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Jersey Shore Rebuilds, Fighting for a Fair Insurance Claim, How to Save Energy with the Right Lighting and more

  • Transcript

    TOM: Coast to coast and floorboards to shingles, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And we are broadcasting a very special edition of The Money Pit today from the beautiful Jersey Shore town of Point Pleasant Beach. We are here with the cast and crew of This Old House as they celebrate the wrap on the 34th season of the award-winning PBS program. And it’s a very special one as the team is chronicling the rebuilding of three homes that were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

    LESLIE: Yeah, it’s been almost a year since that superstorm roared up the East Coast. It took lives and it really spared very few homes.

    Now, the Jersey Shore was one of the hardest-hit areas. And as the folks at This Old House learned, rebuilding in this area can be tricky with FEMA regulations, delayed permits and of course, the underlying risk of more severe weather.

    TOM: Well, this hour, we’ll hear about the new season, which premieres this week on your local PBS station, and kick off a series of special reports that we’re going to be bringing to you each week for the next eight weeks. It’ll chronicle the work that’s being done here at the one-year anniversary of this incredibly devastating event.

    LESLIE: And today’s show and the series that will follow are presented by Red Devil. Now, Red Devil has been providing quality adhesives, sealants and tools that are made in the U.S.A. since 1872. If you want some special offers and the latest in Red Devil innovative products, visit their website, SaveOnRedDevil.com.

    TOM: Now, today, we’re going to bring you the stories of three very courageous and fortunate homeowners who are taking back their lives and their homes from the brink of the Sandy disaster.

    Now, the stories are unique but they’re not unlike the thousands of other homeowners who faced the same decisions: rebuild, tear down, start over or give up.

    LESLIE: And we’re also going to hear from members of the expert cast of This Old House about what it’s like to visit an area after a natural disaster, something that the This Old House team has done before. So let’s kick it off with the host of TV’s This Old House, Kevin O’Connor.

    Welcome, Kevin.

    KEVIN: Hi, guys. It’s great to be back with you.

    TOM: Now, you’re a New Jersey guy; you grew up here. What was it like when you first saw all the damage from Hurricane Sandy?

    KEVIN: Well, I heard about it long before I saw it.

    TOM: Yep.

    KEVIN: My family is down here. My parents actually evacuated from their place in Morris County and came up and stayed with us until the power went back on. My brother works for the power company, so he was around the clock.

    LESLIE: Oh, he was miserable.

    KEVIN: And I can remember getting the text saying, “Bud, you got an extra generator?” And I said, “Oh, boy.”

    So I heard about it long before I saw it. And when I saw it, even though I had known the extent of the damage, I was knocked back on my heels. It’s like nothing I had ever seen before. I was literally shocked.

    LESLIE: Now, how is this different? I mean you’re overseeing three projects because, obviously, there was so much damage. And the importance of the area and the significance of the storm – was it a lot more to manage or was it just easy-peasy for your team?

    KEVIN: You won’t find anybody on the cast of This Old House complaining that there’s not enough work to do. We were swimming in a pool of people who had lots to do. And so we empathize with the challenge that was in front of them.

    It was a departure for us in the fact that we didn’t get our hands dirty and do the work. But we thought that there was a lot to tell in terms of the story. Three different homes, three different problems and we laid out three different solutions. And I think that’s going to serve the audience well in terms of understanding the scope of Sandy and the things you need to do to prepare for the next storm.

    TOM: Top line. Tell us about the three projects.

    KEVIN: Well, we’ve got a very small, modest house that took on 3 or 4 feet of water. And the homeowner, within 10 minutes of seeing it after the storm, realized it had to go, couldn’t be saved. So one house came down completely and was replaced with a modular, prefabricated build up on pylons.

    Another house was a historic home and that house also took a lot of water but it had some damage because it was an older home. And that house went up, as well, with a new foundation system.

    And then the third house was a newer house built in the 80s. And in that case, our homeowners, they went up, believe it or not, 13 feet for a whole additional story.

    TOM: Wow.

    KEVIN: And they used something called “helical piles” as – with breakaway walls.

    But with similar problem – rising water – but different solutions for three different homes. And we wanted to tell all of those stories.

    LESLIE: Now, on your visit to the Shore, what do you feel like the rebuilding effort’s going here? Do you think it’s doing a good job? Are they making nice progress?

    KEVIN: We’ve had a universal sentiment from me and the guys. We were talking about it just today and it is this: the amount of work that has already been accomplished is staggering. The infrastructure that has been rebuilt – the boardwalks, the beaches, the gas lines, the demolition of homes – it’s staggering how much has already been done.

