Home Safety Tips
Storm Survival Guide
Protect your family when the wind starts blowing, the waters start rising, and your house goes dark.
Plus: 10 Ways to Prevent Slips, Trips, and Falls at Home
Lightning: Don’t Get Struck Indoors
Your home is probably the safest place to be in an electrical storm. But here’s a safety tip you may not know. Lightning can still get to you through the conductive paths in your house; that means your wiring, your plumbing and water. Talking on a corded phone, taking a shower or bath, working on your desktop computer or handling power tools during an electrical storm isn’t much safer than standing outside. It’s best to stay away from all water and appliances until the storm passes.
Photo provided by Getty Images Photographer John Churchman
Don’t Get Shocked In a Flooded Basement
The water in a flooded basement probably isn’t electrified by your home’s electrical lines. But it could be. So instead of finding out the hard way, just consider it an energized pool of instant death until you call your utility company to disconnect your power. Then you can dive in. And after the water is gone, remember that anything electrical in the basement may still be wet, damaged and dangerous. So it’s best to leave the basement power off until your utility company or an electrician gives you the OK.
Photo provided by Getty Images Photographer Andrew Burton/Stringer
Plus: 11 Epic Electrical Fails
Keep Your Wheels on Dry Land
Driving through a few inches of water seems safe enough, but it kills people every year. Floodwater hides washouts and the road itself, and you can suddenly find yourself in deep water. In just 6 in. of water, some cars partially float and become hard to control. And any passenger vehicle, even a monster SUV, will become a rudderless barge in 2 ft. of rushing water. When you find a flooded road, better to turn around than risk drowning.
Photo provided by Getty Images/Airportrait
Keep Your Generator Away From the House
A generator is the best thing to have in a blackout. But it can make you black out (or die). Hurricane Katrina led to more than 50 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. Like any internal combustion engine, a generator engine exhausts carbon monoxide gas, which can give you a headache, knock you out or even kill you. This is easy to avoid, though: Don’t run a generator in your garage or porch, and keep it at least 10 ft. away from your house.
Stay Out of Gushing Floodwater
Six inches of floodwater doesn’t look dangerous. But if it’s moving fast enough, it’s enough to sweep you off your feet and carry you into the hereafter. Rushing water also erodes roads and walkways, creating drop-offs that you can’t see under the torrent. A long pole, stick or pipe lets you probe for drop-offs and might help you stay on your feet. Still, the smartest move is to stay out of flowing water.
Photo provided by Getty Images Photographer Barry Durrant/Stringer
Don’t Burn Down the House!
When soldering, it’s always a little scary working so close to wood with a flaming torch, especially when the water is turned off. Make a point of filling a bucket with water first, keep a fire extinguisher handy and protect flammable materials with a flame protector.
Photo provided by Getty Images Photographer Richard H Johnson
Flooded Basement? Turn Off the Gas
Floodwater and floating junk can lead to damaged gas lines and malfunctioning gas controls. Leaked gas then bubbles up through the water, giving your basement an explosive atmosphere on top of the flood. And the smell of gas may be masked by other floodwater odors. So call the utility company to shut off your gas even if you don’t smell it. If you do smell gas, get out of the house before you make the call.
Stay Dry in a Flooded Basement
Furniture isn’t the only stuff floating in your basement. The water probably contains chemicals stored downstairs and a dose of sewage that backed up through basement drains. That’s not just disgusting, but also a toxic soup that can make you sick. Before you go down there, gear up with rubber boots and gloves to prevent skin contact. Also wear gloves when cleaning up the polluted sludge left by the flood.
Install Surge Protectors to Protect your Microprocessors
Computer chips are sensitive and highly vulnerable to momentary power surges, especially powerful ones induced by lightning. Losing a $1,000 computer is bad enough, but losing photos, music and other irreplaceable stuff on your hard drive is often much worse. Insulate your valuable microprocessors from this danger by plugging them into a surge protector. Better surge protectors will have the following ratings printed somewhere on the box: meets UL 1449 or IEEE 587; clamps at 330 volts or lower; can absorb at least 100 joules of energy or more; and handles telephone lines and video cables as well.
Consider a Water-Powered Backup Sump Pump
A battery-powered pump is a great backup for your main sump pump, especially if your house is supplied by a well. But if you’re on a municipal water system, a water-powered backup pump may be a better option (a well pump won’t work if the power’s out). The price you’ll pay for water consumption during a power outage is a pittance compared with the cost of a flooded basement. And, a water-powered pump never needs new batteries. The pump shown here (Basepump RB750, from basepump.com) installs on the ceiling above the sump. You’ll have to run a 3/4-in. water line to it and connect the remote float and tubing to the switch near the pump. Then run a separate self-draining pipe that drains outside.
