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Featured Articles

Spooky Vacations

Haunted Hotels, Inns, Castles and more!

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Today thrill seekers can go skydiving, cliff jumping, white water rafting or paragliding, just to name a few. Looking for a little adventure in your blood but it's too wet outside to play? Why not snuggle indoors and thrill your imagination with a haunted vacation? Many hotels, inns, and even castles offer spooky weekend getaways. Perhaps a friendly ghost will fold your clothes and lay them out on the bed; a mischievous one might turn on the lights and radio at 2AM; or perhaps one with a chip on his shoulder might give you a little bump to remind you he's there. You might find it a good laugh or a little fun to shake up the winter humdrums. Below we have compiled a short list of some haunted places to stay. We have tried to collect from across the US and added in a few international destinations just in case you want a ghost with an accent! Enjoy and have some fun! International Haunts: Ireland: Ross Castle | United Kingdom - England: The Feathers Hotel Wales: Ruthin Castle **Many haunted houses seem to get their start from murder or untimely death. Although we have not gone into graphic details here, please note that if you follow any of the links to the right, some of these sites do go into much more (sometimes gruesome) detail! 17-Hundred-90 Restaurant & Inn - Savannah, GA The History: This inn was actually built in 1820, not 1790. First a boarding house and later an inn, this home has had many owners and guests. One of these guests was Anne Powell. The legend says she was unhappily married at 16 years of age to an Englishman. She fell in love with a German sailor who left her "in the family way." She watched his boat sail away and then committed suicide by jumping from the window, landing on the brick pavement below. The Haunting: Anne Powell is the most famous ghost, believed to haunt guest room 204 from where it is said she jumped to her death. She doesn't seem to be a menacing spirit: she sits beside the fire, lays out guests' clothes on the bed or plays pranks on guests waking them up in wee hours of the morning by setting off the radio alarm. Another ghost in the basement kitchen and restaurant doesn't like women very much and likes to shove them around. But this ghost is countered by the ghost of a merchant marine who will help the staff turn the lights off at closing. How to see it: Savannah ghost tours stop here for a drink but you can go to the restaurant yourself and have a bite to eat. Or if you really dare, spend the night instead - ask for room 204! Brumder Mansion - Milwaukee, WI The History: George Brumder had the home built in 1910 for his son, George Jr. After they sold the home, the house was everything from a boarding house to an activity center for a Lutheran church. They used the home for office space, a theater, and later opened a coffee house with a live music venue. The current owners purchased the home in 1997 and opened the renovated space as a B&B in 1998. The Haunting: The Gold Room was once the room for one of the Brumder daughters who never married after being spurned in love early in life. She is said to still stay in the room, in fact she was quite appalled and upset when the current owner spent the night in this room with her dogs - no dogs allowed! Your dreams will be haunted if any dogs sleep on the bed! How to see it: It's a Bed & Breakfast, so take the plunge and spend the night - request the Gold Suite! You can even join a ghost hunting seminar or enjoy a haunted history dinner! For more information, click here. The Carolina Inn - Chapel Hill, NC The History: Owned by UNC, this inn was built by a UNC graduate in 1924. Throughout its history it has been used by the campus to host conferences, guests and alumni. Today the proceeds from the inn are given to the university library. The Haunting: Professor William Jacocks likes to haunt room 252. Although guests do claim to have encounters with the professor, the hotel staff say he has never frightened anyone to the point of packing their bags and running. Instead he is a friendly ghost who plays pranks such as holding the doorknobs so rooms won't open, rustling papers, and making the occasional noise. Some claim there are additional ghosts walking the halls and looming over their shoulder, but always more curious than menacing. How to see it: You can spend the night in this historic hotel Crescent Hotel - Eureka Springs, AR The History: Founded in 1886, the Crescent Hotel started its career as a sleek and elegant hideaway for the Victorian wealthy. However, not able to stay afloat the hotel closed. It was reopened in 1908 as the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women. But this school closed in 1924. In 1937 it was opened as a hospital and health resort. Norman Baker claimed to have a cure for cancer but was met with scrutiny as it came to light that he had no medical education. He was later imprisoned on mail fraud. It wasn't until 1946 that efforts were made to reestablish the hotel. The Haunting: Perhaps the fresh spring water under the hotel attracts spirits thirsting for a little human interaction. This hotel has many different haunted areas from guest rooms, to the lobby, to the grounds. Guests have seen a women in the hall, a tall man knocking on the doors, and former cancer patients and nurses to name a few. A long list of guest experiences can be found at the hotel's ghost website. How to see it: The hotel offers history tours for groups of 10 or more. Ghost tours are available by Eureka Springs Ghost Tours. Driskill Hotel - Austin, TX The History: Jesse Lincoln Driskill opened this hotel in 1886. The hotel was grand and luxurious, funded by his success as a cattle baron. In 1888, the family lost its fortune due to drought and a cold winter that killed most of the cattle. The hotel then changed from owner to owner with the most recent change of hands in 1995. The Haunting: Driskill is claimed to still wander the hotel, puffing cigar smoke while he turns lights on and off. There is the ghost of a small girl, daughter of a Senator who was left unattended and fell to her death while playing with her ball - she can still be heard bouncing the ball today. How to see it: The hotel is open to guest today and offers all kinds of pampering. The Feathers Hotel - Ludlow, Shropshire, UK The History: The original building was built in 1619 and has been added to and modified since. First a private residence, it was changed to an Inn in 1670 after the English Civil War and would remain one for the next 200 years! In 1863 it changed to a hotel and started to acquire more land and expand. Why feathers? There are faded motifs of ostrich feathers on the outer woodwork still visible. They were a symbol of the Prince of Wales and "en vogue" at the time of construction. Not to mention the town of Ludlow was royalist even during the English Civil War. The Haunting: There is a female "guest" in room 211 who is known to bother women rather then men in the room, pulling their hair and letting them know they are not welcome. There are a couple gentlemen ghosts roaming about including one who is accompanied by his ghost dog! How to see it: You can join on a ghost hunting adventure either with Eerie Evenings or Haunted Breaks. Or you may opt to spend the night and enjoy the historic surroundings. Heceta House - Yachats, OR The History: This house accompanies a lighthouse on the Oregon coast built in 1894. Many families occupied the house complex over time which included a post office, school and the light house. But it is only the keeper's house that has tales of hauntings. Many believe this is the mother of child who fell off the cliffs back at the turn of the century. The Haunting: The ghost named Rue is said to be an extra caretaker of the house. She makes it known if she is displeased with any activity in the house. One of the more humorous accounts was of her screaming in the middle of a card game, she didn't want them playing cards in her house! How to see it: This house is now a bed and breakfast. It also has guided tours from its interpretive center. Although the current owners don't play up and advertise the ghost they have said guests have told them of strange encounters. Hotel Del Coronado - San Diego, CA The History: Babcock and Story built this resort to be the "talk of the Western world" in 1888. Since then it has been visited by presidents, foreign dignitaries, celebrities and heroes like Charles Lindbergh and Thomas Edison. The hotel was famous as a backdrop for "Some Like It Hot" starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. The Haunting: According to the hotel website, the tales of ghosts started with the untimely death of Kate Morgan. She was a guest in November 1892 that never left. She came to meet her estranged husband but he never showed. Kate was then found dead on the hotel steps leading to the ocean. She had died of a gunshot wound to the head that was officially deemed a suicide but is speculated to this day by some to be a case of murder. She likes to slam doors and randomly turn on the TV. Some have also seen indentation in the sheets as if someone was sleeping there. There are other ghosts in the hotel as well that love to flicker the lights, provide cold spots and make some random noises. How to see it: Of course you can stay at this stunning resort and enjoy the spa, golf course, pool or take some surfing lessons. To find out more click here (Kate's room was 312, then renumbered to 3312 and now to 3327 - check with staff to verify your request). Hotel El Convento - Old San Juan, Puerto Rico The History: This former Carmelite convent named The Monastery of Our Lady Carmne of San Jose was founded in 1651. The nuns left this convent in 1903 and site fell into ruin until 1962 when Robert Woolworth purchased it to make it into a resort. The Haunting: Dona Ana was a noblewoman who lost her husband in the war with the Dutch and then turned to her faith. She donated the land for the Carmelite convent. It is said her spirit and