    But it is equally staggering with how much is left to do. There are, literally, hundreds of thousands of homes that were damaged and some people have not even begun to rebuild. So there’s a lot of work left and it’s going to take many years for the Shore to come back completely.

    TOM: And you’ve talked to a lot of those victims in the last several months that you guys have been here. What’s your impression of the folks from New Jersey? We say we’re stronger than the storm. Do we live up to that?

    KEVIN: You more than live up to that. Determined and resilient are the words that we’re using. Everybody has embraced this as moving forward. It’s been remarkable. It’s an unbelievable spirit. It’s made me incredibly proud to tell my guys from Massachusetts that this is where I came from.

    LESLIE: Suddenly, you’re saying you’re from New Jersey a lot more often.

    KEVIN: Yeah, well, you know, the accent is completely gone. I don’t even know what a lobstah (ph) is anymore.

    TOM: Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit, welcoming us here today to your final broadcast, your wrap party. We’re excited to be part of the solution of the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort.

    KEVIN: We’re very pleased to have you. Thanks for taking the time.

    TOM: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show broadcasting today from Point Pleasant Beach, where the team from This Old House is filming their final day for a special series on Hurricane Sandy recovery, which kicks off this week on your local PBS station.

    And during today’s show, we’re going to be highlighting some of the new technology that’s being deployed for these rebuilds. But even minor renovations can benefit with advances in lighting technology, including the Lutron Maestro Occupancy-Sensing Switch. It’s great for rooms where the lights are left on accidentally, like a kid’s room.

    LESLIE: Yeah, I feel like it’s designed with my son in mind.

    It’s really perfect because the sensing switch will be able to tell you when there’s nobody in the room for a bit and it will then automatically turn off the lights. So you don’t even have to bother asking, “Who left the lights on?”

    And what’s really cool about this technology is that it won’t turn off the lights on you while you’re still in the room, say, if you’re sitting really still, like reading a book or watching TV. It will detect those super-slight movements so you don’t have to worry about all of a sudden just not being able to read your book anymore.

    TOM: For more info about the Maestro Occupancy-Sensing Switch, visit LutronSensors.com.

    LESLIE: Still to come, more of The Money Pit’s coverage of This Old House: The Jersey Shore Rebuilds.

    TOM: Up next, one brave homeowner defied evacuation orders, stayed home through the storm and ended up fearing for his life. Find out why, next.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is presented by Diamond Crystal Salt. The benefits are bigger than you expected. After all, you’re worth your salt. Diamond Crystal Salt. A brilliant choice since 1886.

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    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show broadcasting today from Point Pleasant Beach. This is the scene of the final shoot for This Old House: The Jersey Shore Rebuilds, a special series highlighting the rebuilding going on here after Hurricane Sandy.

    And for the next several weeks, we’ll bring you a series of special reports on The Money Pit about three homeowners who are putting their lives back together after suffering devastating damage in Hurricane Sandy.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Our reports will coincide with the This Old House 34th season on PBS, which is premiering this week. So check your local listings for that.

    We’re kicking it all off today at the season’s wrap party in beautiful Point Pleasant, New Jersey, the hometown of Carlos and Maria Santos, who themselves have quite an amazing story of survival and resilience.

    Welcome to the program, Carlos and Maria.

    CARLOS: Hi. Nice to be here.

    MARIA: Nice to be here.

    TOM: It’s been quite a journey for you guys, huh?

    CARLOS: Yes, it has.

    TOM: Now, Carlos, I want to tell the story of the night of Hurricane Sandy. You decided to stay in the house. Why was that?

    CARLOS: Well, I decided to stay. I wanted to make sure that the sump pumps would work. I decided to stay and I tried to man those and keep the power alive to those.

    TOM: Right. Right. And Maria, you were in a shelter with your children?

    MARIA: Yes, I took my children to the local high school for shelter.

    TOM: Right. So tell me, what did you witness, Carlos? You were in the middle of the hurricane as it was happening, the worst of it. Were you surprised with how fast the water was coming up? What did you see?

    CARLOS: Initially, I kept my eye on the water level outside. Initially, it looked normal. The tide was usual. Nothing. As a matter of fact, I placed a call to Maria and I said it didn’t look like it was going to be that bad.

    TOM: So far so good.

    LESLIE: Spoke too soon.

    CARLOS: Right.

    TOM: Yep.

    MARIA: “So far so good. Why don’t you come home?”

