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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 22, 2011

To save or not to save?
Bolte advises using common sense to salvage damaged cellar equipment

By Zach Simeone

As families try to determine the financial impact of Tropical Storm Irene, one electrician wants them to know that some of the expensive equipment in flooded basements may be salvaged.

Robert Bolte, an electrician who serves on the Rensselaerville Town Board, said he has been making rounds in the storm’s aftermath, helping where he can.

“People are throwing out stuff they shouldn’t have to,” Bolte said this week. “When it comes to furniture, there’s no saving it. Once you get a sofa wet, it’s wet, and it’s going to stink and mold. I’m referring to expensive items.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is asking that homeowners, renters, and business owners register for assistance by calling 1-800-621-3362, or online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov, and urges people to have their furnaces checked as winter approaches.

“FEMA home-repair grants average a little more than $5,000, and are intended to make the home safe, secure, and functional,” said Nathan Custer, a spokesman for FEMA. “One aspect could be a working furnace, so, everything is determined on a case-by-case basis when the inspector comes to the property,” he told The Enterprise.

Custer said further that he could not come up with any specific guidelines that FEMA inspectors might use in determining whether a flood victim’s furnace could be repaired, as opposed to being replaced.

He concluded, “Furnace repair or replacement can be considered as part of the home-repair grants…Having heat certainly fits the functional category.”

With a few simple steps, homeowners can minimize the loss of some equipment, Bolte said, and save money as a result.

Bolte gave the example of a flooded boiler. A boiler is usually a box-shaped device through which water flows to be heated very quickly before going to its destination.

“So, in your home, your boiler floods out,” Bolte began. “Inside is water; on the outside is insulation, and a tin cover. Now, what’s going to go bad on that boiler is the electronic controls that run the boiler, which are very easily replaced. When you get electronics wet, you’re in problems. The electronic controls are tough to dry out; they’re either not going to work right, or they’ll just go bad. But the insulation will drain out and dry up, and the boiler’s perfectly good.”

Further, the circulating motor that runs a boiler is typically also usable once it has dried out, he went on.

“Just don’t turn them on when they’re wet,” said Bolte. “Many times, you can wash an electric motor out with good, clean water and let it dry out. There are times where the water could get into the capacitors, and it might break them. But, generally, if you let them dry out, these things are salvageable.”

The same goes for water heaters, he said, which are used to both heat and store water.

“You’ve got a steel tank, insulation to keep the heat in, and a tin jacket,” said Bolte. “When an element goes bad in a water heater, it leaks down and gets the insulation wet. You go in there, you change the element, the insulation dries up, and there’s nothing wrong with the heater. You might have to replace the thermostat, which is basically an electronic control. So, you’re talking, maybe, a $7 part, as opposed to replacing a whole tank, which could be well over $200.”

Asked if there are particular pieces of household equipment that might be made unsafe by flooding, Bolte thought it unlikely.

“Not that I could think of, in a cellar anyway,” he said. “The most they would do is blow a fuse or a breaker.”

So, whether it be a flooded boiler, water heater, or a submersible pump, residents might only need to replace the electronics — “At not even 10 percent of the cost of everything else,” said Bolte.

“Unfortunately, people throw this stuff out, and it’s costing them a lot of money,” Bolte concluded. “FEMA doesn’t have the money to reimburse people for all this stuff, so, they need to apply a little bit of common sense, and get help from people who have a little more knowledge of it.”

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