Hurricane season may already be here, but it’s not too late to take measures to protect your home from fierce winds and surging floodwaters.
The 2017 hurricane season has the potential to be “extremely active,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which, in its Aug. 9 update, predicted the likelihood of 14-19 named storms and 2-5 major hurricanes.
Since that update, we’ve already seen three major hurricanes – Harvey, Irma and Maria – make landfall and devastate parts of the United States and its territories.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs June 1 – Nov. 30, with September being the peak. (While hurricanes form in both the Atlantic and Pacific, due to movement patterns and water temperatures, they rarely hit the West coast.)
The 18 states most prone to hurricanes are along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic coastline. However, hurricane winds and damaging flood conditions can occur inland as well.
Is Your Home Up to Code?
While newer homes in hurricane-zone states are likely built to hurricane code regulations, older homes may not have been.
Codes vary from state to state, with Florida having the most stringent. The boosted building codes came about after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992; in 2002, Florida passed new strict, state-wide building codes. Other hurricane-prone states followed suit over the years in beefing up their building codes by varying degrees.
Older homes not built to modern building codes (and with the newest engineering material and construction techniques), are more vulnerable to hurricane damage. However, there are retrofit measures homeowners can take to make their homes more hurricane-resistant.
Prepping Your Home Before a Storm Threat
Hurricane-protection improvements run the gamut from simple and inexpensive do-it-yourself projects to more complex, pricey endeavors best left to professionals.
“There are several crucial actions people can take before a hurricane strikes that will significantly reduce their risk of property damage,” says Brenda O’Connor, Senior Vice President of Communications at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, whose website has a detailed section about hurricane preparation. “If you live in a hurricane-prone area, do these things during ‘blue-sky sunny days’ before a storm is threatening.”
Let’s start with the roof. If a violent wind rips a roof from a house, the home’s entire interior and structural integrity become vulnerable to the hurricane’s winds, rain and flying debris.
The simplest actions include fixing loose roof shingles and clearing gutters. If you live in a hurricane-prone zone, however, you may want to reinforce your roof by installing tie-downs and anchors – a job for a professional – unless you are an ace DIYer.
Also, tighten up the “skin” of your home; loose siding can be ripped away in a severe storm. Caulk around openings where cable or other wires enter your house to keep water out.
Don’t Forget Doors, Windows and Trees
As for windows, taping a giant X on each pane is useless. Nailed-up plywood is better than nothing, but properly fitted, impact-resistant windows or storm shutters are best.
Reinforce all the doors of your home as well, especially the garage door, which, if whisked away by a violent gust, creates a gaping entryway for wind and rain. You can replace your standard garage door and other exterior doors with ones that are storm-resistant, or you can brace them. Also, consider replacing old, weak hardware such as screws and hinges.
In addition, trim trees and shrubs, preferably well in advance of a storm so the trimmings can be safely disposed of. Thinning them makes it easier for wind to flow through branches, perhaps staving off a total tree topple, and removing rickety limbs keeps them from becoming airborne.
Review Your Insurance Coverage
It’s also essential to regularly assess your homeowners insurance to see what your policy covers in a disaster. For example, does it cover the value of your home or the cost of rebuilding, which may be higher?
A market value policy would likely be more economical since replacement value insurance typically has higher premiums. A replacement policy does offer more complete coverage, but should be reviewed annually as market conditions change.
Depending on where you live, you may need a separate policy for wind coverage. Flood insurance must be purchased under a separate policy.
Should the worst happen, it’s important to have a detailed inventory of your home and possessions, which you can do with a video, photos or a typed list, and it should be updated annually. Store the inventory, along with other important documents (insurance papers, medical records, marriage and birth certificates, wills, etc.) in a safe, watertight location. You may also want to store copies in the cloud or mail them to out-of-area family members.
Final Prep Leading Up to the Storm
Other hurricane prep suggestions include raising ground-floor appliances on concrete blocks, rolling up area rugs to reduce the chance of mold and mildew in a flooding aftermath and shutting off electrical service at the main breaker in your home.
Now take a stroll around the outside of your property. That darling garden gnome can take flight during high winds, as can lawn furniture, trash cans, tools, flower pots, grills and children’s toys. If you have the time before a storm hits, stash them inside.
You should also gas up your vehicles and emergency generators and assemble an emergency kit with non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered radio, flashlights, etc. Ready.gov has more details on what to include in an emergency kit.
But before you even pick up a hammer, O’Connor offers more advice.
“The most important thing people should do to protect their family from hurricanes is to heed instructions from local emergency officials, particularly about evacuating,” says O’Connor. “When you’re told to evacuate, you should do so immediately.”
You can’t absolutely hurricane-proof your home, but you can make it more resistant to hurricanes by taking actions to prepare for future storms, O’Connor adds.
If you’re a homeowner who has recently been affected by a hurricane, find out what you need to know about filing an insurance claim.
Michele DiGirolamo is a former longtime reporter for United Press International and a freelance writer for MoneyGeek.com.
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