    TOM: Yep.

    CARLOS: I actually suggested that she come home.

    TOM: Really?

    CARLOS: I did. I’m glad she didn’t listen to me.

    MARIA: 7:30.

    TOM: Wow.

    CARLOS: Obviously wasn’t a good judge at that moment but …

    TOM: So, then, as the storm progressed, I mean it obviously got very, very severe. Maria, you must have been frantic with worry. Were you in touch with Carlos?

    MARIA: I was in touch with Carlos until about – the last time we talked was about 12:30 a.m. Up to 9:30, I was very relaxed. I know he was busy in the house but he was reporting that the levels of the water were OK.

    TOM: Right.

    MARIA: And so only around 9:30 he started seeing the water rising. And at that point, it started – we started to see that we could potentially get flooded.

    TOM: And at some point, you lost total contact. That must have been sheer panic for you.

    MARIA: Yes. Once 12:30 or so – or about that – a.m., I lost contact with him and all the way to the next day, about 11:30 a.m.

    TOM: Wow. Those were a lot of hours for you. Carlos, you had to kayak out of the house. Is that correct?

    CARLOS: I did. Maria actually sent some rescuers over to rescue me.

    TOM: Yeah. But you turned them down?

    CARLOS: I turned them down because on the flip side of it – is I did have cell coverage and my phone was charged. It was ready. I was able to speak to other people except for Maria. So I did call the insurance company.

    MARIA: Right.

    TOM: Oh, well, that’s important.

    CARLOS: And that was at – the exact time I got through was the exact time that the rescuers knocked on the door, so I had to make a choice. So I decided to file the claim first to get a jump, get that …

    LESLIE: Right. Get that going.

    TOM: Yeah, you’ve been on hold, so you tell the rescuers to go away because you finally got through to the insurance company.

    CARLOS: Yeah, I finally got through.

    TOM: Oh, man.

    LESLIE: Absolutely.

    TOM: So you finally hooked up. So what was harder: surviving the wrath of the storm or the wrath of your wife when she finally hooked up with you?

    CARLOS: I thought it was going to be my wife but it turned out she was very nice to me when she saw me.

    TOM: So let’s talk about your house.

    LESLIE: Yeah, how is it going? I understand that you really took control of the building process and acted as your own general contractor.

    CARLOS: We had to. Costs were just going to go out of control, so we had to manage that ourselves. And been a couple rough months for us but we got through it. We’re at the end now and we only have a few weekend projects that we’re going to handle ourselves.

    TOM: Well, you always have those.

    CARLOS: Oh, we will.

    LESLIE: Right. That never is going to end.

    TOM: But you actually raised your house 13 feet. Is that correct?

    CARLOS: That’s correct.

    TOM: Wow.

    MARIA: Yes.

    TOM: So you really picked it up. So, I guess you’ve got a better view now.

    MARIA: Absolutely. We see water now from every window of our house.

    LESLIE: Instead of it being in your house.

    MARIA: Yes.

    TOM: Yes.

    CARLOS: And hopefully, it’ll stay out of our house.

    TOM: What was it like being chosen as one of the project houses for This Old House?

    CARLOS: We feel very blessed.

    MARIA: For him, a dream come true, really.

    CARLOS: Yeah, absolutely.

    MARIA: He’s such a big fan of the show.

    LESLIE: And are you having any nervous feelings about staying where you are, given the circumstances you encountered with Sandy?

    MARIA: Absolutely not.

    CARLOS: No, I don’t.

    MARIA: No, I think we are higher and safer in prettier, beautiful house now. I mean we …

    CARLOS: Yeah, the house is built to withstand other storms.

    LESLIE: That’s great.

    TOM: Well, congratulations. So glad that you’ve survived Sandy and that you’ve rebuilt your home, you’re moving on with your lives. Carlos and Maria Santos, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    CARLOS: Thank you.

    MARIA: Thank you.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show broadcasting today in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, the site of the wrap party for Season 34 of TV’s This Old House, a season where the team here chronicled the massive rebuilding effort going on in the tri-state area as these homeowners journey to take back more than 80,000 homes that were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

    LESLIE: Well, with more than 30 years as the master carpenter on This Old House, Norm Abram has seen his share of disasters but nothing quite like the ravages of Sandy.

    Norm, thank you so much for being with us today.

    NORM: Oh, it’s great to be here with both of you.

    TOM: Now, what was it like when you first got here and saw the devastation? Living up in Massachusetts, you obviously watched the news. But seeing it firsthand, what was your impression?

