How to prepare for Hurricane Season

I remember waking up the Sunday morning after Hurricane Irene ripped through Maryland last August to find fallen trees and debris covering my yard. The houses across the street were without power for more than a week; Irene knocked power out for about 680,000 households in the region, according to the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.

With the 2012 hurricane season officially under way this week, I spoke to Ed Del Grande about severe weather preparedness during his recent visit to Baltimore. Del Grande, 53, of Rhode Island, is a master plumber and master pipefitter who was the host of Ed the Plumber on DIY Network. He is the spokesman for Kohler brand products.

What brings you to Baltimore?

We’re doing some events with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, with the local Baltimore chapter. We’re doing some events to educate them on some of the new Kohler products.

What are the steps homeowners should take to prepare for any serious summer storms or hurricanes?

The basic thing, and the most important, is, if you’re told to evacuate by the authorities, make sure you get out. Don’t even wonder if you should stick around, just have a good plan and don’t argue.

Ed Del Grande

The second thing, I always recommend putting together a storm bucket. You can go down to one of the major supply houses and get one of those big, five-gallon buckets with the plastic lid so everything is locked in nice and tight, it won’t get dirt and dust in there. Put it in a place where you can get to it during a storm. Have all of your supplies in there: a landline phone, a radio with a crank, a zip drive with all of your important documents scanned, and the basics including candles, matches, flashlights, water, and a little bit of cash is always handy as well.

Also you should always have a full tank of gas in your car, because that can be a good source of backup power for your phones or radio.

What backup power options are available?

To really protect your house, nothing beats a standby generator, as far as I’m concerned. That’s your own portable power source.

There are two types, the portable types you have to run gasoline to get it going, and that could be trouble during a storm. You also have to run extension cords to your appliances.

A standby generator is like an air-conditioning unit. It’s a system that’s part of the house permanently installed, and they have automatic transfer switches, so when the power goes out, it automatically starts and within 10 seconds, you’ve got power running in your house. The big thing is they run on natural gas or propane, so there’s no refueling done by pouring gasoline in them. As long as you have gas run to your home, they’ll operate.

How should a homeowner properly maintain these generators?

Portable generators need to run outside. A big misconception is that people think they can keep them in the garage to protect them from the rain. You have to get them outside the house, never run one near the house.

On the other hand, the standby generators are professionally installed, and they’re installed to your local codes and are safe. They’re put in an area that’s safe outside, away from everybody. They’re installed to be safe operating. The portable ones can be hooked up anywhere, which could lead to trouble.

As far as the homeowner it concerned, it can’t be easier. Once they’re installed, it is personal piece equipment and there’s nothing to do. It’s a piece of cake.

How much can these generators cost?

Standby generators, about 25 to 30 years ago, were very expensive systems and only in high-end homes. Like everything else in electronics, as a piece of equipment gets more popular, the standby generators can usually be installed in a house for under $10,000, and that’s material and labor.

The generator itself is usually under $5,000, and then another $4,000 to $5,000 to have all the extra equipment and labor and the site prepared. For some homes, especially in this area, it might even cost less than installing a central air-conditioning unit.

Switching to do-it-yourself, what are your tips for people who are tackling a new project on their own?

The biggest thing I say to people, if you’re a do-it-yourself person, don’t get in over your head. Usually projects where a wall or a floor has to be opened up, that’s something to leave to professionals, because now you’re dealing with the infrastructure of the house. Don’t get into trouble, and know your limitations.

What it’s like behind the scenes doing a project that’s for a show on HGTV or DIY Network?

My experience behind the scenes, when I came from the contract world, I wanted it to be real and I didn’t want to make it look easier than it is. I handled it just like a homeowner should. Always be prepared for anything and do things right by the book.

(Feature photo: Debris from Hurricane Katrina clutters a front yard in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005. Photo by Larry Luxner.)