Protecting the home from storms

Every region in the United States is susceptible to some type of major storm. Whether it’s a hurricane on the Atlantic or Gulf coast, a tornado in the Midwest or a tropical storm in the Pacific, there are steps homeowners can take to protect their homes and keep their families safe.

Keep your roof in good shape:

The roof is your home’s primary defense against the elements, and an annual roof inspection should be part of your storm preparedness plan. During an inspection, a roofer will check the overall structural integrity of your roof; look for loose shingles that could easily blow away in a storm, and other areas that may be prone to damage. For homeowners who live in areas prone to high winds, a roofing company can install wind-resistant shingles, plug areas where water could enter the home, and add extra fortification to your gables, rafters and sheathing.

Clear gutters and downspouts:

Make sure your gutters and downspouts are clear of obstructions and in good repair.  This is important to do anyway, but as they will need to work overtime during a major storm. Poorly sloped, leaking or obstructed gutters and downspouts can overflow, causing water damage to your home’s exterior or foundation.

Tend to trees and other wind hazards:

If you have trees near your house, have an expert look at them once every year or two to trim away dead limbs that could break off during a storm and crash through your roof.  Don't just hire the guy with a chainsaw who knocks on your door; find a qualified tree expert and have weak limbs taken down before a storm does it.

When a big storm is headed your way,  look around your property for objects that could become dangerous flying debris. Even heavy structures like playground equipment, porch swings and grills should be secured to the ground.

Give your sump pump a backup:

The sump pump is often overlooked during storm preparation, yet it provides the main line of defense against basement flooding. If you have a finished basement, install a sump pump with a battery backup to ensure it will continue to operate in the event power is lost.

No, don't open the windows:

It’s a common misconception that you should open windows in the home in anticipation of a wind event such as a tornado or hurricane.  It was incorrectly assumed that it would help move air through the home and prevent it from becoming too pressurized and exploding. This theory has been debunked, and it actually puts your family at a greater risk of injury caused by flying debris.

Homeowners in areas prone to tornados can install impact-resistant glass for extra protection. People in coastal areas can install hurricane shutters made out of plywood, aluminum or steel to prevent windows from breaking. Talk to a window installation company for more information.

Make a family plan

Anything can happen during a major storm, so it’s important to establish a family preparedness plan before severe weather strikes. Your plan should have specific instructions for how your family will ride out a storm, as well as plans for evacuating the home and a meeting at a predetermined location in case family members become separated.

The most important part of your preparedness plan should explain exactly how your family will stay safe during a storm. If you live in an area of the country that is prone to tornados or other sudden catastrophic weather events, you should designate a safe spot for the family to take refuge. Basements and storm shelters should be utilized if possible. People who do not have an underground space should take refuge in a windowless room in the middle of the home.

In the event of a hurricane or tropical storm, it’s wise to establish an evacuation route and destination for riding out the storm. You need to consider the fact that many other people will also be trying to flee, causing congestion on roadways and gas stations. If at all possible, pick a relative or friend’s house because hotels fill up fast during storm evacuations.

You also need to establish a place where the family can meet in case someone becomes separated. The meeting spot can be a place in the home, at a neighbor’s house or community storm shelter. Once there, take a head count and check to see if anybody needs medical attention.

Emergency supply kit

No matter how well prepared local officials and utility companies may be, a major weather disaster will stretch all resources thin.  If your house is badly damaged and you're left without power for a week it will make a big difference whether you've made your own preparations.  Think about essentials like food, water, medications and important documents.

Water – Experts recommend 1 gallon of water for every member of the family per day. You should keep a week’s supply on hand.

Food – You also want to have enough food to feed each member of the family for at least seven days. Choose nonperishable foods like canned goods or dehydrated foods. You may also need a hand-operated can opener and eating utensils. If you lose power, keep the refrigerator door shut as much as possible because cold food will only last for a couple of hours before going bad.

First aid kit – Keep a first aid kit on hand with medical necessities like rubbing alcohol, bandages, gauze and pain relievers.  If a family member depends on daily prescription medicine, never let your stockpile of that precious commodity dwindle to less than a week's supply.

Clothing and bedding – You definitely want to make sure you have an extra supply of blankets. You could lose power for weeks in the event of a major storm which would prevent your HVAC system from working. You also want to keep additional clothing on hand but the type depends on your geographic location. People in colder climates should stock up on extra jackets, long pants, boots, hats and gloves. In warmer climates, you want extra rain gear, dry clothes and shoes.

Radio – Keep a battery powered or hand crank-operated radio on hand (and a couple of packages of new batteries) in case you lose power for an extended period of time. It could be the only way to stay informed with weather and news updates.

Flashlights and batteries – In the event of a power loss, a flashlight is one of the handiest tools to keep on hand. Of course, you also need several extra sets of batteries.

Important documents – Make copies of important documents and keep them in a waterproof container. You should include medical records, bank account numbers and credit cards, insurance records and emergency contact information.

Cash – In the event of a widespread power outage, local businesses and gas stations could lose power. Cash could be your only option for purchasing food and supplies.

Review your insurance coverage

You are responsible for reading the entire policy, and understanding the type of coverage you have for your home and possessions. Many policies do not cover things that might seem automatic, and a failure to understand your policy could result in high replacement costs down the road.

You need to determine the potential weather-related threats that could damage your home, and adjust your insurance policy accordingly. If you have any questions about your existing policy, or want to confirm whether have coverage for things like hail damage or flooding, consult your insurance agent.

Make sure you're covered:

Get an appraisal by a home appraiser to establish how much insurance coverage you need. Although it may be more expensive, you should purchase a policy that insures your home for 100 percent of the replacement cost. If you get 100 percent coverage, you will be reimbursed for the full cash value of the home and not the depreciated cost.

It’s important to ensure you have the right type of insurance for your home. Many policies do not cover floods, hurricanes, hail and other weather-related damage.

Insurance companies often change the wording of their policies, and the items they cover can be extremely confusing. For example, insurance policies routinely do not cover water damage, so if your home gets flooded by a hurricane, you might have to pay for the damage in full, and out of pocket. Homeowners in low-lying areas should purchase flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program.

Take inventory of your belongings

Many insurance policies will reimburse you for your personal possessions at a rate of half the overall insured value of the home. If your home has a $300,000 policy, your possessions would be covered for $150,000.

Take an inventory of your possessions to ensure everything is appraised and accounted for. Take photos and video of your possessions for proof in case you have to file a claim. Include all of your possessions in the inventory from jewelry and clothing to CDs and DVDs. If you are concerned that your policy will not cover the actual value of your possessions, you should purchase a policy with full replacement value. This type of policy reimburses at the actual retail value of an item without taking age and depreciation into account.

Hurricane recovery

After a major tropical storm like Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Katrina, it's important to know how to stay safe once the storm has passed and who to call to begin the rebuilding process. Avoiding "storm chasers" and fly-by-night contractors looking to profit after a major disaster is key to recovering from a devastating storm.

LEARN MORE: Angie's List Guide to Hurricane Recovery

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