those of nuns can be seen about the grounds and gliding through the halls. How to see it: For information about how to enjoy a luxurious stay with these faithful spirits Jerome Grand Hotel - Jerome, AZ The History: Built in 1926, this building was originally the United Verde Hospital. The hospital was built to be fireproof and withstand blasts from the dynamite mining nearby. One of the best hospitals in the west, it unfortunately was phased out when the mining in the area began to slow down and closed by 1950. The building stood empty until 1994; it had been a time capsule having been unchanged for 44 years. It is now being restored as a hotel with many of the rooms already completed and open for guests. The Haunting: Being a hospital, there were many patients that perished in its walls. However, there were deaths of two orderlies that many believed to have been murder. There is also one recorded suicide. When the building lay dormant for 44 years, locals claimed they would still see lights burning in the vacant building. Since being reopen, more paranormal activity has been noticed. The most common is for guests to feel temperature drops and hear coughing or labored breathing in empty rooms or corners of their own guestroom. One ghost is said to be a woman who died in childbirth. She is upset that her child was buried in an unmarked grave and prowls the ground looking for the babe. How to see it: You may stay in the hotel today. Room rates begin at $110 and go up from there. Being the highest point in the Verde Valley, it offers some great views. And if you're lucky, maybe a glance at a ghost or two! Kehoe House - Savannah, GA The History: This home was built in 1892 for William Kehoe and his family. The large family (they had 10 children!) kept the home until 1930. After that the home became a boarding house, funeral parlor, and a private residence. In 1992 the home opened as a B&B, it changed ownership in 2003, but remains an inn with a B&B atmosphere. The Haunting: The main tragedy of the house (that we know of) was the death of the Kehoe twins who died when playing around the chimney. Children can be heard running the halls and some guests have even had children check in on them in their rooms. But if you don't see the children, their mother Annie is reputed to still wander the rooms, making sure to tuck in all the guests at night! How to see it: Why not spend the night? Ask for rooms 201 or 203. Kewaunee Inn - Kewaunee, WI The History: Built in 1912 by William Karsten this inn is still commonly known as the Hotel Karsten. Father and son managed this hotel until William Karsten Jr.'s death in 1964. The hotel then changed hands and received various facelifts. The most recent owners renamed the hotel to the Kewaunee Inn at Hamachek Village in May 2008. The Haunting: The ghosts at the Kewaunee Inn didn't start to bug the living until after renovations started in 1966. The inn website mentions the triad of ghosts include William Karsten Sr, Billy Karsten III (who died at 5 years of age shortly after his grandfather), and Agatha the housekeeper. Agatha seems to be the most active, floating about the halls and popping up behind you when you look in the mirror! She doesn't seem to like men much - so any male guests be on your guard! William likes to have a drink at the bar now and then and Billy still runs up and down the hall playing. How to see it: Brave enough to spend the night? Lemp Mansion - St. Louis, MO The History: This house was purchased by William Lemp around 1864 to use as a residence and office for the family brewery. William's father had used a family recipe/method to create a lager beer. This beer quickly became popular and William's father abandoned his grocery store to become a full time brewer. The beer continued to be made by the family until 1922 when family mishap and prohibition forced them to shut down and sell for good. The mansion itself has a sorrowful history with one brother dying under mysterious circumstances and three other men of the family committing suicide inside. The Haunting: With three suicides one can easily guess where the idea of ghosts haunting the mansion started. However, the families odd history also adds fuel to the imagination. There is the rumor that William Lemp had an illegitimate son with down syndrome who was kept hidden in the mansion attic his whole life. He is now said to be seen haunting the mansion and has the nickname "Monkey Face Boy." Tales of haunting first started after 1949 when the mansion was sold and turned into a boarding house. Strange knocking and footsteps throughout the mansion scared the tenants away so the house started to run into disrepair. In 1975, the mansion was saved and renovated and turned into a restaurant and inn. All types of sights and sounds have continued and are still reported today. How to see it: Spend the night! Or take a tour if you're too scared... The mansion is a bed and breakfast that offers tours and a restaurant to those who don't want to spend the night. They also host a Halloween Party and Murder Mystery Dinner Theater. Lizzy Borden House - Fall River, MA The History: As with so many haunted homes, this story begins with a murder. On the morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered by ax in their home. Their eldest daughter, Lizzy, was tried and latter acquitted of the murders. However, she was ostracized from the community for the rest of her life. Some consider that she had a split personality, even those close to her recall erratic and violent behavior. And of course there was the creation of the rhyme: Lizzie Borden took an ax Gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done Gave her father forty-one! The Haunting: There is a strange woman who tucks guests into bed and perhaps the same woman can be heard weeping in the night. Objects move on their own and electrical equipment such as lights and cameras have some interference. Many claim the most active room is Lizzy's old bedroom - which you can stay in if you want... How to see it: The home is now a bed and breakfast. You may spend the night, take a tour or even spend a weekend at Ghost Hunter University! Magnolia Mansion - New Orleans, LA The History: This home was built in 1857 by Alexander Harris. After Alexander died of yellow fever his widow remarried and sold the home to the Maginnis family. John Maginnis owned a cotton mill and it was rumored he was struck by lightning because of the cruel way he treated his employees. In 1939, John's daughter inherited the home and willed it to the Red Cross. The Red Cross used the home to train nurses for WWII and the Korean War. In 1954 the home was again sold into private ownership. Magnolia Mansion was renovated in 2001 and opened as a B&B in 2002. The Haunting: When renovating the home, the crew had to stop as an oily substance appeared over the walls. The owner then verbalized her plans for the place out loud so the ghosts would know exactly what she was up to. She told them she was improving the home and the ghosts would not be able to scare the guests away. This appeased them for awhile. However, ghosts are still reputed to slam doors and snuggle into bed with guests on occasion. Many guests have photos of orbs and a few extra faces from their visits as well. How to see it: This adult catering B&B offers a great escape to any non-smoker over 21 years of age. Specializing in romance with Elopement and Wedding packages, the B&B also has fun with their ghosts offering a Romantic Ghostly Getaway Package which includes a room, treats and ghost walking tours. Mason House Inn - Bentonsport, IA The History: This hotel was built in 1846 for steamboat travelers along the Des Moines River. Later, the Mason House was used as a 'holding hospital' during the Civil War for soldiers being transferred to Keokuk. It also served as a 'station' along the underground railroad. The Mason House keeps its name from the Mason family who owned the property for 99 years. The Haunting: Three of the owners have died in the building and there was also one murder in one of the guest rooms. In 1860 poor Mr. Knapp had been drinking and accidentally went to the wrong room. The occupant thought he was being robbed and stabbed Mr. Knapp in self-defense. The home had also been a 'holding hospital' in the Civil War and some patients may have died in the home. Also a Doctor renting a room in the 1940s died in the building. All in all, a great hangout for ghosts. The ghosts come in many forms. There are wisps of fog and cold spots to actual figures who appear and disappear from sight. There is a boy that plays tricks; he likes to rustle sheets and tug at guests as they sleep. There are footsteps, thuds and a woman in white. An abundance of ghosts and paranormal events for all! How to see it: Today you may stay at this B&B for about $80/night ($125 if you are staying in the restored caboose!). Request to stay in the main house on the 2nd floor (rooms 5 & 7) for the best chance of paranormal dreams! Ghost Hunting 101 and 102 classes are also available about twice a year and a Halloween Ghost Walk around Oct 31st. McCune Mansion - Salt Lake City, UT The History: This mansion was built in 1900 by a railroad tycoon named Alfred W. McCune. After leaving for California in 1920, the McCune's donated the mansion to the Latter-Day Saint Church. It was then turned into the McCune School of Music. It later became a Brigham Young University Salk Lake City Center and Virginia Tanner Modern Dance School. In 1999 it was purchased by Phil McCarthy who worked to restore the mansion and open it as a hotel. The Haunting: Music is said to still haunt the McCune halls. A small room under the stairs was used by the McCune's as a stage for hired musicians. The whole house would be filled with music but their guests did not know from where it came. It is said this music still fills the air. Other happenings include doors locking that are not fit with locks, doors opening on their own and lights going on and off on their own. How to see it: You can schedule a tour of the mansion through the Utah Heritage Foundation. Myrtles Plantation - St. Francisville, LA The