If you live in the Wakefield area, you may know the Saugus River is known to flood. In 2006, the Saugus River, Walden Pond, and other smaller streams flooded out a number of roadways, including Route 1, the Lynn Fells Parkway, Hamilton Street, Water Street, and Central Street, according to the Spring 2006 edition of Currents, published by the Saugus River Watershed Council.
A recent study led by climate scientists from Rutgers University and Penn State now says flooding may become more common in New England.
Andra Garner (Rutgers) and David Pollard (Penn) set out to predict how frequently New York City will flood in the future. Their team found out hurricanes are increasingly skirting New York City and making landfall in Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts.
This is disturbing news for an area unaccustomed and unprepared for such weather events. In 1991, Hurricane Bob made the list of top 3 most-damaging hurricanes on record. Bob was only a Category 2 hurricane, which is not considered a “major” hurricane by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Still, the storm cost New Englanders $680 million in damages, and Massachusetts residents and business owners $39 million, according to the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).
Now is the time to get ahead of this trending weather pattern and protect your home and business from hurricanes.
Step 1: Reduce Water Risk
Water can be overwhelmingly destructive. If you live or run your business on the coastline or other areas prone to flooding, it’s important to plan ahead for flood conditions. New heat pumps and air conditioning condensers are typically installed on a concrete slab near the dwelling. However, flood waters can easily rise above such foundations and put your HVAC equipment at risk.
Elevate as much of your mechanical service equipment as possible at least one foot above the base flood elevation (BFE) for your area, FEMA suggests.
The BFE for your area is easily accessible on a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) or at FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center (https://msc.fema.gov/portal).
You may need to build a brick or concrete platform as tall as your BFE + 1 foot. A cantilevered platform on the side of the dwelling is also accessible, according to FEMA.
Step 2: Reduce Wind Risk
On the low end of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, wind speeds can go from 74 mph up to more than 157 mph! A Category 2 hurricane, like Hurricane Bob, is expected to have extremely dangerous sustained winds of 96 to 110 mph. Well-constructed homes are expected to sustain roof and siding damage and shallow-rooted trees are likely to uproot and topple.
Plus, there’s the added and prevalent risk of damage from flying debris.
In residential areas, pick up everything in your yard that could become a projectile in the wind. Toys, trash barrels, potted plants, tree limbs and branches, lawn decorations, and everything else not tied down. FEMA recommends also covering the A/C condenser or heat pump with at least a tarp, and ideally plywood. Restaurants and other small- to medium-sized businesses with accessible exterior HVAC equipment should consider doing this.
Commercial businesses that may have HVAC equipment on the roof need to hire a factory-trained, fully insured HVAC contractor to inspect the units. Hurricane-rated, metal tie-downs are available if it’s necessary in your area. Even if they’re not, the existing tie-downs should be inspected regularly for damage and wear.
Step 3: Eliminate Electrical Risk
Every category of hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is expected to cause power outages. The power going out doesn’t pose a threat to your HVAC equipment. But, lightning strikes and the power returning can create surges of electrical current that can damage your heat pump or A/C condenser.
Disconnect your HVAC unit from the electrical grid at the circuit box. It’s as simple as flicking a switch, and it can save you from buying a brand-new heat pump or air conditioning condenser.
Home and business owners may consider it a good investment to install a whole-house surge protector, which protects the dwelling’s entire electrical system from power surges. Together with a standby generator, you may safely keep your home or business powered.
To stay comfortable as long as possible, FEMA suggests cooling down your home colder than usual ahead of the storm.
And keep the refrigerator and freezer closed. A refrigerator will keep food cold for roughly 4 hours and a full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full), according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Food & beverage proprietors are encouraged to freeze one-quart plastic storage bags ahead of time to pack around food and, when possible, freeze refrigerator food to hold its freshness.
One Last Step
This article is about preparing your HVAC system to survive a hurricane, but it would be incomplete if it didn’t talk about what to do after the storm has passed and power has returned.
Never turn your HVAC system on after a hurricane or flood without getting it inspected by your regular HVAC service provider. A professional inspection can spot a small problem before it turns into a catastrophic failure.
Consider choosing an HVAC contractor who also provides indoor air quality service. Dangerous mold and bacteria can grow in your ducts and equipment, and these types of HVAC techs can keep your home or office from making you sick.
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