JFS Engineering
Land Development and Water Resources Engineering
Hurricane Advice for Homeowners
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Hurricane advice for Homeowners

Photo courtesy Robert Schilare Photography

As we baton down the hatches for what is billed as a Frankenstorm (October 2012), we here at JFS Engineering have been considering hurricane advice for homeowners. A core service we provide is design of stormwater management infrastructure, and the principles we use for large developments apply to single family homes. Over the years, we’ve fielded questions from friends and allied professionals about the best way to manage water, especially in and around a detached home or business building.

We can boil it down to what engineer’s call a first principle: water flows downhill. When we’re talking about water moving on normally dry surfaces, water will seek the path of least resistance. In many cases, water issues in and around buildings can be corrected with relatively simple maintenance.

Typically, most of the drainage around a building is provided through the slope of the surrounding land.  There are some things you can do to help coax water away from the building:

  • If there are known points where water leaks into a building or a basement, check your roof downspouts and floor drains for clogs and leaks. Often, water in a basement can be correlated to a improperly installed or clogged/missing downspout.
  • Check seals between pavement and foundations. It’s common for ponding to occur in these areas and for water to slip through the crack.
  • Clear leaves and sticks and mow your lawn – water runs faster on a smooth surface.
  • Consider extending your downspouts. If you have the room, consider adding a temporary extension to a downspout to direct water further away from structures.
  • If you have the “pitch”, consider adding a pipe as a relief for your sump pump.
  • Watch for leaves accumulating in a pile of sticks. It could be the start of a naturally forming dam and it can happen on top of a storm drain as easily as it could in undeveloped forest.

There are some things you don’t want to do:

  • Don’t direct water into a neighbor’s yard. Not only is it un-neighborly, but in many places it’s illegal.
  • Assume the power will stay on for your sump pump.
  • Ignore ponding water. If you see water ponding, but not flowing, in an area you know is not a stormwater management structure this could lead to a localized flood, or even mass erosion of the “dam”.
  • Don’t build a hodge-podge sluice in advance of the hurricane and expect it to be there afterwards. Always weigh down temporary structures with sandbags, soil, or bricks.
  • Don’t obstruct a public walkway or roadway with a discharge.

Tips and tricks for installing temporary pipes:

  • Bigger is not always better. Use pipe just large enough to fit over the end of your downspout, for us we used 4″ diameter pipe.
  • On the level. Use a spirit level to lay your pipe at about 1/8″ to 1/4″ drop per foot. If you have a 6″ level, tape one or two quarters (yes, quarters are about 1/16″ thick) to one end. Put the level on the pipe with the coins pointing downstream and level the bubble.
  • Straight and narrow. Flexible pipe tends to whip and dip under load from water. Pick rigid pipe when you can find it. We like plastic “triple wall” pipe from our local home center, it has smooth inner and outer walls and enough rigidity to hold straight if supported at just the ends.
  • Sandbagging. Your pipe is worthless at best if it moves out of line, and a dangerous missile if the wind picks it up. Use sandbags, soil, or bricks and stones to hold the pipe down. We like to pick up bagged sand from our home center and place the bags over the pipe.
  • Where do you go. Run your temporary pipe out to a logical point in your yard, a paved driveway is a solid choice. If you do choose to end the pipe in a lawn, consider placing rocks or gravel to minimize scouring.
  • In the Heat of the Night. Don’t cross a driveway, walkway, road, or sidewalk without a night-visible warning that the pipe is there. A nice round pipe can trip people, block emergency equipment, and get caught under a vehicle.

Note: This article is presented as a public service announcement. Regulations and design parameters may vary by jurisdiction, check with local emergency management before installing a temporary pipe near a roadway. When in doubt, consult with an architect, site engineer, or landscape architect before making significant, permanent changes to your site’s drainage patterns.