    NORM: Oh, I was blown away. We’ve covered hurricanes in the past with This Old House and I’ve never been in a location where the devastation was as enormous as it was here. Seeing houses totally flattened and destroyed or totally swept off the Earth. It’s almost unheard of but it’s real.

    LESLIE: Now, I think it’s interesting because when we think of the damage that Sandy incurred, it was really a combination of wind and water, whereas other storms you guys may have encountered were just strictly wind damage, correct?

    NORM: Well, Katrina was a lot of water, as well. Andrew was a lot of wind and water but here, it truly was the surge that did the most damage. You’re talking about 30-foot waves coming crashing in from the ocean, taking dunes and houses with them like they were matchsticks. It was impressive.

    TOM: In a way, Sandy is sort of the judge, the jury and the executioner for building code, right?

    LESLIE: Seriously.

    TOM: You could see, along the Shore, the homes that were older that maybe weren’t up to modern code, where you have one house that’s completely blown away and the other one is still standing.

    NORM: Right. Some of the homes that had been built with good piling systems and the correct breakaway walls that do it – that you have to do now survived. But any of those that were not built to try to meet that kind of attack, basically, from Mother Nature did not survive.

    LESLIE: And this really has to be emotional for you to sort of come in and see all of the damage and hear the stories of the families that you got to work with.

    NORM: Yeah, you feel so sorry for these people. And it’s pretty common in most hurricane stories that we covered: the people themselves are pretty impressive and they want to tell their story. Everybody has an individual story and they want to tell you what they went through. And it’s fascinating, it’s emotional and your heart goes out to them. But we were here to tell those stories, as well as show how to build better to face possibilities like this in the future.

    TOM: Now, you’ve done that so well, as you have many times in the past.

    We want to talk about one of the projects that you tackled: the Bay Head House. Interesting house, older home.

    NORM: Right.

    TOM: You actually preserved the first floor on this by lifting it up. Is that correct?

    NORM: Right. The house that I was on was built in 1890. It was the oldest of the three homes that we covered. It had flooded about 3 feet above the first floor. But being an old home, it had a lot of problems even before the storm.

    TOM: Right.

    NORM: So we couldn’t actually lift it from the first floor because it was so compromised and rotten and understructured that we actually lifted it from the second floor. Believe it or not, when we lifted the house up the first 4 feet, the first floor just stayed there. So all of that had to be removed and basically we rebuilt the structure entirely of the first floor, the wraparound porch. And everything from that point up was OK but everything down had to be replaced.

    TOM: There are so many contractors here that are doing this kind of very, very technical, precise work. And unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of situations where people are losing houses during the process. It’s a real tragedy. What are some of the things that folks need to think about when they’re doing this level of construction where they’re actually physically moving floors of a house?

    NORM: Well, first of all, when you jack up a house, you had best hire someone who’s an expert in that field. Because if it’s not jacked up and temporarily supported correctly, it could just fall over unexpectedly.

    TOM: And they have.

    NORM: Right. And they have.

    TOM: Yep. Mm-hmm.

    NORM: I was up on our house just today and it’s not quite finished yet. And you could feel it moving a little bit in the wind, you know? And the homeowner was a little nervous. I said, “Don’t worry. It’s not going to go anywhere. But they’re putting your new foundation in and it’ll be fine.”

    So, you have to know what you’re doing and also, you have to be well aware of what the new code requirements are so that when you structure it, again, you do it properly and you use all the right fasteners to make sure the house stays where it belongs.

    TOM: Let’s talk about those code requirements. How are we keeping these buildings in place so the next Sandy doesn’t do the same level of damage?

    NORM: Well, it’s pretty much – and very similar to what we saw on earthquake remediation in California. Tie-downs. Everything is tied down solid to the footings. It depends on the location. You might have piles driven in the ground. You could have helical piles. In the case of the house I worked on, it was basically big, heavy footings all tied together and making sure that house is totally anchored down.

    LESLIE: So is the goal, that should there be a surge again, everything just stays put and you hope that there’s not water infiltration? Or you’re just hoping that – hoping for the best, I should say.

    NORM: Well, the goal is to make sure that everything stays put but most of all, water, as the big force – is that whatever you do, you want to be able to have that water flow through the – under the house freely and not take it with it.

    TOM: It’s more planning than hoping.

    NORM: That’s right.

    LESLIE: Right, right.

    NORM: That’s a lot more planning.

