No home can be totally immune to a hurricane's devastation. But by preparing for the worst, you can minimize the damage to your home and make the recovery process a lot easier.
Here are steps to help keep your home and possessions safe.
Inventory Your Property
According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, 59 percent of homeowners do not have a home inventory. Of those who do have one, most do not update it annually.
Insurance companies and hurricane survivors highly recommend taking photos and keeping purchase receipts to clarify claims issues. There are many free apps that can help you record and organize this information. Using an app that stores the data in a cloud database is a great way to make sure you still have access to it even if you lose your electronic devices during the storm.
Check Your Insurance Coverage
Many homeowners renew their policy annually without reviewing their coverage. However, the cost of rebuilding a damaged home and replacing possessions usually rise. If you don't update your coverage accordingly, you could find yourself underinsured (updating your coverage is smart, but find out Why It's Not a Good Reason to Switch Insurance Companies Every Six Months).
Standard homeowner's insurance won't protect against flood. And flooding isn't just a coastal problem. According to USGS statistics, most flooding results from heavy rainfall and at least 25% of flooding occurs outside of flood zones. And those flood zones can change over time, so your home may become part of it without you realizing it (find out more in The Seas Are Rising - Do You Need Flood Insurance?).
A homeowner’s policy typically covers wind and rain damage, but not rising water and flooding after a storm. Because of these exclusions, flood insurance is often a worthwhile investment, even if your mortgage company doesn't require it. The average cost of a policy acquired through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is about $700 per year, but premiums vary based on risk.
NFIP policies have a 30-day waiting period, but policies acquired through private insurers may have shorter wait periods.
Start at the Top
The roof on your home protects everything inside it. As such, a damaged roof can create the greatest risk to the structure and your possessions.
At the very least, order a roof inspection from a reputable roofing contractor. They can spot and repair potential problems, check whether the roof is properly fastened to the structure, and recommend appropriate devices to improve safety. These may include roof straps, tie-downs, or hold-downs depending on the state you live in and whether there’s access to the attic.
Secure Vents, Stacks, and Turbines
Wind-driven rain can travel horizontally and push into any opening, causing catastrophic damage to the structure and your possessions. According to FloridaDisaster.org, a 150 mph wind can drive water 8” inside an opening. Hurricane Irma’s winds reached 185 mph.
Fit attic vents, dryer vents, turbines, and plumbing stacks with shutters, plywood, or seals. Soffits require special attention as they’re commonly damaged in hurricane force winds due to uplift.
Homeowners should also clean rain gutters and downspouts and ensure water directs well away from their home.
Seal Windows, Doors, and Holes
The caulking around windows, doors, and shutters can deteriorate and allow rain water into your home. Holes drilled for electrical, cable, or internet connections are also potential water penetration areas.
Homeowners should thoroughly inspect all outdoor surfaces for openings and seal them with caulking.
Protect Windows and Doors
Windows are very susceptible to damage during a hurricane. Taping, however, does not protect them, and commercial or plywood shutters offer better protection than window film or shatter-resistant glass.
Obviously, store-bought shutters are more convenient, but plywood shutters work just as well. The National Hurricane Center provides detailed instructions on how to make recessed plywood shutters for optimal safety.
Cover doors that have glass, too. Install barrel bolts that extend into the header and floor on double doors. Install a vertical garage door brace and horizontal wooden beams to strengthen your garage door.
Secure Additional Structures and Equipment
Any structure attached to your home can tear off in high winds and leave a hole in your home. Make sure they are properly secured to reduce the likelihood of this happening. Anchor porch and carport posts to the ground using appropriate metal anchors.
A 130 mph wind striking an 8' square shed exerts 2,100 pounds of pressure. To give your shed a fighting chance, be sure to anchor it to the ground, preferably to a concrete slab.
Air conditioning units and condensers are easily protected from airborne debris with a tarp or plywood and hurricane straps.
Prepare the Yard
Trim away dead branches and remove damaged trees. If possible, store lawn furniture, potted plants, garbage bins, swing sets, and barbecues in the garage. If you own a trampoline, disassemble it and store it too.
Move Valuables, Electrical Devices, and Chemicals to Higher Ground
Store important documents, photos, and warm clothes in the heaviest plastic bags you can find. Double bag them and then seal the whole thing with packing tape.
Move electronics and any appliances you can manage to upper levels or high shelves. If your budget allows it, consider building a FEMA safe room above flood level.
Chemical products can take an already bad situation and make it worse. All the commotion and damage caused by a hurricane could spill dangerous chemicals, which can lead to contamination, explosions, or fires. Make sure all chemical containers are sealed and stored on high shelves.
Surge Protect Your Home
Install a surge protector on your electrical panel and consider an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) for computer equipment if you rely on it for business. Heating and air conditioning systems may require surge protection too.
Prepare for Power Outage
A portable gas generator is your best bet during a power outage. You must, however, use it at least 20 feet from your home and away from moisture.
Stock up on batteries for flashlights and lanterns, and consider buying solar LED yard lights. You can charge them by day, and use them at night. A power converter or adapter that can plug into the cigarette lighter of your vehicle will give you a way to charge your laptop and cellphone.
If you have a fireplace or wood stove and a supply of dry wood, you'll be able to continue heating your home. If you don't, you may need a portable propane heater, propane, and a CO2 monitor to keep warm.
Set your refrigerator to the highest setting and keep a thermometer inside to monitor food temperature. Fill any empty spaces in the refrigerator and freezer with frozen containers of water. Leave space in each container to allow for the expansion as water freezes.
Some toilets depend on electricity, and you may not have running water. This is not an amenity you want to be without for very long. You can find an in-depth tutorial on how to build a twin bucket emergency toilet here.
Retrofit Lower Areas
You cannot avoid flood water altogether unless you raise the grade level of the house. However, there are things you can do to keep the water away.
Ensure the grade of the land directs water away from your home and dig trenches around the perimeter. Sandbags stacked on a waterproof tarp may also prevent mild flooding. Sump pumps with backup generators and waterproofing will also help minimize the damage (see 5 Water Damage Home Insurance Scenarios to find out whether you'll be covered).
Preparation is the best way to ensure survival and minimize damage. If your home is damaged by a hurricane, you will discover that recovery is a very long process. Take photos and practice patience while your insurer processes the many claims submitted after the event (find out How to File a Claim that Gets Paid Sooner).
There may be no way for your home to emerge from a hurricane entirely undamaged. Still, these preparations will help you reduce the damage and come out of it with a brighter future.