Author Archives: Robin Azer

FloodSavvy

Maria Downgraded to a Tropical Storm

Hurricane MARIA: Hurricane Maria has finally pushed out to sea and good riddance. The Hurricane carved a path of destruction in its wake that will take years to unravel. Prior to completely bidding a farewell, tropical storm force winds  will be disturbing the coast so an advisory remains in effect.

Hurricane LEE: Earlier this morning Hurricane Lee was upgraded to Hurricane status making it the fifth major hurricane in the Atlantic for 2017. This category 3 storm is not expected to make landfall on the eastern seaboard. Yesterday Hurricane Lee was east-southeast about 485 miles off the coast of Bermuda. It is expected to continue to push north east and on out over the Atlantic Ocean.

Tracking Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria has been officially downgraded to Tropical Storm Maria as it is set of move offshore of the eastern United States. This is the probable path the storm will follow. Caution is advised for anyone on or near the coastline as high sea surges and strong rip tides may be in play.

Storm Definitions according to the National Hurricane Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): 

D: Tropical Depression – wind speed less than 39 MPH
S: Tropical Storm – wind speed between 39 MPH and 73 MPH
H: Hurricane – wind speed between 74 MPH and 110 MPH
M: Major Hurricane – wind speed greater than 110 MPH

 

Puerto Rico After the Hurricanes: How You Can Help

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Hurricane Maria had a direct hit on Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017

Puerto Rico: The Caribbean Island, home to nearly 3.4 million Americans, is facing near total destruction following last week’s mind-bending Hurricane Maria. Many are filled with empathy for the citizens of Puerto Rico, but are not sure how they can help.

Below is a list of organizations working tirelessly to help support, rebuild, and supply the bare necessities.

CASH IS KING:

Many organizations are looking for cold hard cash. This gives them the opportunity to get and give exactly what is needed.

United For Puerto Rico 

UNICEF

All Hands Volunteers

Americares

Save the Children

One America Appeal This charity is spearheaded by numerous former USA Presidents

SUPPLIES:

From bottled water to diapers to building supplies, there is almost nothing Puerto Rico does not need right now. The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) is coordinating many of these donations here (and corporate giving here).

VOLUNTEERS: 

It’s a little too soon for volunteers on the ground to assist with recovery as the airport is working on a a very limited schedule and the infrastructure on the island is not prepared to handle, house, or meet any of the needs a volunteer would need. But soon …

Check back with VOAD for more details as they become available.

As always, it is a good idea to do a little of your own research to determine which charity is the right one for you. A good place to look is Charity Navigator.

 

 

Puerto Rico Receives Help from NYC First Responders After Hurricane Maria

On Wednesday, September 20, 2018, Hurricane Maria slammed into the island of Puerto Rico. This was the strongest hurricane to strike the island in over 80 years. Hurricane Maria left near apocalyptic conditions  in its wake: toppled power lines, extensive flooding, and utter devastation to so many homes and structures. Even basic necessities such as fresh water, fuel and phone service have been interrupted, resulting in a growing humanitarian crisis.

Help on the Way:  According to NBC 4 New York, First Responders from New York City flew down to Puerto Rico this past Saturday, September 23. Their goal is to assist the island’s overwhelmed emergency management center. This will no doubt be a protracted clean-up effort as Puerto Rico works to rebuild.

“This is total devastation. Puerto Rico, in terms of the infrastructure, will not be the same. … This is something of historic proportions.”

Carlos Mercader, spokesman for Puerto Rico’s governor

Evacuating due to flooding in Puerto Rico post Hurricane Maria.
Credit: Jose Rodrigo Madera for CNN

 

 

Tips for Deducting Losses From a Disaster, Fire or Theft — Boris Benic CPA

March 29, 2016 If you suffer damage to your home or personal property, you may be able to deduct these “casualty” losses on your federal income tax return. A casualty is a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc.), fire, accident, theft or vandalism. A casualty loss […]

via Tips for Deducting Losses From a Disaster, Fire or Theft — Boris Benic CPA

Victim of a disaster, fire or theft? You may be eligible for a tax deduction — McFadyen & Sumner’s ON THE MONEY

If you suffer damage to your home or personal property, you may be able to deduct these “casualty” losses on your federal income tax return. A casualty is a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc.), fire, accident, theft or vandalism. A casualty loss doesn’t include […]

via Victim of a disaster, fire or theft? You may be eligible for a tax deduction — McFadyen & Sumner’s ON THE MONEY

Water Damage Restoration

When you need help with water damage (or fire, smoke or mold mitigation) the number one service provider we’ve used on numerous occasions is – SERVPRO.

