In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we thought it would make sense to share some thoughts on which disaster recovery tools to have on hand and how to actually go about recovering from a disaster, should you have the misfortune to be in one.
A disaster-ready toolkit is something to think about long before the forecast turns bad, or the ground starts shaking. We’re going to run through a discussion of when and how to use your tools.
Plus, we are going to suggest some basic materials to have on hand: A couple of large (10’ by 10’ minimum) blue tarps and two space blankets per person. With these and a 50-100-foot hank of clothes line or paracord, you can usually cobble up some way to keep warm in even the most extreme of conditions.
This applies to renter’s and apartment dwellers as well as homeowners.
What Breaks First?
Normally, the first set of tools you will need will involve plumbing. If pipes are broken, you will want to get the water shut off and the pipes fixed. You should have access to a water shut-off valve and “exercise” it at least once a year to make sure it works. (And just ask Gaye about this. She replaced a frozen water shut off valve about a year before the hot water tank blew. Just saying.)
If you don’t have one, Orbit makes a neat water and gas shutoff tool for under $15 which makes sense to have on hand.
The next most useful tool in shutting off water is the crescent or monkey wrench. You need a crescent wrench to turn and tighten nuts and bolts. Get a medium sized wrench and if it is too big for the task at hand, use a penny to shimmy the opening a bit to fit the smaller sized bolt.
If you think ahead, getting an assortment of pipe end caps and a jug of PVC pipe glue is useful. But to cut the pipes so you can get an end cap on them, you’ll need saws. Two types of saws are commonly used; the hacksaw and the crosscut saw.
Hacksaws are used for cutting metal (or plastic) and the crosscut saw for everything else and it can also be used on plastic in a pinch. The 10 or 12 teeth per inch type are much easier than 8-tooth saws.
Debris Removal Safety First
Now we start getting into the serious tools. But before you reach into the toolbox, don’t forget to gear up since safety is extremely important in a disaster recovery setting since medical aid may be unavailable.
Safety Goggles: When working with wood or other particle laden materials, your eyes need protection. Be sure to get the type with side shields. If you wear glasses, get the type that fit over your glasses.
Dust Masks: Dust and fumes are your enemy when working around the house. Get some disposable dust masks. Look for the type with dual straps for a better fit. Dust masks labeled “NIOSH approved” offer the best protection.
Work Gloves: A pair of sturdy cloth and leather work gloves will protect your hands from nicks and abrasions. A pair of study plastic or rubber gloves is also useful and when working with glues, nothing beats latex or nitrile gloves (our favorite).
Electrical Safety: Make sure the power is turned completely off if you are clearing debris. Turn off not only your main power (the big breaker, normally near the top of an electrical box) but also turn off all the smaller breakers. Take NO CHANCES.
Take Pictures Before You Dig Out
To begin with, have a plan before you start work. Where will you pile debris? Is there enough daylight left to get started? Do you have night lighting if you need it? Is there a helper who can hold things?
Now there is one critical step most people don’t think about: Document your disaster. Put a small, inexpensive digital camera in your toolbox so that there won’t be any argument later on about what was the condition of your dwelling before you started clean up. Keep that camera and download copies of the pictures as soon as possible onto another computer. OR make two sets of photos and put the memory chip in your wallet.
Plan Your Work and Tool Use
Let’s assume you’ve got a couple of bad walls from the disaster and some bad carpet to clear up. The water, power, and gas are off, so work can proceed safely.
Recovery (strangely) seems to work well if it goes in reverse order from new construction. If you haven’t built a few homes, you might not know that most new construction is finished from the top down. So in real construction, flooring is usually the last thing installed, especially carpeting.
So let’s start there and begin taking up the carpet, if we can get to it, since getting the subflooring beneath it dirty is no big deal. For this, you may need to remove it from base-shoe around the wall/floor joint and you may need to cut carpet “joins/joints” so have at the ready:
Claw Hammer: Go for a basic, mid-weight hammer. The one thing to look for is a head that is made from deep-forged steel and a handle that feels comfortable when you swing the hammer.
Utility Knife: Used for cutting up cardboard boxes, or more commonly in our homes, opening boxes and packages. Be sure to get they type with a retractable blade.
To pry out those moldings and transition strips (carpet to vinyl, or carpet to tile) think about using:
Screwdrivers: You are going to need two types; a flat head and a Phillips. With the flat head, get three: small, medium and our favorite, the giant sized which can also be used as a crowbar of sorts to pry things open. A small and a large Phillips should be sufficient. But since we’re prying use the flat head.
