Winter Tips

State Farm posts this advice for cold winter temperatures and storms-

When the mercury plummets

Even if you’ve taken the right preventative steps, extreme weather conditions can still harm your pipes. Here are a few more steps you can take:

  • A trickle of hot and cold water might be all it takes to keep your pipes from freezing. Let warm water drip overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.
  • Keep your thermostat set at the same temperature during both day and night. You might be in the habit of turning down the heat when you’re asleep, but further drops in the temperature—more common overnight—could catch you off guard and freeze your pipes.
  • Open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to un-insulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.

Before you skip town

Travelling in the winter months might be good for the soul, but don’t forget to think about your pipes before you leave. What can you do?

  • Set the thermostat in your house no lower than 55°F (12°C).
  • Ask a friend or neighbor to check your house daily to make sure it’s warm enough to prevent freezing.
  • Shut off and drain the water system. Be aware that if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it may be deactivated when you shut off the water.

If your pipes do freeze

What if your pipes still freeze, despite your best preventive measures? First step: Don’t panic. Just because they’re frozen doesn’t mean they’ve already burst. Here’s what you can do:

  • If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave the faucets turned on and call a plumber.
  • Do not use electrical appliances in areas of standing water. You could be electrocuted.
  • Never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame because it could cause a fire hazard. Water damage is preferable to burning down your house!
  • You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe using a hair dryer. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe.
  • If your water pipes have already burst, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve in the house; leave the water faucets turned on. Make sure everyone in your family knows where the water shutoff valve is and how to open and close it.

Water Damage

Plumbing related water damage is a common occurrence. Often plumbing leaks are designated as minor problems or annoyances rather than serious concerns in need of professional attention.
houzz.com published an informative piece on plumbing repairs and the many reasons hiring a licensed plumber is proactive prevention.

“You might think a running toilet or leaky faucet is a trivial issue in your home, something for your handyperson to take on later when you’ve got other jobs around the house to do. But make no mistake: Never skip a drip. Leaks, even minor ones, can amount to big increases on your water and even heating bill. “You’d be surprised at how much is going down the drain and how much you’re paying by not getting it fixed,” says plumber Scott Campbell of Central Penn Plumbing Services in Pennsylvania.

What’s more, fixing leaky faucets and toilets make up the majority of what most professional plumbers do, and trying to fix a faucet yourself, or hiring your neighbor’s uncle, can lead to serious issues. “It’s a quick and easy fix, but still something you want to call a professional about,” Campbell says.”

Basement Moisture

Efflorescence may be an indication of of continuing moisture penetration through foundation walls and slabs or it could be residue remaining from construction and curing. Efflorescence is caused by sulfate crystallization. masonryinstitute.org publishes the following-
“…before sulfates can cause efflorescence the salts must be dissolved into solution by water. If no moisture reached the sulfates then they cannot be rendered into solution and migrate to the surface where the water will evaporate, leaving the sulfate salts on the surface to crystallize and become efflorescence. Attention must be given to preventing any soluble alkaline from being rendered into solution by water.”

Keeping downspouts and gutters clear of leaves and debris, to allow water to flow freely away from the foundation, and keeping landscaping at least 2-3 feet from the foundation will aid in preventing foundation moisture penetration.

Basement Mold and Water

Exposed dirt floors in basements and crawl spaces are problematic due to the moisture rising on convection driven air flow. Moisture can reach the upper levels of building through utility chases, voids, and stairways via stack effect http://www.epa.gov/iaq/largebldgs/pdf_files/sec_2.pdf  transporting indoor air contaminants with it.
Including the crawlspace or basement in the building’s overall thermal boundary optimizes energy efficiency and creates more effective moisture control. Encapsulating dirt floor crawl spaces and basements without insulating the exposed subfloor www.myhomescience.com/insulating-crawl-space/ better regulates building temperature.

Fall Yard Work

The most important thing to remember to include as part of fall yard work is to prepare outdoor faucets for winter. Remove hoses and be certain exterior water spigots are shut off. It may be a good idea to have a plumber look at exterior spigots to be certain there is no threat of a pipe break.
Fall is a good time to trim landscaping to keep plants away from buildings and foundations. Gutters, downspouts and extensions should be cleared and cleaned so water will flow freely through them.

Investigating Insurance Company Profits

Maine insurance adjusters, are generally honest and credible. NPR is broadcasting a shocking and informative investigation of gross malfeasance under the flood insurance program, which the U.S. taxpayer subsidizes if there are not enough funds to cover large scale catastrophic losses.

Sept. 20: Business of Disaster

Who profits when disaster strikes? FRONTLINE and NPR investigated the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy — revealing that private insurance companies working for the government have made hundreds of millions of dollars at the same time that thousands of homeowners are claiming they have been underpaid. “We found that disasters like Superstorm Sandy aren’t a disaster for everyone,” says NPR reporter Laura Sullivan, who along with FRONTLINE producer Rick Young and his investigative team spent a year digging into how Sandy recovery dollars were spent.

From NPR News Investigations

“In 2009, a Government Accountability Office audit told FEMA to figure out how much profit the flood insurance companies are making off the flood program and take that into account when it paid them.

But Wright, who took over the flood program for FEMA last year, says he doesn’t know how much money the insurance companies make from the program.

“I’ve never looked at the book of business to understand their profits,” he says. “So you’d need to go specifically to the companies to understand those numbers.”

The nation’s largest insurance firms declined to disclose their profit margins on the flood program.

However, every year the insurance companies report what it actually costs them to do their flood work to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, an industry association of government regulators. And every year, FEMA reports what it pays insurers who participate in the flood program. With both numbers, you can do some math. Government auditors used a similar method in 2009.

Based on the latest figures, that analysis shows the insurance companies together made anywhere from $240 million to $406 million a year just on their flood work since 2011 — without having to pay any claims.”

Real Estate Ethics

Property inspection is fundamental to successful real estate purchases. A competent inspector, completing an objective assessment, will identify apparent/potential deficiencies and save prospective buyers untold future expense and lingering unhappiness.

Competence and unbiased opinion is also a quality cornerstone in selecting a licensed real estate agent for representation. Truthful disclosure is absolutely necessary to protect all parties, including the realtor.
Realtor Mag from the National Association of Realtors offers the following-

“Dilemma 1: Should I Disclose That?

“REALTORS® shall avoid exaggeration, misrepresentation, or concealment of pertinent facts relating to the property or the transaction.” (Article 2)

The scenario: Your seller client tells you that a home inspector recently was suspicious of insect damage when he saw the home’s damaged siding. However, the seller disputes that notion, saying he’s never had an insect problem in or around the home.

The risk: Withholding pertinent facts from buyers.

What to do: Disclose anything that affects the value or desirability of the home, says Bruce Aydt, ABR®, CRB, general counsel and senior vice president of St. Louis-based Prudential Alliance, REALTORS®. That may include insect damage, water leakage, structural problems, and more.

Otherwise, you’re putting yourself at risk of serious legal action. “I think some agents are unaware of the potential liability and might agree with the home owner and keep quiet,” Aydt says.

Practitioners may be stumped because they don’t know whether or not a particular fact is important enough to share with prospective buyers, Aydt says. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s best to err on the side of disclosure.

You’re not the expert; the home inspector is. So if a home inspector says there’s a problem, but the seller disagrees, you have to stick with the assessment of the inspector.

What if sellers refuse to disclose, and urges you to do the same? It’s the safest practice to surrender your listing, Aydt says. The legal risks to you are simply too great.