    TOM: Norm Abram, thank you so much for all the work you did here on This Old House: The Jersey Shore Rebuilds. Very exciting to have you here in our area and congratulations on your 34th season with the program.

    NORM: Yeah. Well, thank you. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.

    LESLIE: Alright. Still ahead, when Mother Nature takes it all away, one way to get back into a home that can handle anything that comes in the future is to go with modular building.

    TOM: Yes. But are prefab homes as good as a home that’s stick-built? Well, actually, they can be stronger. Find out why when The Money Pit’s coverage of This Old House: The Jersey Shore Rebuilds continues, after this.

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    TOM: Welcome back to The Money Pit’s coverage of This Old House: The Jersey Shore Rebuilds. Here we are in beautiful Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, just one of the many towns along the coast that suffered damage in Hurricane Sandy.

    LESLIE: Today’s show is presented by Red Devil. Red Devil has been providing quality adhesives, sealants and tools that are made in the U.S.A. since 1872.

    For special offers and the latest in Red Devil innovative products, visit SaveOnRedDevil.com.

    TOM: Now, it’s been almost a year since Hurricane Sandy hit and all around us, we are seeing signs of rebuilding. The comeback is here. We see homes that are being raised up on pilings, we’re hearing the sounds of hammers, drills, cranes. It’s actually a very exciting time to be at the Jersey Shore.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And you know what? One of the ways that many of these homeowners are actually moving forward is simply by tearing down their existing home that’s been damaged and replacing it with a prefabricated modular home. Our next guest is one of the many contractors helping homeowners who decide to rebuild this way. We’re welcoming Anthony Zarrilli to the program.

    Welcome, Anthony.

    ANTHONY: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

    TOM: I got a chance to see one of the most amazing construction projects that I’ve seen in the last few years, which is to watch you guys lift a home off of a trailer, swing it over the neighboring homes and drop it onto a piling foundation.

    ANTHONY: Yep. Yeah.

    TOM: Why are modular homes better than doing it any other way?

    ANTHONY: There’s several factors when you start looking at building between traditional stick-built and modular. One, there’s a time factor which – the construction for a modular home compared to a stick-built home is typically half if not less than half. Modular homes are built in a controlled environment. They’re much more efficient. So, when the house is done, heating and cooling, noise, insulation is at – it’s much higher standards. There’s less inspections on the job because most of it is done at the factory, so you pick up time there, as well. And then there’s a financial cost which, typically, modular homes come in in between 12 to 18 percent less expensive.

    TOM: Is that right?

    ANTHONY: And it has 20 percent more lumber in it than if you built it as a stick-built home.

    LESLIE: Why isn’t everybody doing modular construction? Because that’s amazing.

    TOM: I know, right? Why stick-built, you know?

    LESLIE: Now, since you’re in a controlled environment and given the delicate nature of what’s going on here at the Jersey Shore because of Sandy and the rebuilding effort, was it easier to sort of deal with FEMA regulations and what new building codes might be, in a controlled situation than rather on the job site? Or were you finding difficulties with all of those elements, as well?

    ANTHONY: The only real element we were having difficulty with was getting the real base flood elevations from the state and the local code-enforcement offices. They had one base flood elevation that came out in January. It was much more aggressive and really not a real number to use. They changed it again in June. We waited for those numbers before we put people into homes and set the standards because there would have been wasted money, wasted time and wasted cost for them to build higher than they really needed to go.

    As far as the house, our homes – in this area, it’s a 120-mile-an-hour wind zone – we’ve always build to higher standards than what you need it to be anyway with the modular, so that didn’t really affect us.

    TOM: Now, Sandy was sort of the great equalizer, wasn’t it? It came in and – with equal force, tore some homes down and left others in place.

    ANTHONY: Yes, yes.

    TOM: And we got to see, being in the construction industry, the benefit of modern building codes, which is why it makes sense to try to get that done first before you push the go button on the construction project.

    ANTHONY: Yep. Absolutely. Right after the storm, we did an inspection of all the homes we built up and down the Jersey Shore, from Cape May all the way up through Northern Middlesex County. And we did not lose one home. We …

    LESLIE: That’s impressive.

    ANTHONY: It really – at the time, I was very concerned with some of the things that we’ve always done. We’ve always built on pilings if you’re in a flood zone.

    TOM: Right.

    ANTHONY: That had something to do with it. And then, also, the construction of modular homes, they’re just stronger homes. These homes are coming on a truck doing 75 miles an hour for 5 hours.

    LESLIE: Right.