History: This home was built by David Bradford in 1794 but stories of hauntings did not start until the 1950's. The house had a long history with many different owners. There is only one recorded murder of William Winter in 1871. However, there are many tales that are told about the home to justify the hauntings. Most of these seem to be fabricated tales, but many say that is just because the house is so haunted, people needed to make up some kind of explanation. The Haunting: Among the haunting activity is the ghost of a woman in a green turban who some believe to be the ghost of a slave killed for poisoning the head mistress and her two daughters. Others claim this ghost is not a young slave but an older, unknown woman. There is also a little girl who has appeared as well as a frustrated piano player who continuously practices the same cord over and over on the old piano. How to see it: You can dine in the restaurant, take a tour or spend the night. The choice is up to you. The Queen Mary - Long Beach, CA The History: Her maiden voyage was May 27, 1936 but with the coming of WWII she was refitted and used as a troop ship housing 5500 souls by May 5, 1940. By the end of the war it was used to transport as many as 12,886 war brides and children from Europe to the U.S. and Canada on six voyages in four months. More war bride voyages would follow. It became a cruise ship in 1963. By 1967 it was purchased for Long Beach, CA to act as restaurant and museum with the first hotel rooms opening in 1972. The Haunting: The first class swimming pool has some of the most recorded ghost sightings and noises. Many women dressed in 1930 swimsuits have been sighted. But the spirits like to wander and have been seen in many parts of the ship - especially the engine room where two men were crushed to death by the heavy "Door 13". Those who take the self-guided walking tour of the ship have been spooked more than once! How to see it: Brave enough? Click here to find out how to spend the night or click here to take a tour with Ghost and Legends of the Queen Mary group. The tour is technically enhanced to make certain you get a few jumps and spooks. The hotel also hosts a 'Terrorfest' of haunted mazes on Halloween. Ross Castle - Ross, County Meath, Ireland The History: This area shows record of settlement since the Iron Age. The castle tower was completed in 1537 by Richard Nugent, 12th Baron of Delvin. A family loyal to the English crown for their title and rank hoped to received the extra boon of £10 given as encouragement for each fortification built in Ireland. In time the Nugents began to marry the once rival Celtic nobles especially the O'Reillys. In 1644 the castle was pulverized by Cromwellian soldiers in retribution for Myles O'Reilly's defiance. Restoration was begun by the family in the 19th century and the castle was later modernized with plumbing and electricity. The Haunting: The castle's founder, Richard Nugent was also known as the Black Baron and, you guessed it, he had a reputation for being quite unpleasant. The Black Baron had a beautiful daughter named Sabina who had the unfortunate luck to fall in love with Orwin O'Reilly (at this time still an enemy). Moved by love to give up their home, family and wealth, they decided to elope. However, as they made their escape by boat a storm came up and it capsized. Orwin died but Sabina lived. Crushed with heartache, she pinned away in Ross Castle tower until she finally gave up the ghost which in turn walks the halls to this day. She is said to sometimes be heard screaming! The Black Baron is also rumored to haunt the grounds and can be quite unpleasant. How to see it: Besides ghost hunting, you can go fishing, golfing, horseback riding, sailing, boating, hiking, cycling, go see the races or even take flying lessons! Plenty to do and see in a romantic setting. Ruthin Castle - Ruthin, North Wales, UK The History: Legend has it that the original castle was a wooden fort lorded by Huail. He fought King Arthur and wounded him in the knee. A truce was called but Huail later mocked King Arthur and was beheaded. The first stone structure was put up by King Edward I in 1277 and the castle was owned by the crown off and on until sold by Charles I in 1632. The modern stone structure was built in 1826. However some of the older walls, dungeons and tunnels are still standing today. The Haunting: This castle comes with its own Grey Lady, dating back to the time of Edward I, this ghost was sentenced to death for killing the lover of her husband. Soldiers are said to still march around the grounds and prisoners long dead are still heard moaning in agony. How to see it: If you don't find ghost hunting or random spooks exciting enough, this castle offers other entertainment including medieval banquets (one even with a murder mystery theme!), golf, and romantic getaway packages. The Sagamore - Bolton Landing, NY The History: This hotel was originally built in 1883 to provide a getaway on Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains. This historic building suffered two fires but was reconstructed in 1930. The resort was meant to be a retreat for the wealthy and is still neighbored by palatial mansions across the lake. The Haunting: This hotel has many ghosts including one of a little boy on the golf course! This boy chased balls and sold them when alive. He died in a tragic accident when he was hit by a car running after a ball. Now his shadowy form can be seen running after golf balls on the course. He likes to steal balls and laugh at golfers as they look for them. When they give up he tosses the ball at them, again, laughing. Other ghosts include the guest who come down from the second floor for dinner every night and wait patiently in the reception area before they literally vanish. Then there is the portly cigar smoker in the elevator who may not appreciate the non-smoking policy these days. How to see it: You can stay in the hotel, vacation lodges or a castle (if you have the cash!). Themed getaways are available including the Murder Mystery Weekend Oct 17-19, 2008 The Stanley Hotel - Estes Park, CO The History: Six miles from Rocky Mountain National Park, this hotel has famous views and offers a serene escape. F.O. Stanley created this hotel after moving to the west when forced to by poor health. Besides the hotel he helped to create the sewer, power and water supply for the area. A recent claim to fame is that a stay in this hotel inspired Stephen King's The Shining. The Haunting: Both F.O. and his wife Flora haunt the hotel. They are amicable ghosts that enjoy hanging about the rooms they loved so much such as the Billiard room and Ballroom. Rooms 407 and 418 have reputed activity of lights going on and off, noises and of course rascally kids playing in the nearby hallway. One story relates some guests checked out early as the kids playing in the hall kept them up all night. When the hotel staff looked at the register there were not any kids as guests (at least not any live ones!). How to see it: Not only can you spend the night but you can sign up for a Historic Ghost Tour that tells you all the history that has created a haunted playground. The hotel has fun with the reputation and is hosting 'The Shining Ball' this year on Oct 25 and 31, 2008! The Stone Lion Inn - Guthrie, OK The History: F.E. Houghton built this mansion in 1907. It served most of its years as a residence and later was turned into a funeral home. The only person to die in the home seems to be a young girl who died of whooping cough after receiving the wrong medicine. The Haunting: After turning this mansion into an inn, the new owners woke up at night to the sounds of footsteps and doors opening and closing. They called the police but no intruder was found. Soon after they realized they had their first "guest" who may be a small girl as she likes to take out the toys at night to play. The Story Inn - Nashville, IN The History: This historic inn is located at the boarders of Brown County State Park and Hoosier National Forest. This inn and its collection of buildings is actually what remains of the town of Story that was established in 1851, set up as a lodging community. The Haunting: The Story Inn is haunted by a lady in blue who floats about the second floor of the general store that has been turned into guestrooms. There has also been activity in the restaurant below. A guestbook details the experiences of the spooked over the years. How to see it: Snuggle in for the night. If you don't want a ghost watching over you there are other cabins available in this small community. Thornewood Castle - Lakewood, WA The History: Thornewood Castle was built for Chester Thorne, a successful founder of the Port of Tacoma. This Tudor/Gothic estate was completed in 1911. Inspired by the estates in Britain, the stained glass windows were even imported from a castle in Europe. The castle has many different imports that add to structure and contents of the building. One of the more interesting aspects is the "wishbone sticks" left by the Native American workers who helped in the construction. These sticks help to ward off evil and are found at the foundation in the basement. The Haunting: There are multiple photographs taken of orbs throughout the castle and reports of objects moving on their own. Tape recorders have picked up voices, one of an unknown child. One child did drown in the lake and is said to haunt its shore, perhaps they visit the house as well? Overall, the spirits at Thornwood seem to be a good natured sort. There is not a violent history attached to this home. Although the wife of Mr. Thorne is said to haunt the halls, this is more because she likes the place rather than she is out to get anyone. In fact, some believe Thornwood Castle acts as a vortex and can attract ghosts from the other side. Some guests have reported making contact with loved ones from their lives who have no connection with the castle. How to see it: You may stay in the castle as it is now a B&B. There are Candle Light Tours: for $100 and the cost of a room you can spend the night exploring the haunted halls with a small group of ghost hunters.

