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March 16, 2011


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I've always been curious because I've never been in the situation, but if you're house burns to the ground and you have replacement insurance do you have to replace it with the EXACT same house or a close approximation? What if you wanted to correct a few things you didn't like or open up the spaces a little?

A few simple and inexpensive precautions that I have taken are:

Install several smoke alarms - I have four and I test the batteries frequently.
Install a Carbon Monoxide monitor near your gas stove, mine is plugged in & has an emergency battery.
Hide your computer, shut off all water to the inside of your home and stop the paper before leaving on vacation.
Have some external lighting on timers to give your home a lived in look.
Have deadbolts on all external doors.
Have double locks on all windows and sliding glass doors.
Have at least two fire extinguishers, one in the kitchen, the other in the garage.
I have 9 cordless phones and one old phone that works if the power goes out (all in fixed locations).
Minimize traffic in front of your home. I live at the end of a small court that has little traffic other than residents, mail, and garbage trucks. Neighbors keep an eye on each other's homes.

It's better to be Safe than Sorry.

I must be lacking imagination, because I can't figure out what kind of trouble a teenager could cause with a fire escape ladder.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard on this issue is to keep a notebook handy with written instructions of what to do and reminders of where the valuables are. A neighbor who had such a book passed away right before a hurricane. Her family found her notebook and were able to locate all the valuables - the jewelery in the closet, the tax returns in the file cabinet, etc. and they were then able to evacuate safely and quickly with their mother's valuable possessions and important papers in hand.

Living in California, our preparedness is focused on earthquakes. So we've also got our emergency backpack set-up. It includes a first aid kit; flashlight; 5 day water supply; emergency rations; radio; batteries; utility knife; blankets; etc. We also have an important documents file (e.g. marriage certificate, birth certificates, passports) next to the kit to grab when we evacuate after the initial shake.

What we're missing -- and have been talking about adding -- is a quake kit for our cats. We have their cages stacked by the emergency backpack, but need to add: cat food; camping gear bowls for food & water; disposable litter box; kitty first aid kit.

Also, we've been talking about buying a second set of backpacks -- in case the closet where we're storing the first set of supplies collapses, or we're in the car.

Anyone else from earthquake country have some suggestions to add for us? Thanks!

We've got good insurance and thatts about it. This advice is all good stuff and mostly stuff I've been too lazy to do.

I'm curious why you'd need an architect to design a floorplan? I guess thats just in case the house burns down then you can get it rebuilt the same way? I'm not sure that is worth the effort for me nor the cost for most people. I really wouldn't care if things were changed a little as long as the end result is good.

08graduate, I am assuming your joking about not knowing what teenagers do with ladders?

I posted this today under "Retirement income alyernatives".

One piece of advice I would give younger people is to pay particular attention to where you make your final retirement home regarding issues over which you have NO CONTROL. In other words, stay away from areas prone to Forest Fires, Floods, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Tsunamis, Earthquakes etc. wherever possible.

As a structural engineer I can tell you that hillside and creekside homes with great views look very appealing on a nice day but in earthquake country particularly you are better off living in a single story, wood frame home that is built upon flat undisturbed land well away from creeks and rivers and underground springs and as far from the fault line as possible. The house framing also has to be securely anchored to the foundation. We lived through the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that was 6.9 on the Richter scale, killed 63 people and caused $11 Billion damage in current value. It was the largest one since we moved to California in 1960. Our only damage was 2 bottles of wine fell out of a cupboard and one table lamp fell over requiring a new lightshade. Homes in hilly areas bordering our valley fared far worse with many sliding off their foundations and having collapsed chimneys. I was working on the top floor of a 5 story building at the time and every file cabinet fell over and every bookcase unloaded its contents on the floor - the company learned its lesson from the experience and soon anchored them all.

You also don't want to retire in an idyllic setting in the woods miles away from the nearest town. It may look wonderful when you are both young, healthy and have full mobility but how about much later in life when you face great disruption when winter storms bring down trees, cause mud slides leaving you without electricity and other services for days and maybe trapped until road crews arrive, or in a dry year having your well go dry. The older you get the more you appreciate being very close to emergency services, city utilities, a shopping mall, and your healthcare service providers. Don't forget that if you live long enough there will also come a time when you have to give up your driver's license. I am speaking from experience about people that I know that didn't do their homework.

The more thought you give to your retirement the happier you will be. Learn from the mistakes of others.

I would add that one should review an emergency plan with the family at home. For example, if you have kids, you don't want them doing the wrong thing (i.e. - running outside in a tornado). Having everyone know what to do is a smart idea, even if all types of disasters can't be foreseen.

Also, I would add a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector to the list.

@Old Limey -- Thanks for the post. Great advice!

@Alex, You might consider a suitcase/bag tied down under each bed containing some warm clothes and, most important, a pair of sturdy shoes. Tied down because you want to find it easily in the dark. And shoes because walking barefoot on broken glass and other debris would not be fun. We keep an inverter in the car for charging small items if power goes out. In our emergency box we also store extra (old) eyeglasses and that's where I store a rotating two- or three-month supply of daily contact lenses. You reminded me to refresh the cat's food in our earthquake box and I think I'll put copies of our important papers there also.

@OldLimey, Our East Bay hills home did just fine in Loma Prieta, we reinforced the framing a few years earlier. Nothing fell, although some water sloshed from the 2nd story toilets. Many of the homes that went down the hills were built on poor soil and/or were not bolted to their foundations. In California, even homes on level land should be bolted and chimneys should be reinforced, with non-brick material.

@FMF even a fireproof safe won't keep the passports safe if the house burns to the ground. I had friends who, in the 1991 Oakland firestorm (over 3500 homes destroyed) had their "fire-proof" safe melted into a plate of metal.

One more thing we have under the bed. A hugh metal pry bar. Good for earthquakes and intruders!

@jim I'm not joking, I'm honestly puzzled. A fire escape ladder might be a way to sneak in and out, but so is a ground-floor window. I've never heard anyone say that raising teenagers in a single-story home is asking for trouble. I grew up in one myself, and I don't recall thinking "if I only had a fire escape ladder, I could do destructive thing X..."

From your response, though, I imagine that I'm going to feel dumb once someone actually explains this.

It's very important to have a good data backup plan. I have a dual-drive (RAID 1 if you care) network hard drive for local backup. That, in turn, is backed up online using iDrive. The whole process is automated. I often tell people that I should be able to take a jack hammer to your computer without fear you will lose any important data.

We have a fireproof safe for important documents as well, though a safe deposit box would be safer. I'm not sure about the architect either, I don't see why you would need to reproduce the exact house again down to the smallest detail like where each receptacle and light switch is located.

We do have smoke/CO detectors throughout the house and I keep a fire extinguisher between my nightstand and bed just in case I need to clear a path to escape or get to the kids.

Safeguard all valuables. The fireproof safes last for a few hours or so I heard.

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