An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For the preparedness minded individual, this old cliche couldn't be more important.
In my primary profession in the insurance industry, I observe on a regular basis all sorts of damage that happens to people's homes. Today, there are ample available supplies to repair damage, contractors to complete repairs, and insurance coverage to help cover the costs. Tomorrow, we may not be so lucky.
This is where our "ounce of prevention" comes into play. Whether you are preparing to live through a short-term event, a natural disaster, a grid-down event, or a long term TEOTWAWKI event, you've likely put a significant amount of thought and resources towards the location at which you plan to weather the storm.
Obviously, a catastrophic loss to your primary retreat or bug-in location after the event for which you've prepared would be devastating. Perhaps even life threatening.
But inevitably, someone's home will burn down or be struck by a tornado the day before, or the day of, a TEOTWAWKI event. You can be as prepared as you want for tomorrow, but if this happens to you, all your planning is for naught. You could be faced with the loss of your food supplies, water purification abilities, home heating systems, cooking equipment, or any other number of things that you have stored away for your long-term preparedness.
Fortunately, a vast majority of damage that can happen to a dwelling can be easily prevented. Below, I'll cover a few of the more common property losses that I see and how they can be prevented through a combination of material selection and diligent preventative maintenance, leaving you with a more secure and functional long term retreat.
1. Fire Prevention - Fires are catastrophic no matter when they happen, but if you find yourself in a situation with no fire department to respond, they will be even more so. Even a small fire inside your retreat or bug-in location can cause extensive smoke damage and can render your dwelling uninhabitable. Here are some steps you can take and habits you can incorporate into your daily life to prevent fires.
A. Perform a visual inspection of your home's exterior (2x per year)- Keep trees and other combustible items away from your home. A wildfire needs fuel leading up to your home in order to burn your home, so move firewood, tree limbs, propane tanks, and anything else you see at least 50 feet from your home. If you're in a fire prone area, aim for 100 feet at a bare minimum.
B. Inspect for gas leaks (4x per year)- In many areas, for those of you with natural gas, your gas company will come out and check your home for gas leaks for free. Their meters can detect even minor leaks that might go unnoticed by your nose. If this service is available, use it once per year. You can also use a simple soap and water solution to check fittings to your gas-burning appliances on your own.
C. Install fire extinguishers and inspect (1x per year) - Have a fire extinguisher easily accessible near any potential fire hazard in your dwelling. The kitchen, garage, and utility room are obvious locations, as well as near any solid fuel burning stoves. Check their pressure gauges annually and replace or recharge them when they get low or pass their expiration date. If you purchase new fire extinguishers to replace expired ones, keep the expired ones in a safe location in your house as backups. They may still work with reduced effectiveness, and if they are your only means of fire protection, you'll be glad to have the extra ammo.
D. Inspect and clean chimney (2x per year) - If you burn wood, it is important to clean your chimney regularly. Twice per year if you heat exclusively with wood, once per year if wood is supplemental heat only. I like to clean mine at the end of the wood burning season, sometime around mid to late April, then give a visual inspection in the fall before it's time to fire up the stove to make sure that my chimney hasn't become home for any wildlife.
E. Install lightning rods and inspect (2x per year) - A direct lightning strike can start a fire, destroy electronics, and scare the Schumer out of you when it happens in the middle of the night. Ask me how I know. Lightning rods are installed along the roof of your dwelling to take the brunt of the strike rather than your home. The electricity is directed along a series of wires and down into the ground. Twice annually, inspect the rods, wires, and grounding mechanism for any damage.
2.Wind Damage Prevention - A heavy gust of wind can damage the most heavily fortified properties. A tornado, hurricane, or cyclone can destroy everything in its path, and little can be done to stop it. There have been great advances in hurricane resistant building methods, but I am not well versed in them. For the sake of this writing, I'm going to focus on prevention of damage from the less than building-leveling winds.
A. Install high quality roofing materials - Simply said, the cheaper the shingle, the quicker the damage. Basic "three tab" style shingles are made to protect your home from rain, but do not stand up well to wind. When selecting roofing material, go with the sturdiest that your budget allows. Clay tiles, metal roofing, and 50+ year shingles will not only last longer, but will resist damage from strong winds, keeping your home protected and dry.
