How to Check Your House After a Storm

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  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, if you’ve ever had a major storm hit your house, you know that a home – which is generally safe, sound, secure and dry – can quickly turn into a leaking mess.

    TOM: That’s right. And it’s especially true when wind gets behind all of that water and the rules of gravity no longer apply. That’s why after a storm passes, it’s really important to give your house a careful inspection. To show us how, we turn now to Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House.

    Welcome, Kevin.

    KEVIN: Thanks for having me, guys.

    TOM: Now, obvious storm damage, like a broken window, that’s easy to spot. But if you don’t look closely, little problems could be missed and develop into big repair bills down the line, right?

    KEVIN: Well, it’s true. And when wind and water are working together, they can really do some significant damage to your house, both structurally and to the mechanical equipment. So you want to check out for them and actually, you want to do it quickly because time is your friend here.

    TOM: So let’s talk about wind damage. High winds can rip through exterior walls, they can tear shingles off your house. Good idea to check for that kind of exterior damage first?

    KEVIN: Yeah, absolutely. You want to do a visual inspection of the house, walking all the way around it, looking at the claps or the shingles. There are places that you might not easily be able to see with your eyes, so get out a pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens and look up at that roof to make sure that the shingles are still on or none of the trim boards have been ripped off by the wind. Give it a good look.

    LESLIE: Now, with Hurricane Irene and a lot of the crazy storms that we experienced in unusual parts of the country this year, we’ve seen a lot of flooded basements and therefore, flooded fixtures. What do you do when you’ve had a lot of water in the basement and it’s gotten to your outlets and any of your major appliances?

    KEVIN: Well, unfortunately, electrical fixtures that get really wet or submerged, they’ve got to go. You know, there could be some serious damage caused to those fixtures, so you want to have those things replaced.

    And in terms of the flooded basements, water on the outside of your house’s foundation can actually build up quite a bit of pressure. And it can cause those foundations to crack, it can force its way in through those concrete foundations. So you want to do a visual inspection outside and in of those foundations to see if there are any new cracks there or any ways that the foundation has started to fail.

    TOM: Now, speaking of flooded basements and flooded crawlspaces, we’ve seen floods in those places that really, you could have owned the house for 20 years and it never, ever flooded. No reason to panic, though, just because it happened after one major storm.

    KEVIN: No, absolutely not, because the basement can actually be cleaned out. So you want to get in there. Obviously, you want to get all of the water out and dried out and you want to remove the damaged belongings from that basement. And then you want to go back and you want to check it, right? You want to make sure that you don’t have any new cracks where the water can return.

    And also, think about where the water is coming from. Sure, it’s raining or flooding but it’s also coming off your roof. So check those gutters, get the water away from the house.

    LESLIE: And I imagine with a flooded basement, especially if insurance has to become involved, you want to take some pictures of things that were damaged. Document everything so you really have a good catalog of what’s been destroyed, if you will.

    KEVIN: Absolutely. Call the insurance company early, take those pictures. You really shouldn’t do too much work to the house other than securing it, stopping any problems that might cause it to get worse. So plug the leaks but don’t start tearing apart your basement until the insurance company has shown up and done their inspection.

    TOM: We’re talking to Kevin O’Connor – he’s the host of TV’s This Old House – about how to check your house after a storm.

    Now, Kevin, when it comes to cleaning up after that water recedes, good idea to use a good-quality disinfectant?

    KEVIN: Yeah, I think it is. I mean Borax with some water – some hot water – and some elbow grease is going to do a good job of cleaning that stuff up. And also, keep in mind, if you’re going to – if you’re worried about mold, well, mold needs water to grow and so you want to dry out those areas. Pump the water out and then use a dehumidifier. Get some good circulation or even a heat lamp to dry out those materials so that mold doesn’t grow. And do it quickly.

    LESLIE: What about power failures? We’ve seen just an astronomical amount of power outages and ones that last a long, long time due to so many storms this past year. What can we do to be better prepared in advance of this event that could cause a power outage?

    KEVIN: We love a standby generator. We’ve installed a couple of these on Ask This Old House.

    And basically, the idea is – there are a lot of generators out there but many of them are portable and you pour some gasoline into them and they run for a couple hours. A standby generator is actually installed near or around your house. It is tied right into the natural-gas line. It’ll check itself weekly to make sure that it’s running properly and if and when the power goes out, it kicks on, burns that natural gas to make electricity and it’ll feed the critical circuits in your house pretty much for as long as the blackout lasts. And so it’s a great way – a great, preventative way – to make sure you’ve got power during and after a storm.

    TOM: Good advice. And one final damage: insurance is what we pay for to cover us for storm damage. Important to get that claim documented and as quickly as possible, though, right?

    KEVIN: Absolutely. As Leslie said, get those pictures taken, make some notes, make that phone call to them very quickly. And again, don’t do too much work. The work you should be doing is just to stop the problems, to stop the leak. Get the inspector out there from your insurance company and let him make some decisions and work with them.

    TOM: Good advice. Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    KEVIN: It’s my pleasure to be here.

    LESLIE: And you can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and some step-by-step videos and more projects you can do at your home and a lot of great, informative articles on home improvement projects, visit

    TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by Home Depot. More savings, more doing. That’s the power of The Home Depot.

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