Home Hurricane Preparedness: Anticipating Storms & Managing Damage
Hurricane season comes every year. While the extent of the damage and places hurricanes hit vary from month to month, homeowners often know when they live in an area prone to hurricanes. As one of the most damaging weather events, hurricanes require people to prepare in advance to minimize damage and protect themselves. Those who work to improve their homes to resist high wind or flooding usually experience less damage from a hurricane. With this information about preparing for, anticipating, and managing the aftermath of hurricanes, homeowners will know the best solutions to the most common problems.
Table of Contents
- Building a Hurricane-Resistant Home
- Hurricane Wind Protection
- Hurricane Flood Protection
- Preparation for a Hurricane
- Hurricane Evacuation
- Hurricane Insurance
- Start Preparing for a Hurricane Today
- Additional Reading
Building a Hurricane-Resistant Home
One of the best ways to ensure a home will withstand a hurricane is to tailor its construction. With the proper structure and materials, homeowners may minimize the damage the house sustains during storms.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the way a home is designed can significantly affect its hurricane resistance. Homes built with a rounder shape are more likely to allow wind to pass around instead of collecting too much on one side. Optimal roof pitch encourages rain to slide off and is less likely to promote wind lift. Properties close to the water or more likely to flood may need to be built several feet off the ground to avoid the worst of the flooding and increase the likelihood of surviving a severe storm.
The right materials are crucial for a hurricane-resistant home. For example, homeowners may choose to have the home framed in concrete for the best wind and water resistance. Otherwise, they may prefer lumber rated to a higher PSI and thicker plywood in favor of OSB for other aspects of the structure. Steel works well for framing and roofing. These materials are less likely to break in the middle of the storm, protecting the contents inside the home. Adding impact-resistant glass for windows minimizes the chances of breaking, which decreases the overall flood risk.
The layout and features of the property can also affect how much damage homeowners face during a hurricane. For example, people may want to select trees with a deeper root structure to minimize toppling during a storm. Throughout hurricane season, people can inspect the growth of trees and large bushes to ensure they will not fall onto the house or power lines. They should use soft bark mulch instead of gravel, which can become a projectile in high winds. For those with minimal protection, building an additional, durable storm shelter may be an effective alternative.
Hurricane Wind Protection
Wind is one of the most damaging aspects of a hurricane. Even homeowners who live relatively far inland may have to deal with destructive winds. These structural, surface, and property-related improvements can make it easier to protect the home from high winds.
Outside the Home
On the property, anything not firmly attached to the ground may become a projectile during a hurricane. Before a storm, homeowners may want to remove or secure these everyday outdoor items:
- Outdoor furniture
- Sports equipment
- Potted plants
Regularly throughout the year, homeowners should set reminders to inspect their landscaping for signs that trees and bushes may fall during a storm. They can prune back weak branches and trim bushes to keep them under control. Loose fence posts or decking may need additional support from concrete with enough time for it to cure before the storm. Similarly, homeowners may want to perform a basic inspection of the home exterior to clean gutters or patch the foundation as needed. Minimizing loose ground cover and using bark mulch can reduce damage if the wind shifts it.
Walls & Roofing
The walls and roofing are the parts of the structure most likely to take damage due to hurricane-force winds. Protecting these aspects of the home will help keep people safe and their belongings inside. In many cases, the roof is most at risk. Homeowners can decrease their chances of losing the roof by:
- Installing roofing material like steel, which is less likely to blow off
- Using roof trusses with additional bracing to stabilize it
- Minimizing roof overhang to decrease wind buildup
- Building a moderate roof pitch, such as 6:12
- Considering tie-downs where appropriate
Additional support for the walls is also necessary. Those building a home may want to start with precast panels containing concrete insulation for extra impact resistance. Old or loose siding is more likely to leak or blow off during a storm. Homeowners may want to replace it with something stronger and more durable, like fiber cement siding.
Doors & Windows
Doors and windows represent some of the most vulnerable aspects of the home's exterior structure. Homeowners should start by inspecting the condition of the casing. Doors that hang loosely and windows with significant gaps may be more likely to blow open or break during a storm. When considering possible home improvements, people may want to invest in:
- New caulking for doors and windows
- Storm shutters, which protect windows from flying projectiles
- Fabric panels to shield against small flying debris
- Impact-resistant glass
- Impact-resistant steel doors
Double doors may need slide locks or bolts to decrease the likelihood of blowing open during the storm. Given their thin, lightweight nature, garage doors often need additional bracing so they do not buckle or blow off the track. People should plan to hire a trained professional for these upgrades, as they may affect how the door functions normally.