Another little secret if you have a really tight fit on molding or the paint is keeping the molding attached. Run your utility knife down the joint to cut the paint and then pull it away from the wall with your Putty Knife. A putty knife is indispensible for filling nail holes (hint: use white toothpaste if you are out of spackle) or for scraping paint of old caulk. Or, in disaster clean-up, or refurbing a house, you can use it as a wide light-weight prying tool.
Once the floors are cleared and salvable flooring is up, we can move on to the damaged walls.
Occasionally, you’ll find a wall which has been damaged – and some caution and judgment must be used here. What you DON’T want to do is upset a load-bearing wall. On the other hand, some walls may just have cracked or broken plasterboard – and while it’s a PITA to fix well, it’s not hard work.
Start with your Stud Finder. The purpose of a stud finder is to pinpoint the exact location of screws or nails in the wall. What you’re going to be looking for is a vertical row of screws which hold the sheetrock to the studs. In the middle of this stud may be an existing sheetrock joint. If not, you can use your utility knife to score the sheet rock for bending and removal.
With a Carpenters Level you can draw a nice horizontal line to the next stud (or however large the damaged area is, and then use the utility knife to score the sheetrock and remove it. George is a fan of the largest level that will fit, but Gaye is fond of her small, nine inch level which has more utility value in normal times for hanging pictures and so on.
We like to keep some right-angle galvanized fasteners around, too.
There are many sizes available but some common ones are shown here. Although “real” construction workers wouldn’t use 1 1/4-inch coarse drywall screws for anything but hanging sheetrock, they also work dandy for putting up studs in a pinch with the metal brackets. Strong as hell, too.
Of course that gets us to your Cordless Power Drill. You did have it on charge at the time of the disaster, right? Look for a drill with variable speeds and a T-handle which will be better balanced than a pistol handed drill.
Forgot to keep it charged? No power? Then out comes the Hand Drill. Everyone needs a hand drill for those times when there is no power available a cordless power drill is also needed but you need the hand drill for backup.
Time to cut sheetrock and put it in: Put the piece on the floor, cut the front and bend it backwards over the edge of a 2-by-4 to break it cleanly, then cut the paper on the backside with the utility knife. Works like a charm.
(You did remember to stock extra blades for the utility knife, right?)
To do the layout, you can use a long straight-edge and your handy Tape Measure. This is one area where it spending just a few more dollars more will have a huge payback in terms of ease of use and longevity. Go for a 16 footer.
George argues that the 25-foot Stanley FatMax is the best tape out there since one person can measure up to 8-feet horizontally before the weight of the tape collapses it. Gaye’s approach is a little more team oriented. George has been out in the woods too long.
Electrical is Dangerous
Before you tape out an outlet, or disconnect it from your wall, TRIPLE CHECK THAT ALL POWER IS OFF.
Then, remove the old wires, one at a time, and apply wire nuts so there are no bare wires around. Give them an additional half-turn with your Pliers. For the basics, you will need a medium sized slip-joint piers and a needle nosed pliers. Both are used for gripping objects.
This might also be a dandy time to haul out your Electricians Tool. A multipurpose electrician’s tool is used for cutting, striping and crimping wires. This tool also serves as a grip when working with wire and doing other types of electrical tasks.
Details and Tool Boxes
If you keep a 25-foot roll of clear sheet plastic around, you will have a lifetime supply of emergency windows. Cut the plastic about 6” oversized on each dimension and then staple in place with your Staple Gun. While not absolutely essential, a staple gun makes the job of putting up plastic sheeting a breeze. If you ever have to shelter in place, you will be glad you have a staple gun.
Don’t forget to have some lath about (thin wood strips) to put over the sheeting once stapled in place. Plastic sheeting wants to tear at the staples and putting lath around in will slow the process dramatically. Yes, in a pinch you can use that thin wood you use to tie plants up to in the garden.
Keep all these items in your handy-dandy disaster Tool Box.
Gaye’s approach is reasonable: Not to big and not too small; be sure to get the tool box that fits your needs and your storage area. For your everyday gear, I prefer something basic without a lot of flip top, flip up and flip out compartments. Instead, she prefers a basic box with a lift out upper tray. YMMV but for the basic box, $10 to $15 will give you everything you need to store your tools.
