Preparing Your Home For a Hurricane
Every five years, the United States is hit with an average of three major hurricanes, costing the government an annual average of $28 billion. Over the past two decades, thousands of lives were lost as a result of hurricanes in the United States. Being prepared for a hurricane, including making your home as safe as possible, can help you stay afloat if a hurricane hits your area.
Hurricanes can come with many unforeseen and dangerous conditions, beyond winds in excess of 155 mph and tornadoes. These include heavy rainfall, flying debris, storm surges, mudslides and floods. Although hurricanes can usually be predicted 3-5 days before they hit land, you need much more time to properly prepare yourself, your household and your home from the extensive damages they can wreak. Take a few moments to see if your insurance coverage covers you for the massive amount of damages that can potentially be incurred from a hurricane!
1. Create an Emergency Plan and Disaster Kit
As with any disaster, your first and foremost responsibility is to keep yourself safe by having an evacuation plan and knowing where your local shelter is. You should also know if your local shelter takes pets if you have one. Keeping extra fuel in your car to avoid gas lines and having alternative routes in case of traffic during a mandatory evacuation can help to ease the evacuation process. Besides protecting yourself and your loved ones, there are concrete steps that you can take to protect your home and your belongings in case of a hurricane.
Evacuation and Sheltering-In-Place Emergency Kits
The main two types of emergency kits are for sheltering in place and for evacuating. These kits can be kept at home, in the office and in your car. The basic recommendations for an emergency kit are as follows:
- Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days
- Weather appropriate clothes
- Food for three days (don’t forget pets!)
- Extra batteries
- Portable radio, with battery or hand-cranked power source
- Moist towelettes and trashbags for personal sanitation
- Face masks
- Local Maps
- First-aid kit/Prescription medication
- Extra eye glasses Paper copy of emergency contacts
For shelter emergency kits, experts recommend having enough provisions to sustain your household for 72 hours. To increase the likelihood of a swift and safe exit, evacuation emergency kits should be created for each individual member of your household. These evacuation supplies should be stored in an easily transportable container, such as a backpack.
Incorporate checking your emergency kit as part of your seasonal cleaning routine. Remember to replace expired food supplies and medications as well as to update clothes to proper sizes and in accordance with weather conditions. Seasonal updates and staying aware of what items are getting close to expiration will provide you peace of mind about the readiness of your emergency kit.
Having all of your necessary supplies already available is a great way to ease the stress of any disaster and increase your likelihood of staying safe and healthy through it. Keep in mind that if you are sheltering-in-place, you may not have access to water or electricity. If you are able to leave your sheltered safe area after a disaster, you do not want to be rummaging for supplies through a scavenged store.
Developing an Emergency Kit
The Insurance Information Institute created a Know Your Plan app so users can obtain detailed checklists to prepare for a hurricane. Practice your emergency plan with your household, remembering to create both an evacuation plan and a stay-in-place shelter plan. Never stay in your home when it is advised that you evacuate during a hurricane.
You may have several different disaster scenarios to act out, depending on how disastrous the hurricane is and what natural disasters follow the initial storm. This is why it is so essential to construct a comprehensive disaster plan, and practice it diligently with the other members of your household. Your household members should be aware who is responsible for pets and various dependent household members, such as small children, people with disabilities, or seniors who may need assistance.
2. Prepare Around Your Home
When you do know a hurricane is enroute, there are some things you can do preemptively, if you can safely do so, before evacuating your home. Be sure to look into FEMA’s guidelines for protecting your home against a hurricane. You should always check in with your local building officials regarding codes and building permits. Below are some pieces of advice divided by subject area to help you make sure that your home is as prepared as possible for a hurricane!
The force of wind pushing against the exterior of your home can pass from the roof to the exterior walls and reach your foundation. Your roof is a central point that ensures that the energy of the wind is transferred properly throughout your structure.
Depending on what kind of roof you have, you should make sure to take specific precautions. Gabled roofs, where the outside wall goes to the top of the roof, are more likely to suffer damage. If the end wall of the home with a gabled roof endures enough damage during the hurricane, it can collapse and damage the roof as a result.
The trusses that hold your roof in place are the plywood on the top, which may not be enough to secure your roof during a hurricane. Adding additional truss-bracing makes the roof more secure. You can inspect your roof bracing by going into your attic and observing how the wood is attached to the truss system. You should get sheathing properly installed if most of the nails or staples coming through the sheathing miss the trusses.
Your roof shingles can be re-adhered with roofing cement to secure them in place before a hurricane. Soffits can be secured with beads of sealant along the joint between the edge of the soffit channel and the wall.
There are also hurricane straps, which are small metal brackets, that can help make your home’s wooden framing more resistant to uplifts and high powered winds. In some areas hurricane straps are required, so you should check with your local government building officials.