Turn Your Car Into a Generator
A power inverter, which turns DC current from your car into AC current for electric gadgets, is the next best thing to a generator when it comes to surviving a blackout. An inverter to power a tablet or laptop will cost you about $25, but there are much bigger models ($100 and up) that can run power tools and appliances.
Conserve Batteries With LEDs
During a power outage, LED flashlights and lanterns have a huge advantage over incandescent models: They allow batteries to last much longer (typically about six to ten times as long). And LED technology isn’t just for flashlights. Consider using “puck” lights, the type designed for under-cabinet lighting. Stick them up in bathrooms, bedrooms and hallways so you don’t have to stumble around in the dark.
Fill the Tub
If you live in a hurricane-prone area or have frequent power outages, you can store fresh water in a giant plastic container in your bathtub. The collapsed containers are small and easy to store between emergencies. Two companies that make the containers are M. R. Crafts (mywatersafe.com) and WaterBob (waterbob.com). The containers come in several sizes, from 65 to 100 gallons and cost about $30 plus shipping. They are also available at many hardware stores. They are made of low-density polyethylene plastic. Fill the container with water from the bath tap. A faucet on top of the container lets you pump water for drinking, washing or flushing the toilet.
Photo provided by M.R. Crafts
Fill the Grill Tank
A blackout limits many of life’s little pleasures, but you can still enjoy a hot meal if you have a gas grill and a full tank. Consider feeding friends and neighbors by grilling the contents of your fridge and freezer before anything goes bad.
Ice Saves Money
A couple of days without power can cost you a few hundred bucks as food spoils in fridges and freezers. You could try to buy a few bags of ice (along with everyone else) after the power goes out. But here’s a better idea: Fill locking freezer bags with water and keep them in the freezer. During a blackout, they’ll help the freezer stay cold longer. Or you can transfer them to the fridge or a cooler. When they thaw, you’ve got drinking water.
A CO Detector is Essential
Blackouts often lead to carbon monoxide deaths. Here’s why: To get heat during outages, people crank up fireplaces, gas stoves and all types of heaters—and anything that burns produces carbon monoxide. It’s OK to use these heat sources, but first place a battery-operated CO detector in the room. You can buy a detector for about $25 at any home center.
Even if you don’t plan to go anywhere, your car is a critical part of your survival kit. It’s your emergency transport, your charging system for cell phones and maybe even the only heated space you’ll have. So don’t wait until the blackout hits. Without power, gas stations can’t pump gas from their tanks into yours.
Get a Radio
If phone and Internet systems go down along with the power grid, a battery-powered radio may be your only source of weather and emergency information. You could listen in your car, but a portable radio lets you listen anywhere. Battery-powered radios cost as little as $20 at discount stores.
After the Power Goes Out
- Unplug everything. As the grid sputters back to life, it may create power surges that can destroy electronics. Leave one light switched on so you know when power has returned.
- Don’t use candles. Flashlights produce more light and won’t burn your house down.
- Bring solar landscape lights inside. Don’t forget to put them out for recharging during the day.
- Keep the fridge closed. The less you open fridge and freezer doors, the longer your food will stay cold.
- Tap your water heater. It’s your built-in emergency water supply. Let the water cool before you open the drain valve.
- Don’t take chances. Power outages mean packed emergency rooms and delayed ambulance service; it’s a bad time to get injured.
Patch a Small Hole
Minor roof damage can lead to major water damage inside your home. But if you keep a few simple materials on hand, you can seal most roof injuries in just a few minutes. A section of flashing is the perfect patch for smaller holes—often caused by blown-down tree branches. Don’t forget to caulk around the hole. Special roof sealant is best, but any type of caulk is better than nothing.
Tarp Large Areas
If you need a quick fix for roof damage that’s larger than a shingle or two, the fastest bandage is a plastic tarp. Secure a tarp over the damaged area with 2x4s or lath nailed to the roof. If possible, secure the tarp over the roof ridge; it’s difficult to make the tarp waterproof at the upper end. But don’t kill yourself: Trying to patch a slippery, wet roof during a storm is dangerous. Add in high winds or lightning and the situation is deadly. So think twice before you head up there.