Getting your home ready for El Niño

Originally published Sept. 23, 2015

It sounds almost absurd after four years of drought, two months of smoking wildfires and a September of heat waves. But are you ready for the rain?

Even as state and local government officials are pressuring homeowners to conserve water, they're also being warned to brace themselves for a reappearance of El Niño.

The term refers to a the large-scale interaction between the ocean and atmosphere that is linked to a warming in sea surface temperatures. The term, which means 'The Little Boy,' was coined by 15th-century South American fishermen who noted the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean, usually around Christmas.

El Niño can bring with it buckets of water. State Climatologist Michael L. Anderson, nonetheless, noted in a release earlier this month that there is no way to know now how many storms may cross the state during the winter, or how much rain will fall and where. Big El Niñ os in years past brought wetter-than-average conditions to the southern part of the state but not so much in the north.

One of the most significant home maintenance jobs you can tackle now is the cleaning of your rain gutters, particularly making sure that water will flow freely through the downspouts.

'There are so many consequences you face for not doing it,' said David Stankas, head of Nor-Cal Maintenance, which specializes in maintaining rain gutters.

If the rain gutter system is clogged and a downspout isn't working, the gutter can become heavily laden with water — 7.5 pounds per gallon. If you have a deep gutter of up to 7 inches, the weight will cause so much stress, the seams can crack or the gutters fall off completely.

Water that is not directed properly can also pour over and hit the middle of the house and rot out the bottom of the second story. It can create problems in your foundation or damage the sub-roof to your structural framing.

He said he had a recent customer who mentioned that her gutters were clogged and water was spilling over and had gone into her dryer vent.

'It rotted the floor underneath the second story. She didn't know until they were remodeling. It was $20,000 worth of damage, ' he said, 'all due to that clogged rain gutter.'

Gutter maintenance can range from cleaning them out, to repairing leaky seams to placing some water permeable cover over the gutters to prevent leaves and debris from getting into them. Stankas said covers, whether louvered, mesh, stainless steel or something else, are especially important if there are a lot of trees like oak, eucalyptus and bay overhead. Even if you clean them now, they could get clogged again by fallen leaves later in the autumn.

Here are nine other things you should be doing now to protect the home front:

Inspect your roof. Check for loose shingles, which can lift or tear away in a storm, exposing your roof deck to the elements.

Inspect and clean the drainage system on your property to make sure that any heavy rain flows keep moving without obstruction.

Pick up materials that may wash into storm drain inlets or gutters.

Check your storm drains and gutters. Grass, leaves and other yard wastes clog the drainage system and pollute downstream waterways, all of which flow directly into local creeks, according to the County of Sonoma Permit and Resource Management Department.

Prepare an emergency supply box that is easily accessible. Include non-perishable food for several days, water, flashlights, a portable radio, extra batteries for the radio and flashlights, and first aid kit. You can probably charge your cellphone in your vehicle but if you don't have one or are concerned about accessing it, purchase a solar cellphone charger.

Assemble in a dry location sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting, lumber and other emergency building materials for waterproofing and quick, stop-gap repairs.

Trim any tree branches that appear insecure or are hanging heavily over structures. Consider staking any young trees.

In the garden, add compost and mulch to your beds. 'You want to prepare your soil to absorb water and hold it,' said Wendy Krupnick, who teaches sustainable agriculture at Santa Rosa Junior College. Otherwise, heavy rain will cause your good topsoil to run off. It will also help prevent crusting and compacting of your soil.

Plant any winter vegetables on mounds with a slight curvature, said Steve Albert, who teaches food gardening through the Sonoma County Master Gardeners, and you might consider laying plastic across the top of your beds and cutting holes for the seedlings. 'That way the plants won't be sitting in wet, muddy soil if El Niño rains come,' he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at or 521-5204. On Twitter @megmcconahey.

Meg McConahey

Features, The Press Democrat

Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.


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