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Seven Tips to Renovating After a Natural Disaster

Features Bankrate.com

The Bright Side of a Disaster -- Renovating?

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When your home is damaged from a natural disaster, there is some good news: You can make the changes you've always wanted to your home while strengthening it against future weather damage.

Finding the right contractor before you start renovating is key. "Don't just let the insurance company tell you who to use," says Jeff Ellis, vice president of First Call Construction in Grimes, Iowa. While the insurance company can suggest a contractor, "Make sure the contractor working on your home is the right contractor for you and not just who they pick."

Lucas McCurdy, of Coastal Reconstruction Group in Winter Park, Fla., recommends hiring a licensed reconstruction contractor instead of a new homebuilder or other general contractor. While all licensed contractors can properly renovate a home, a reconstruction contractor speaks the same language as the insurance adjustor, says McCurdy. This speeds up the process of getting payments approved and may get the homeowner a better settlement.

Some contractors even use the same computer program the insurance company uses so any paperwork is already insurance-ready. "If you have a contractor who can take the bull by the horns, you can minimize your loss time," says McCurdy.

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Before you begin renovating your damaged home, pay attention to these seven tips

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Repair the Basement, for Better

If your basement had moisture issues in the past, now's a good time to fix that problem if you're remodeling post-disaster. A basement specialist can suggest the best ways to maintain a moisture-free basement, which might include a combination of sump pumps, perimeter drainage tiles, a French drain and making sure water is pumped away from the home.

Costs vary depending on the drainage system and the house, but Ellis estimates that perimeter drainage tile alone can cost $8,000 to $10,000. It's more expensive because it's more work to install after the house is built, requiring a breaking up of the concrete around the house footings.

Make sure to pay attention to the land surrounding the basement when remodeling as well, especially if areas have been washed away. The outside grading is just as important as the drainage systems inside. "Make sure the grading slopes away from the house. Where the earth slopes toward the house, that causes problems," says Ellis.

While floodwater damage requires ripping out affected materials, such as drywall, insulation and flooring, it also requires deodorizing and bleaching anything left behind. Water damage from rainfall or a burst pipe is less of an issue, says Ellis. He recommends drying out the area using different types of sump systems and internal guttering systems.

Buy a Generator

Generators can be a blessing when the power goes out during a storm. This is especially true for those with basements.

"Our beautiful finished basement took on 3 feet of water during (Hurricane) Irene -- not because of flooding, per se, but because the power outage caused the sump pumps to fail," says Stacie Dalrymple, a homeowner in Short Hills, N.J.

After Hurricane Irene blew past in 2011, Dalrymple wanted a hardwired generator to power the sump pumps and refrigerator but didn't have to time to install one before getting hit with a nor'easter two months later, leaving her house without power for eight days. "After that, we knew we wanted a whole house generator," she said.

While it wasn't cheap ($4,500 for a deluxe 20-kW unit and $5,500 for installation and gas-line work), her family was prepared when Superstorm Sandy knocked out their power -- this time for 12 days.

"I understand that these generators are prohibitively expensive for many people, but they are incredibly convenient and really a blessing in this part of the country, where we've had three major disasters involving power outages over the last (few years)," Dalrymple says.

Portable generators are less expensive, typically between $200 and $1,000, and can power the sump pump and other electrical needs during a disaster. But you'll need to manually hook it up and fill it with gas. "They cost much less money but require more active supervision and installation for each power outage," Dalrymple says.

Toughen Up Interior Walls

If your home sustained water damage in a disaster, know that floodwater can carry contaminants, says Ellis. Not only do the affected materials need to be removed down to the framing, "The materials need to be deodorized, and you'll need to get an antimicrobial to kill the microbes."

For basements and areas where future water damage is possible, it's worth installing water-resistant materials. After taking on several feet of water in his basement after a storm, Boston homeowner David Bees replaced the fiberglass wall insulation, "which soaked up water like a sponge," with foam board made of extruded polystyrene, available at home improvement stores.

He replaced the drywall with cement board. "It's thin like drywall but held together with mesh imprinted into it. It won't absorb moisture like drywall, which has paper backing and is organic. There's nothing organic that could grow mold on the cement board," he says. McCurdy adds that while these types of materials are resistant to water and mold, everything has a time limit when it comes to water and mold damage.

