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posted: 10/5/2012 5:18 AM

How to protect your home, family in power outage

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More than half of all homeowners suffer a power blackout each year, but a few simple steps can help keep it from turning into a catastrophe.

Q. Last week, power to all of the homes in our neighborhood was knocked out for about two hours. When the lights came back on, the bulb in one of the lamps that had been turned on in our living room literally blew up and sent glass flying everywhere. No one was hurt, but what could have caused this? Is there a way to prevent this from happening again?

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A. There are a number of reasons why the bulb may have exploded when power was restored. The most likely is that there was a brief power surge, and the outlet, the lamp's electrical cord or the bulb itself just couldn't handle the extra electric "juice." Or, you might have a serious problem with your circuit breakers.

Your best bet now would be to call out a professional electrician immediately to inspect the home's entire electrical system and to make any needed repairs or upgrades. It might be an expensive proposition, but you cannot risk the chance that it might happen again and cause injuries to your family or a devastating house fire.

Whenever there's a power outage, you should unplug nearly every electrical item in the house -- especially if they were being used when the outage began. But leave one lamp or small radio on, so you'll know when power is restored.

It's also wise to make sure any computers or other high-priced electronic products you have are hooked up to inexpensive "surge protectors," which can prevent everyday electrical spikes from damaging their internal components. Also consider using protectors on any cable and phone lines.

Keep the doors on your refrigerator and freezer closed during power outages to keep food as cold as possible. Most homeowners' insurance policies will pay $100 or so for food that is spoiled after an extended loss of electricity.

Of course, you should always have lots of flashlights and fresh batteries in an easy-to-reach area so you can use them until the lights come back on. Some owners even purchase small and relatively inexpensive gas-powered generators they can use during a power outage or emergency, though the devices must be set up in a dry area outside, away from any windows or other air intakes to the home, to help prevent breathing the potentially deadly carbon monoxide or other gasses that the machine may produce.

Q. There is a 2-foot-high brick wall that separates my neighbor's lawn from mine. I would like to build a six-foot wall so our family could have more privacy, but the neighbor says doing so would be illegal. Is this true?

A. You will have to call your local building and safety department, or perhaps your city or county district attorney, for guidance.

Many local governments demand that fences or walls be at least 5- or 6-feet tall between neighboring properties. If that's the law in your area, you can go to small claims court to have the tiny bricks removed and later have a new but higher wall installed.

The judge likely would rule that the cost of the new fence or wall be paid 50/50 by you and your neighbor.

Q. We are getting ready to sell our home. How can we verify that the agents we interview have a valid real estate license, or don't have legal complaints against them?

A. The best way is to contact your state's real estate department or real estate commission. In most states, these regulators can confirm whether a person is licensed and can disclose whether a licensee has been disciplined for violations in the past.

A good alternative is to visit the website that's operated by the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (www.arello.org). It represents government realty regulators in all 50 states, and its website allows you to type in a salesperson's name to verify that he or she is licensed -- although usually it cannot offer the more in-depth information that your own state's regulatory department may be able to provide.

Real estate trivia: A new Labor Department study says falls and electrical strikes are just two reasons why being a "roofer" is America's fifth-most-dangerous job. Only fishermen, loggers, private airline pilots (mostly in remote parts of Alaska) and sanitation workers face more dangers: Cops and fire-department personnel didn't make the list.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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