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Tips to Protect your Florida Residence in Summer: for the Absentee Homeowner

 

Posted on March 30, 2011 in Flood Intervention, Home Monitoring & Security, Thermostats 

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“Snowbirds” preparing to head north to avoid Florida’s brutal summer heat will want to safeguard their winter residences before taking off.   The state’s near-tropical summer climate makes humidity control, flood protection and mold and mildew prevention three areas of concern for every snowbird.  If you are a part-time Floridian, here are some important home closing procedures to help you protect your property.

Humidity

Summer in Florida means oppressive heat and very high levels of humidity.   Nearly everything in your Florida home is vulnerable to the effects of high humidity, which causes:  rusting appliances; mold and mildew growth; corrosion to electronic equipment and computers; deterioration to wood, cotton and leather; warping of woodwork; musty odors; insect infestation; and flaking paint and peeling wallpaper.

HUMIDITY MANAGEMENT:  Normal humidity levels are between 30 and 50 percent.  You can control humidity levels in your home and inhibit the growth of mold and mildew by blocking outside moisture and minimizing indoor moisture by:

  • Weathersealing doors and windows

  • Covering kitchen and bath vents with plastic

  • Closing fireplace dampers

  • Running the air conditioning for a couple of hours a day (note that this is the MOST important thing you can do!).

OPTIMIZE A/C PERFORMANCE:  Have your air conditioning system inspected and cleaned by a professional a week or two before you depart.  Program the A/C to run in the cool morning hours for about two hours beginning at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. Use timers to operate individual room air conditioning units.  If your home has central air conditioning, use a programmable thermostat.  Be sure to set thermostats low enough to so the A/C runs continually during the two-hour period.

REMOTE MONITORING:  To check the temperature and humidity levels in your Florida residence while you are away, consider installing a remote thermostat control.   These nifty devices allow you to monitor your home’s “vitals” via phone or Internet (depending upon your communications capabilities) and make temperature adjustments from afar.  They also send out automatic alerts to your phone or email address if the inside temperature gets too high or too low, based on your set points.  Two popular systems are the Sensaphone 400 and the BAYweb Internet Thermostat Advanced which communicate via phone or Internet, respectively.

Flooding & Leaks

In addition to keeping humidity out of your Florida home, you’ll want to prevent unwanted water from seeping in.   That moist, salty sea air wreaks havoc on appliances and electronics.  Remember too that hurricane season hits in the summer and fall, bringing torrential rain and high winds, along with the risk of leaks and flooding.

CHECKLIST TO PROTECT AGAINST WATER DAMAGE:

  • Inspect windows and doors — fill in gaps and cracks with caulking

  • Check flashing around chimneys and vents for damage

  • Clean out gutters and downspouts and repair if damaged

  • Remove debris from roof so rain will run off quickly

  • Turn off the water to the washing machine and the hot water heater

  • Turn off the water at the emergency cut-off valve outside the home

REMOTE MONITORING:  A strategically-placed water sensor hooked up to either the Sensaphone 400 or BAYweb remote monitoring systems will alert you by phone or email if there is a water leak in your home.  Water sensors can be situated anywhere prone to flooding and leaks – in the basement or crawlspace, by doors and windows, and under appliances like the washing machine and dishwasher.  Another flood-risk location is the condensate pan in your A/C unit which can clog and overflow.  A simple float switch (like the SumpBobber) connected to your Sensaphone 400 or BAYweb can be used to monitor that situation.  Install a second float switch in the sump pump pit in your basement to warn of a failure there.

Mold and Mildew

Florida’s warm, humid weather creates the perfect environment for mold, mildew and bacteria to grow.  Since pests and organisms attack organic materials, it is important to do a thorough job cleaning, vacuuming and disinfecting your home before you vacate.

CLEANING CHECKLIST:

  • In the kitchen, clean kitchen appliances, cabinets and countertops with sudsy water and dry all surfaces.

  • Dispose of fresh or perishable foods, including cereals, crackers and pasta

  • Clean out refrigerators and freezers and toss opened condiments

  • If you unplug the refrigerator, be sure to leave door propped open

  • Clean dishwasher interior and filter and leave door open

  • Thoroughly clean bathroom fixtures and all surfaces and wash all bath towels

  • Remove any plastic wrappings or bags around clothing

  • Run air conditioning for two hours a day, as discussed previously.

