems can become overwhelmed with water. This can cause sewer water to back up in the system and sometimes into homes.

There are other possible explanations, too. Sewer backups can be caused by individual service lines being plugged by grease, waste, tree roots, breaks in pipes or saturated ground. Sewer mains can also be plugged by vandalism or large items dropped down manholes. This kind of flooding is an enormous problem for homeowners, as it’s largely out of your control and probably means fecal waste backing up into basements. Not only is it disgusting, but it can also be a serious health hazard.

In order to keep your individual lines clear, you can install backflow preventers that help stop sewer water from flowing backward into the house. Proper maintenance of your individual lines – for example, pouring tree root killer down your toilets once a year – can also go a long way in preventing sewage backups. Still, the problem is often out of your control. Sewage in your basement means a major cleanup and a lot of uncertainty about future problems. If it’s something you’ve seen in your home, you’ll have to get your city government involved. At the very least, be aware of the problem and don’t leave anything valuable near your downstairs drains.

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Is Ice Damage Covered?

In many parts of the country, winter is accompanied by snow and ice. And ice can cause a lot of headaches for homeowners. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), one in every 55 insured homes has a claim related to water damage or freezing every year. Typical homeowners insurance policies include protection against ice-related damage, but there are some important things to keep in mind.

Hail

Hail can do serious damage to roofs and windows. Most homeowners insurance policies include dwelling coverage, which may help protect your home against specific perils, including hail and other ice-related losses. If hail damages a building on your property that’s not your home, such as a shed or unattached garage, it may be covered by other structures coverage, which is a component of some homeowners insurance policies. It’s important to keep in mind that insurance provides protection up to the limits indicated in a policy and that other policy restrictions or limitations may apply. Your insurance agent can provide you with information to help you choose levels of protection to fit your needs.

Roof Collapse

During the coldest months of the year, ice forming on your roof can cause serious problems. Roof collapse can happen when a roof can’t bear the weight of ice and snow. You may find that insurance may help cover the cost of replacing or repairing a damaged roof that is damaged by a collapse. If your house is uninhabitable after a roof collapse, homeowners insurance may also help cover living expenses, such as hotel bills, while your home is being repaired. Coverage limits and terms will apply, so be sure to check your policy to learn what it covers. Of course, no one wants to deal with a roof collapse. You may be able to prevent a situation like this by taking some preventative measures, such as cleaning gutters or clearing the roof of ice and snow as necessary. Consider hiring a professional if you’re concerned about safety or causing damage to the roof.

Ice Dams

Ice dams may result when ice forms on the edge of a roof and stops melting water from running off. When water gets backed up against the ice dam, it may leak through the roof and cause water damage. Dwelling coverage may help protect your home if an ice dam causes a loss. Personal property coverage provides coverage for named perils only and does not generally provide protection for ice dam situations.

You may find that homeowners insurance doesn’t cover ice dam removal, but resulting water damage to the dwelling is typically covered. And again, even if a loss is covered, policy terms and limits will apply. Check your policy to learn about what protections you have in place and talk with your agent to help determine whether you may benefit from additional coverage. Keep in mind that some routine maintenance may help you avoid this kind of damage. The III advises watching gutters for ice dams and keeping gutters clean so water can flow freely.

Frozen and Burst Pipes

Homeowners insurance may help cover damage to homes from burst, leaking or frozen pipes. However, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners warns that frozen pipes may not be covered if a proper temperature wasn’t maintained inside the house. Check your policy limits and terms to see how much coverage you have for burst pipes.

Injuries on Ice

Ice on the ground can be dangerous and sometimes hard to see. What happens if a visitor falls on ice on your property, suffers an injury and sues you? Liability coverage typically comes with homeowners insurance. This type of coverage may help protect you if you’re found legally responsible after a visitor is injured on your property. For example, liability coverage may help cover a person’s medical bills or lost wages if they’re injured. It may also help cover your legal costs.

Like other types of coverage, liability coverage has limits and conditions, and legal claims can be very expensive. If you’re concerned you may not have enough liability coverage, talk to your insurance agent about a personal umbrella policy, which can offer additional protection. As you prepare for another chilly winter, your local insurance agent can help you understand the specifics of your policy and provide you with information to help you make any necessary changes. You may not be able to escape the cold, but you can pass the months with the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have protections in place, just in case.

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What are Ice Dams?

You may be feeling  warm in your home as the snow serenely falls outside. But, up on your roof, a dangerous situation could be forming – one that can compromise your roof and lead to water damage inside your home. It’s all the result of an ice dam. If you live in a snowy area and you’re not familiar with what an ice dam is, it’s imperative that you read on.

What Is an Ice Dam?

