Texas is known as much for its storms as it is for its barbecue and cowboy boots. Thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes are persistent and unwelcome visitors in the Lone Star State. The worst storms can cause loss of life and severe electrical damage.
However, it doesn’t always take a life-altering storm to damage your appliances or electronic equipment. A single lighting strike or power surge, a cooking fire, or a water leak, could also wreak havoc on these items.
Since many people aren’t familiar with how their appliances can be damaged, we spoke with James Copeland, franchise business consultant for Restoration Specialties Franchise Group (RSFG) and Electronic Restoration Services (ERS), to discuss the various ways you can protect your goods from Mother Nature – or user error.
Even if you don’t see rain and clouds directly overhead, your goods may still be in danger. According to Weather.gov, lighting usually strikes over three miles from the thunderstorm’s center. The site also warns that “bolts from the blue” could actually be 10-15 miles away from the thunderstorm.
“One of the best ways for homeowners to protect their homes from lightning is to install a whole house lightning protection system,” Copeland said. “These devices can be installed on the electrical meter by your local utility company, or next to the electric service panel by a certified electrician.” Copeland recommends hiring a certified electrician to inspect your home’s internal grounding system and ensure that it’s in working order.
“An easy step for both homeowners and renters is to simply unplug electronics and appliances when you leave town or in anticipation of a storm,” Copeland says. “Installing plug-in, multi-port point-of-use electrical surge protectors can provide continuous protection of your electronics and appliances.”
According to the latest stats from the National Fire Protection Association, fires account for $25.6 billion in property damage (although $12 billion was the result of the wildfires in California).
“Did you know that home fires are more likely to start in the kitchen than any other room in the home?” Copeland asked. Although a home fire can happen at any time, it is possible to prepare for a potential fire. “Maintain appliances and keep the stove and oven clear from debris, grease and other combustible materials.” In addition, Copeland recommends never leaving the kitchen unattended while you’re cooking. “Keep a fire extinguisher in an easily accessible area, and contact your local fire department to receive training on how to properly use it.”
Heating sources (fireplaces, wood stoves, etc.) are the second leading cause of home fires. Proper maintenance of these items will go a long way toward preventing fires. “Preparing a fire safety plan is critical- start by installing and maintaining smoke/CO2 alarms, keep doors closed at night, find multiple ways out, plan an escape route, know how to get low and go, test doors for heat, and choose a safe meeting place,” he advised.
“Also, know the locations of your power shutoffs for all utilities, including gas lines, circuit breakers, appliances, and fuses.”
A water leak seems simple, but if you ignore it, it can become severe. “Malfunctioning pumps, storm damage, leaky pipes and clogged gutters are some common sources for water damage,” Copeland explained. “A slow leak has a potential to rot out drywall and studs, damage tile and promote mold growth.”
Prevention is always preferable to restoration. “Check appliance disconnect hoses and replace any damaged, worn or leaky hoses,” Copeland said. He also advises keeping gutters and downspouts clean and free from debris, and hiring a professional roofer to conduct routine inspections.
“Maintain trees and vegetation to avoid damage from storms and high winds, and also inspect doors and windows and repair cracked or missing caulk to stop the leaks before they begin.”
A smart-leak detection device can provide continuous protection for your water lines.
“Fire and smoke soot can be quite toxic depending on the materials burned; fire smoke and soot can be corrosive and when humidity and moisture are introduced can speed up the corrosion process,” Copeland warned. “It can have insulating factors that will cause items to overheat and malfunction.”
And that’s not the only concern. Copeland explained fire and smoke soot can also act as a conductor causing short-circuiting in just a short period of time.
“Fire and smoke damaged electronics and appliances often require specialized skillsets and specialized chemicals; however, there are some steps you can take to minimize further damage,” Copeland said. “First, do not energize the item and remove batteries. Second, use a high-quality vacuum such as a HEPA vacuum to vacuum outlets, ports and vents.” And the third step is to wipe down all surfaces with a soft rag to remove soot.
However, it’s not always feasible to unplug appliances and devices. “Damage to electrical systems is due to a combination of voltage and current,” Copeland said.
“Protection against surges is referred to as surge protection and includes protection against both surge voltages and currents. Installing plug-in, multi-port point-of-use electrical surge protectors can provide continuous protection of your electronics and appliances,” he explained.
Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.