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January 05, 2008

Silicon Valley is not alone in being pounded by a fierce Alaskan storm this weekend. The Friday rains – which we desperately need – came in a short period of time, together with strong winds which apparently gusted close to 100mph in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Several storms in a row have battered California, including Los Gatos and Silicon Valley.It’s a mess out there, and it’s not over yet. The roads are filled with fallen leaves and branches. In the Almond Grove District of downtown Los Gatos, a bough actually blocked off an entire street and damaged a car. This is not an uncommon story from one end of the state to the other. Fences are down all over. Emergency personnel are working overtime to handle the accidents and weather related problems. In Southern California, they face mudslides after the fires a few months ago – homes are truly at risk there.

Not surprisingly, power was lost to over a million P, G & E customers in northern California alone. Additionally, cable and internet services are out for many of us too. At our house in the Belwood area of east Los Gatos, we have Comcast cable for high speed internet and television. But they are both out. (The town of Los Gatos requires the cable boxes to be below ground, at least where we live, and every time we get a heavy rainfall, the boxes flood and those services go out. Our neighbors used a sump pump on theirs, and helped us use it on ours, to no avail. We keep dialup as a backup here since my husband and I both work from home and can’t afford to not have internet access.)

The end is in sight. By Monday, the rain should have stopped. Then it will be time to do the cleanup.

Once you take care of the immediately obvious items, let me suggest a few others to protect your home while they are on the top of your mind.

(1) Water Against Your Home: Get It Away

Water is bad for your home's foundation: get it away!Did the water pool up against your house, or come very close to doing so, during these storms? If so, it’s imperative to get the water away from the house. If you live in Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, Almaden Valley, or any of the regions close to the coastal foothills, you may be getting hillside runoff. Or you may have a very high water table – both which are much more serious and will require expert help. (Call or email me if you’d like a recommendation for an inspector.)

Often water pools for two very simple, and easy to remedy, reasons. Fist, it may be there because the downspouts don’t extend away from the house and/or secondly because the dirt around the soil is not properly graded.

If your downspouts don’t have extenders, go get them! They are ugly but functionally very important. They are cheap. Ace Hardware in Los Gatos carries them and the folks there are friendly and will assist you. Next, see if you need to work on the grading around your home to carry the water away from your home’s foundation. (If you lay a marble 1′ away from your house, would it roll toward or away from it? You want it to go away from your house.)

Here in Santa Clara County, in the San Jose area generally, we have clay soil. It expands when wet and is extremely strong – much more powerful than the concrete and rebar in most homes’ foundations. Foundations can be very costly to repair, and a moving foundation can put your home out of level and cause other problems too – most of which are not easy or inexpensive to fix. So if you care about your real estate as an investment, protect your house’s foundation: get the water away from it.

(2) Leaves On Your Roof and In Your Gutters: Get Them Off

A Saratoga, CA home - beautiful trees, but hard to keep the roof clear of leaves and tree debris.We love our trees, especially here in the west valley communities. When they are too close to our residences, though, they can be an issue. (In the photo here, the house has a shake roof, which is dark gray. But there are so many leaves on the roof that it’s almost not visible at all.)

Overhanging branches can be a superhighway for rodents to get onto your roof. Depending on your roof type, from there it may not be a whole lot of effort for them to get into your attic, and then down into your walls, too. Rats munching on electrical wires can spark a fire. The list of why you don’t want your home to be a habitrail go on and on.

But the leaves themselves are a problem too if they pile up on your roof and in your gutters. On the roof, they can trap moisture and cause accelerating aging to the shingles, or encourage the growth of moss (also ages the roof faster). Perhaps worse, when the roof and gutters fill with tree debris, it can cause actual roof leakage as the water does not drain properly but instead backs up into your home from between the shingles or tiles.

Meanwhile, though, we need to wait out this series of storms. Our total rainfall has been off by about half of last year’s, and last year’s was low too. (Not unlike the real estate market…) If we don’t get more rainfall, the folks at San Jose Water are saying we may have a full on drought and rationing next summer. So we are thankful for the precipitation – just wish it wouldn’t all come at once!