    ANTHONY: And they come and there’s nothing wrong with them when they show up. If you had a stick-built home and you put it on a truck, it’s not making the trip that these things are making, so …

    TOM: Did you ever have a house get a speeding ticket?

    ANTHONY: That’s actually a good one. So …

    TOM: You got a chance to work with This Old House.

    ANTHONY: Yes.

    TOM: Was that a dream come true?

    ANTHONY: It was an experience I’ll never forget. The people that we worked with – Rich, Sarah, Deborah, Norm, everyone, the cast – the whole entire cast and crew ­- they were just extremely professional, they made you feel like you are part of the family. Because you could see they’re a tight-knit group. I didn’t know what to expect when I first got involved. And it was kind of neat because I grew up watching the show, especially growing up in a house – and my father was a builder, his father was a builder and then getting to meet a lot of the people and all.

    TOM: Yep.

    ANTHONY: It really was a neat experience.

    LESLIE: I felt the same way. I can remember, as a kid – I’m 38, so I’ve been watching the show since I’m 3.

    ANTHONY: Right.

    LESLIE: And I can remember my dad calling me into the den – “Oh, This Old House is on” – and two of us sitting around and watching it.

    And I remember the first time Tom and I had the opportunity to meet the team, I felt the same way.

    ANTHONY: Yeah.

    LESLIE: You know, I think we took a thousand pictures that day.

    ANTHONY: Yep. It’s so exciting.

    TOM: Yeah, today, we took two.

    LESLIE: Right. They’re like old hat. But I mean it’s really amazing and for so many of them, I think just witnessing the sheer devastation just really hit home for them.

    ANTHONY: Yes.

    LESLIE: Whereas all of us are from the area, we lived it.

    ANTHONY: Exactly. When they came down and they – and I started showing them around and showing the things going on, it was like most people. A lot of people that aren’t within a couple miles of the ocean really don’t get it.

    TOM: Right.

    ANTHONY: They think a couple months after the storm, it was over.

    LESLIE: Oh, gosh, no.

    ANTHONY: It’s nice what they’re doing because we’re coming up on the one-year. And for them to be able to bring to light, like, “Look, it’s a year later and there’s a lot of places that look like The Day After.”

    TOM: Anthony Zarrilli, builder. You’re going to see his story on this season of This Old House.

    Thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit with the great work you’re doing to help the Jersey Shore rebuild.

    ANTHONY: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

    TOM: Well, when disasters hit, homeowners are devastated but one saving grace is that most have insurance that steps in to help make the repairs right. Well, not exactly. The sad fact is a lot of these victims are pulling funds from their own pockets to finance the rebuild.

    LESLIE: Up next, we’re going to tell you about some of the sneaky tricks that some insurance companies pull to try and avoid claims and how one hurricane victim beat them at their own game. The Money Pit’s coverage of This Old House: The Jersey Shore Rebuilds continues, after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Lutron’s new Maestro Occupancy-Sensing Switch. Never ask “Who left the lights on?” again. Starting at around $20, this motion-sensing light switch turns the lights on automatically when you walk into a room and off when you leave and works with all types of light bulbs. Learn more at LutronSensors.com.

    TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit’s continuing coverage of This Old House: The Jersey Shore Rebuilds. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And we are in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, broadcasting from the Wharfside, a very popular, local restaurant here, along with the cast and crew of This Old House and all the participants of the 34th season. And they’re all celebrating a very successful wrap of This Old House: The Jersey Shore Rebuilds.

    LESLIE: Now, for the homeowners profiled this season, things generally turned out OK but there are a lot of homeowners still fighting for the chance to rebuild. In many cases, the fight that they’re having is with their insurance company.

    TOM: And one of those homeowners who had a fight with his insurance company now that turned out very badly for the insurance company is Gordon Gemma. And he joins us now to tell us about his experience.

    Welcome, Gordon.

    GORDON: Thank you, Tom.

    TOM: You and your wife live on a river in Oceanport. You had 4-plus feet of water in your house and you, like thousands of other homeowners, were trying to deal with the insurance companies. Tell us what happened.

    GORDON: What happened, Tom, is the big distinction between when you pay a premium and when they actually have to have a claim. When we paid the premium, the house was deemed to have a basement and a basement is a defined term.

    TOM: Right. OK.

    GORDON: Magically, when we had a claim, the house was reclassified as an enclosure. And what that means is in lieu of paying for things such as the floor, the walls, some of the contents, all they’ll pay for, then, as an enclosure, is just the electric and the HVAC. It’s like a carport.

    LESLIE: For just that basement level or the entire home?