Flood!

How to prepare for, respond to and recover from a flood.

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Experience is sometimes an unforgiving instructor. At Homecheck we learned devastation caused by flood waters first hand when Cedar Rapids, IA was hit by a massive flood this past June (6/13/2008). Homecheck is parented by the company enlighten technologies™ which includes many other businesses in our family such as Lawchek®, LawyersListings, and HouseList, to name a few. Our headquarters on 1st Avenue in downtown Cedar Rapids was inundated with water after the Cedar River crested at 31.1 feet (19.1 feet over flood stage) to overtake 1,300 blocks of the city.* The first floor was completely lost and the second as well when water reached 4 feet on the upper level. A slow road to recovery, we have learned first hand the destructive power of flood waters. Reflecting on this experience and the items we have learned, we determined to write an article this month about what to do if a flood hits your home or business. We hope many of our readers never have to use the practical advice in this article.

*Specifics taken from articles: http://www.usatoday.com/weather/floods/2008-06-15-cedar-rapids-cleanup_N.htm; http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/13/us/13flood.html?fta=y; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_levee_failures_in_Greater_New_Orleans **Weather data: http://ia.water.usgs.gov/flood/flood.html

Before the Flood
It is not always possible to know when a flood will happen. It may be caused by an inundation of rain fall. Cities in Iowa were affected in this way when the Cedar and Iowa Rivers swelled with over 10 inches of rain in only one week.** This can then be compounded when man-made structures give way. This was seen in New Orleans when 50 levees broke during Hurricane Katrina.* So what can you do to protect your business or home before a flood happens?

• Find out about the land your structure is on. Does it sit on a flood plain? What is the threat level? Geologists or your county planning department will list these areas by the probability of a flood. For instance, Cedar Rapids has areas designated as 100 or 500 year flood plains. The flood in June was a 500 year flood. FEMA Offers flood maps detailing current flood risk. Simply type in your address and you can look at it online. You also have the option to buy a map, but as long as you are looking online, the service is free. http://msc.fema.gov/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/FemaWelcomeView?storeId=10001&catalogId=10001&langId=-1

• Now that you know where your home or business stands, what kind of insurance is available? Talk to your insurance agent first. If you want to now more about insurance options, especially in higher risk areas, also check out the National Flood Insurance Program at www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/.

• Whether a household or a business, you should have an evacuation plan in place. Let family members and employees know what evacuation route to take if water is rising swiftly and an evacuation is ordered. For households you should include a place for everyone to meet whether it is a local shelter or a relative’s/friend’s house. Also, families should have an out of state contact that everyone may call to locate each other in case they are separated.

• Create an emergency kit to be ready at any time. Depending on the needs (home or business) some items to consider are:

  • Clean water (enough for at least 3 days for every person and animal – generally 5 gallons per person)
  • Nonperishable food for 3 days (don’t forget a can opener!)
  • Suitcase with an extra pair of clothes and extra blankets or sleeping bags
  • Baby Kit - Baby food, diapers and other supplies
  • Pet food, leashes, vaccination info for your pet – you may have to leave your pet at a local pet shelter if you are evacuated as emergency shelters do not allow pets 
  • First Aid Kit – try to include some extra prescription medications (not expired!) or details about any prescriptions so you can refill them if lost in the flood
  • Personal Hygiene Kit – sanitary wipes or gel, soap, toothpaste, feminine supplies, deodorant, etc.
  • Flashlights, radio or small TV, and batteries – you may also consider crank flashlights and radios
  • Some items to have on hand particular to a flood threat: insect repellent, rubber boots and gloves, and thick shoes

• Back up your documents! If you are evacuated due to a flood there are certain documents you will need for claims and getting back on your feet. Keep a copy of these documents with your emergency kit, at a safe location other than your home or both. At the very least these documents should include: insurance information, social security number, and medical records including any active prescriptions. It would also be a good idea to make a list of emergency contact information including family and friends as well as local and state numbers you may need.