Cleaning your gutter has the added bonus of both preventing potential roof damage and flooding inside of your home during a hurricane. When cleaning your gutter is it beneficial to make sure that you secure any loose rain gutters and downspouts. Making sure your gutter and your roof are in great shape will protect your home from heavy rain or melting snow.
Windows and Doors
Windows need to be protected with shutters or plywood before a hurricane, as they are a very vulnerable point of entry for the storm. There is a common misconception that tape will work to board up windows for a hurricane, but experts warn that tape can actually make matters worse by creating larger glass shards when the window is broken during the hurricane.
Storm shutters should be placed over all exposed windows and glass surfaces including but not limited to: french doors, sliding glass doors and skylights. You may need special permits for installing shutters so it is always helpful to check in with your local building official before making any substantial modifications to your home.
Double entry doors can be checked for security on the top and bottom of the doors, and often times you can purchase kits specifically for reinforcing your door model. It is important to remember to secure any windows on your door with additional protection against flying debris. You can purchase energy-efficient replacements for windows and doors and maintain regular maintenance on any seals that may be damaged over time, especially in hotter climates.
You should protect all windows and doors, regardless of what direction they face, as hurricanes are rotating, and debris ricochets during the storm. You can purchase hurricane shutters, which Home Advisor bids at around $3,500. Coastal Living also has some supplies and tips to do-it-yourself.
Often times, plywood sells out swiftly during an emergency, but there are alternative materials that can be used such as insulation boards or polycarbonate panels. Boarding up your windows from the inside can add an extra layer of protection.
Unplugging your electronics, even if you have a surge protector, is the best way to avoid surge-related damage. Consider purchasing a generator, especially if you are thinking of staying put during a hurricane. Keep in mind that you will want to purchase a generator that will at least run your basic electricity for a few days.
If you do purchase a generator, remember to be mindful of the fuel, which goes stale quickly. Your user’s manual will provide guidance on how often you should replace the fuel to keep your generator starting up and running smoothly.
When analyzing the shrubbery around your home, be mindful of what could damage your home if it were to become dislodged during a hurricane. Gravel or rock may be replaced with soft mulch, which would be far less damaging during a hurricane to your windows and home structure. Also, dead and dying plants are particularly hazardous and should be regularly removed.
Regrading around trees may strengthen the hold of the roots in the ground, making your garden less likely to end up inside of your home during a hurricane. Any plants that touch your home should be trimmed, and trees should be pruned to allow wind to pass through. There are specific wind deflector trees, such as oak trees, that absorb gusts better and can actually help to protect your home from taking the brute force of the wind storm.
Backyard and Porch
By identifying any loose structural item as a potential damager, it becomes easier to decide what needs to get stored if a hurricane is forecasted. Establishing a sheltered space for outdoor decor including furniture or trash cans will prevent those objects from becoming projectiles. It is also helpful to remember to put items that you may need access to, such as tools, in a place that is not electricity-dependent to access in case of a power outage, like a garage.
Newer garage doors may be certified for certain wind loads. If you have an older model garage door there are do-it-yourself kits that contain braces and brackets to fortify your garage doors. You should check with your local government building officials to see if there are code requirements for garage doors in your area. Sealing the roof deck, you can add an extra layer of protection to the structure and contents within the garage. Additionally, you can retrofit your door by installing horizontal bracing onto each panel.
Double-wide garage doors can cause a unique issue because of how large they are. If the wind causes them to wobble, they can become dislodged from their tracks or collapse from wind pressure, leaving your garage vulnerable to the hurricane. If your home is attached to your garage, this can be a vital entry point from which high winds can enter and blow out doors, windows, walls, even your roof!
All of this work can be professionally contracted if you can afford the cost. If you cannot, there are many resources online that will provide step-by-step instructions to fortify your home yourself. Any reinforcement will be beneficial in preparation for a hurricane, and it is most important to begin preparing before a warning is issued.
3. Obtain Proper Hurricane Insurance Coverage
Hurricanes are often able to be predicted 3-5 days before they hit land, so many people wrongfully assume that this is the time to prepare. In fact, just like any other disaster, you should prepare as soon as possible, as it is stressful and sometimes impossible to adequately prepare when everyone else is scrambling.
Importantly, you should make sure that your home has adequate insurance for a hurricane. This includes the flooding costs and other natural phenomenon that come along with a hurricane that may not be written into your coverage. In fact, flood insurance is only mandated for people living in high risk flood zones, so it is important to take into consideration purchasing separate and specific policies depending on your location and its associated disaster risks. To protect your home and belongings, talk to an insurance expert and make sure your policy has you covered adequately.
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