Finding Normal After the Disaster: Tips and Advice

Finding Normal After the Disaster: Tips and Advice

Homeowners, contractors share tips for rebuilding

October 1, 2013 by Staci Giordullo and Lisa Renze-Rhodes

The families who lost their homes unexpectedly due to man-made and natural disasters learned many lessons along the way. Read their advice, along with tips from the contractors they hired, to help guide you through rebuilding after a disaster:

Keep an inventory

Before a disaster strikes, make a list of your home’s contents and keep receipts for high-ticket items. Take photographs or a video, and write a description, of each item. Include approximate age, replacement cost and serial numbers for major appliances or electronics. Once you’ve completed the list, keep it off-site.

Review your insurance policy

Inspect your homeowners policy on an annual basis. Ask your insurance agent to explain every option and endorsement available to verify adequate coverage in case of disaster.

Robin "Fire Safe Box"

Check your safe

Fireproof safes are not necessarily waterproof, as some homeowners learned after firefighters doused their house fires. Make sure the safe you buy for important household documents is tested to withstand fire and water damage.

Be patient

Losing a home is a catastrophic, stress-inducing event. Homeowners should take as much time as necessary to decide whether, where and when they want to rebuild.

Try going social

Use social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, for the most current updates to your disaster. Victims might also use it to find available resources, such as food, shelter or volunteer groups to help clear the debris.

Don’t get scammed

Stay vigilant to avoid unscrupulous vendors who descend on neighborhoods immediately after a disaster. Take time to interview contractors, visit their previous projects and speak with former clients. Fully vet them before hiring, and don’t sign anything immediately.

Look for experience

Hire a contractor with experience in rebuilding homes after disasters. Rebuilding can be more difficult than building new because of site space constraints, neighborhood covenants or other building codes. If a contractor comes highly recommended, but you’re still uncomfortable after talking with that provider, find someone else. Rebuilding is stressful enough without adding doubts to the competency of your builder.

Avoid large down payments

Be wary of contractors who demand one upfront. Check with your state or local contractor’s board to see if there’s a law dictating the amount allowed for down payments. If your state has no requirements, Angie’s List recommends tying payments to progress made on the job.

Check for mold

If there is water damage, make sure to hire a highly rated mold remediation company to properly take care of the problem. If it’s done incorrectly, and mold reappears a year later, the insurance company may not pay to have it corrected, says Joshua Lavine, president of Capitol Benefits in Gaithersburg, Md.

Know the laws

Stay in touch with local, state and federal policymakers. The building codes and regulations might change after a storm, and may require additional construction modifications to your house.

Make changes

If you experience a disaster that necessitates a partial or full rebuild, think broadly about your home’s layout, then talk with your contractor about what changes might be possible.

Only clean what you can use

For example, smoke-ruined winter coats might not fit your children the next season, so having those items professionally cleaned may not make sense for your family’s budget.

Document behind the walls

While rebuilding, take photos behind the walls before the drywall is completed and keep those photos with important household documents. Those pictures show where electrical and other lines run, which you can reference for future home improvements.

Six Families on the Road to Recovery



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Henryville, Ind. Tornado

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