A. Brace gables - At the ends of your home, the gable of your roof (think the triangles leading up to the peak) are one of the most vulnerable parts of your home in a wind storm. I once saw a home that had the entire gable sucked right out and left lying on the ground next to the house by a tornado that passed almost a mile from said home. Upon closer inspection, the gable had only been attached to the home with a few nails around the edges. If your roof has gables (as opposed to a hip, gambrel, flat, or mansard style roof), get up in your attic and look how well they're attached. A few simple 2x4's nailed to the gable and back to the roof trusses or the home's framing can hold them in place instead of having your home exposed to the elements.
B. Visually inspect trees and limbs and remove any near your home (1x per year) - Does your home have large trees near it? In a wind storm, any limbs hanging near your dwelling may be broken off and fall on your roof causing damage. Large trees near the structure can also break, uproot, or split and fall on your home. Walk around, find potential culprits and trim them up or turn them into firewood.
3 . Water Damage Prevention - More damage is done to homes by water than almost any other peril. Penetration from outside water is commonly thought of, but the majority of damage comes from the water already inside your home. The damage from water can range from an inconvenient puddle to warped floor boards, to mold or an all out interior flood, so it pays to maintain the water systems inside your home.
A. Inspect the exterior envelope of your home (1x per year) - Take a detailed look at the exterior of your home to identify potential problem areas. Pay special attention to corners, windows, and seams. Apply caulking wherever necessary and touch up any chipped or peeling paint, no matter how insignificant. Inspect your roof for damage, missing shingles, missing flashing, or deterioration of any rubber boots protecting the places where vent pipes extrude from the roof surface and repair or replace as necessary.
B. Inspect any exposed water lines (2x per year) - Do you have exposed water supply or drain lines in your basement or crawlspace or under any sinks or toilets? Perform a visual inspection to identify any drips or leaks and repair as necessary. Pay special attention to couplings, elbows, and fittings, as these are where almost all leaks originate. Also pay special attention to any lines supplying water to a filter in your refrigerator or an ice maker in your freezer. These lines are often installed by the individual who delivers the appliance and shoddy installations cause a significant number of water losses each year.
C. Replace water supply lines (Every other year) - Every plumbing fixture or appliance in your home has a supply line hooked to it. In many homes, these lines are a rubber or vinyl hose with plastic fittings that connect to a shut off valve on one end and the fixture on the other end. These hoses are under water pressure 24 hours per day, and if one of them bursts, there will be an unrestricted flow of water into your home until you stop it. Replace these lines every other year to minimize the risk of a blowout. Don't forget the clothes washing machine, toilets, and the dishwasher. If you have metal supply lines that connect your fixtures to your main water line, shut off the water and remove them every other year to inspect for deterioration or corrosion. Replace these lines when they show any sign of weakness, or every 5 years.
D. Maintain hot water heater (1x per year) - Your water heater's holding tank is a valuable source of clean water for your family should you lose your water supply. If you have a 50 gallon tank, this would supply one gallon of water per family member per day for almost 2 weeks for a family of four. It also has the capability of spilling 50 gallons of scalding hot water all over anything near it if it fails. It pays to keep this valuable appliance well maintained. Determine how to drain and flush your particular model and do so annually. When performing this flush, also inspect the anode rod in your heater and replace it if necessary. These rods divert corrosive action away from the tank walls and extends the life of your water heater. If you have softened water, this will greatly reduce the lifespan of your anode rod, and of your water heater if the rod is not regularly inspected and replaced when corroded. These rods are inexpensive and valuable to an important appliance in your home.
E. Install and maintain a sump pump - A sump pump is installed in a plastic basket below your home's lowest level. It provides a "path of least resistance" for subterranean water. The water enters the basket rather than coming up through your foundation. When the water reaches a certain level, it trips a float switch and pumps the water outside your home (maybe into a rain barrel?). If you're in a water-prone area, you may already have one of these. My main home is near water and has a high water table, so a sump pump is essential to a dry basement. Therefore, in my sump basket, I have a second pump that is powered by a deep cycle 12 volt battery. The battery will run the pump for about 8 hours and is kept charged by an attached charger. I have a second battery stored for it as well, with a portable solar charger, so one can be charging while the other is powering the backup pump. Twice per year, I open up the lid to the basket and fill it with water to visually inspect both pumps as they empty the water outside.
