Speaking of Hurricane Floyd (and who isn't?), local home contractor Rudi Hecht of RK Hecht Inc. recently pointed out to us that repairs were still underway on many of the thousands of homes throughout Northern Virginia that were damaged in April by a destructive hail storm.

Most of the damage involved siding, windows and roofing. But Hecht reminds homeowners that damage from hail--and other severe weather--can be "tricky business." The damage to a house can go undetected or overlooked--and therefore unclaimed on insurance forms. And that could cost consumers thousands of dollars later, when insurance claims for superficial repairs are already settled.

Hecht advises homeowners, before hiring a contractor for such repairs, to check with their state's Home Improvement Commission to make sure the contractor is licensed and insured; to contact the state consumer affairs office and the Better Business Bureau to check the contractor's record; and to choose an established local contractor who will still be around months after the repairs are made. And if the damage is from catastrophic weather conditions, look for a contractor with that kind of expertise.

Distiller RecallThe good news is that it purifies the water. The bad news is, well, last week the West Bend Co. recalled about 16,000 of its home-use water distillers after receiving three reports of units overheating and catching on fire.

The white plastic distiller resembles a large automatic coffee maker; it's oval-shaped with a clear blue collection tank. Various trademarks may appear on the front of the distiller: Millennium, Mountain Stream, Pure Logic, Sci Can, WaterWise, TIC, Usana, Table Charm, Roex or West Bend. Look on the bottom of the distiller for a label printed in black showing the model number W10120 and a date code from 9722 to 9848.

The $500 distillers were sold by direct marketing and door-to-door sales nationwide from May 1998 through August 1999. If you own one, stop using it and call the distiller service center at 800-377-3038 to schedule a free pickup and repair. For your trouble, the company is returning repaired distillers with three free charcoal filters and an additional year's warranty.

Risky Stuffed Animals

Though no injuries have been reported, Enesco Corp. has received reports that the pompoms on its Precious Moments Tender Tail stuffed toys can detach--posing a choking hazard to young children. On Sept. 2, the Illinois company recalled about 472,000 of the stuffed toys. The 6-inch toys include Lady Bug (item no. 476080), Bee (464295) and Butterfly (482234), whose pompoms are on the antennae, and Reindeer (381969), with pompoms on its antlers. Check the purple adoption registration ticket on the toy for its item number. An attached label includes the words "Tender Tails," "by Enesco," and "Made in China."

The $7 toys were sold nationwide at gift, card and collectible stores from May 1998 through August of this year. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) advises buyers to cut off the pompoms and return them to Enesco (P.O. Box 499, Itasca, Ill. 60143-0499) to receive a replacement Tender Tails Hippo toy. Be sure to include your name, address and telephone number. For more information, call Enesco at 800-632-7968 or e-mail: ttpompoms@enesco.com.

To report dangerous products or product-related injuries, call the CPSC's hot line at 800-638-2772 or by e-mail to info@cpsc.gov.

Got a consumer complaint? Question? Smart consumer tip? E-mail details to oldenburgd@washpost.com or write Don Oldenburg, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.