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The Atlantic storm season is heating up, with Hurricane Irma now threatening to wreak havoc on Florida and other states in the U.S.
The storm’s arrival comes less than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall and dumped huge amounts of rain on portions of the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast.
Unfortunately, Irma is unlikely to be the last storm to rattle nerves this hurricane season. In fact, we have just entered the peak period for storm activity, a time frame that lasts through the end of October. And the storm season itself runs through Nov. 30 — and possibly beyond.
If you are in harm’s way — either right now, or at any time over the next several weeks — you must take steps quickly to protect your property. Following are six ways to protect your home from a storm’s fury.
The work you do to harden your home, safety-proof your landscaping and improve your insurance coverage will make your family more secure this season, and in years to come.
1. Storm-guard your home
You can take several steps to fortify your home against the nasty winds and downpours hurricanes generate. Some of these moves are relatively easy to complete. For example, clean out your gutters and make any needed repairs. Also, have a plan for moving outdoor furnishings out of the wind and into your home.
Consider purchasing a generator in case the power goes out. Learn how to turn off the electricity and gas or propane.
Other preparations are likely to take more time. They include:
- Strap down the roof. Use hurricane straps or clips to fasten your home’s roof to the frame of the house, reducing roof damage. 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 the 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 that are made from exterior grade or marine plywood that’s at least five-eighths of an inch thick. Use heavier, reinforced plywood to cover big pieces of glass, such as sliding doors.
- 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.
- Test sump pumps and drains. Test drains and sump pumps to be sure they’re working well. Keep fresh backup batteries on hand.
2. Safety-proof your landscaping
Plants, trees and other landscaping elements also are vulnerable to a hurricane’s fury. Take these steps to protect 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, because 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 the wind. Crashing trees can badly damage a home or car.
- Tie down small trees and shrubs. This helps prevent uprooting.
3. Assess your wind insurance coverage
Home insurance policies vary a great deal. Depending on where you live, standard homeowners insurance may or may not cover wind damage. If not, you may need to purchase a separate wind policy.
Call your insurance agent or broker to find out if your insurance coverage is adequate. Unfortunately, it’s probably too late to call your insurer and get coverage before Irma strikes if you live in Florida. But if you live elsewhere, now is the time to make sure you are covered.
4. 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.
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 designations 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, as most homeowners face a waiting period before coverage kicks in.