Your Smith Mountain Lake home represents an investment, as well as being a protective haven for your family and possessions. Have you the foresight to protect it? If you have been through an emergency or disaster, you know the importance of this question. If you have only experienced a disaster through the news, you can only begin to imagine. But like many homeowners, you may be asking how you begin to tackle the task of being prepared for emergencies? Begin by looking at the structure and systems in your home.
Roof, Doors, Windows, Walls, and Vents
Designed to keep water, wind, and other elements out while keeping the heat in and allowing venting for health reasons, you must know the basic state of each element. Roofs that are leaking or have branches overhanging them can lead to extensive repairs down the road. In hurricane-prone areas, roofs should be secured with ties so that the trusses are attached firmly to the walls. In cold climates, heat loss through windows and poorly sealed doors can be significant. Storm season in certain climates can spell disaster if you cannot secure large windows. Materials for covering large windows can be hard to find during an emergency, so those in storm-prone areas should consider installing storm shutters or having sheets of plywood on hand. During power outages, remember that a poorly placed generator near a vent can bring carbon monoxide into your home, which could lead to death. Get to know the structure and condition of your home for your own safety.
In areas prone to earthquakes or tornadoes, there are special tie-downs that connect homes to their foundations, ensuring that the framework of your home will not slip from its foundation. It can be easily determined if your home is secured to its foundation with tie-downs, or if it is an item to consider doing. Understand the condition of your basement and/or crawlspaces and any hazards that might be faced there. Excessive moisture around your foundation can lead to mold and mildew growth that impose health issues, so ensure that there is proper drainage around your home.
In the event of an emergency, knowing how to turn off water to your home could be key to preventing substantial damage if your plumbing becomes compromised. Additionally, understanding where your water comes from and the nature of various types of failures of the system will aid you in determining if you need to treat the water during emergency times. Public water systems can be compromised in times of large-scale emergency, so don’t assume your water automatically is safe for drinking and maintain an emergency supply of drinking water. However, if you live in a fire-prone area, you should consider if there enough water to support fire suppression efforts. On the other hand, if you are in a flood zone, do you have a basement that is likely to flood and do you have an escape route to higher ground?
Are your power lines buried or exposed? If your power lines are exposed, are there large trees nearby that could threaten your power supply in the event of wind or ice storms? If so, you may consider preventative tree trimming. Inside the house, do you know where your breaker box is? Do you know the health of your wiring and how much can be plugged into each outlet? Do you have GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) plugs to protect people from electrical shock? Is the house grounded? If you elect to purchase a generator for use during power outages, is it stored in a secure place and maintained well? Do you know how to operate it and do you have fuel for it? Is it wired into the main panel? Do you know the load it can handle?
Heat and Cooling Systems
How much do you know about the condition of your heating/cooling system(s)? Have you had your furnace and/or air-conditioner maintained recently? What powers your system and what would you do if it were out for an extended period? If your system is powered by natural gas, knowing how to turn off the gas to your home could prevent a potential explosion in the event of a leak.
A topic that many homeowners would like to avoid, it is critical to understand how your sewer and septic might be affected by an emergency. Flooding or long periods without power might require additional tasks to ensure the long-term functioning of your waste water system. If you are without power, often alarms that would otherwise alert people of system overload are not operational so extra monitoring may be required until alarms are functioning properly.
Terrain and Access
Do you live at the top or bottom of a long or steep street and/or driveway that could cause a problem in icy or flood conditions? Is there brush nearby that could fuel a fire and endanger your home or other structures? Consider any trees that could fall. Could that large tree you love so much threaten your house, or trap you in or deny emergency crews access to you? In a large-scale emergency, if you are in a place of difficult access, you may be isolated for a longer period of time. Ensure that you also have an access plan in place. If your home has more than one story, stairs, an elevator, or other factors that can affect your family when getting help plan for the worst. Having emergency rope ladders in upper story bedrooms could save a life.
While often not directly a part of your home, this system deserves consideration. Summoning help to you in an emergency could be one of your biggest concerns. Your home’s phone and internet may not be available in an emergency, and even cell-phone service may be down. Knowing about your cable or DSL system could help you in getting much-needed information. In power outages, many of these systems need to be reset or rebooted to operate, so ensure you know how to do that. Hand-held radios with batteries are often a useful way of getting basic information. Weather/emergency radios provide up-to-the-minute forecasts and information specific to your area. Additionally, having a communication plan or agreement with a neighbor to check on you in an emergency situation could ensure that someone knows what is happening in isolated areas.
Attics, Basements, Garages and Storage Areas
Knowing what you have where and how it is stored enables you to have what you need, in working order, when you need it. Avoiding these issues could contribute to the emergency. Gasoline that is improperly stored could result in fire or explosion, while in times of need having it on hand could be critical. Ensure that storage areas are well-maintained and free of hazards. Storing essentials poorly or in the wrong place could render them useless. Over-stuffed areas can create access issues, which could prove deadly in emergency situations.
If you live in a heavily wooded area, a low-lying area, an exposed area, a waterfront home or other place where terrain could constitute a specific threat — do you have a plan for the worst? Is extreme weather, fire, tornado, earthquake, flooding, mudslides, storms or other natural disaster something that you have considered? Lack of resources and community support for solving problems might turn your dream home into a real nightmare. Forethought and understanding, however, can make your home a beacon of hope for you and others if you understand the issues and minimize risks.
An Ounce of Prevention
Don’t assume anything, and go over your insurance policy with your agent when you renew annually. Understanding your coverage with regard to disasters like fire, flood, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes or other natural occurrences can mean the difference of thousands of dollars in the event disaster strikes. Often special coverage is required and include limitations — make sure you ask about such things. Having an inventory of your home and possessions, in the form of a written list, photos or videos will aid you in the event that you have to file a claim – but be sure to keep a duplicate copy in a secure place off site.