• Prepare your business or home to resist flood damage. Suggestions include: install sump pumps with a back-up source of power, install backflow valves or plugs to prevent sewage entering the home, and make sure any fuel or propane tanks are securely and properly installed.

During the Flood

• Once a flood watch or warning is given call local authorities and let them know of anyone who may have special needs and cannot leave the flood area easily. It is extremely helpful for authorities to know who needs help evacuating if an evacuation becomes necessary. Ideally, have a friend or family member who will try to get this person out first if it is still safe to do so. This way there is less chance of separation.

• Get your emergency kit and keep it at hand in case of an evacuation. If you have some prep time before, fill up the gas tank to make sure you can go at a moments notice. If an evacuation is ordered there may be heavy traffic and you may need to go some distance to a shelter.

• Secure any items outside that might become hazards in water such as garbage cans, lawn furniture, grills, etc.

• If an evacuation is imminent: turn off the power and gas. If an evacuation is ordered, evacuate immediately. Use the route the authorities have given and make certain not to drive through flooded roads.

• If you are not ordered to evacuate, stay home and listen to any future announcements. Unless helping a family member or friend for a specific purpose, stay off the roads and out of the way of emergency crews. Going to watch is not helpful and can be potentially very dangerous.

After the Flood

• First you will want to contact your insurance company. Even if you are not covered for a flood, you will need to contact your agent. This is why it is important to keep documentation with your emergency kit. You need to know your company, agent (if applicable) and your policy number. In the case of evacuation, make certain to specify the address and phone of where you can be reached now. This may also be a friend or relative who can act as a point of contact if you are not immediately near a dedicated phone. They will set up an appointment to meet with you and discuss your losses.If they do not get back in a few days be persistent and call again, just keep in mind they may be overwhelmed with claims.

• Work with authorities about your return. Although this part can be extremely frustrating, in the case of major floods they will want to assess the safety of your return before you may enter any neighborhood or structure. Choose representatives, as in the case of Cedar Rapids the first look at the property was restricted to 1-3 people depending on location. The authorities may have also set up a grade system for the status of your structure. In Cedar Rapids there were green, yellow and red signs letting owners know whether a structure was safe to enter, enter only with caution or too dangerous and deemed a total loss.

• Once it has been deemed safe by the authorities for you to return, start the process of sorting your property. Do not throw out all items as you will need your insurance agent to see these. However, if the items are considered too toxic to keep around, get pictures and samples of the items before disposing of them. Make sure to take all precautions necessary before entering a flood damaged building! Click here for more details.

• Take many pictures of the inside and outside of your structure before cleanup. Photograph any standing water, items that have to be disposed of immediately and general survey pictures of each room. Also, take pictures of the items that will have to torn out such as the walls, floors, etc.

• Make a list of all damaged and lost items. This will help when you work with your insurance agent to process your claim. With your agent you will make a Proof of Loss. This statement is your testimony to the damages suffered. It should be filed within 60 days unless circumstances have allotted more time. Once this is filed with your insurance company your claim will be processed, however, it may take some time if the area was hit especially hard.

After the Flood: Home and Family Recovery – Working with FEMA

• FEMA stands for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As they state on their website they define their type of disaster assistance as “money or direct assistance to individuals, families and businesses in an area whose property has been damaged or destroyed and whose losses are not covered by insurance. It is meant to help you with critical expenses that cannot be covered in other ways. This assistance is not intended to restore your damaged property to its condition before the disaster.” In essence they are there to help those who could not or did not get flood insurance.

• Items FEMA will cover are: temporary housing in the instance of evacuation or unlivable conditions, repair for what the insurance company will not cover (this is just until the home is safe, not necessarily with the same materials as before), and permanent housing construction. This last is only available to those who cannot get flood insurance at all due to location.

• FEMA can help with recovery costs that are not directly related to the home. These additional expenses can only be claimed if you live in a disaster area as designated by the President, you have already filed with your insurance company and find you are not covered, and you have serious needs directly related to the disaster. Some of these costs listed on the FEMA website include:

  • Disaster-related medical and dental costs.
  • Disaster-related funeral and burial cost.
  • Clothing; household items (room furnishings, appliances); tools (specialized or protective clothing and equipment) required for your job; necessary educational materials (computers, school books, supplies).
  • Fuels for primary heat source (heating oil, gas).
  • Clean-up items (wet/dry vacuum, dehumidifier).
  • Disaster damaged vehicle.
  • Moving and storage expenses related to the disaster (moving and storing property to avoid additional disaster damage while disaster-related repairs are being made to the home).
  • Other necessary expenses or serious needs as determined by FEMA.
  • Other expenses that are authorized by law. http://www.fema.gov/assistance/process/assistance.shtm

• You can reach FEMA by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585

• When making any claim, you should have the following at hand: your social security number, current and damaged address, current phone contact, insurance information, household annual income, routing number to your bank to receive funds, and a detailed description of the losses.

• You may be referred by FEMA to SBA which offers low-interest disaster loans. “Homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 for disaster related home repairs. Homeowners and renters may borrow up to $40,000 to replace disaster-damaged personal property including vehicles.” However, you can not receive duplicated aid already received from FEMA.

• To find currently approved disaster areas you can go online: http://www.fema.gov/news/disasters.fema

After the Flood: Business Recovery – Working with SBA

• SBA stands for the Small Business Administration which has a specific branch for disasters the Office of Disaster Assistance (ODA) that offers federal low-interest, long term loans for “homeowners, renters and non-farm businesses.” An Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) is available to small businesses specifically geared towards helping with day to day expenses so a business may continue to operate.

• SBA can release disaster loans if one or more of the following conditions are met: Presidential Disaster Declaration, • • Agency Physical Disaster Declaration (based on a minimum amount lost), Governor Certification Declaration, Secretary of Agriculture Declaration, Secretary of Commerce Declaration, or Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan (for businesses that lose key personnel who are called to active duty).

• For Physical Disaster Loans which help replace an uninsured or under-insured property, an inspection team from SBA’s ODA will review the site and claims.

• Applicants do have to show some reasonable ability to pay back the loans. However, since they are low-interest and can be as long as 30 years, they are easier to qualify for than standard loans.

• Especially with real estate, the SBA’s ODA will continue contact with the borrower to make certain construction is on schedule and funds are being used appropriately.

• You can reach SBA by calling 1-800-659-2955 8am-9pm EDT. Or email them at disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

More Information

FEMA and the American Red Cross have made a pamphlet entitled Repairing Your Flooded Home which is available as a PDF. A great resource, page 55 has a very useful emergency contact list as well.

  • Click here for Repairing Your Flooded Home by FEMA and the American Red Cross (PDF)

Additional pointers from Homecheck:

  • Cleaning Up after a Flood (HTML)
  • Battling Mold after a Flood (HTML)

Some Ways to Help Our Neighbors

Downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Sunday, June 15, 2008 after the waters have started to recede.

Aidmatrix Network - Iowa
The Safeguard Iowa Partnership and the Iowa Disaster Human Resource Council have partnered to provide the Aidmatrix Network, an easy way to make monetary and product donations to the nonprofit organizations that are assisting in the response and recovery efforts following recent disaster events in Iowa.

