Lessons from Katrina: electrical advice for post-storm homeowners
With power still out for thousands of East Coast residents following Hurricane Sandy, one New Orleans electrician can certainly empathize with the frustration of those in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.
Ted Kampen, who owns Kampen Electric and Mister Sparky in Metairie, La., saw huge volumes of work following Hurricane Katrina. “I tell people I lived another lifetime for the three years after Katrina," Kampen continues. "We didn’t miss a day of work. We never stopped. I can’t even remember a third of the things we did. We were just that busy.”
For those recovering from Hurricane Sandy, Kampen says a homeowner’s first priority is to get comfortable. “Get your heating right first. Tell (them) to camp out. It’s going to be a little difficult, and the process is going to be a lot longer than they can imagine,” he says.
“Some people are absolutely devastated,” Kampen says. “They’re starting from scratch, and their houses are going to have to be torn down.” But the majority of homeowners are looking for repairs. Kampen recommends writing out an agreement with the contractor you hire that specifies when the work will start, what costs are involved and when work will finish. He reports that many of the New Orleans residents are still trying to rebuild after falling victim to fly-by-night scam artists who never returned to finish the work.
Based on what he's experienced from Katrina, Kampen readily offers electrical advice for homeowners who have experienced massive flooding in their homes and neighborhoods.
For deluged homes in coastal areas, salt water conducts electricity very easily, and flood water contains a high concentration of salt, which makes these post-hurricane conditions especially treacherous. Guess what also has an even higher concentration of salt water? The human body does. Electricity always follows the path of least resistance, so if you’re anywhere in the path of electricity, you’re in real danger of being electrocuted.
Mister Sparky general manager Bryan Amato gives electrical advice for homeowners recovering from Hurricane Sandy.
“We were flooded to the rooftops,” Kampen says, “so the insurance company came down and said do not use the old fuse panel or circuit breaker panel. You have to replace it. Do not use anything electrical that’s been flooded.”
Consider a seawater soaked breaker box no longer safe, and Kampen says he resorted to carrying documentation to prove it to skeptical homeowners. “We’d have to show people that we’re not making this stuff up to make an extra buck here. These are the facts. It’s what we need to do.” Mister Sparky electricians should know: The company received the Angie’s List Super Service Award in 2011.
Many times you won’t see an immediate effect on your wiring. “Down the line, the oxidation will set in and start creating corrosion problems with the connections,” Kampen says. Seven years after Hurricane Katrina, his electricians still field calls from homeowners with electrical problems. “They snuck by, they didn’t change the wiring out and now they’re having trouble with it.”
Finally, Kampen says homeowners should maintain an even temper. “They’re just going to have to learn to be patient,” he counsels, “but life will get better.”