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Hurricane Proof your Home in 5 Essential Steps

Natural Disaster Steps to Take to Protect Your Home Now Before the Storm Hits

© 2012 by Paul Holmes and Katherine Wood; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without written permission.

Eye of Hurricane Isabel as seen from the International Space Station; photo courtesy NASA

The eye of the hurricane

This article was updated on 05/30/20.
As we approach the beginning point of the 2020 hurricane and tropical storm season, meteorologists harken back to last year’s Superstorm Sandy. There’s good reason: The storm that struck the Northeast in late October caused nearly $19 billion in insured property losses and $6.7 billion in flood insurance claims.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fears that the second half of the 2020 season, which runs through November, will produce more hurricanes with potential for heavy damage.

Make the time and money you’ve already spent on your house count by establishing a defense against storms. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

Understand Your Insurance Limitations

Awareness is crucial when it comes to home insurance, even when clear skies shine overhead. Widespread disasters cause chaos for policyholders and providers alike. After a hurricane, prices for materials and services skyrocket.

Often, homes that must be rebuilt must conform to new construction codes, which again can add costs. It can leave homeowners with the most basic policies stranded in the rubble.

Familiarize yourself now with the benefits of policy add-ons such as guaranteed replacement cost, inflation guard, ordinance coverage, and additional living expenses.

Additionally, if you live in a hurricane-prone area, chances are your state will have a hurricane deductible. Designed to keep coastline home insurance affordable, these deductibles can cost a homeowner anywhere from 1% to 5% of the home’s value.

Make sure you can afford to pay a large deductible if your home is hit. Keep in mind that insurance covers the replacement cost of your home, not what your taxing entity values your property at. Another thing to take into consideration is that for structural damage (including things like kitchen cabinets), insurance pays only for materials. Labor is on you. That means getting about 50 cents on the dollar.

Don’t let Protection Wash Away

Home insurance policies do NOT cover damage from flooding. Flood insurance is offered by the federal government and by a few individual carriers, but it must be purchased as a rider separately from your regular policy.

After Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, many homeowners learned this lesson the hard way because they hadn’t included a flood policy in their home insurance profile.

CoreLogic, which conducts research on residential property, says in a 2013 report that nearly 4.2 million homes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are at risk for hurricane-related flood damage. It adds up to a staggering $1.1 trillion in property exposure.

More than two-thirds of that exposure—about $743 billion—lies on the Atlantic coast. If you live in flood-prone areas, act fast in considering flood insurance.

It typically takes 30 days for a flood policy to take effect, and there is a moratorium when hurricanes threaten, so don’t dawdle. Don’t let hurricane-related flooding sneak up on you while you’re uninsured or underinsured.

Once you’ve done that, consider the following steps to protect yourself from nature’s fury:

  1. Chronicle Your Possessions. Creating and maintaining a home inventory should be a part of every homeowner’s playbook. Having an inventory in place can make the claims process much easier and more efficient.

    In the aftermath of a disaster, it can be extremely difficult to remember everything you had, much less find documentation of its value. A good tool is a searchable database or spreadsheet that allows you to add images.

    The inventory should list your home’s contents, the approximate date of purchase, their values at purchase, their current values, and object photos. Going into such detail now will save you from the much greater pains of recalling and substantiating items in your home later.

  2. Map Out an Evacuation Plan. Every year, create multiple escape plans for your family and practice them. Plans should include:
    • Where: Look for shelters, hotels, and friends’ homes outside your immediate area to determine viable options for places to weather the storm. Practice packing essentials and securing your house so that you’re ready if the unexpected occurs.

    • What: Before the warnings sound, have an evacuation kit packed with bedding, flashlights, clothing, medicines, first aid, photos, and important documents such as insurance policies, passports, driver’s licenses, and your home inventory.

    • Woof: Include your pets in your evacuation plans. Know which hotels or shelters will accommodate pets. Local shelters also might offer emergency kennel services in the event of a disaster. Remember pet essentials such as pet food, leashes, or litter boxes.
  3. Take DIY Steps to Fortify Your Home. Once storm rotations appear on the radar, physically safeguard your house by taking the following steps:
    • Seal wind and water entry points: If you feel comfortable on a ladder and on your roof, secure any loose shingles with roofing cement. If one comes loose the wind can create a "zipper effect", taking more with it. Additionally, caulk any holes through which phone and cable lines enter your home.

    • Reinforce windows and doors: Purchase and install impact-resistant shutters on all windows and glass doors. These are the most expensive items on the list, but they’re well worth it.

    • Upgrade your garage door: Purchase and install a new impact-resistant garage door by adding twice as many steel struts and stronger tracks.

    • Close your doors for good: Fortify double doors with at least three hinges and a 1 inch long deadbolt. Doors that open outward are typically safer in a storm.

    • Prep your yard: Remove lawn furniture, lawn ornaments, and planters. Trim tree branches and shrubs that could act as projectiles in high winds.

Completing these tasks can cost you a tidy sum, but that cost looks great compared with the cost of repairing potential damage. As always, take the proper safety measures in completing any of these tasks.

Now, in the waiting time between storms, is the time to protect your home. Don’t wait to watch your hard work wash away. Know your insurance and add what is necessary before the radar starts to sound, especially if you need flood insurance. A delay could leave you unprepared for the chaos to come. Knowing how to hurricane-proof your home is essential knowledge for the insightful homeowner.

About the Authors:

This article is by Paul Holmes, and Katherine Wood contributors to the Blog. The Blog has served as a resource for home-buying consumers since 2007.

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