For the baseboards, Bees used a polyvinyl chloride-based board, avoiding wood trim. "If it gets wet again, I might lose the carpet, but not the walls," he says. Bees finished it off with a waterproof paint.

Stomp Out Poor Flooring

Not surprisingly, disasters involving water are detrimental to floors. Carpet absorbs water and is difficult to dry out. McCurdy says while it's sometimes possible to dry, clean and re-lay carpet, you'll still need a new carpet pad. For areas such as the basement, consider flooring materials that can better handle the wetness.

"Tile is a good option because it can withstand moisture," says Ellis. However, in a catastrophic disaster, McCurdy says even tile can be ruined if the water sits on it for days.

As for materials not recommended in moisture-prone areas? Carpet, hardwood and laminate top the list of items to stay away from. "They'll be damaged pretty significantly by water," says McCurdy.

Ellis says an option for homeowners with basement moisture problems is to raise the floor off the concrete with rubber feet, making a small channel below where moisture can run.

From the Outside: Windows and Exterior Walls

After a storm, there may be significant damage to your windows and exterior walls. Not just from flying debris and tree limbs, but also from water and wind.

Most important is to ensure each window is installed, taped and sealed correctly, Ellis says. "If they're not taped correctly, the moisture gets behind the siding."

While any acceptable window should work for replacement, to be extra cautious, consider hurricane-rated or wind-rated windows and doors, says McCurdy. These are required in some of Florida's coastal areas. Know that all your new windows will also need to be installed according to city code.

Once you have the windows taken care of, look toward the exterior of the house. McCurdy says solid brick exteriors usually hold up well, though some people waterproof the bricks for extra protection. Brick isn't usually the choice for coastal homes, so what should people living in those areas use when remodeling?

You want something that isn't easily affected by wind, McCurdy says. Materials such as vinyl siding can be torn off easily and should be avoided if possible. A better bet would be using stucco or a product called HardiePlank, which offers siding specific to your climate and location. Exterior paint can also help divert wind-driven rain.

If constructed and maintained well, the exterior walls should withstand the rain.

Keep that Roof From Blowing Away

If you're replacing your roof after a disaster, a qualified roofer can steer you toward the proper roofing materials for your area, says Ellis. When repairing a roof, make sure you get high-quality shingles that are in good condition. You must also make sure the roofer completes the flashing correctly, Ellis says. Flashing is where the roof meets a vertical structure, and water can get inside if it's not installed properly.

To make sure your roof has the best chance of surviving future storms, it pays to do some maintenance and add hurricane strapping if wind storms are a problem, says McCurdy. "With hurricanes, most of the damage comes from roof damage. If it blows your roof off, your whole house is exposed. Hurricane straps are designed to hold your roof on better."

Hurricane strapping involves a truss system. Clips and straps are tied in to the roof and house-framing system in the attic. McCurdy says you're mostly paying for labor, since the materials are inexpensive. Costs vary, but, "In comparison to the cost of a new roof, it's a fraction of that," says McCurdy.

Ellis adds that it's helpful is to check the roof annually, looking for curled shingles, hail damage and water leaks. He says one of his customers has a big leak now where a branch hit the roof. "They didn't know it was there," he says, and now the interior is rotting.

Take the Time to do it Right

It's worth the time and money to do the project properly with quality materials because it will last longer. "Do it right when you do it, and hopefully you won't have to redo it again," says Bees. "Use products that won't absorb water. It cost a little more for some of those materials, but I know going forward, I'm in a better place should I ever get water in my basement again."

After a disaster, good contractors will be booked up, and your renovation may not be high on the list. For Dalrymple, "It was six months before we had a functional basement again," she says. "Don't expect (the renovation) to happen fast, especially after a disaster, since all the contractors will be busy. But do keep in mind that it will get done, and there will be a time when it all seems like a distant memory."

While not common, consider interviewing restoration contractors ahead of time if you live in a storm-prone area. "People pick out their doctors and their Realtors ahead of time," says McCurdy. "Then when their house gets flooded, they have no idea what to do. They make a big decision on who to use based on Google or the Yellow Pages. Why not interview them now?"