How to Ready Your Home For Hurricane Season

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Hurricanes make a vivid splash when the big ones hit the national news. But if you live in hurricane country, preparing your home and property isn’t a one-time exercise. Strong preparedness requires time and money, as you’ll see from the list we’ve compiled below.

Beef up your home’s protections

You may not be able to do everything at once. Start now and chip away at it in whatever way you can, adding improvements annually.

The six-month Atlantic hurricane season begins every June 1. It’s earlier in the Eastern Pacific, from May 15 through November. Keep your eye on storm activity at the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center.

The 2014 hurricane season could be a mild one, experts say. But CBS News adds, “Climate change, however, continues to put scientists and forecasters on edge about the intensity and frequency of big storms.”

The work you do to harden your home, safety-proof your landscaping and improve your insurance coverage makes you and your family more secure in years to come.

Storm-guard your home

  • Strap down the roof. Use hurricane straps or clips to fasten your home’s roof to the frame of the house, reducing roof damage. The State of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management offers extensive information and instructions on securing and retrofitting homes against hurricanes.
  • Put head and foot bolts on entry doors. Give doors extra protection against wind by installing bolts at the top and bottom. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows how to do this.
  • Buy or make window covers or storm shutters. Purchase commercially made storm shutters or cut window covers to fit each individual window from exterior grade or marine plywood that’s at least five-eighths of an inch thick. “These covers will protect windows and doors from wind, and more importantly, flying debris,” says The Weather Channel, in an article outlining several options for shutters and panels. Use heavier, reinforced plywood on big pieces of glass like sliding doors. Says Ready.gov:

Another year-round option would be installation of laminated glass with impact-resistant glazing. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.

Also, have a plan for operating electric storm shutters in case the power goes out.

  • Clean your home’s gutters. Repair loose, broken or leaky gutters. Run a hose through your gutter system and double-check that all connections are tight and downspouts are flowing freely.
  • Make a plan for outdoor furnishings. Decide where and how you’ll move outdoor furnitures, pots, the grill and anything that could blow around. When a storm approaches, move things indoors.
  • Buy a generator. Test it occasionally, keep it in working order and become confident at operating it. Purchase several 5-gallon gas cans, fill them with fuel and store them in a safe place. Add fuel stabilizer to fuel if storing it for prolonged periods.
  • Learn how to turn off the electricity and gas or propane. Ask your utility companies for instructions. Have the tools you’ll need and put them in an easily accessible location.
  • Caulk around doors and windows. Wind-driven rain can cause moisture damage in your home, even when the structure remains intact.
  • Protect attached structures. Make sure carports, porches and decks, entry canopies and sheds are sound and firmly attached. “In high winds, these connections can come loose and leave gaping holes, exposing the interior of your house to wind and water damage,” says the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, which tells how to evaluate these connections.
  • Sump pumps and drains. Test drains and sump pumps to be sure they’re working well. Keep fresh backup batteries on hand. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety adds, in a separate article:

Make sure the sump pit does not contain any debris that will clog the sump’s inlet pipe.

Ensure the outlet pipe is clear and the water flows freely to the designated area.

Safety-proof your landscaping

  • Trim trees and shrubs. This helps them better resist the wind, saving the plants and also reducing the chances of damage from falling or windblown limbs.
  • Replace gravel with shredded bark. When it’s time to refresh your gravel paths or drive, consider replacing gravel with bark, since windblown gravel can damage structures.
  • Hire an arborist. Get a professional to assess the health of trees near your home. Remove any that are likely to come down in wind. Crashing trees can badly damage a home or car.
  • Tie down small trees and shrubs. This helps prevent uprooting.

Assess your insurance coverage

Home insurance policies vary a great deal. Depending on where you live, standard homeowners insurance may or may not cover wind damage. Says Insure.com:

There really is no such thing as “hurricane insurance” — a single policy you can buy to cover damage to your home. Instead, a combination of home insurance, flood insurance and, in some cases, separate windstorm coverage provide protection if you live in hurricane country.

Call your insurance agent or broker to find out if your insurance coverage is adequate. Don’t wait until a storm is approaching and the company is overwhelmed. You’ll need time to weigh the options, costs and coverage you need and coverage you may be able to avoid.

It’s growing harder to get adequate insurance in coastal areas. Says this Boston Globe opinion article by former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snow and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala:

Insurers have pulled back from the shores of the Gulf Coast, Florida, and Cape Cod. In the decades ahead as levels of coastal risk rise, insurers can be expected to continue this retreat, which does not bode well for coastal communities in the 21st century.

Decide if you need flood insurance

Homeowners insurance does not cover flooding. You must buy separate, government-backed insurance. It’s available if your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program. Check your community’s status here.

If your home is in a flood zone, you are required to buy flood insurance. But you may need it even outside designated flood zones. Learn more and see flood zone maps at FloodSmart.gov.

Says Nolo.com:

If you buy a home in a designated high-risk flood zone and get a mortgage loan from a federally regulated or insured lender, your lender must require that you purchase flood insurance.

If you live in a zone that’s been designated moderate- or low-risk, you don’t need to buy flood insurance for your lender’s sake — but you may want to do so anyway, especially if your own observations indicate that the official designation on your area are out-of-date (a common problem).

Ask your insurance agent or broker to help you learn where to buy flood insurance. Or locate an agent through the National Flood Insurance Program. Do it now. There may be a waiting period before it kicks in.

Inventory your home and possessions

Document the contents of your home and the home itself, inside and out. The easiest way to do this is to shoot video or still photos. Take lots of shots from every angle, including close-ups and shots that pull back to show the big picture.

If you make an insurance claim, you’ll want this evidence to support the claim and recover the maximum amount.

Another option, if you’re feeling extra inspired, is to create an inventory of your possessions that includes an appraised or estimated value for the most expensive items. The Insurance Information Institute has instructions and a free tool for making an inventory.

Remember to send the inventory, photos or video to your insurance agent. Or store it, along with important documents, in the cloud or somewhere else safe from a hurricane.

Get trustworthy advice

Insurance can be complex. Make sure you have an agent or broker whom you trust and a company that offers good value. Agents receive commissions; remember, they are salespeople.

An independent insurance broker’s fee is often worth it because good brokers can find the best coverage at the lowest price by comparing products from several companies. Whether you use a broker or a company agent, look for respectful, readily available customer service and professionals who take the time to answer your questions and explain the reasons behind their recommendations.

If you’d rather find your own insurance, you’ll find plenty of quotes and opportunities to buy policies online.

Whichever approach you like best, first do some research to make sure you are dealing with a quality company. (Learn how here.) Call your state’s insurance commissioner – or visit the website (find yours on this map) to check consumer complaints against insurers.

Additional tips

How are your storm preparations coming? Share your experiences and advice to others in hurricane country by posting a comment below or at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.

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