Every year, the U.S. faces floods, tornados, hail, blizzards and other extreme weather. The areas that are affected are widening, too, so residents can no longer assume their regions will experience the same type of weather they experienced 20 or 30 years ago.
Weather patterns are changing. Since 1970, extreme weather in the U.S. has become more common, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Since 1980, severe storms are responsible for most of the billion-dollar weather events, NOAA reports. This is a clear indication that homeowners need to reassess their storm preparedness and strengthen their plans to prevent or reduce damage to home and property.
In Florida, for example, insurers must, by law, offer wind mitigation credits to encourage homeowners to protect their homes from the high winds of tropical storms and hurricanes. Credits, which remain for the life of the insurance policy, are available for newer roofs (the age varies by county) and for roofs that slope on all sides, as well as for such things as how the roof is attached to walls, water mitigation and protection for doors and windows.
Hurricanes aren’t the only threat, of course. “Sudden thunderstorms often are accompanied by rain, high winds, hail and even tornadoes that can damage the home or cause water damage that may create lingering problems,” says Pete Duncanson, director of system development at ServiceMaster Restore and chairman of the board for The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification.
He recommends clearing property of trees that may fall on houses and having battery backups and generators ready to see you through storms and days of subsequent power outages.
Batten down the hatches
When storms are imminent, “Make sure all the clutter is gone from your yard. Items become flying objects when a storm comes through,” cautions J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, a national home repair, maintenance and remodeling franchise. That “clutter” includes toys, patio furniture, hanging baskets, building materials and anything that could damage your home or be damaged by severe weather. High winds and tornadoes often arrive with little warning, so keep your yard, porch and patio ready.
If severe windstorms are frequent in your area, consider installing hurricane shutters. A variety of options are available from see-through polycarbonate sheets to roll-down steel shutters.
Otherwise, Duncanson says, “Prepare precut boards to cover windows before a severe storm. When installing them, include support from inside the home to sandwich the board in place.” To do this, first position plywood, cut slightly larger than the window, against the window’s exterior. “Don’t secure the board to the actual window frame. That can cause damage.” Instead, bolt the plywood to a 2-by-4 placed inside the window for extra support. Obviously, you’ll need to leave the window partially open during the storm.
If your region is seeing heavier-than-normal snowfalls, your home and outbuildings may not be designed to handle the increased loads. Likewise, if your outbuildings were constructed without a permit (which is allowed in some parts of the country), they may not be designed to survive peak local winds. If structural supports in stand-alone garages and garden sheds aren’t built to withstand the new normal, upgrade them now to minimize the risk of the roof collapsing or blowing off during storm season. When erecting new structures, such as the garden sheds available through home improvement stores, make sure they are rated for the wind and snow conditions on your property and they are properly anchored to a foundation.
Also, Duncanson advocates installing lightning rods on some homes. “If your roof is the highest point on your property,” he says, “grounding rods can be added to help prevent lightning strikes that can cause power surges and outages that can damage sensitive electronic devices like TVs, computers and phones. In addition to grounding rods, use grounded outlets and surge protectors inside the home to help prevent any further damage.” Consult professional installers to determine how many rods you need and how to install them.
When building decks and patio structures, choose durable materials. “Weather is tough on decks,” Sassano points out. Materials options are wood or composite materials. “Composites stand up better to wear and tear” because they are more resistant to water damage, he says.
Before storm season, Sassano advises checking pool and deck banisters and house shutters, to ensure they are firmly attached, to minimize the risk of damage from winds or tree limbs.
Preventing water leakage
Keeping moisture out is the key challenge, particularly when winds drive rain horizontally into gaps not ordinarily accessible or when hail pummels protective barriers. Any water that penetrates your home’s shell creates the conditions that allow mold and mildew to grow and wood to rot. Unchecked, minor issues will escalate into major problems over time.
Stain or paint structures regularly to help maintain a moisture barrier. Today’s paints are more durable than ever, but don’t assume they’ll last as long as they claim. When storm-proofing your house, check vulnerable areas to ensure that rain, hail or sandstorms haven’t abraded paints years before the warranty expires.
Maintain areas around your house
When preparing for a storm, trim trees away from the house, and clean and inspect gutters annually – more often if trees are nearby. Ensure gutters and their downspouts are firmly attached to the house. “With heavy rain, they may overflow and the weight of the water may pull them away from the house,” Sassano cautions. Also, check for leaks in gutter seams that can cause wood rot. If you find leaks, repair or replace the gutters.
Once you’re back on the ground, walk around the house checking downspouts to ensure they are still connected and unbroken and that runoff is directed away from the home’s foundation to minimize the risk of seepage into foundations and basements. “Extend downspouts at least six feet from the foundation,” Duncanson advises.
Fill cracks wherever they occur. Wood shrinks and caulking dries and cracks over time. So, whether your home is new or on the historic register, scan external caulking annually and conduct a more thorough inspection every two to three years.
Check the exterior around doors, windows and trim to determine whether the gaskets and seals are still good. Poke the wood where pieces join to see whether they’ve developed wood rot. If the wood is soft or spongy, replace it.
Also, fill any cracks in the masonry or stucco with a mortar repair or crack sealant. Ignoring cracks lets in water, which causes stone or tile facades to pop off and risks damage to underlying structures.
Other areas to check
Make sure the chimney is clean when storm-proofing. If the power is out, the fireplace may become an important heat source. Be certain it’s safe to use.
Also inspect your roof for loose shingles, cracked tiles and moss that holds moisture. Then, check your attic for water stains, light coming through the roof and the presence of animals. “Animals often chew on wiring,” Sassano points out. After each storm, even in new houses, check for new leaks.
Also check your furnace and change your filter. While this won’t mitigate storm damage, it can make weathering the storm more comfortable. Also take this opportunity to service your garage door opener by lubricating the chain or screw drive and checking the tension on the chain. Change the batteries in the electronic opener, too, to minimize the chances that your loved ones will have to operate the door manually during a storm.
Weather the storm comfortably
For added safety, invest in battery backups for sump pumps and an electric generator for general use. When the electrical grid is down, home generators can power refrigerators, freezers, lights, electronics and other critical systems, preventing greater losses.
“Generators and backup batteries are sized based on anticipated services,” Duncanson says. “Electricians can wire generators to start automatically during power outages.” Alternatively, connections can be wired into the circuit panel to disconnect the house from the electrical grid and then to a generator to power basic functions. Of course, if you just want to power your refrigerator, you can plug it into a heavy-duty extension cord and then into the generator.
Storms can occur at any time, in any season. Advance preparation and effective storm-proofing goes a long way toward preventing or minimizing damage and making your life more comfortable during recovery.
To learn about possible discounts, like Nationwide’s protective device and renovation discounts, talk with your insurance agent about the benefits of mitigating damage. Be aware that some discounts may be linked to enhancing your home’s efficiency or perimeter security rather than storm mitigation.
The best time to prepare for storms is well before they occur. Get your property ready, check your insurance coverage and talk with your insurance agent about options that may help you weather the coming storms safety and cost-effectively.
FEMA | IBHS | American Red Cross | National Weather Service