F. Prevent water damage from ice dams (Whenever necessary) - Ice dams happen in cold climates when hot air from inside your home or retained heat from the environment heats up the roofing surface, melting fresh snow that falls on your roof. The melted snow runs down to the roof's edge where it re-freezes. Ice dams can be prevented by installing electrical heat tape along the bottom edge of the roof. In a grid down situation, a roof rake can be used to keep the bottom 2-3 feet of roofing area clear of snow to prevent ice build up. The roof rake is a flat piece of metal attached to a long pole, which allows you to stand on the ground and scrape down massive piles of snow right on top of your head and down the back of your coat. Again...ask me how I know.
4. Water/Sewer Backup Prevention - Human excrement runs downhill. Unless something stops it from running downhill. Then human excrement runs uphill, often right into the lowest level of the homes of some unfortunate souls. This stinks, both literally and figuratively, and would quickly render a dwelling uninhabitable in the absence of insurance coverage and professional cleanup crews. Here are some ways to prevent this excrement-y situation.
A. Install a backwater valve and gate valve - These relatively simple mechanical devices can stop any back flow by making your sewer line a "one-way street". The backwater valve will allow your wastewater and excrement to flow out of your home freely, but will instantly plug if any pressure comes from the other direction. The gate valve is a failsafe mechanism, allowing you to manually close off your sewer line, preventing any inflow or outflow. Hopefully it goes without saying that once your system is stopped, you will not be able to use any interior drains. Time to dig a latrine.
B. Maintain your septic system (12x per year) - If you are in the country and on a septic system, in addition to regular pumping, keep a supply of Rid-X or a similar product on hand and use it monthly. These products with enzymes and bacteria help to break down human waste, keeping your septic tank drained and in good working order so it's there for you when you need it.
C. Maintain your main sewer line (1x per year or less) - It is always wise to know where your sewer line runs. If you are connected to a municipal system, you can find where your line leaves your house by locating the cleanout, a large threaded cap made of brass or PVC, in your basement or lowest level. The cleanout will likely be near the street side of your home (possibly underneath carpeting or other flooring). This line will run straight out from your home to the street from this point. Remove any trees that are near this line and grind out or kill off the stumps to avoid tree roots penetrating the line. There are commercial products available to kill tree roots in a main line, but it's preferable to remove the problem completely. If it's been a while since you had this main line cleaned, hire a plumber to clean it out, and ask how clogged it was. If it was in good shape, you'll probably be okay every few years, but if there were problems, you'll want to have this done annually. As much as possible, avoid putting any type of grease, oil, coffee grounds, egg shells or animal fat down your drain. Also avoid flushing items like diapers, tampons, cleaning wipes or paper towels down your toilets to prevent clogs.
5. Hail Damage Prevention - Hail smaller than the size of golf balls rarely does damage to property. Hail larger than golf balls can quickly destroy large amounts of property. While most of this damage would be cosmetic in nature, there are some steps you can take to prevent problems that will require your time that could be spent on more important things.
A . Install high quality roofing materials - Metal roofing, or impact resistant shingles are more cost-effective now than they've ever been. A standard asphalt shingle has a life expectancy of 20-30 years in perfect conditions, but most struggle to last even this long. Metal roofing can last a lifetime and resist damage from an ice attack by the cloud monsters.
B . Avoid vinyl siding - Hail can destroy vinyl siding in a matter of minutes, leaving your home exposed to the elements. Any other variety of siding may be damaged by hail, but the damage would be cosmetic in nature.
6. Theft Prevention - Entire volumes have been written about retreat security, and I don't intend to recapitulate all of that information here. However, there are some simple things that you can do to your home to make stealing your stuff more of a challenge than stealing someone else's stuff. I strongly believe in the concept of layered security. Any one of these suggestions alone don't deter a good thief, but all of them together make your home a real pain in the neck compared to easier targets.