Following these steps should help ensure that your Florida residence will be clean and beautiful when you return in the fall.  For additional information on closing your Florida home, see:  http://www.p2pays.org/ref/08/07673.pdf.

 

 

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Florida Property Insurance Rate Hikes

 

 

By Suzanne Barlyn | February 12, 2021 Original Article Here

Florida property insurers are jacking up rates by double-digit percentage, blaming the hikes on lingering damage from past hurricanes, a wave of litigation and a law that encourages lawyers to sue by allowing courts to award them big fees.

The rate increases in Florida, the third-largest property insurance market among U.S. states, are the highest in memory, according to some insurance agents and residents. One danger, they say, is that the new rates could make owning a home in Florida unaffordable.

“I was flabbergasted,” said Karlos Horn, a 35-year-old law student who owns a four-bedroom, single-family home in Hendry County, Florida. He said his premium doubled to $200 per month last August.

That is equivalent to half of his $400 mortgage payment and the largest increase in his five years as an owner.

Florida’s property insurance market, which collected $56.6 billion in premiums during 2019, is unique and covers complex risks including devastating hurricanes and the impact of climate change. Many insurers left the state after suffering big losses from hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005, leaving about 60 small and mid-sized firms underwriting property policies there today.

Although there were no major weather events last year, some insurers are still grappling with claims from Hurricane Irma in 2017, said Logan McFaddin, an American Property Casualty Insurance Association executive who specializes in Florida.

They are also facing what McFaddin described as “out of control” litigation in Florida, partly because of a law that can require insurers to pay attorneys “excessive fees” in those cases. The practice has spurred a cottage industry of contractors and lawyers who sue insurers to replace a whole roof when only a few tiles are damaged, insurers say.

Other less dramatic problems, such as leaky pipes, happen at an “abnormally high” frequency in Florida, often causing severe damage, including mold, consistently gnawing at profits, said Charles Williamson, chief executive officer of Vault, a Florida-based insurance exchange for wealthy individuals.

Insurers are also passing along to consumers the cost of hefty rate hikes for their own coverage, known as reinsurance, which kicks in after insurers pay a set amount of claims.

Last Resort

Florida’s domestic property insurers reported a more than $1 billion underwriting loss for the first three quarters of 2020 and almost $500 million in negative net income, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

“Insurance carriers understand that their role in our marketplace is to pay claims,” Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier told Reuters. “The challenge is when those claims are so much more expensive than they expect, it creates uncertainty, it creates turmoil – and that has to be addressed.”

Florida insurers requested 105 rate increases during the first ten months of 2020, Altmaier said. More than half of the increases that regulators approved were greater than 10%.

Last month, Altmaier testified before Florida lawmakers, including his views on roofing litigation. “We need to really spend some time on this … coming up with ways that we might be able to mitigate this kind of activity,” he said.

Lee Gorodetsky, an insurance agent in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said he cannot recall such steep rate hikes during his 34-year career. “The last two years have been the worst we’ve seen,” he said.

As prices rise, more consumers are turning to Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Florida’s insurer of last resort, which takes on high-risk customers who cannot obtain other insurance or must pay extremely high rates.

Citizens issued 545,000 policies as of Feb. 5, a 23% increase from a year ago, and it expects the number to grow to about 700,000 by year-end, a spokesman said. The growth signals an unhealthy broader market by showing that typical coverage is not as widely available, industry experts said.

Insurers are hoping Florida’s state government will approve proposed legislation that would curb the elevated litigation costs they have seen in recent years. The bill, if passed, would add to other reforms enacted in 2019.

Measures would include limiting the fees insurers must pay lawyers in claims disputes, shortening time frames for filing claims and capping payouts for roof replacements.

However, the bill might also harm homeowners’ ability to pursue legitimate claims, lawyers said. That would unfairly favor insurers, one lawyer said.

“It’s a great business model that insurers can collect premiums and not get sued when they don’t pay somebody right away everything that’s owed,” said Tampa lawyer Chip Merlin, who represents policyholders. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that that’s good for the insurance industry.”

(Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn in Washington Crossing, Pa. Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Matthew Lewis)

 

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Assumptions About Hurricane Season Face Winds of Change

 

By Seth Borenstein | March 18, 2021

 

With named storms coming earlier and more often in warmer waters, some assumptions about the Atlantic hurricane season are being rethought.