Cedar Rapids Czech & Slovak Museum
www.ncsml.org
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library staff and board continue to work through the challenges of flood recovery. Our five museum buildings are cleaned out and secure. Visitors from across the country have been calling to plan summer visits. Some have already made their way here and are shocked and dismayed to find a sight they never expected - boarded up buildings, sandbars in the garden, and piles of debris. We are assuring them we will survive and be back in business, but it will take time. To us it's surprising there's still a world out there that doesn't know about the flood!

Cedar Rapids Public Library
Our public library lost all of the first floor which included books and magazines for adults.The children's book section was mostly recovered. They are currently looking for temporary space: "07 July 2008 - Librarians are compiling a list of books and other materials that the CRPL’s book distributor will hold until the library has a place to put them. The books will arrive pre-processed, which means that staff will be able to shelve them immediately, saving an enormous amount of time. Once the list is compiled, individuals will have an opportunity to select a book from the list to donate. “Many of our patrons and supporters have been asking what they can do. This will be a way to help rebuild our library,” says Glise. “By fall, we hope to have a wish list available.”

Corridor Recovery
Corridor Recovery is a not-for-profit partnership between government, civic, business and faith-based organizations, created to respond to the Flood of 2008. As the flood waters peaked, Corridor Recovery quickly became the primary resource for materials and information for Linn County and Cedar Rapids. We provide resources for local governments and agencies to distribute flood-recovery information to the public in a critical time of need, and to coordinate volunteer efforts in the clean-up and recovery process.

Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation
www.gcrcf.org
The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation opened the Flood 2008 Fund on June 15. The Flood 2008 Fund is for flood relief and recovery donations. One-hundred percent of financial donations to the fund will support response, recovery and rebuilding efforts throughout the Cedar Rapids-metro and surrounding communities. The first priority will be to work with local nonprofit organizations to support individuals and families affected by the floods. The GCRCF is committed to helping individuals, families and the nonprofit community recover and rebuild from the catastrophic flood.

Embrace Iowa 2008 Disaster Fund
Embrace Iowa is a program of statewide outreach by the Des Moines Register. Since it already has an established logo, identity, and donation tracking mechanism, the Iowa Disaster Collaborative is using the Embrace Iowa website as one way for donors to make a donation and learn more about the 2008 Iowa Disaster Fund.

Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service
If you are interested in helping in a particular area of the state, please use this section of our Web site to get in touch with local officials, who are collecting a list of where and when volunteers are most needed.

University of Iowa Foundation
For those wishing to support the University as it struggles to recover from flood-related damage not covered by insurance or other resources, we encourage contributions to the UI Flood Relief Fund.

Sources for this article which include even more detailed information:

Center for Disease Control
CDC.gov (www.cdc.gov) is your online source for credible health information and is the official Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC is committed to achieving true improvements in people’s health. CDC applies research and findings to improve people’s daily lives and responds to health emergencies—something that distinguishes CDC from its peer agencies. Working with states and other partners, CDC provides a system of health surveillance to monitor and prevent disease outbreaks (including bioterrorism), implement disease prevention strategies, and maintain national health statistics. CDC also guards against international disease transmission, with personnel stationed in more than 25 foreign countries

FEMA – Federal Emergency Management Agency
http://www.fema.gov/
FEMA has more than 2,600 full time employees. They work at FEMA headquarters in Washington D.C., at regional and area offices across the country, the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, and the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Maryland. FEMA also has nearly 4,000 standby disaster assistance employees who are available for deployment after disasters. Often FEMA works in partnership with other organizations that are part of the nation's emergency management system. These partners include state and local emergency management agencies, 27 federal agencies and the American Red Cross.

National Flood Insurance Program
http://www.floodsmart.gov/
Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to address both the need for flood insurance and the need to lessen the devastating consequences of flooding. The goals of the program are twofold: to protect communities from potential flood damage through floodplain management, and to provide people with flood insurance.

SBA – Small Business Administration 
http://www.sba.gov/
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was created in 1953 as an independent agency of the federal government to aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of our nation. We recognize that small business is critical to our economic recovery and strength, to building America's future, and to helping the United States compete in today's global marketplace.

Winter Safety Tips

Whether celebrating a holiday or snuggling next to the fire.

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Winter brings many different holidays and celebrations. During these various festivities we host dinners or gatherings and may have many house guests. And so up go the decorations! Decorating your home can be fun. However, many times we are putting up items we may not be familiar with and have lost their various 'How to' booklets years ago. We are cramming our space with such fun, festive items that we may not think much about how to display these items safely. If you have children, pets, house guests, or crazy, exuberant relatives around the house this winter holiday season, you may want to consider some general safety tips. Even if you aren't hosting an event but will be using winter items, such as a fireplace, this article will have a few helpful tips for you. We know you are busy, and the last thing anyone wants to do when planning a party is to think about all the details! Thus, here is simple, quick safety checklist for your winter fun!

Below is our checklist of things to watch for during winter activities and holidays. The winter season is a time that safety should be considered. Just look at these facts and figures from the National Fire Protection Association: In 2002, there were 240 Christmas tree fires in U.S. homes, resulting in $11.4 million in direct property damage. During 2001, an estimated 18,000 home fires started by candles were reported to public fire departments. Fourteen percent of the candle fires occurred in December. This is almost twice the 8% monthly average. During 1999-2001, candles caused an estimated annual average of 16,300 home structure fires. These fires resulted in 140 civilian injuries and $289 million in direct property damage. In 11% of the December candle fires, the fires began when a decoration caught fire. This was true in only 3% of the fires during the rest of the year (Source: NFPA's One-Stop Data Shop). Please take a moment to review some safety tips. Then enjoy a safe holiday and winter!

SNOW!

