(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed
are his own.)
By Lou Carlozo
NEW YORK Nov 16 With superstorm Sandy causing
an estimated $50 billion in damages, residents of the U.S.
Northeast region face untold months of home repair and
rebuilding. Even home improvement experts like Tom Kraeutler
were affected, although the New Jersey shore resident fared much
better than his neighbors.
"Thankfully, we had installed a natural gas-powered standby
generator years ago," says Kraeutler, an author and co-host of
"The Money Pit" radio program. "It ran for seven days straight
and kept most of the home's essential circuits going."
In an interview with Reuters, Kraeutler shared some
practical advice for handling the tough tasks of cleanup,
restoration and the inevitable paperwork that comes with
Q: Walk us through some ways to get the most out of your
insurance company after a disaster like this one hits.
A: Ugh! There's rarely anything pleasant about dealing with
an insurance company, so you'd best just accept that the process
can sometimes be adversarial and prepare for it.
Consider hiring a public adjuster to assess your claim. Look
for someone who's a member of the National Association of Public
Insurance Adjusters. Public adjusters work for you and not the
insurance company. Plus, they work on a commission based on the
percentage of the claim, so as opposed to the insurance
company's adjuster, they are motivated to find as much wrong as
Whatever you do, don't sign off on any documents (including
checks) that stipulate your acceptance of the insurance company
adjuster's damage estimate.
Q: Once you get your settlement money, how can you spend it
in the most efficient way?
A: There's a smart saying that goes: "Plan your work, then
work your plan." If there's major damage, find an architect or
design professional to help you develop a plan and
specifications for the project. Having a plan that lays out
everything you expect is invaluable, as then you can submit it
to several contractors for quotes, and be sure they're all
bidding apples-to-apples for the same project.
Now is also a good time to take advantage of developments in
building materials that make them less susceptible to disaster.
Instead of using standard paper-faced drywall, consider the new
fiberglass-faced drywall, which is not susceptible to mold
growth. Likewise, new fiberglass doors are far more airtight and
watertight than wood or metal doors, and windows are available
with shatterproof laminated glass that can offer better
protection from flying debris.
Q: What advice would you have for folks looking at
generators, and how do you maintain them between uses?
A: If you're going to invest in a generator, you have to
decide whether it's worth it to get a portable one that runs on
gasoline, or a standby generator that runs on natural gas or
With gas generators, you have to run extension cords to
whatever you want to power. And gasoline only lasts 30 days
before it goes bad, so you have to add fuel stabilizer to the
gas so that you can have it last for a year instead of a month.
If you run the generator for extended periods of time during a
storm, be sure to replace the oil.
A standby generator is outside your house; it's a permanent
fixture about the size of a central air conditioner. And you
don't have to buy gasoline; it's always on. It has a component
called a transfer switch, which is either built into the
electrical panel or is adjacent to it, as it is in my house.
You also have to think about what you want to power, and
there's a great website called Electric Generators Direct (electricgeneratorsdirect.com).
It has sizing tools on it so you can count up how many devices
you want to power to figure out what size generator you'll need.
You won't want to power large air conditioners on it, but if
you can live with that, you can get something that delivers
between 8 and 12 kilowatt-hours. If you can't get a standby
generator locally because of a crisis or disaster, there are
plenty of places you can buy them online.
Q: Damaged wiring and electrical lines have presented major
hurdles for folks whose houses were hit by Sandy. What can you
do to work around specific rooms that have issues, and plan
efficiently for total repair?
A: All the wiring systems in damaged homes have to be
re-inspected, but you don't have to replace the wiring right
away where you had damage. You can de-energize those lines and
disconnect them from the electrical panel. It's a quick process
that some overbooked electricians can fit into their schedules.
Then when electricians are more available, you can get someone
to come to your home and replace all the bad wiring. That will
also give you an opportunity to budget things out, and in the
meantime, you can report to the power company that you're safe
to power back up.
Q: Some desperate homeowners might be dealing with
contractors for the first time. What are some ways to avoid
unnecessary and exorbitant fees from contractors as you begin
the rebuilding process?
A: It's really important to be aware of conflicts of
interest. Contractors too often find problems and offer to fix
them when it is in their best financial interest to do so.
If you have a big project, I'd strongly advise you to get an
architect or professional home inspector to help manage the job.
The cost of having a pro on board can be far, far cheaper than
the mistakes I see when well-meaning homeowners try to do it all
To the snake contractors out there who are gouging victims,
I say beware. The governors of both New Jersey and New York are
targeting you, and the rest of us would like to see nothing less
than for you to be punished.
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(Editing by Beth Pinsker Gladstone and Lisa Von Ahn)