Hurricane Flood Protection
Flooding is another significant risk that homeowners must plan for if they live in an area prone to hurricanes. Destructive rains can cause flooding, but rising waters may also do the same thing. Additional preparation can save homeowners thousands of dollars in damage, as well as the time spent making repairs.
There are several preventive measures that homeowners can take to minimize flood damage. Although the most crucial advice may depend on the property's proximity to flooding, people can assume they may need to do the following:
- Install a sump pump with a battery backup to pump out water
- Inspect the foundation for cracks and seal them
- Seal concrete in the basement to prevent moisture accumulation
- Install a sewer backflow preventer
- Relocate appliances to at least one foot above flood levels, using cement blocks if necessary
- Position electrical outlets 12 inches above flood level
- Clean gutters and reposition downspouts to point away from the home
- Inspect grading to ensure water flows away from the structure
These steps may not necessarily guarantee there will be no flooding. Instead, they make it easier for homeowners to remove water and minimize water damage to the structure and belongings.
When homeowners prepare for an upcoming storm, they probably need to perform additional tasks to avoid damage. These may include:
- Unplugging electronics and appliances, especially those on lower levels of the home
- Relocating valuables and technological devices to a higher place in the home
- Turning off the water at the home's main shutoff valve
- Turning off electricity at the circuit panel to reduce the risk of electrocution
- Shutting off the fuel valves for each appliance that uses gas or oil
Homeowners may also want to create a barrier using sandbags or something similar, but they should keep in mind that sandbags are heavy and may take time to move. Experts may identify the most common direction for flooding so homeowners can figure out where to place the barrier. In many cases, people need thousands of bags to create a barrier wall along one side of the property.
Preparation for a Hurricane
If the home structure and property are set for a hurricane, people must still prepare for each storm. At a stressful time, it's essential to know which advice is sound. These tips can help homeowners identify what they need to have and their tasks in advance.
How to Secure the Home
Homeowners may want to start with a systematic evaluation of each room for possible hazards. This is also a good time to inventory possessions in case of damage for an insurance report. Electronics should be unplugged and removed from proximity to windows and doors. In advance of the storm, people may want to ensure their phones and other devices are fully charged in case of an outage. Homeowners who have generators should test them and confirm they have sufficient fuel for a possible outage lasting several hours.
With the technology under control, people can shift to other aspects of the home. Turning a refrigerator to its coldest setting will help keep food safe longer. Testing the battery in a carbon monoxide or smoke detector ensures they will still be functional in case of emergency. Securing tall furniture to the wall will help prevent falling or injury. Homeowners may also want to move their valuables and important documents to a safer place. As a general rule, it is better to put these items higher in the home. Otherwise, people may choose to put them in waterproof, airtight containers to secure them.
What to Have in the Home
Homeowners should have a certain number of items available in the home while they wait out the storm and its aftermath. These include:
- Non-perishable food
- One gallon of water per person per day
- At least a day or two of clean clothing
- Food, water, and bedding for pets
- First aid supplies and regular medications
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
It is best to place these items in a waterproof container that can be transported to a vehicle in a hurry if necessary.
What to Know Before a Hurricane
The best way to prevent a disaster during a hurricane is to create an emergency plan and follow it. Homeowners may need to practice carrying out an evacuation plan several times to ensure they can do it quickly. It is important to include children and pets in practice to be familiar with what they can expect from the experience. Before creating an evacuation plan, people may want to do the following:
- Determine the property's risk during a hurricane
- Keep an eye on the weather, particularly as a storm approaches
- Research several routes for evacuation, depending on location
- Identify common evacuation areas
- Find out which shelters are accommodating to pets, if necessary
- Create a list of information for reference
Experts recommend that homeowners create an emergency kit they can grab and go because people may not have a lot of time to prepare before leaving. The entire household should practice gathering what they need and evacuating the home quickly to get to a vehicle or other forms of transportation without leaving essential items or people behind.
