Hurricane Sandy didn’t aim at the Washington area, but even its sideways glance packed a lot of punch, and water. Even if you don’t have the obvious damage that residents of New York and New Jersey are dealing with, a top-to-bottom check of your house can point out signs of damage that you might otherwise overlook, leading to a lot of grief and expense later.
If you haven’t already done so, walk around the outside of your house. If a tree crashed onto the roof, you probably already know — and with any luck you have at least temporarily covered the hole with a tarp or plywood. But are you sure all the roof shingles are still intact? Roof inspections are best done from a ladder, but you can see quite a bit from the ground if you use binoculars. Or ask neighbors whether you can peek through top-floor windows of their houses. (Return the favor if they want to check their own homes.) While you’re at it, make sure gutters are still attached and straight. And if your neighborhood has overhead power lines, check the weatherhead and riser, the pipe apparatus where the power line feeds into your home. If the pipe is bent or loose, call a licensed electrician for a closer inspection and repair if necessary. But a loop of wire at the weatherhead is normal; it allows rain to drip off onto the roof, rather than run down the wires to the meter.
While you are outside, look for loose window screens, window glass that might have broken from airborne debris and other problems. Some communities allow homeowners to bundle downed branches for pickup along with fall leaves. Washington, for example, accepts pieces less than two inches in diameter as long as they are cut into lengths of four feet or less. But if you hire a landscaper for the cleanup, the company should haul away the debris. If you spot a tree that used to grow straight but now tilts, call an arborist to assess whether the tree is still stable. Many deciduous trees grow toward light and can be safe even if they look a bit unbalanced, but conifers typically grow erect unless something is wrong.
Once inside, head for the basement and give it the sniff test. This long after a storm, a mildew smell could mean there was a leak that you didn’t notice. Read the Environmental Protection Agency’s information on identifying and dealing with mold and then decide whether the cleanup is something you can tackle yourself and what safety gear you need. To cure general mustiness, you might just need to clear out clutter and get stored items off the floor, because this allows better air circulation. If the basement flooded (especially if there is still standing water this long after the storm), or if you see big areas covered with mildew, you might need a mold-remediation company plus a basement waterproofing contractor to make sure your house stays dry next time. Porous materials, including drywall, carpet and carpet padding, usually need to be removed and thrown away if they stayed damp for more than a couple of days.
Continue your inspection by checking the ceilings on the top floor to make sure you see no stains that hint of a roof leak. Even better, pull down attic stairs or bring in a ladder and open the access to the attic. With a bright light, scan the attic space for signs of leaks, including dark stains on the back of the roof sheathing and matted areas of the insulation.
If you do find damage that you need help in fixing, photograph the problems and check with your insurance company to see whether your homeowner policy will cover repairs. Flooding isn’t typically covered, nor is debris removal. But roof repairs and other wind damage typically is — and in this case, without the higher deductible that normally applies after a hurricane, because Sandy didn’t reach land with hurricane-force winds. If you disagree with what your insurance company tells you, there are ways to appeal; check with your state insurance commissioner (in Virginia, in Maryland and in Washington.
Widespread storm damage tends to bring unscrupulous repair folks out in force.
Maryland has a Home Improvement Commission guaranty fund that compensates homeowners who suffer economic damage because of work done by a contractor — but only if the contractor is licensed.
Have a problem in your home? Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.