Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cleaning Up After the Storm

I'm not Canadian, but I know that one thing Canadians do well is winter. When it comes to cold weather, the electricians, plumbers, and general contractors up north have cold weather down to a science. As I said to one Canadian electrician I know on Facebook after the ice storms that happened a couple of weeks ago, tradespeople are the unsung heros who seperate the first world from the third world. They trudge throught the snow and ice and keep the lights turned on. As Mike states in the article below, sometimes Mother Nature likes to throw a curve ball our direction and get a litte unruly. Such was the case last month in December when an icestorm knocked out the power to hundreds of thousands of people's homes in parts of Toronto. No amount of planning can adequately prepare a household to be without heat or electricity for an entire week in the middle of the coldest winter in decades. The only thing people can do in the aftermath of a storm is clean up the mess. Mike Holmes offers some pretty good advice on how to hire the right pros and make sure things don't get worse in a bad situation. One of the worst mistakes people can make is to let their desperation cloud their judgement and hire the first person willing to "help" -- even minor electrical repairs require permits, and if the proper permits aren't taken, then the utility companies will not inspect the repairs and turn the power back on. Desperate situations can also lead to price gouging, which is another good reason for consumers to slow down and use good judgement. It's important to have a basic knowlege of about how much a repair is going to cost so that you don't end up paying double or tripple (or more) the going rate. If for some reason you find yourself without power or heat in freezing weather, Mike recommends leaving a tap on to keep the water flowing through your pipes. This prevents stagnant water in the pipes from freezing and bursting. It might be wasteful, but it beats the alternative. Lastly, it's important to take precautions before the a storm happens and have good insurance. Mike is an official spokesman for Allstate Insurance, and has done a few commercials for them over the past year. In Mike's eyes, it's very important for homeowners to make sure their homeowners insurance policies are up to snuff and are comprehensive enough to cover all the Old Man Winter has to offer.

Keep warm, my Canadian friends!
From the Montreal Gazette:

Mike Holmes: After the storm

Tips on which pros to call, and how not to make the damage worse

After a decade, Mike Holmes still cares because he knows the work he, his crew and others do makes a real difference to the people they help.

Photograph by: Alex Schuldt/The Holmes Group, Postmedia News

I talk a lot about winterizing your home, but sometimes Mother Nature throws us a curveball that can be difficult to prepare for — like the ice storms many Canadians faced a couple of weeks ago. We have to think on our feet and deal with the aftermath, and one of the first things you need to do is contact your home insurance provider.
Not all insurance policies are created equal. Some cover snow and ice damage, others don’t. Most standard policies won’t cover winter-related flooding, unless you have a separate flood insurance policy. You need to know exactly what’s covered and what’s not. Then assess the damage.
During winter storms, there are four major areas of your home that can be susceptible to damage: the roof; pipes; electrical service equipment; and trees around the property.
Your roof
Ice on a roof makes for a very heavy load. Some homeowners might be anxious to get rid of it but you must be careful. Unless you have a leak inside, leave it alone until the end of winter or early spring. You can get hurt trying to get rid of the ice yourself or cause more damage to the shingles. But if you are concerned consult a roofing and/or eavestroughs contractor.
A roofing contractor can go up on your roof and check for any damage caused by falling debris (like trees). They can also remove whatever snow there is and add a de-icer that is non-corrosive to aluminum (since most eavestroughs are aluminum), like a calcium chloride flake.
Roofs without any ice and water shield are more susceptible to damage. Given the level of damage this winter has already caused, most homeowners will be looking for good roofers come spring. I would start booking them as soon as March to make sure you get a real pro. A good roof also needs a healthy attic, so it might be worth also hiring an insulation contractor who can check your attic and make sure it has enough insulation and sufficient ventilation.
Frozen pipes
I always tell homeowners to make sure your pipes are properly insulated to stop them from freezing. But during a power outage and major temperature drops, no amount of insulation can stop water from freezing in pipes.
Some people might suggest shutting off the water and draining the pipes. But nowhere in building code does it say that pipes must be sloped. That means even with the pipes drained there could be some water trapped in certain sections that can freeze.
So what’s the best solution? Leave your taps on. Let them drip or let a small amount of water continue to flow through the pipes. Also flush toilets every once in a while to keep the water flowing. It might seem like a waste but when you consider the alternative, it’s a safe precaution.
Power outages are a big issue during winter storms. Most of us think that hydro companies will take care of everything but the cold, hard truth is that they are responsible only for the lines going to your house — anything after the point of attachment, which is called the clevis, is your responsibility.
If there is a problem with the clevis, pipe, clips, wiring or meter base — basically any electrical service equipment on your property — it becomes your responsibility to fix it. And when there’s a big demand for a specific service, such as electrical contractors after storms, there’s a high chance of people getting gouged.
Vulnerable homeowners become desperate to get their power and heat back, and unfortunately, some people take advantage of that, asking for $7,500 for a job that shouldn’t cost more than $1,500 to repair. I’ve seen it happen.
To prevent this you can’t let a desperate situation fog your judgment. You still need to make sure you hire the right pro — not the first person that says they can help.
Most electrical repair jobs should cost between $800 to $3,000, plus the cost of the permit, which is under $200. And yes, you need a permit, even if it’s something simple like replacing the clevis.
Having the proper permits means that city or municipal inspectors will check the work and make sure it’s done right so the hydro company can get the power to your home safely. If the work is wrong, hydro can’t do anything about it and you’re out of luck and out of heat.
If you have problems with the electrical service equipment on your property, hire a licensed electrical contractor to fix it, not an electrician. An electrician works for the electrical contractor, who works for you, the homeowner. And only a licensed electrical contractor can get the proper permits to work on your home.
Ice-covered trees
Falling trees is a huge safety hazard, and will continue to be over the coming weeks after the storm. Many trees are weak, have been damaged, and can break easily in high winter winds.
If you’re concerned about any trees on your property call a Certified Arborist to check them out. (Ask for proof of insurance before hiring anyone.)
And if there are trees near any electrical lines, stay away from them and contact your utility company to report the problem.
Winter isn’t over, not by a long shot. But if we learn and think ahead we can show Old Man Winter what we’re really made of. After all, we are Canadians!
Catch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit hgtv.ca. For more information on home renovations, visit makeitright.ca.

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