An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms along the edge of your roof and prevents snow melt from running off. It often occurs because heat from the attic warms the middle of your roof, causing snow to melt. When that runoff reaches the eaves, or overhang, of your roof, the cooler surface temperature (there’s no heat rising from inside your home to this part of the roof) can cause the water to refreeze. As this happens over and over, an ice dam forms, preventing melted snow from running off your roof.

Do Ice Dams Cause Damage?

Yes, ice dams cause the water from melted snow to back up under the shingles of your roof and into your home – the water doesn’t have anywhere else to go. This can damage your roof, not to mention your interior. And, remember, water damage can lead to toxic mold inside your home.

How Can I Prevent Ice Dams?

An easy way to help prevent ice dams is to keep your eaves, gutters, downspouts and drains clear. This way water can drain away from your home as snow melts on your roof. It’s ideal to have your gutters cleaned out before snow season even begins. While you’re at it, install gutter screens for added protection.

Here are some other ways to help prevent ice dams:

  • Keep your attic cool. Proper insulation between your living areas and attic will help keep warm air from escaping into your attic and warming your roof. Ideally, during a snow storm, your attic won’t be more than 10 degrees warmer than the temperature outside.
  • Remove snow with a roof rake. Only if you can safely do so, remove accumulated snow from your roof using a long-handled roof rake, a specialized tool for clearing roofs, that won’t damage your roofing material. Do this from the ground. Never climb on top of a snowy roof.
  • Update your roof with materials that help prevent ice dams. These include a rubberized, water-repellant membrane underneath the shingles and a heating cable along the eaves. For either installation, consult a professional.

Ice dams may not be the first thing you think about once the snow stops coming down. After all, there’s the sidewalk and driveway to clear. But, for the sake of your roof and the integrity of your overall home, it’s important to keep an eye out for this winter roof danger.

So, how can you spot ice dams? Icicles may be a sign of ice dams, a buildup of snow and ice along your eaves that blocks water runoff. Discolored ceilings or walls may indicate that your ice dam has turned into a leak. Remember, in the midst of this harsh winter, it’s important to keep your gutters clear, your roof updated and an eye out for the signs of ice dams. If you suspect trouble, call a trusted roofing contractor at once.

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Battery Backup Units

Many homes need the assistance of French Drains and Sump Pumps to keep their basement dry.  These systems work by having a perforated piping system which is installed below grade direct water to a basin pit which is then pumped back to the exterior even before the water comes to surface.  But with severe storms, power outages can cause these systems to fail and flood basements.  There’s a simple way to ensure that your sump pump continues to operate even when the power goes out: Install a battery-backup sump pump. This two-stage system includes a 120-volt electric sump pump connected to a 12-volt backup pump that runs off a deep-cycle marine battery. During normal operation, the electric sump pump will pump water from the pit. But if the electricity goes out, the battery-powered backup pump will automatically start up when the pit fills with water. An electric charger keeps the battery-backup pump fully charged so it’ll be ready at any time.

These units can be installed before and after the sump pump itself was placed into use. They can cost anywhere from $300 to $800 depending on the size and charge capabilities, but it will be money well spent.  Basements which need sump pumps and drains have excessive hydrostatic water issues and without them it’s very easy for a home to get flooded with a foot or more of water.  So if you’re having a new system put in or already have a sump pump, battery back up units aren’t a frivolous upgrade, they’re more of a necessity.

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Wind & Hail Preparedness – Part 3

If you are warned that a wildfire is threatening your area, listen to your battery-operated radio for reports and evacuation information. Follow the instructions of local officials. Remember, personal safety should always come first! Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape. Shut doors and roll up windows. Leave the key in the ignition. Close garage windows and doors, but leave them unlocked. Disconnect automatic garage door openers.

Confine pets to one room. Make plans to care for your pets in case you must evacuate. Arrange temporary housing at a friend’s or relative’s home outside the threatened area. Know at least two exit routes from your neighborhood in case of emergency evacuation. Wear protective clothing; sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face. Take your emergency supplies kit. Tell someone when you are leaving and where you are going. Choose a route away from fire hazards. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of fire and smoke.

If you’re sure you have time, take steps to protect your home. Close windows, vents, doors, Venetian blinds or non-combustible window coverings and heavy drapes. Lock your door and always remember if you are advised to evacuate, do so immediately.

Assembling Emergency Supplies

When wildfire threatens, you won’t have time to shop or search for supplies. Assemble a disaster supply kit with items you may need if advised to evacuate. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffel bags or trash containers.

Include in the kit:

  • A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day).
  • Food that won’t spoil
  • One change of clothing and footwear per person
  • A first aid kit that includes your family’s prescription medications.
  • Emergency tools, including battery-powered radio, flashlight and plenty of batteries
  • An extra set of car keys and a credit card, cash or traveler’s checks
  • Sanitation supplies
  • Special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members
  • An extra pair of eyeglasses
  • Important family documents stored in a waterproof container