  • If you must be outside, wear plenty of layers of clothing. Don't over-exert yourself. Make sure you wear a hat, because the largest amount of body heat is lost through the top of the head.
  • Sunscreen: the sun's rays can still cause sunburn in the winter, especially when they reflect off snow!
  • If weather warnings suggest a severe wind chill or extremely low temperatures, consider avoiding outdoor activities until the weather improves.
  • Ensure that each member of your household has a warm coat, gloves or mittens, hat, and water-resistant boots.
  • The rule of thumb for older babies and young children is to dress them in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions.
  • Be aware of symptoms and treatment for hypothermia, snow blindness and frostbite.
    Hypothermia: Complaints about being cold and irritability. Uncontrollable shivering. Impaired or slurred speech or vision. Clumsy movements. Blurred vision. Severe symptoms can include stiff muscles, dark and puffy skin, irregular heart and breathing rates and unconsciousness.
    Snow Blindness: Eyes become sensitive to light. Pain in eyes or forehead. Gritty feeling in the eyes. Frostbite: Superficial frostbite that looks like gray or yellowish patches on the skin, especially, fingers, toes, face, ears but can occur on any exposed skin. The first symptoms are usually numbness or itching and prickly pain. The skin remains soft but becomes red and flaky after it thaws. Deep or Severe Frostbite looks like waxy and pale skin and feels cold, hard and solid to the touch. The areas turn blue or purple when thawing and large blisters may appear when the area warms up.
  • Shoveling Snow: If you have a history of heart trouble, check with your doctor before grabbing that snow shovel and clearing the driveway or sidewalk. Don't shovel snow just after you eat. Don't smoke while shoveling. Pace yourself. Snow shoveling is a strenuous exercise that raises both your pulse and blood pressure. Treat shoveling like an athletic event: warm up before you start, and stretch during and after shoveling. Concentrate on using your legs instead of your back. Bend your legs and keep your back straight. Take breaks. And don't work until you are exhausted. If your chest feels tight, stop immediately.
  • Teach children never to touch metal during cold temperatures.
  • Children should never play on snow piles near parking lots or on the road side. Make sure children never go near snow plows or areas being plowed.
  • Sledding: Keep sledders away from motor vehicles. Children should be supervised. Keep young children separated from older children. Sledding feet first or sitting up, instead of lying down head-first, may prevent head injuries. Use steerable sleds, not snow disks or inner tubes. Sleds should be structurally sound and free of sharp edges and splinters, and the steering mechanism should be well lubricated. Sled slopes should be free of obstructions like fire hydrants or fences, be covered in snow not ice, not be too steep (slope of less than 30º), and end with a flat runoff. Avoid sledding in overcrowded areas.
  • Skiing/Snowboarding: Never ski or snowboard alone. Young children should always be supervised by an adult. Older children's need for adult supervision depends on their maturity and skill. If they are not with an adult, than they should at least be accompanied with a friend. Consider wearing a helmet. Equipment should fit. Skiers should wear safety bindings that are adjusted at least every year. Snowboarders should wear gloves with built-in wrist guards. Slopes should fit the ability and experience of the skier or snowboarder. Avoid overcrowded slopes.
  • A winter storm WATCH means a winter storm is possible in your area. A winter storm WARNING means a winter storm is headed for your area. A blizzard WARNING means strong winds, blinding wind-driven snow, and dangerous wind chill are expected. Seek shelter immediately!

Travel

  • When leaving for a long time: Make certain to get your mail held by the post office. Also get your paper stopped. Have a neighbor or family stop by and check your house once a day. Set timers on lights, indoor and outdoors. Make sure your outdoor sensor lights are in working order.
  • If you have a security system make sure it is fully armed. Let anyone checking on your house know how to unarm and reset it if they will be entering your home. Check all windows to make certain they are locked. If traveling out of state, make certain to review weather reports and construction reports before starting your trip.
  • Keep windows up and doors locked at all times.
  • Keep a half a tank of fuel; this will prepare you in case you run into long holiday traffic or weather delays.
  • Put together a winter-driving kit, including a pair of gloves, a warm hat, and a blanket.
  • If a blizzard traps you in your car: Pull off the road, set hazard lights to flashing, and hang a distress flag from the radio aerial or window. Remain in your vehicle; rescuers are most likely to find you there. Conserve fuel, but run the engine and heater about ten minutes each hour to keep warm, cracking a downwind window slightly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Exercise to maintain body heat but don't overexert. Huddle with other passengers and use your coat for a blanket. In extreme cold use road maps, seat covers, floor mats, newspapers or extra clothing for covering--anything to provide additional insulation and warmth. Turn on the inside dome light so rescue teams can see you at night, but be careful not to run the battery down. In remote areas, spread a large cloth over the snow to attract the attention of rescue planes. Do not set out on foot unless you see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Once the blizzard is over, you may need to leave the car and proceed on foot. Follow the road if possible. If you need to walk across open country, use distant points as landmarks to help maintain your sense of direction. (Tips provided by FEMA)

Guests

  • If visiting another home, keep in mind they may not have children and therefore may not have everything out of reach that should be. Always keep a close eye on children when visiting someone else's home. Even if it is a familiar home, their holiday decorations may have changed the landscape enough that it will be a whole new environment with potential hazards for children.
  • If leaving children with a babysitter make sure they are prepared with all the needed numbers and contacts. Make sure sitters are aware of any holiday/special rules for the house; i.e. no running around the Christmas Tree.
  • If guests will be smoking, provide them with large, deep ashtrays and check them frequently. Keep out of reach for children and pets.
  • When attending a party, always designate a non-drinking driver.
  • If you are the host of a holiday gathering, be sure there are non-alcoholic beverages available for guests who are driving. Stop serving alcohol well before the party is over. Bring out coffee, more alcohol-free drinks and more food.

Gifts

  • Choose toys appropriate for age, ability and skill for children. Children under the age of 10 should only get electrical toys that use batteries rather than ones that plug into the wall.
  • Read instructions for children's toys carefully before letting them run off and play.
  • Government guidelines specify that toys for children under three years of age cannot have parts less than 1 1/4 inches in diameter and 2 1/4 inches long.
  • Remove strings and ribbons from toys before given to young children.
  • fter gifts are opened make sure wrapping paper is cleaned up as some bags may prove to be suffocating/chocking hazards.
  • Make sure wrapping paper doesn't get too close to the fireplace.

Food Safety

  • Thoroughly cook all meat products.
  • Thaw meat in the refrigerator - not on the counter.
  • Thoroughly wash all raw vegetables and fruits.
  • Keep raw and cooked foods separate. Make sure to use different utensils when preparing them.
  • Wash your hands frequently. If working with "little chefs" making holiday treats, make sure they wash their hands often as well.
  • Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S. When cooking for holiday visitors, remember to keep an eye on kitchen projects.
    If you are faced with a grease fire, remember, put a lid on it, and turn the heat source off!
  • Foods that require refrigeration should never be left out more than two hours.
  • Do not add new food to a serving dish that h0as been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Dry foods such as nuts, crackers, baked goods, breads, hard cheeses and candy don't support bacterial growth. Fruits, pickles, jams and jellies are too acidic for most bacteria.
  • Clean up early after a party. Plates left out and around may have bad food that can make children sick or can become a chocking hazard.
  • If you choose to make eggnog with whole eggs, heat the egg-milk mixture to at least 160°F. Refrigerate at once, dividing large amounts into shallow containers so that it cools quickly.
  • Use ciders labeled as pasteurized, or bring unpasteurized cider to a boil before serving. This is especially important when serving cider to people with weakened immune systems.
  • Use leftover turkey meat, bones, stuffing, gravy and other cooked dishes within two to three days.

Fireplace Safety

  • Fireplaces should be cleaned annually, preferably by a professional chimney sweep.
  • Keep fireplace screens/doors closed when fire is lit.
  • Make sure to open the flue before lighting a fire :)
  • Make sure no decorations are near the fireplace before lilting.
  • Use only wood that is properly seasoned to reduce creosote build-up.
  • Wrapping paper burns fast and intense. Do NOT use wrapping paper in the fireplace.
  • Keep any fire starts out of the reach of children. These are often very dangerous if ingested.
  • When burning artificial logs, burn only one at a time. They produce too much concentrated heat for some types of fireplaces.
  • Don't use water to extinguish a fire. It can crack the bricks in your hearth. Let the fire burn itself out.
  • If using portable/space heaters, keep them at least three feet from anything that can burn.