George, on the other hand, goes completely overboard on large tool chests – here’s one of several that he’s got chock-a-block full of all kinds of minutia.
He recommends looking at some of the Sears Craftsman brand tool chests, which are widely used in places like healthcare clinics, as well as home shops – they are that well built and useful. The red base unit is sold as a “project center” and occasionally goes on sale for about $100. Looks man-manly-man in the garage.
Still, keep in mind that you may have stairs to deal with and roll-around toolboxes work fine if you’ve got an elevator, but not if you’ve got damage on two or three levels of house. Schlepping tools is non-productive work.
- Fresh jug of PVC glue every six-months!
- Assorted PVC pipe ends, splices, angles, and some lengths of PVC pipe used in your home.
- Duct tape
- Electrical Tapes
- Wire Connectors /Wire Nuts
- Assorted Screws, Nuts and Bolts (drywall screws are versatile and easy to screw in)
- Assorted Nails
- Plumbing Tape
- Plastic Sheeting
- Zip Ties
- Elmer’s Glue
- Liquid Nails
- Clothes line
- Instant coffee or Folger’s Singles
Summing It All Up
Most guys love Harbor Freight due to its endless rows of well-priced tools and shop equipment. But for the basics – and for someone just getting started – many items can be purchased at the local Home Depot or even the dollar store where you can pick up a decent screwdriver or two.
Where ever you decide to shop, though, think about putting together a basic kit that will allow you to make basic repairs yourself. Having the right tools can make a world of difference when it comes to do the job correctly, efficiently and most of all safely.
One more thing: Gaye’s tool box is her tool box. You can borrow from it but put things back the way you found them. That is the rule in her household . . . and yes, she really does have her own set of tools thank you very much.
George’s shop is run differently. There are two and sometimes four of everything, since Elaine ends up with one of each really useful tool and then George buys another if he can’t sneak it out of Elaine’s tool kit. She guards hers closely. Elaine’s got a tool box in the pantry, two tool drawers other places in the house, a 6-foot work table and two large plastic trunks full of decorating specialty tools like Japanese draw saws to cut bamboo. Elaine also has her own screwdrivers, wrenches, painting supplies, and much more.
Gaye’s approach (with Survival Hubby trained in it) costs less than half as much. George & Elaine are perpetual tinkerers.
Hang on and enjoy the ride,
The Two G’s – George & Gaye
Spotlight Items: Everyone needs a household tool kit for the day-to-day fix-it tasks. In addition to the links in our article, here are some additional links and technical details to get you started in adding to the tools that you already own.
- Fiberglass handle absorbs shock and vibration
- Textured rubber ensures a comfortable, secure grip
- Fiberglass handle minimizes vibrations and reduces breakage vs. wood
- Heat treated and rim tempered for durability and safety
- About $12
- Supplies 330 in./lbs. of torque
- 100 percent metal chuck with a spindle lock to tighten screw drivers and drill bits in less time
- Zero to 350 RPM in high-torque applications, zero to 1,400 RPM in high-speed applications
- Weighs 9.4 pounds (shipped), 2-year warranty
- Includes two 18-volt batteries, one cup charger, kit box, and 10-piece drill bit set
- About $89
- Ideal for drilling on the go – no cords or batteries needed
- Smooth operating gear system is completely enclosed in a durable ABS housing
- Perfect for quick jobs
- Works with standard drill bits
- Drill bits not included
- About $11
- Laser-marked SAE and metric jaw scale for easy fastener size
- Forged alloy-steel body increases strength and exceeds ANSI standards for torque
- Extra-wide jaw capacity opens wider than standard adjustable wrenches
- Bi-material handle for a comfortable grip. Used for automotive maintenance and repair, plumbing and general assembly tasks
- Limited Lifetime Warranty
- About $8
- Standard fluted screwdriver set features ten popular Phillips, slotted, stubby and pocket screwdrivers to satisfy a wide range of fastening needs
- Hardened tips give non-slip fit for use on even the most stripped screws
- Heat treated, alloy steel blades with rust resistant nickel-plated bar; ergonomic, tri-lobular, slip-resistant handles
- Includes 1-point and 2-point Phillips, 4 slotted, 2 stubby, and 2 pocket screwdrivers