This team of experts gets the job done right, limiting the extent of the damages “Like it never even happened.” They arrived quickly, knew what to do, and decreased our stress load as a result of it. If a house lift is not in your future, but flooding is – keep this company in mind.

If in metro New York, call (800) 967 – 6663. Tell them Robin sent you.

fire - water-mold cartoon

National number: 1 – 800 – SERVPRO

Houzz Completion

ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END – Fortunately, so do house renovation projects.

Just over a year ago this blog was initiated as a means to document our house elevation for flood mitigation project. It was also designed to assist anyone with similar flooding woes with some options and an accurate portrayal of all that is involved in an undertaking of this magnitude.

“Whatever good things we build end up building us.”

Jim Rhone

What makes this project – with its headaches, expenses, approvals from city, country and state officials, and occasional grief from some neighbors all worth it? When those big storms have come to town, we’ve been able to sleep and maintain only a casual interest in how much rain was falling.

Our era of flooding, repairing a damaged home and rebuilding again is over. Now that this project is complete, I’m off to another topic. I will be updating this site on a very limited basis. Thank you to everyone who took the time to explore this blog.

Robin

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New Landscape for an Elevated House – House Lift Landscape

FINAL STEPS TO COMPLETION: The house project finally completed, the only thing left to do is fill in the landscape.

As the former landscape was completely destroyed during the process, we were starting with a clean slate. The front yard just after our house elevation project –

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Front yard prior to landscape

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AFTER: A few trips to some local nursery’s, viewing of other lifted homes, and a bit of research on the web and we made our decisions. Sod was an easy call as it goes in so fast and we only needed to cover a small area.

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New sod being rolled into place

THE VERY NEXT DAY: A storm whipped into town dropping a lot of rainfall. At first it was welcomed as a huge boost to our new sod, which needs to be watered – a lot – in the first few weeks. Mother nature came at just the right time.

But the rain continued. It rained and rained. Flood warnings were issued. We sat snug in our newly lifted house. But our new sod did not fare so well …

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The sod was strew about due to minor flooding

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The high water mark …

The homes across the street suffered minor basement flooding, but the water never reached our house, just the front yard.

SUN SHINES AGAIN: 

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A few moths later and our yard was complete

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In the photo above note how the red maple plays off the red hue of the rocks; it’s height helps to  off-set the tall foundation. A cypress was added to the planting bed in the stair design to provide year round interest.

 

Private Insurance vs. FEMA

JULY 2014:  Flood insurance is a hot topic at the moment, the product is in flux. When the  Biggert-Waters Act was signed into law  in 2012, it was met with criticism and concern. This law set to remedy the long standing subsidized flood insurance rates that had subsequently bankrupted FEMA to the tune of 20 BILLION dollars.

PRIVATE INSURANCE VS. FEMA:  Home owners cried foul and pleaded for mercy as their rates were about to spiral out of control. Stepping in to combat the rate hikes was the introduction of private insurance, first in Florida and then spanning out across the country to include 15 states (as of this time).

Private insurance is written by Lloyd’s of London. Although they offer an alternative, with very competitive rates, my concern would be what happens if a catastrophic storm hits, àla Super Storm Sandy? If a private insurance company goes bankrupt – you could be out of luck in terms of receiving reimbursements. If FEMA backed insurance accumulates too many losses, they dig into the money bags of the USA government. Whose likely to run out of money first?

The entire goal of flood insurance, any insurance, is to make it self-sustaining. For that to happen, the rates must reflect the true risk involved.

PRESIDENT OBAMA SIGNS INTO LAW A FLOOD INSURANCE RELEIF ACT: In March of 2014, after much outcry from the constituents of flood weary states, the government backed down from it’s initial aggressive stance on curbing subsidized flood insurance rates. Essentially this law caps flood insurance premium rate hikes and passes on subsided rates to people buying homes in flood zones.

Flood insurance rates still need to be adjusted to better reflect the true risk of the home in a flood zone. Without it, people will continue to build, buy and live in a flood risk area, exposing the taxpayer to a significant burden. With the ever increasing rise in ocean levels, this is a real concern – for everybody. 

BEST SOLUTION  that I’m a big fan of: house elevation for flood mitigation. Your house is protected, your insurance rates drop dramatically, and you move from being a part of the problem to a part of the solution. Without a doubt, that is much easier said then done. Researchers, economists and lawmakers alike all favor this idea. The problem is implementing this expensive notion on a grand scale.

