Preparing your home for the storm
Readying your home for a hurricane may be one of the most expensive, time-consuming, hazardous, and difficult parts of hurricane preparedness. Like all of your hurricane preparedness activities, you should start with a written plan and work to a budget so you can get the most bang for your buck as you undertake these critical tasks.
Unfortunately, every home is different, and every storm comes with its unique set of challenges and risks. Sometimes even the same storm can present vastly different risks, based on the location along its path. For example, Hurricane Harvey was primarily a high wind event near where it made landfall in Rockport, Texas. When it drifted into the Houston, Texas area, it was primarily a flooding event as it dumped over 40 inches of rain in many places. This makes preparing for hurricanes a bit of a challenge—especially when working on a budget. Basically, you just have to assess the risk where you live based on past storms, then adjust as best you can based on what the experts are advising when a storm threatens your locale.
Hurricane Harvey (2017) was primarily a high wind event as it made landfall (top photo), causing massive damage to structures in its path. As Harvey drifted into the Houston area (bottom photo), the winds had died down to less than tropical storm force, the storm produced record levels of flooding throughout the region. Photo credits: Shutterstock
Windows and Garage Doors
At a hurricane conference several years ago, I asked Dr. John Schroeder, who holds a Ph.D. in Wind Engineering from Texas Tech, what he thought the most important factor was in protecting a home from wind damage. His response surprised me, though it made sense when he explained his answer: Protect the envelope of the structure. In layman's language, you need to keep the windows, doors—especially the garage doors—from blowing in or getting sucked out, which can ultimately lead to the roof blowing off and failure of the structure.
For this reason, I go to great lengths at my home to cover the windows with plywood and I reinforce the garage doors with braces. There are a variety of ways to protect the windows, ranging from basic plywood up to electrically activated storm shutters. Since we only experience a hurricane in the Houston area about every seven years, I've chosen a reliable but less expense method of protecting my windows: Plylox® hurricane clips. These clips, when used around the edges of properly cut plywood, hold the window covering in place without having to drill into the masonry of your home. However, these clips only work on windows with a brick window casing. For the Hardiplank® siding or stucco, I use Panelmate anchors from Wind Storm Products. These unique bolts have a wood screw type of thread on one end and a machine screw thread on the other. Once you carefully measure the window and cut the plywood, you must drill pilot holes through the plywood and into the window frame. The anchors can stay in year-round and you can also purchase small plastic caps to cover the anchors to protect and hide them. Before storing your plywood, you should use a heavy-duty Sharpie® to mark the boards indicating the window they were cut for, and which direction faces outward. Whichever method you choose, I suggest you start this project well in advance of hurricane season as it will probably take much longer than you expect!
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), failure of the garage door(s), whether blown in or sucked out (which happens about half the time), can often lead to the roof of the structure blowing off. With the garage door gone, a huge volume of hurricane-force winds can enter the structure, exerting pressure from the bottom of the roof decking. When the roof blows off, the structure is weakened considerably, and may ultimately collapse. In my home, I installed two of the garage door braces from Secure Door. Once properly installed (and this is also a time-consuming project), they can be easily attached in just a matter of minutes when a storm threatens.
Preparing For The Storm
Before Hurricane Season
If you have large trees that have overhanging branches that could fall onto your home, then you should have those trimmed back early in the season. Any dead or dying trees may need to be entirely removed.
If you don't have flood insurance, you should evaluate your flood risk and consider purchasing a policy today. Most homeowner policies don't cover flood damage. Remember that there is a thirty day waiting period before the insurance will go into effect, so now is the time to buy. Also, keep in mind that flood insurance may not afford the same level of coverage as your conventional home-owner's insurance. For instance, my policy has a pretty low cap, and does not offer replacement-level coverage.
Before The Storm
Before the arrival of a storm, you should secure the exterior of your home and pick up any loose objects that may become airborne in high winds. This is especially true of trampolines, which can fly for great distance and do considerable damage! To secure a trampoline, remove the tarp and any netting and bring those parts indoors. If possible, you should also bring the frame indoors. However, if you don't have room to store the frame, flip it upside down, and secure it to the ground with stakes.
To help minimize the damage to your roof, have a qualified roofer check your home each year and repair or replace any damaged shingles. The roofer should also check around all vents or other roof penetrations for missing caulk, cracked vents, defective vent pipe boots or collars, and anything else that could be a potential problem in high winds and incessant rain.
If you have a garage, park your vehicles inside to protect it from flying debris. If you do not have a garage, then park where it is least likely that a tree limb, billboard or utility pole will blow over on it.
After The Storm
In a typical hurricane, roughly 27% of the deaths are due to fresh water flooding. And of those who die in freshwater flooding, the majority walked or drove into the water where they drowned! So perhaps the most important post-hurricane advice I can give is to stay away from flood water if at all possible. Do not venture out into the water unless you have to evacuate your home. Additionally, never let your children play in flood water. Beside drowning, the waters may contain dangerous bacteria, snakes, fire ants and a host of other nasty things that can ruin your day! Flood waters can also blow off manhole covers, which can result in drowning if you step into a manhole hidden by the water. Always check around your home for hidden dangers before allowing children or pets outdoors after the storm passes.
In addition to the hazards presented by flood waters, you should also be very careful around downed power lines. Though they should be checked by a lineman before being energized, they can sometimes re-energize automatically. Report fallen power lines to your local electrical provider as soon as possible.
In your home, leave your breakers turned off until after the power is restored in your neighborhood. This is very important, since the process of restoring the power often results in electrical surges throughout your home. These surges can cause permanent damage to sensitive electronics and your air conditioning system.