- Backed by lifetime limited warranty
- About $10
- 25-foot by 1-1/4-inch tape rule with belt clip
- Easy-to-read lockable yellow blade graduated in 1/16-inch
- High impact ABS case with rubber over mold for strength; Mylar-coated blade; heat-treated spring for repeated use
- 16-inch and 19.2-inch stud center markings
- 13.6-ounces; 7-foot standout; limited lifetime warranty
- About $9
- Includes 3 sets of pliers with forged-steel construction for durability
- Forged-steel construction for durability
- Rust-resistant finish for greater protection; double-dipped handle for extra comfort
- Hardened cutting edges and chrome-nickel steel for extra-tough cutting edge
- Meets or exceeds ANSI standards
- About $15
- 10-inch hacksaw with rigid steel frame and molded rubber cushion grip
- D-shaped guard protects hands and knuckles
- Fully adjustable frame
- Throat depth of 3-7/8 inches
- Limited lifetime warranty
- About $14
- 26″/10pt Fine Cut Cross Cut Saw
- Weather Resistant Hardwood Handle
- Lifetime Warranty
- About $23
- 1-1/4-Inch width high carbon steel blade
- Molded plastic handle will not absorb grease or oil
- Grommet hole for easy storage
- About $6
- True Blue Vial, superior accuracy, durability, visibility, made in USA
- Heavy-duty extruded aluminum frame
- Strong-holding magnetic edge
- Advanced concentric molding guarantees perfectly formed vials
- Vials read plumb, level and 45 degrees
- About $9
- Features 2 block vials on each end to provide maximum accuracy
- A center MaxEdge vial enables users to scribe continuous lines with an improved view
- Dual bi-material hand grips for comfort
- Two shock absorbent end caps and non-marring side bumpers for durability
- About $24
- Small and compact, easily fits in pocket
- Powerful magnets allows hands free use
- 2 way level for ease of marking
- No batteries required
- Soft grip for easy grabbing and gentle touch
- About $10
- Easy-squeeze product works overtime as a staple gun, brad nailer, cable tacker and wire tacker
- All-metal drive channel ensures better penetration
- Less force to squeeze and more driving power
- Heavy duty aircraft-aluminum housing for long-lasting durability. Hi/Lo power lever for hard and soft materials. Flush-nose design solves the problem of stapling in tight spots
- Limited Lifetime Warranty
- About $20
- High-visibility orange color makes for easy spotting on the job site
- Smooth, three-position slide exposes variable blade lengths
- Screw permanently captured in casing to prevent loss
- Features inside storage for up to 5 blades
- Includes three unbreakable Blue Blades
- About $8
- Bolt Size: 4-40, 6-32, 8-32, 10-24, 10-32
- Handle Color: Red
- Overall Length: 8-1/2″ (216)
- Strips and Cuts: 10 – 26 AWG stranded (4.0 – .14 mm²) & 8 – 22 AWG solid (6.0 – .34 mm²)
- About $24
- 16-inch tool box
- Two lid organizers for storing small parts
- Built-in padlock eye for small locks
- Soft, wide rubber-coated handle for easy transportation
- Nickel metal-plated latches
- About $10
- Rubber tipped temples provide a secure, comfortable fit
- Tough, polycarbonate lens provides impact resistance
- Telescoping temples adjust for a comfortable fit
- Cushioned brow protection for extra comfort and protection
- Ratcheting temples adjust for a proper fit
- About $12
- Helps reduce exposure to dust from hanging fiberglass insulation or from sanding on wood, metal, plastic, non-lead-based paints, brick or concrete.
- Patented Cool Flow exhalation valve makes for easy breathing and cook, dry comfort.
- Soft inner web feels comfortable against skin
- Government-approved N95 particulate respirator
- About $17
- Easy breathability
- Soft sosefoam for user comfort
- No-tangle straps for ease of use
- Cake-resistant media
- Comes in a pack of 20
- About $15
- Clarino synthetic leather is tough, soft and comfortable to wear, resists shrinking, stretching and hardening
- Padded knuckles provide protection against bumps
- Wing closing strap for perfect adjustments and easy-on, easy-off
- Lycra side panels for improved dexterity
- Stretch spandex for flexibility and fit
- About $13
- The ideal solution for individuals sensitive to natural rubber latex and donning powder
- Contains no allergy causing natural rubber proteins
- Extraordinary strength and puncture resistance while maintaining tactile sensitivity
- Commonly used by law enforcement professionals
- 1 box contains 100 ambidextrous gloves
- About $9
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