Is your house ready for El Niño?


The rain is coming. Rain — you remember what that is, right? After one of the longest stretches of drought in California’s recorded history, meteorologists are predicting a strong El Niño weather system this fall and winter, which, if it materializes, will batter us with storms. While we certainly need the rain, we Southern Californians don’t really cope well when it’s not 72 and sunny. And we also may not realize that our homes may need some major weatherproofing. The time to start looking around the house for problem areas is now, because prevention is a lot more cost-effective than repairs. Here are some ways to get ready for the wet months ahead.

Check the roof

The obvious place to start is the roof. Southern California’s perpetual sunshine and heat can actually do a number on our roofs. The sun’s UV rays damage and break down roofing material, making it dry and brittle. The high temperatures further weaken the roof by drying up essential oils in the tiles, making them lose their weatherproofing properties. Then there’s a little thing called thermal shock. You know how in Los Angeles it gets so hot during the day, then turns so chilly at night? The daytime heat causes the roof to expand, and when it cools off, the roof contracts. This daily stress, or thermal shock, on the roof can cause tiles, as well as the flashing that prevents water from entering the home, to loosen. 

So what can you do? Get up on a ladder and do a visual inspection of your roof. Stay on the ladder — don’t get off it and climb onto the roof, however. It’s dangerous for you, and not good for the roof. Check for tiles that are deteriorating, warped or discolored. Also, make sure there’s no debris piled up, which can cause water to puddle. If you see problems, consult a professional roofing contractor. The key is to find a roofer now, not when the rains are already here. Many roofers are already booked up through the end of the year, so this call should be your first priority.

Get your mind in the gutter

The gutters attached to your roof have not gotten much use during the drought, so they probably have collected leaves and dirt that are just sitting there. Clear the gutters of all debris so that when the rains come, water can be diverted away from the roof. After you’ve cleared the gutters, test them by running water through them to make sure they drain properly.

Redirect downspouts

From the gutters, downspouts direct water down to the ground, but you do not want the water to go in the direction of your home’s foundation. Add downspout extensions that will direct water to your yard or street. Or better yet, get a downspout diverter that will channel water into a rain barrel.

Clear floor drains

If you have drains in your patio or driveway, make sure they, too, are clear of debris. The screen on top of the drain, which prevents leaves from falling in, can quickly become covered, causing flooding. In fact, even if they are clear now, after the rain starts, debris naturally flows in the direction of those drains, so be diligent in keeping the area clear. 

Install or replace weather stripping

With rain and wind pelting your house, you’ll want to seal the gaps around your doors and windows. Weather stripping not only keeps out the elements, it can lower your energy bill. Again, the Southern California heat continually deteriorates the weather stripping you already have, so it’s a good idea to check it regularly. Installing new or replacement weather stripping is an easy DIY task that does not require special tools. Visit your local home improvement warehouse or hardware store, and they’ll make an expert out of you.

Repair door frames and thresholds

When it rains, water can get into your home through the tiniest cracks. Among the places people don’t think about are the wood frames and moldings on exterior doors. Seal all cracks with wood putty, and give the wood a fresh coat of paint. The wooden thresholds underneath doors also take a pounding from the elements, so have them refinished regularly. This piece of advice is from personal experience. The condominium complex where I live has west-facing patio doors and thresholds that were cracked by constant sun exposure. You could see leakage inside just by spraying water onto the doors with a hose. Repairing them stopped any further water intrusion.

Prepare for power outages

Inevitably, rain and wind will result in power outages across the Southland, leaving people without heat, electrical power and, maybe worst of all, Wi-Fi. Consider investing in a portable generator that will kick in when your power goes out. Generators are typically gasoline-powered, and they’re available in a range of sizes and prices at big-box stores. 

Protect your landscaping

Many of us have had to forsake our lawns and change our landscaping to rocks, wood chips and drought-tolerant plants. As a result, rainwater may not react the same as it did with the old landscaping. While water used to be soaked up by the lawn, it may now puddle or run in the direction of your house. To help water stay on your landscaping, add leaves to rock beds so they can help absorb the runoff. And loosen compacted soil to let it absorb more water. Protect your plants by covering them with burlap. It insulates them during cold snaps while assisting with water absorption. 

Inspect your trees

Trees are wonderful for collecting rainwater, but during storms, branches can break and fall, causing damage to your property. Check your trees for weak branches and cut them off now with a saw. If you have larger trees with branches that hang threateningly over your home or driveway, consult with a tree specialist about the health of your tree and the risk of those branches falling.

Tie down your property

It’s going to get windy, folks. If you have canopies or outdoor umbrellas in your yard, take them down. Tie down any trees in pots so they don’t tip over. Place heavy objects on your outdoor furniture so that cushions don’t blow away. Even if you have protective covering on them, make sure to weigh them down so the covers don’t blow off. 

Think of your pets

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