A massive hurricane is approaching your coastal community. The authorities have told you and your neighbors to evacuate, but for whatever reason you’ve decided to stay put. This is a bad idea, but if you’ve committed to sheltering in place, you must be prepared. First, understand that some hurricanes and their associated storm surges may be so massive that no amount of preparation will make a difference or keep you safe. Regardless, from a plumber’s perspective, here’s what every homeowner should do if they remain in their homes during a hurricane.
- Fill all available jugs, thermoses and pitchers with clean water that can be used later for drinking and cooking. This is especially important if you don’t have several cases of bottled water on hand.
- Sinks and bathtubs and can be filled with water for emergency use. Water stored this way is perfect for cleaning dishes, bathing or flushing toilets. However, due to the difficulty in getting tubs and sinks clean, this water is not recommended for drinking and cooking unless it is first disinfected.
- Just before the storm impacts your town, turn off the main water supply valve coming into the home to prevents any contaminated water from getting into the household water supply pipes.
- Turn off the valves on any water lines leaving the house, such as outside faucets and sprinkler systems.
- Open a faucet at the highest point in the house (such as an upstairs bathroom) to allow air into the system. You can draw water as needed from the lowest faucet in the home, but the supply will be limited to whatever’s in the pipes.
- Water inside the water heater tank represents many gallons of safe water for use in an emergency.
- Turn off electricity or gas to the water heater, so that there is no risk that the heating unit could come on while the tank is being emptied. Draw water as needed from the drain valve at the bottom of the tank. Attaching a short length of hose will make this process easier.
- Water stored in your home’s plumbing system is safe for a few days. After a longer time, it must be disinfected before it is used for drinking or cooking.
If there is time and it is safe to go outside:
- Check all downspouts and roof gutters to ensure they are securely fastened, free of debris and draining properly.
- Make sure yard culverts and street drains are free of debris and can carry water away as fast as possible.
- Inspect foundation and/ or basement walls for cracks and repair as necessary. Watermarks near cracks could be a sign of recent leaks and future risk. Spray them with waterproof sealant.
- Inspect basement sump pump. Ensure it is discharging water properly and is not clogged with debris. Do this by pouring a few buckets of water into your sump pit. In a matter of seconds, the pump should discharge the water and shut itself off. If power goes out, the sump pump won’t operate unless it has a battery backup pump.
- Inspect all floor drains throughout the house, including those in the garage, driveway, basement and patio. Make sure the covers are unobstructed and test to see that the drains aren’t clogged by pouring water into them.
- Without a residential sewage backflow preventer valve in place, municipal sewage could backup into your home via the lowest drains. Sewage backflow preventers take time and expertise to install, so if a storm in imminent, there is no time.
Water safety after the storm
Once the storm has passed, wait to turn on your main water supply valve until local authorities say the water supply is safe. Bacteria, viruses, debris, or chemicals may have gotten into the water.
- If your isolated household water supply and bottled water have run out and you don’t know whether the municipal water is safe to use, boil the municipal water before using it for any purpose (example: Bathing, brushing teeth, cooking, drinking).
- Once your community declares its water safe, be sure to flush your home’s water system by opening all faucets for several minutes.
If your home has sustained water damage from the storm, but the structure is still sound:
- Stay out of flooded basements and rooms to avoid risk of electric shock or chemical contamination.
- Begin drying things out by opening windows and removing soaked furniture and carpets, if it’s safe to do so.
- Contact an ICCRC certified water removal and cleanup company like Roto-Rooter. All of them will be busy after a major storm, so get on several waiting lists to maintain your place in line.
- Almost all water cleanup companies work with your insurance company if you have storm flood insurance.
- Without flood insurance, standard homeowner policies will not pay for water damage caused by storm flooding (water from below), but most policies will cover you from wind-driven rain (water from above).