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More Bang for the Buck – Inexpensive Disaster Rebuilding Tips

Release date: 
July 21, 2014
Release Number: 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Repairing damage after a disaster can be expensive.  In cases of severe damage, the costs can be staggering.

However, many projects can be done for little or no money.  Most can make a big difference in helping minimize damage from the next disaster and provide the extra bonus of lowering utility and home-maintenance costs year-round.

Here are some ideas:

Cut it short.  When replacing drywall, leave a ½-inch to 1-inch gap between the bottom of the drywall sheeting and the top level of the floor.  (If adding carpet be sure the gap is above the carpeted level). Cover the gap with baseboard. Cost:  Free for this technique. Drywall and baseboard costs are separate. Benefit:  Water won’t come in contact with the drywall in a low-level flood (this includes interior liquid spills, like in a kitchen). When water meets drywall, it wicks up into the wallboard which can lead to mold if left untreated.

Power up.  Raise electrical outlets. Check first to see what local codes allow. Most don’t have restrictions on the height of an outlet above the floor.  Consider moving outlets up at least 1 foot above the minimum flood level or 24 inches above floor level. Cost: Free, if done after drywall has been removed.  If drywall is still in place, costs can vary. Benefit: Helps keep water from seepage or a low-level flood from infiltrating and damaging an electrical outlet, which can cause damage to an electrical system and normally requires an electrician to repair/replace.

Show your numbers. Add visible address numbers to the house exterior and to the street curb or mailbox.  Though it seems like a small task, it will make a difference if there is an emergency.  Large numbers are best. Cost: Most house numbers sold at home- improvement stores are 6 inches tall and cost about $2 each.  Benefit: Missing or barely visible house numbers can cause dangerous delays for emergency responders. The larger the numbers, the easier they are to see at night and during bad weather.

Put on a strip:  Install weather stripping on outside doors and windows to help seal out air and even water.  Weather stripping should seal well when a door or window is closed. Closing the gaps can save up to 15 percent in heating and cooling costs and can help minimize the intrusion of low-level water.  Cost: Weather stripping supplies and techniques range from simple to more complex but most are easily installed as do-it- yourself projects. Benefit:  Relatively easy to install, effective weather seal, durable, comes in a variety of colors. Vinyl stripping holds up well and resists moisture; metal stripping (bronze, copper, stainless steel and aluminum) lasts for years.  Both are affordable.

Caulk it up: Use caulk to seal all exterior openings, such as holes where wires, cables and pipes enter or exit a structure (winds of 74 mph can blow water up a wall about 4 feet). Caulk now comes in many types that are non-toxic and specifically designed for a number of different home-repair jobs. Cost:  All-purpose caulk, suitable for most jobs, is less than $2 a tube; for doors and windows, less than $4 a tube. Benefit: Helps prevent heat loss around windows and doors. In severe storms, a well-sealed exterior helps keep wind-driven rain and flooding from getting inside. Some caulks are designed for use in high-moisture areas.  Caulk can be used indoors or outdoors; some types can last up to 20 years.

Window well … cover it: Add a clear plastic cover over exterior window wells to help keep out debris, leaves, animals and excess water – both from the window cavity (well) and a structure’s interior.  Most covers are made from a polycarbonate plastic and specially designed for window-well areas. Cost:  Prices vary, depending on size and style, starting at $17 each and are available at most local home-improvement stores. Benefit:  Weather resistant, generally not affected by sunlight or temperature extremes.

They are easy to install and relatively maintenance free.  Many can be custom-made to fit openings of special sizes and/or shapes.

Elbow a way around: Add an elbow or drain sleeve to the bottom of downspouts to help divert water away from a structure.

Elbows can come in aluminum or flexible heavy plastic tubing and are made to fit round or square downspouts.

The flexible variety is especially good if water needs to be diverted some distance away from a structure. Cost:  Aluminum elbows start at about $4 each; metal elbows run about $6 each.  Flexible gutter elbows (heavy plastic tubing) range in size from 8 to 18 inches and costs start at $4. Benefits:  Keeps rainwater from eroding foundations and from finding its way into crawl spaces or basements.

Block that splash: Place splash blocks directly under the lower end of a downspout to stem soil erosion and divert water away from a structure. Choose blocks large enough to handle the volume of water that could come through a downspout in a heavy rainstorm. Also, place the block high enough and at enough of an angle to divert water at least 3 feet from the foundation Cost:  Plastic or fiberglass splash blocks range from $6 to $20 each. Concrete blocks average about $15 but can run as high as $45, depending on the size. Benefit: Saves damage to a structure’s foundation and helps to keep water from channeling underground (below slabs, for example) and through to the interior.

Shape up and out:  Landscaping is an effective, easy way to keep overland water at bay and make a property more attractive.  Add fill dirt with a binding material (like clay) around a foundation and angle away from the structure.  Cover with low-growing vegetation or ornamental materials, such as shredded bark or lightweight lava rock. Avoid heavier rock or landscaping gravel (unless required for drainage) to keep it from flying around and causing damage in a high-wind event. Cost: A 2 cubic foot bag of wood bark or mulch will cost about $4.  (Sometimes, communities offer free mulch after large-scale tree removal projects). The amount of bark required will depend on the coverage area.  Many low-growing, spreading plants can be purchased for less than $50. Benefit: Helps keep overland flooding from reaching a foundation and leaking inside. Foliage helps hold soil in place, naturally enhances drainage and increases curb appeal.

This list is only a sampling of do-it-yourself ideas. A variety of publications are available to provide additional information. These can be found online, at your local library or any home building store.

Before beginning any project, visit your local government’s building department to determine if a project is permissible and compliant with local laws, ordinances and codes. Building officials also can advise which projects require permits, as well as any rules and regulations that will apply and any fees associated with obtaining a permit.


FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status.  If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621- FEMA (3362). For TTY call 800-462-7585.

FEMA’s temporary housing assistance and grants for childcare, medical, dental expenses and/or funeral expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, those who receive SBA loan applications must submit them to SBA to be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, transportation, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.

For more information on Alabama’s disaster recovery, visit or //  For the joint Facebook page, go to To receive Twitter updates: //   or

Last Updated: 
January 3, 2018 - 12:06