Tornado Ready

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How To Tornado-Proof Your Mobile Home First, tie down your water heater.  By Torie Bosch      

   Concrete foundations are safest. What can mobile-home owners do to stay safe during a tornado?  

   Get out. So-called manufactured homes—dwellings built in factories and transported to their final destination—lack the structural support to keep residents safe during a tornado. In a well-built standard home, a basement or interior hallway can offer some protection during a catastrophic weather event. But the lightness that makes mobile homes easily transportable also means they aren’t sturdy enough to stand up to a tornado’s winds. As many as half of all tornado-related fatalities occur in mobile homes.

   If you must be in a mobile home during a tornado, it’s best to stay in one that’s not so mobile. The safest manufactured home is one that’s anchored to a concrete foundation like a standard home. The next best thing to concrete is a semi permanent anchoring system that uses rods or chains to attach your trailer to beams that are driven into the ground. Anchoring can be difficult if the ground is hard and rocky, and if the soil is too soft then a powerful tornado could still rip your home from the earth. Even with anchoring, a mobile home can be damaged in a “weak” tornado (one with maximum wind speeds of 112 mph) that probably wouldn’t damage a standard house.

   If your mobile home is on private property, another option is to install an underground tornado shelter made of concrete, steel, or fiberglass. These bomb-shelter like structures cost anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000. It’s unlikely that you’ll be allowed to build an underground shelter if you live in a trailer park. Some parks do have community shelters that double as laundry rooms, community lounges, or management offices during the day. These rooms can be small, though, and often have glass windows, which can splinter during high winds.

   Most mobile homes are made of lumber with metal or vinyl siding and metal or shingled roofs. There’s not much you can do to keep these materials from flying loose, but you can anchor down outdoor structures (like swing sets or sheds) to keep them from becoming flying weapons. It’s also a good idea not to store heavy objects on high shelves. You can use metal brackets to fasten furniture to the wall, and wires or cables to secure large objects like water heaters. Don’t think about boarding up windows at the last minute—you won’t have nearly enough advance warning to do the job.

   It’s best to flee if at all possible. Community siren systems aren’t always effective—but many residents say they don’t hear them. Weather radios that broadcast warnings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration might be more effective. They work like alarm clocks, broadcasting a piercing warning tone if severe weather is imminent. On average, the National Weather Service can alert residents about 18 minutes before an anticipated tornado strike. That gives mobile-home owners time to evacuate to a shelter or a sturdier house nearby.

    Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Lab, Thomas W. Schmidlin of Kent State University, and Bruce Savage of the Manufactured Housing Institute.

       Be extremely careful of person who portrays themselves
              as a local home repair company!!!

   In the wake of a violent storm can attract out-of-state storm chasers, who try to carve out a chunk of the home-repair market by masquerading as trusted local contractors. They try to carve out a chunk of the lucrative home-repair market by masquerading as trusted local contractors.

   These out-of-state storm chasers pay local roofing and construction companies’ big bucks to lease the local firms’ good names, reputations and phone lines so they can pose as a home-grown business. Their normal mode of operation is to grab a company’s name, import their own out-of-state work crews, hit up homeowners for repairs to be paid for by home-insurance policies and blew back out of town.

   Some local construction company owners have raised an alarm about the secretive deals that allow storm chasers to cloak themselves in another business’ reputation so completely that, under some agreements, these outside companies advertise under that name and even answer the local business’ phones.

   The local companies solicited tend to have excellent ratings with the Better Business Bureau or Angie’s List, exactly the thing consumers look for when they hire contractors. Sometime business owners have been offered at least $100,000 to allow a storm-chasing company to exclusively use their business names for six months. But these deals could ultimately harm the very local businesses it targets, leave local construction crews idle and stick homeowners with little recourse if work turns out to be shoddy. Because Ohio doesn’t have home repair contractor licensing, there’s no real way to see how widespread the practice is, or to police it.

   One companys’ ownergot a call from a salesman stated “a chance to make some big bucks . . .you don’t even have to do the work.” The storm chaser wanted to do insurance-funded work in Northeast Ohio under his business name and, in return,  give him an 8 percent cut, which he was told would amount to between $100,000 and $200,000. Others have turned down similar pitches from storm chasers.  The contract, a fairly vague document, would require the parties to keep the agreement’s existence secret.

   The salesman stated he planned to import Mexican crews to do the work, handle all phone calls and contracts and collect the insurance payments. Homeowners would be left with a two-year warranty, with the local company covering the warranty in the second year. In a case like this, “There’s no recourse for the homeowner.”

Cost of shoddy repairs falls to the home owner:  So if a homeowner gets a shoddy roofing job and has to replace it a few years later, the cost of those repairs would fall on the consumer. The “rent-a-name” tactic is not new. This has happened before. A company whose reputation was sterling is now out of business. Another, saw its complaint rise to double digits.

   Local companies get bonded, they register with communities that require it, they pay workers’ comp and pay the going wage to employees — all of which makes it hard to compete on price with companies that cut costs in all those areas.

   Homeowners dazzled by salesmen’s promises of a “free” roof after a disaster may not question the necessity or quality of the job — especially if a slick sales job includes promises of enough cash back to cover their insurance policy’s deductible. What they may not realize is that unnecessary claims can change the equation insurers use to calculate risk — which could drive up insurance rates.  

   Not all storm chasers do poor quality work, local roofers grudgingly admit.  But even if the work is done well, the practice has larger ramifications for the local economy — both because work crews get little of the available work and because the bulk of the money made on these jobs leaves the state.

Licensing contractors would halt storm chasers:  In some states that license home repair companies and subcontractors, this sort of revolving-door business wouldn’t be possible. But in more than a dozen years of attempts, Ohio’s legislature has repeatedly failed to pass a law that would license home repair contractors as a way to protect homeowners from contractor fraud.

   Most notably, in 2008, public outcry killed a so-called “homeowner protection” bill that legislators reworked to exempt some contractors from consumer protection laws and make it harder for homeowners to sue over shoddy work. Word is that another home repair licensing bill is in the works.

   Until the legislature creates a meaningful system for ridding the home repair industry of fly-by-night contractors, Ohio consumers and the state’s home-grown construction industry are going to continue to be easy pickings.

  This is a brief summary of a Plain Dealer article written by Sheryl Harris May 16, 2010

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