    GORDON: For just that basement level that was impacted by the water. So anything impacted by the water, on that basement level, is now deemed to be an enclosure, not a basement. And I …

    LESLIE: Yeah. But they tried to sort of pull the rug out from underneath you. They played a little tricky on you.

    GORDON: They tried to play a little bit; you’re right. And what happened is this: is once we made the claim and we took all the photos and we had all the receipts and we gave them to the adjuster, about a week later we got a check for $135 with no explanation. And something in the back of my mind said, “Don’t cash the check. It doesn’t make any sense.” Three days later, an explanation came for the check and that was that, in fact, they had reclassified the basement as an enclosure and they were giving me back my premium. It was very nice of them to do that.

    TOM: So nice of them to do that. But in fact, by reclassifying you, they were trying to make themselves less responsible to the tune of about $100,000 in damage, correct?

    GORDON: More or less, about $100,000.

    TOM: Now, the great part of this story that I love is of all of the homeowners in New Jersey that they could have pulled this with, they pulled it with a guy who’s a land-use attorney and a professional planner. You’re the worst guy that they could have picked on with this.

    GORDON: Well, this – I don’t want to sound like a really bad windbag but I’m probably not a good choice of who to do this to.

    TOM: Right.

    GORDON: And so, I was able to respond back where others didn’t have that ability to do so.

    TOM: Right. So the take-home on this is if you get a check from the insurance company – and if you had cashed that, that might have been read as you agreeing to the reclassification, correct?

    GORDON: It would have been deemed, as sense, as a waiver, that I had waived any rights that I might have had to try to reclassify it.

    TOM: Wow.

    GORDON: And that would have had an impact upon me. And so by not doing that and by just saying, “What does this mean?” – rather than just accept it, I had had the ability then to go back to the insurance company. And we had a little bit of our discussion to be [done in private] (ph).

    TOM: Yeah. Now, what’s your advice to homeowners in general, Gordon, if they’re having problems collecting or dealing with their insurance company? What are some of the things that they can do?

    GORDON: Sure. The first thing to do is to start building a case. And the best way is to take an action before a disaster strikes, not afterwards. And that requires perspective. Despite all the wonderful advertising from insurance companies, Snoopy has sold out, the Geico is a lizard and those good hands are doing unnatural acts. You have to understand what this means.

    And as painful as it sounds, the first thing you do is read the policy.

    TOM: Read the policy. Yep.

    GORDON: Read the policy.

    TOM: Yep, exactly.

    GORDON: Know what’s in it, know what it covers, know what you’re paying for. The second thing is to make an inventory of the house. And that was something that I did and I ran around. And then you make your claim. And what you do then is let them respond back to you on that claim that you’ve made.

    TOM: And if you have a problem, you can file a complaint with the State Insurance Department, correct?

    GORDON: That is correct. The first thing is to try to complain your way up the ladder. Strategic complaining. We’ve been married for a number of years. We’re familiar with that concept.

    And so, after you try to complain, not just to the adjuster but to higher-ups in the insurance company – because they’re incentivized to keep you as a client – then you can make a claim to the state and they can act as your advocate.

    TOM: Right.

    GORDON: In addition to the state, you can also contact the National Flood Insurance Program. They have a consumer hotline. That number is 800-427-4661. And these folks have heard it all before and they can also become your advocate or at the very least, help you in that regard.

    TOM: And finally, get legal advice, you know? It definitely pays off.

    Gordon Gemma, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit and telling us this tale of at least one homeowner who got over on their insurance company.

    GORDON: Once again, thank you.

    TOM: Well, October is Energy Awareness Month, so now is a good time to look into making some energy-saving upgrades to your home. And we’ve got some tips on doing just that and improving your home’s energy efficiency, presented by Plastics Make it Possible.

    Now, energy-saving upgrades can cut down on your environmental footprint, not to mention your energy bills. And today, there are so many innovative products made with durable plastics that can help.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Let’s start with insulation. There’s a wide variety of modern plastic foam-insulation products that can really help you save energy and money.

    Now, plastic foam insulation works well to prevent those unwanted airflows between the interior and the exterior of your home that waste energy and of course, will drive up your heating costs. And now is also a good time to consider replacing any old, drafty windows you might have with some new, snug-fitting vinyl windows. Maybe a model with insulated glass. Now, even some of the vinyl frames are also filled with plastic foam insulation, which will help to further improve your energy efficiency.