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For six straight years, Atlantic storms have been named in May, before the season even begins. On Wednesday, a special World Meteorological Organization committee will discuss whether the hurricane season should be moved a couple of weeks earlier. The National Hurricane Center has already decided to start issuing its routine tropical weather outlooks for the Atlantic on May 15.

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is recalculating just what constitutes an average hurricane season. If it follows the usual 30-year update model, the new “normal” season would have 19% more named storms and major hurricanes. And prominent hurricane experts want meteorologists to rethink how they warn people about wetter, nastier storms in a warming world.

“Climate change is real, and it is having an impact on tropical cyclones,” University of Albany atmospheric scientist Kristen Corbosiero said.

Starting Earlier

MIT hurricane researcher Kerry Emanuel said “this whole idea of hurricane season should be revisited.”

During the past nine Atlantic hurricane seasons, seven tropical storms have formed between May 15 and the official June 1 start date. Those have killed at least 20 people, causing about $200 million in damage, according to the WMO. So the organization will discuss an earlier starting season and likely commission a study to figure out how to adopt one.

Last year, the hurricane center issued 36 “special” tropical weather outlooks before June 1, according to center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. Tropical Storms Arthur and Bertha both formed before June 1 near the Carolinas.

“The Atlantic hurricane season has changed quite a few times in the past since the concept of a hurricane season came about,” but not since 1965, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. “I don’t think there’s any harm in including the May 15 start date.”

The early systems are generally weaker tropical storms, said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. If the season begins earlier, he worries that people will lose interest by mid-August when hurricanes get more frequent and nastier.

Storms seem to be forming earlier because climate change is making the ocean warmer, McNoldy and Corbosiero said. Storms need warm water as fuel _ at least 79 degrees (26 degrees Celsius). Also, better technology and monitoring are identifying and naming weaker storms that may not have been spotted in years past, Feltgen said.

Changing Normals

Meteorologists calculate climate averages based on 30-year periods to account for variations in daily weather.

Over the next few weeks, the 30-year average for Atlantic hurricanes is being recalculated by NOAA. That means changing the benchmark for normal from the 1981-2010 period to the much busier 1991-2020 period.

University of Miami’s McNoldy did his own calculations based on NOAA data and found that the average number of named storms a year would jump from 12.1 to 14.4 if the benchmark is changed. Thirty years ago, the average was 10 named storms.

With more storms, risks for people and property go up and that’s likely to continue, McNoldy said. Last year’s record of 30 storms was like two seasons crammed into one, he said.

But Colorado State’s Klotzbach said hurricane activity should eventually quiet down. For decades, researchers have talked about a cycle of about 20 to 30 years of busy hurricane seasons followed by 20 to 30 years of quiet ones _ generally with the current active period starting around 1995. He said using a new 30-year average starting in 1991 would not really be normal because it would include too many busy years and not enough quiet ones.

But recent research from Pennsylvania State University’s Michael Mann showed that the once-accepted busy-and-quiet cycle doesn’t really exist and quiet years were actually more of a result of air pollution and volcanic eruptions. So a warming world means the new normal is busy hurricane seasons just like the last 30 years.

Storm Warnings

With so much activity, MIT’s Emanuel said the current warnings are too storm-centric, and he wants them more oriented to where people live, warning of specific risks such as floods and wind. That includes changing or ditching the nearly 50-year-old Saffir Simpson scale of rating hurricanes Category 1 to 5.

That wind-based scale is “about a storm, it’s not about you. I want to make it about you, where you are,” he said. “It is about risk. In the end, we are trying to save lives and property,”

Differentiating between tropical storms, hurricanes and extratropical cyclones can be a messaging problem when a system actually has a cold core, because these weaker storms can kill with water surges rather than wind, Emanuel and Corbosiero said. For example, some people and officials underestimated 2012’s Sandy because it wasn’t a hurricane and lost its tropical characteristic.

About the photo: This Wednesday, May 27, 2020 satellite image made available by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Tropical Storm Bertha approaching the South Carolina coast. On Wednesday, March 17, 2021, a World Meteorological Organization committee plans to discuss whether the Atlantic hurricane season should start on May 15 instead of the traditional June 1. (NOAA via AP)

 

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