Just starting to rain ...

Just starting to rain …

A few hours later ... House across the street is deluged with flood water.

A few hours later …
House across the street is deluged with flood water.

If the above house were elevated, the only thing the home owner would need to do is move their car.

 

 

 

Top 5 Tips for Painting the Exterior of a House

Our house elevation project is almost complete. The next step is the exterior painting aspect. What do you need to know?  Top 5 tips for painting the exterior of a house:

1. TEMPERATURE: Ideally, exterior painting will take place when the temperatures are going to remain above 50 degrees, even at night. Otherwise you are likely to get peeling.

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Obviously too cold to paint

Once the temperatures warm up, you can tackle that exterior paint job. Below, our hand-made iron railing system finally gets painted.

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The same team who built our railing system, also painted it for us.

2. GET AT LEAST 3 BIDS: With three bids you’ll see what the fair market value is for the job. After our house elevation, the house is pretty high. How are they going to paint it safely? I didn’t want to have any surprises in terms of injuries or the price once the job began.

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A scaffolding system was required for our project

3. POWER WASH and PREP: The integrity and longevity of your paint job hinges on the preparation phase. Make certain you’re painters don’t skimp on this stage. Our house is made of cedar shingle, so it had to be handled a bit more delicately than other exterior finishes, or the shingles could break. The preparation is the most time-consuming part, but also vitally important. Cracks need to be filled, nail holes covered, etc. FloodSavvy.com

House gets a full power wash

The power wash rids the house of any dirt, mold or debris that may have built up over the years. Cedar shingle homes are susceptible to mold in areas that get little sunlight or excessive moisture.

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BEFORE: Mold build up over the years

IMG_5152

AFTER:   mold is gone.

As with any natural wood product, there is always going to be some variation in the color tone of the shingles. For a more homogenous look, shingles can be painted.

4. USE LATEX PAINT: Make sure the paint you choose is designed for exterior use and is latex based. Some paint companies may try to use oil-based paint for the trim, but this is an outdated practice. Following the adage of wine before beer – prime before paint. Both will provide for better results.

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BEFORE: Back porch post and deck railings

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AFTER: back porch and deck railings after power wash and fresh coat of paint

5. WATCH THE WEATHER: The exterior of your house will need to be dry before the paint can be applied AND after the house had been painted  the weather will ideally stay dry for at least a few days. If Mother Nature is taking requests, ask for sunny skies with no wind.

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Finished job

CEDAR SHINGLES: We opted not to paint the shingles. Over the next few years, the older shingles and the newer shingles will blend in tone. We left the shingles bare to allow for color change. We spruced-up the front door and the garage door, starting with a power wash and followed up with a stain to enhance the wood.

Now for some landscaping ….

 

 

Insurance Rates Drop Dramatically, But Not Without a Fight

TIMELINE OF INSURANCE RATE ADJUSTMENT:  June 2013: we officially started the construction phase of our house project. (The planning phase began July 2012)

December 2013:  We moved back into our house with the majority of our project complete.

February 2014: All paperwork and certificates related to our building project were closed out. Project officially declared complete. (Still lacking minor details such as exterior painting and any landscaping, but too cold to address those issues now).

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March 2014: Submitted request to FEMA (umbrella under which the National Flood Insurance Agency operates) to lower our insurance premiums based on our new and improved flood savvy house. They rejected this request citing we required one additional flood vent.

Had additional flood vent installed.

FEMA again rejected our request to lower our rates. This time it was because the wrong box had been checked on our elevation certificate (final survey) sighting the source of our base flood elevation level.

In other words, they needed to confirm that we didn’t  just make up some numbers to make it sound good.

Skip this section if your eyes start to roll back in your head or you suddenly feel like you need to  nap. The source of the base flood elevation (BFE) MUST come from FIS or FIRM (Flood Insurance Rate Map) for your specific property.

Returned to my surveyor, spoke with the Flood Plan Manager for my city and resubmitted the forms to FEMA.  They requested yet another form, a flood application form, be completed. I thought this was odd as we’ve had flood insurance for over 10 years. FEMA insisted it was the protocol. Fine.

April 2014: The next hurdle: FEMA/NFIP wanted the square footage of our garage, despite the fact that is attached to our house, they have pictures of it, and they have a survey marking it. I should clarify that these conversations were between NFIP and my insurance agent. After spending weeks sending my insurance agent down a rabbit hole, I recommend she educate herself on this product (flood insurance), take the bull by the horns, and tell them what’s what. They have all the information, we’ve crossed every i and dotted every t, you have more important things to do than run around chasing your tail all day.