    TOM: Now, if you’re building a new home or you’re adding on, another modern plastic product to consider is insulated concrete forms or ICFs. This is a popular construction system where concrete is actually poured into permanent forms made with expanded polystyrene foam. The insulated form builds strong foundations and walls and they deliver excellent energy efficiency.

    LESLIE: If you want some more great tips on energy efficiency, visit PlasticsMakeItPossible.com.

    TOM: More of The Money Pit’s live coverage of This Old House: The Jersey Shore Rebuilds continues, after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is presented by Diamond Crystal Salt. The benefits are bigger than you expected. After all, you’re worth your salt. Diamond Crystal Salt. A brilliant choice since 1886.

    TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Broadcasting a very special edition of The Money Pit. We are in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, celebrating the completion of the 34th season of This Old House, the iconic television show that is actually covering an iconic storm: Hurricane Sandy.

    And I’ve got to tell you, the devastation around here, you can still see chunks of buildings that are – not been touched in almost a year now. But you see more and more homes that are being rebuilt, you see the businesses open. You see that this past summer, it was business not as usual at the Jersey Shore but at least they were doing quite well, considering where we thought we would have been a year ago. And we’re very happy to be here and help tell this story of the recovery from this amazing storm.

    LESLIE: Well, Tom, I think that’s an important point. You’re a lifelong resident of New Jersey, you’re from the Shore. And the story of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, I think, was one that was very personal to you. And you really had a great opportunity to help This Old House tell that story, right?

    TOM: Yeah, that’s right. Now, Ocean Grove is a very unique community. It’s located basically half-a-block south of where I grew up; it’s the next town over. And what’s unique about it is it’s a community that was originally formed as a camp meeting. It was a religious retreat back in the 1800s. There were a group of ministers that were looking for a place that was mosquito-free that they could bring folks to in the summer and basically celebrate their religion.

    LESLIE: Right. Mm-hmm.

    TOM: And they chose Ocean Grove.

    And the interesting thing about Ocean Grove is it’s the largest community of Victorian homes anywhere in America. There’s even more homes in Ocean Grove than in Cape May, New Jersey, which is very famous.

    LESLIE: Which is famous for the Victorian homes.

    TOM: And we got a chance to look at Ocean Grove and look at some of the damage that happened in Ocean Grove. And we got a chance to tell the story of this really interesting place, including the story of the tent houses. There are 140 tent lots still in Ocean Grove.

    And originally, when Ocean Grove was formed, they laid it out to accommodate tents because people were just coming there for the summer. And 140 of those tents survive today and there are homeowners that basically lease these tents and …

    LESLIE: And are they actually tents or are they cabins?

    TOM: Yes and yes. They have large canvas roofs – double roofs – that the rain can’t permeate through and leak into the interior. And they’re both cabins and tents. So the back half is a cabin, the front half is a tent. And they’re located in an area around a building called the Ocean Grove Auditorium, which is this amazing, wooden auditorium structure that was severely damaged by Sandy. The roof …

    LESLIE: I was going to say none of this sounds like it will withstand what we had with Sandy.

    TOM: No, well, the roof was partially torn off but they’ve put that back together. And the community is just doing really, really well and it’s a beautiful place to see. And you’re going to see that, this season, on This Old House. Kevin O’Connor and I had a chance to do a tour of Ocean Grove and tell that story.

    LESLIE: You know, I think it’s amazing. Both of us were full in the storm and to just see communities come together – and where I live, I’m just a few miles from the coast. And the damage we suffered was so drastically different from the damage that the coastline suffered on Long Island.

    And to just travel over and take a look and to see what’s been going on in the Long Beach area, it’s very similar to what’s going on here at the Shore. You have a community of people who are in love with the beach and love where they live and are lifetime residents, for the most part, and really worked hard to rebuild their home. And it’s obvious the passion is there for this community.

    TOM: As we say in New Jersey, we’re stronger than the storm and I think the fact that we’re still here and still building and recovering proves it.

    This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Thank you so much for joining us for this very special edition of the program, covering the rebuilding that’s going on across the Northeast. We want to congratulate the team of This Old House for another great season, this time right here in our backyard.

    LESLIE: And we want to let you know that for the next eight weeks, we’ll be bringing you continuing coverage of the very interesting projects that they’ll be featuring each week on This Old House.

    TOM: I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Remember, you can do it yourself …

    LESLIE: But you don’t have to do it alone.


    (Copyright 2013 Squeaky Door Productions, Inc. No portion of this transcript or audio file may be reproduced in any format without the express written permission of Squeaky Door Productions, Inc.)

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