People may receive a lot of advice as they prepare for a hurricane, and not all of it is practical or safe. Many popular tips can increase the likelihood of damage or injury. Therefore, homeowners should follow advice from experts trained in hurricane management. They may want to avoid these common tips that can cause more problems than they solve:
- Taping windows: Can create large shards of glass
- Opening a window or door: Allows incoming debris
- Waiting to evacuate until the storm arrives: Makes it harder to escape
- Burning candles for light after a power outage: Risks fire
- Running fuel-burning appliances indoors: Risks buildup of deadly carbon monoxide
- Leaving pets to fend for themselves while people evacuate: Increases the likelihood of lost pets
Because hurricanes are common throughout the year, it may be tempting for homeowners not to take them seriously. Failing to prepare is one of the biggest mistakes people can make. While getting ready for a hurricane takes time and may not ultimately be needed, it is much better to invest the effort. Putting off tasks and hoping the storm will pass could put people at serious risk for injury or damage to their homes.
Certain parts of the region may require evacuation during a hurricane. Therefore, homeowners should have a plan in place and practice it. These tips help people know what they can do during and after an evacuation.
During an Evacuation
In the days leading up to a hurricane, there are many things homeowners can do to make their lives easier if they must evacuate. They should create a short-term survival kit that contains food and water, clothing, medications, and other supplies for everyone in their household, including pets. This process helps ensure they have what they need and can remain in the home for as long as possible. If told to evacuate, they should:
- Contact neighbors to confirm that everyone has sufficient transportation
- Gather everyone in the household, including pets
- Identify the safest routes to a shelter
- Load up vehicles with necessary supplies
- Disconnect electronics and turn off electricity
- Relocate valuables
- Cover windows with storm shutters
- Lock doors
People should research in advance to get information about local services. Phone lines should be open so emergency personnel can use them.
Before arriving at the shelter, people may have to drive through unsafe areas due to flooding. Therefore, they should avoid driving through deep puddles or running waters because they can carry away a vehicle in a strong current. They should also pay attention to other hazards, like falling power lines.
After an Evacuation
After an evacuation due to a hurricane, homeowners are often in a rush to get back to their properties to look for damage. Unfortunately, this can be a significant risk. It may take emergency crews several days to go through affected areas and identify and remove hazards. People should wait to go home until they know it's safe to do so.
The highest risk after a hurricane is drowning due to floodwaters. People may not realize how deep the water is and try to drive through it. They may also think they can swim across but find the current is moving too rapidly. People are also at risk of injury from falling or tripping on obstacles or debris. Homeowners with small children or pets should not allow them to walk around damaged property until it is safe.
Once people are allowed back to their homes, they should plan to inspect for damage. Taking photographs will help with insurance claims. Opening doors and windows can be helpful to air out a water-damaged home.
Homeowners may also need to use a sump pump to remove water. Before turning on the electricity and checking appliances, they should confirm the local utility has verified its safety.
Regular homeowners insurance or renters insurance does not cover damage caused by wind or flooding from a hurricane. Therefore, people should investigate the best options and get coverage at least one month before they might need it.
Check What's Included
Those who want to add insurance to protect against damage from hurricanes may need flood insurance or wind insurance. These policies come on top of regular homeowners insurance and can cost several hundred dollars per year. In many cases, people will need to consider getting a policy covering both or two separate policies. They may choose to get flood insurance alone, but they should consult with an insurance expert first.
When selecting hurricane insurance coverage, people should ensure they get sufficient coverage for the structure and their belongings. The insurance may cover market value or replacement value, and people should be sure which one they choose. Many hurricane insurance policies offer additional coverage for those with uninhabitable homes for a period of time. Therefore, people should research how much they are likely to need if they must stay in a hotel for several weeks or months.
Check for Preparedness Benefits
There are two types of costs that people may face related to hurricane insurance: premiums and deductibles. Deductibles are usually a set amount paid per season or a percentage of the coverage value they choose. The deductible can rise to tens of thousands of dollars for a complete loss, so people should investigate it in advance.
To minimize the cost of hurricane insurance premiums, homeowners can perform various improvements that make their homes more hurricane-resistant. Typically, rebates and credits will cover a portion of the improvement's cost. Homeowners should investigate local and statewide incentives to determine their eligibility.
Start Preparing for a Hurricane Today
Preparing for a hurricane is a yearly process. Every year, homeowners must assess their risk for hurricane damage and evaluate the best solutions. In some cases, the most appropriate approaches require significant home improvements, like replacing the roofing or siding. In others, homeowners need to ensure their property remains in good condition to minimize damage from strong winds. A proactive stance is crucial to keeping people safe in the home and protecting their investment. By planning, homeowners can minimize expensive repairs without compromising the function of the house.