Kim Reierson

House Hunter: Preparing for El Niño

Unless you’ve been way off the grid for a long time, you’ve heard about a big, cantankerous baby that’s filling its lungs and getting ready to howl our way. El Niño has been all over the news — that angry orange equatorial stripe due south of us. In case that didn’t sink in, the City of Santa Barbara recently held a “Sandbag Saturday,” offering 20 free bags per bagger. And it was the hot topic in a recent meeting of the county’s Disaster Council.

Just having something called a Disaster Council makes it clear that our leaders take things like this seriously. What the owners of real estate can do is get their houses in order.

Common-sense things are first, like making sure your storm drains are clear, your gutters are unclogged, and your roof is watertight, said Yolanda McGlinchey, emergency services manager for the City of Santa Barbara. If you’re in a flood zone (maps are available online), place sandbags strategically. The county’s Homeowners Guide for Flood Prevention and Response covers a wide range of such issues, and it’s available online, too.

(And though it’s not real estate related, do have three to five days of water and nonperishable food on hand, plus flashlights and a sturdy pair of shoes next to your bed, said McGlinchey ominously.)

Some smart things the guides advise:

Cut back on irrigation so that the ground has farther to go before it gets saturated. Add mulch to gardens to boost absorbency. Get a sump pump and rain barrels. Stop filling your pool now.

And get flood insurance pronto. “It takes 30 days to become active,” McGlinchey said. “It’s happened in the past. People decide to get insurance, then it starts to rain, then they’re upset that the insurer won’t pay.” (By the way, the county guide stresses that homeowners insurance doesn’t necessarily cover flooding. It’s best to check now.)

Another smart tip from McGlinchey: “Take pictures of your valuables, put them on a thumb drive, and also send them to somebody so you can say later, ‘This is what it looked like before the damage.’”

McGlinchey remembers playing as a kid in Santa Barbara floodwaters of the past. “We never thought twice about it. Thank god nothing bad happened.” Her point is that crazy things can happen, and not just water suddenly roaring through when debris dams break. One year, some police officers developed rashes. It turns out the culprit was poison oak that had come churning down and collected in floodwater that the officers waded through. “Whatever’s in the hills comes down,” she said.

Another McGlinchey tip: “Make sure your chimneys are clean.” Some people don’t use their fireplaces much since Santa Barbara is so temperate. But if the power goes, they might find themselves huddling around the wrong kind of heat. They might “build a fire, pour a glass of wine, make themselves cozy,” and then have a creosote chimney blaze on their hands, which happened recently in Goleta.

And speaking of power outages, here’s one last thought: Either buy a generator or be on good terms with a friend who has one, plus a nice, dry guest room.

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