Mission Accomplished: Our insurance agent called and told me our paperwork had finally been accepted and that our flood insurance rates were going to drop from several thousand dollars per year to several hundred.

The clouds parted,  beams of sunshine shone down and a collective sigh could be heard across the phone lines. Then my agent told me she had to go – she was getting ready to watch a webinar on flood insurance.

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Orchids: The Power of a Flower

MARCH 2014: I’ll admit that it’s a stretch to correlate the beautiful orchid flower to the muddle of a house elevation project. While one is majestic, capable of inspiring awe, the other is a nonstop exercise in frustration. But we’re in a bit of a holding pattern waiting for FEMA to weigh in on our house elevation to determine our new (discounted) flood insurance premiums and  it’s still too cold out just yet to address our extensive landscaping needs.

A brief diversion from the regular topic, I’ve decided to share the beauty of nature via the orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden in New York City, Enjoy

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Flowers… are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Best Ways to Prepare for Home Renovation / House Elevation Project

The best way to prepare for a home renovation project/ house elevation: assume the project will be messy. Plan accordingly or at least try to learn from our mistakes.

POST CONSTRUCTION CLEAN-UP:  We’ve been living in our flood mitigated/ house elevated home for almost three months. The remnants of construction dust continue. How can that be? Haven’t you been cleaning like mad?

An emphatic “yes” to that question as anyone who knows me would expect. I”m a bit of a neat-freak and crave organization; we all have our quirks. I began to suspect the vacuum I had been using was no longer performing it’s job sufficiently when stray pieces of thread became a challenge for it.

Channel surfing on a recent morning I came across QVC hawking the latest and greatest product they had found: a HEPA filtered, wind tunnel, 3 channels of suction – Hoover.

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My new favorite vacuum

With the company’s 30-day money back guarantee, I figured I had nothing to lose. I was a bit skeptical as my last vacuum had been the Rolls Royce of vacuum’s at the time when I bought it – an Oreck. (Is this post seriously about vacuum cleaners? Sort of, but I have a point).

WHOSE JOB IS IT ANYWAY? When we’d moved out of our home just prior to the start of this house elevation project, our contractor had assured us that they would cover and protect everything. That was their job. They took pride in their neatness on the work site. Well unless their last customer was Oscar-the-Grouch, the muppet who lived in a garbage can on Sesame Street, I can’t imagine anyone finding their version of clean and neat desirable.

MISTAKES WERE MADE: The mistakes we made could easily be avoided once you know what to expect. First off, never trust a builder to appreciate the level of clean that most of us our referring to when we say we don’t want to have a giant mess. Second, go ahead and prep your space yourself.                                                                                                                                                   1. Roll up any carpets and put them in a room, away from the construction zone. Not only will dust and dirt accumulate from the job, it also will accumulate just sitting there. When we moved out we knew it would be for at least three months. It turned out to be six months. That is an awfully long time not clean a house – even if no work were taking place.

2. Cover any furniture that can’t be moved out of the way

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Cover all furniture

3. Seal off all vents. This was a huge oversight on our part. Most of the dust and dirt came up from the basement through the vents. All duct work was removed prior to the lift so these vents were completely exposed to the area below them.

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Seal the vents with saran wrap

4. Pack away all smaller items and store them in a zone away from the construction. Anything that is too big or awkward to move, such as a mixer, cover it.

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Kitchen counters cleared except for largest items, such as this mixer

It’s much easier to pack things away, clean up the mess, then restore the items to their proper place. So much of the discussion during a house elevation was that you didn’t have to move anything. Nothing would be damaged from “movement” but a huge mess was left due to simple and inevitable construction dust.

WARNING:  to those fellow cleanliness aficionados’ out there, the following may be too graphic to see. Here’s is what my new found favorite vacuum pulled up from my floors and areas rugs this morning:

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Dust, dirt and nerf darts

That is after a vacuum has been over the same areas many times in the past few weeks. I’m not trying to sell any Hoover’s and I’m not being paid to write this endorsement, however, the dirt collection speaks for itself. This excessive amount was from the entire house, including the mud room which is notorious for collecting significant dirt.

Keeping dirt at bay during any renovation project, let alone a full house elevation, is not feasible. However, forewarned, the labor to bring a house back to it’s former level of acceptable dust and dirt (with three boys, I have to have some margin of acceptance or I’d do nothing else but relentlessly clean) can be minimized. I prefer neatness, but take what I can get as I am outnumbered in my house as to who cares and who does not.