A. Trim hedges and bushes near doors and windows (1x per year) - Thieves lurk and hide. Don't give them anywhere near a potential entry point to spend time unnoticed.
B. Visually inspect your home from a thief's eyes (2x per year minimum) - This can be a daily thought process, but at least twice per year, take the time to look at your house like a burglar would. Can you see valuable items, food storage, water filtering equipment, a safe, or any other enticing items through outside windows? You can install blinds or shades in windows, but they only work if they're closed all the time. Make your home look as boring as possible for anyone who might look in.
C. Install motion lights and test (12x per year) - Are there dark areas around your home or retreat? Motion lights can make your home less of a target by shedding light on the shadows in which creeps lurk. Be careful though, that these have a switch or other mechanism allowing you to shut them off if you need the privacy or anonymity that darkness can provide. My motion lights are all installed on a single electrical circuit. One breaker shuts them all down instantly. Test these motion lights monthly to make sure they pick up motion in the areas you desire and that bulbs are in working order. Re-aim motion sensors and bulbs as necessary.
D . Install alarm sirens and test system (12x per year) - A home security system by itself is no deterrent to most thieves. A good one will be gone with what they want before the cops arrive. A desperate thief doesn't care. I prefer wireless systems to the traditional wired system connected to a phone line, because the thief can't just cut a phone line before they break in. Wireless systems can be self installed, run on grid power or solar rechargeable batteries, and can communicate with a monitoring service via cell signal. In a grid down situation, this system can still provide value by alerting you to intrusion with door and window sensors and motion sensors.
E. Avoid common hiding places for valuables - Everyone puts cash in the freezer, a gun in the nightstand drawer, tapes stuff under drawers, puts things under mattresses, and right inside the entrance to an attic. How many people put an extra fake drain pipe under the sink or a fake light switch on a wall covering an electrical box with hidden valuables? Get creative.
F. Get a good safe and bolt it to the floor - Sturdy Safe makes my favorite safe with the best fire protection that I've found for the money. Get the biggest one you can afford or fit into your dwelling and bolt it to the floor, then build walls around it, shelves in front of it, and bolt it to the floor. Obscure it however possible and install a motion sensor from your security system near it to alert you if an intruder finds it.
6. Infestation Prevention - Bugs, mice, and other vermin are another destructive force that can turn your bug-in location into a location you want to bug out of. I keep a hefty supply of pesticides and insecticides in my storage (both the chemical variety and the organic variety)for this reason. Every area of the country will have different risks here, so know yours. I spoke above about the importance of doing a thorough inspection of your home's exterior. This practice will also aid in pest prevention by finding and sealing passageways that allow pests in your home.
A. Treat your exterior (4x per year) - Applying a pesticide to the areas around the perimeter of your dwelling can keep pests from invading your space. It's better to keep them out than to deal with them when they're in. Find a product that works on your local bugs and keep enough on hand to continue treating your location if it becomes unavailable.
B . Set mouse traps - I've yet to see a mouse at my retreat. I still have a dozen traps set inside and outside and check them regularly. I have a beautiful wife who is very helpful and supportive of our preparedness, but if mice are living in our retreat, that support is gone.
C . Inspect and remove habitat near your dwelling (4x per year) - Do you have a wood pile against your house? Long grass near the foundation? Keeping the barrier around your home clean and de-cluttered keeps your home from being easy habitat, or providing easy passage inside.
This might all seem like an enormous undertaking, but when living in the situation for which you are preparing, a well maintained retreat is vital to your survival. Some of these recommendations are easy and inexpensive now. They may become impossible repairs someday, because the supplies are unavailable. The better condition your retreat or bug-in location are in when the event happens, the longer you can count on it to provide you shelter and security.
I recommend implementing a preventative maintenance calendar, on which you schedule different inspections and loss prevention items. On it, you can also include other regular necessary tasks around your retreat or plan for the upcoming year's activities or purchases.
I thank God for all of the knowledge and experience so freely shared on this blog. Remember brothers and sisters, that all things work for the good of those who love God. Trust Him and follow in the footsteps of Christ and you will survive, on Earth for as long as He wills, and in forever in eternity with him.
1 The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.