Decorations

• Decorations 

  • Avoid sharp decorations where small children and pets may reach them.
  • Do not get decorations that look like food or candy when small children are present.
  • Get down on your hands and knees and examine your decorations before your pets do.
  • If there is just too much mischief for them to get into make certain you can make the room off-limits. If using spun glass (angel hair) make sure to follow directions fully. Make certain it is out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Keep holiday plants such as mistletoe, holly berries, and Christmas cactus away from children and pets. Poinsettias can make pets very sick.
  • These materials should never be used for holiday decorations because they are inherently combustible: bamboo, cedar trees/branches, corn stalks/shucks, cotton or confetti (loose, in large quantities), dry moss/leaves, flammable powders/liquids, hay/straw (loose or baled), paper streamers (serpentine), plastic sheeting/pellets, sawdust, tumbleweeds, and wood bark/shavings.

• Candles

  • Do not use candles on Christmas trees or evergreen trimmings.
  • Use non-flamable holders and make sure they are placed where they cannot be knocked over easily.
  • Do not keep candles lit in rooms that is not occupied/supervised.
  • Check your candles as they burn. Some will burn unevenly and may finish sooner than you expected or break open drip streams of hot wax.
  • Do not leave children unattended around candles and matches/lighters.

• Lights

  • Turn off all lights before going to bed or leaving the home. It is an even better idea to turn lights off when they are in a room that is unattended.
  • Whether new or old, always check your lights before hanging them anywhere. Check that bulbs are all working well and not cracked. Also looked for any damage to wires or socket connections.
  • urn off lights before replacing bulbs or fuses.
  • Do not put indoor lights under carpets or behind curtains. Make sure they are away from foot traffic and are not stepped on.
  • Keep cords and lights away from small children and pets.
  • Make sure to only use lights certified for outdoor use outside! If using lights from last year, make a habit of storing outdoor items together so if the labels are lost you still know which is which.
  • String lights through hooks or insulated staples. Do not use nails and tacks.
  • Outdoor lights should be plugged into circuits with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFI) to avoid shocks.
  • Where lights are connected together outdoors, keep the connections dry by wrapping them with friction tape or plastic.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets. Look for manufacturer's recommendation. General rule is no more than 3 strings of lights for each extension cord.
  • Do NOT use electric lights on a metallic tree.
  • When removing lights, never tug! Remove them as gently as they were strung up!

• Trees & Evergreen Trimmings

  • If purchasing a live Christmas Tree, check to see that the tree is fresh. The tree should be green, the needles should not break off easily, you should have to pull the needles to remove them. When you tap the tree against the ground it shouldn't be shedding needles. Also, there will be resin visible on a fresh tree bottom.
  • When you bring your tree home cut the bottom so that fresh wood is exposed. This will allow for better water absorption and keep the tree from drying too quickly. Also make certain to keep the tree stand basin filled with water; something that can be easy to forgot since it is not part of your normal routine!
  • Choose a sturdy tree stand designed not to tip over.
  • If purchasing an artificial tree look for one labeled "Fire Resistant." Note the resistant, artificial does not mean fire proof! Place your tree away from heat sources such as fireplace or space heaters.
  • Don't place your tree in high traffic space. You don't want someone to trip and topple over the tree!
  • Trim your tree with non-flamable decorations, such as tinsel or plastic ornaments. However, watch tinsel as cats like it, but it is not at all good for them! Be very careful if your pets have access to the tree that decorations are not tempting to them.
  • Keep green trimmings away from heat sources. They are great for railings or doorways, but not good for table center pieces if there are candles there as well!
  • Tree and trimmings should be removed as soon as able once the holiday season is over. You don't want a pile of dry evergreen sitting in a corner waiting to ignite!

New Home Warranty

Make sure you fully understand terms and conditions.

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Q. About six months ago we bought a new home and the builder provided a one year home warranty. Recently we discovered a defect, but when we contacted the builder, he said that because we did not discover the defect during the final walk-through that it would not be covered under the warranty. Is this common practice?

A. No, this is definitely not common practice. Most builders will repair defects that are found at any time during the warranty period, provided that they are covered by the terms of the warranty, and are obviously the fault of the builder. Read your warranty contract carefully to see if you are indeed bound by the condition your builder is citing. He may be counting on the fact that you have not thoroughly read the contract. In any event, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney. When inspecting a new home, I always advise my clients to discuss the terms of the home warranty with the builder before closing, and to make sure that they fully understand those terms and conditions.

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 2

Periodic checklists.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 1 of an 8 part series of Preventative Maintenance Tips for your Home. Series 1 dealt with maintenance checks that are recommended every month. Series 2 will combine a periodic checklist for every 2 months and a periodic checklist for every 3 months.

Every 2 Months
If you have a pressure type oil burner inspect and clean Range Hood Fan: Clean grease filter. This may be done more often than every 2 months depending upon the amount of cooking and or fry foods. If you find that the filter is corroded, you may need to consider replacing it.

Steam Heating System:
Test relief valve and replace if necessary, check pressure and drain expansion tank if necessary. Wall Furnace: Clean grills. Clean or replace filter.

Every 3 Months

Faucets:
Clean aerators-unscrew, disassemble and wash out debris. Fix leaky faucets quickly; a leak wastes up to 20 gallons of water a day and can ruin a faucet set. Consider replacing older faucets with new ones with washer less valve cartridges instead of rubber washers.

Dishwasher:
Professionally have the strainer, spray arm and air gap cleaned.
Pest Control: Consider hiring a pest control service to protect your home and family from insects, vermin and termites damage to your property.

Hot Water Heater:
Do not set any combustibles near water heater. Drain a quart of water from the tank four times a year to keep your water heater in peak condition. If you suspect a leak, you may have rusting through the bottom of the storage tank. Consult a professional.

Floor Drain Strainer:
Clean out debris and scrub strainer.

Tub Drain Assembly:
Clean out debris; inspect rubber seal and replace if necessary.

Join me next month for Part 3 of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Slab verses crawl space

Some are built on a slab, and others have crawl spaces. Is one better than the other?

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Q. We are looking at new homes in South Carolina, and we noticed that some are built on a slab, and others have crawl spaces. Is one better than the other?

A. Traditionally, houses in South Carolina have been built on raised foundation walls to keep the structure away from the ground, but with the advent of newer technologies, more and more builders are choosing to build homes with concrete slab foundations. Briefly, a house with a crawl space has a wooden floor built on foundation walls and piers that can be anywhere from about two to six feet off the ground depending on the slope of the lot. In this type of house, the utilities such as plumbing, electrical and HVAC can be run under the floor, and are accessible for repair or renovation. The crawl space has fresh air ventilation, but is closed to insects and animals. This type of construction requires stairs for access. A slab-built house, or patio home, is built directly on a reinforced concrete slab foundation. This slab rests directly on the ground, and the utilities are run under the slab and brought up into the structure wherever needed. The heating and air ducts are routed through the attic in most cases. This type of construction requires no stairs for access. With a house built up off the ground, modest amounts of water entering the crawl space during rainstorms is not usually a problem, because it runs right through or evaporates through the fresh air vents. With a slab house, there is very little tolerance for water draining against the structure, because it will find its way into the house. If you are considering buying a patio home, pay careful attention to the lot drainage. The choice between the two types of construction is largely a matter of personal preference unless someone in your family has difficulty climbing stairs in which case, a slab-built home would be your best choice. Regardless of which type of house you choose to purchase, it would be wise to get a thorough home inspection from the most competent inspector in the area.