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If you own property along a coastline, you watch the weather forecast closely during the summer and fall — also known as hurricane season. Hurricanes are most likely to descend between June 1 and Nov. 30, many of them leaving serious damage and devastation in their wake.
Each year, hurricanes and storm-related flooding cause around $34 billion in damage to U.S. households. The areas most at-risk include the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the beaches along the Atlantic Coast. Broken down by state, the top 10 in terms of hurricane activity are Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, New York, and Massachusetts.
As a homeowner in one of these hurricane hotbeds, you’ll want to take proactive measures to protect your property — not just during peak season, but year-round. We spoke with storm readiness experts and a top Florida real estate agent to find out what you should focus on when hurricane-proofing your home.
1. Install high-impact windows throughout
Ron Wysocarski, a top real estate agent in Daytona Beach, Florida, is no stranger to the ravages of hurricanes. He says windows are one of the most vulnerable parts of a home when it comes to storm damage.
“It’s best to have hurricane-impact windows with heavy frames that resist breakage and projectiles of up to 150 miles per hour,” he explains. In addition to protecting the house itself, high-impact windows help to prevent water intrusion and can lower the cost of your insurance premiums.
After the widespread damage of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, many coastal cities started implementing building codes that required new homes to be built with high-impact (hurricane-impact) windows. But if your home is older, you may want to invest in an upgrade.
Select the right windows
When shopping for hurricane-proof windows, check the DP (Design Pressure) rating, which measures air infiltration, water infiltration, and structural load. A DP rating of around 50 should withstand winds up to 200 miles per hour and pressure of 75 pounds per square foot.
The cost of impact windows will range widely depending on size, material (aluminum versus vinyl), brand, and special features, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $1,500 per window, including installation.
Don’t forget about permits and post-inspections
Wysocarski points out that homeowners typically need a permit to install new windows, and a post-inspection is usually required. In most cases, the installer works with the municipality to take care of those details.
“Unless you’re really experienced, I wouldn’t recommend tackling window installation as a DIY project,” he says. “You would run the risk of having it flagged in a home inspection as an unpermitted type of window.”
Explore these other window-proofing measures
If you don’t have room in your budget for high-impact windows, here are some things you can do to make your existing windows more hurricane-resistant:
- Some homeowners opt to add film to their windows. Although this doesn’t increase impact resistance, it does hold the glass together if it breaks and prevents it from shattering into dangerous shards.
- Adding storm shutters helps to block wind and water while still letting in light in the event of a power outage. There are several different types, ranging from cost-effective storm panels to mid-range accordion shutters to the more expensive Bahama shutters. Hurricane shutters cost on average $3,500 total to install, compared to an average total cost of $6,510 for impact windows.
- Stephany Smith, spokesperson for the home improvement and property maintenance company Fantastic Services, recommends caulking around windows and doors to keep water out.
2. Strengthen your roof
We’ve all seen hurricane footage of ravaged homes whose roofs have been blown off. Wysocarski has seen that happen even in winds of under 50 miles per hour in the absence of a high-impact roof.
Go with metal
According to Juneau Odenwald Roofing in Louisiana, the most hurricane-resistant roofing material is metal, which can protect against wind gusts of up to 140 miles per hour. Made from tin, steel, aluminum, copper, or zinc, metal roofs are a more expensive option, but also last 50 years or more and are more durable than asphalt shingles.
Invest in architectural shingles
In Florida, Wysocarski says most new homes are built with architectural shingles, which can resist winds of up to 130 miles per hour and can last 20 to 30 years. Architectural shingles are thicker and at least 50% heavier than traditional three-tab asphalt shingles, making them a better choice in hurricane-prone areas.
Call in reinforcements (and plan for an escape)
For added protection, you can use steel hurricane clips to increase the strength of connection between the roof and the house. And for worst-case scenario planning, another option is to have an escape hatch built into the roof for emergency evacuations in case of extreme flooding.
Inquire about insurance discounts
If your roof system is resistant to winds of up to 150 miles per hour (indicative of a Category 5 hurricane), you may also be eligible to receive an insurance discount. And if you’re considering selling your home, the buyer may opt to get a wind mitigation report as part of the home inspection.
3. Reinforce your entry points
Garage doors are the largest entry to your home, making them an area of high vulnerability during a hurricane. If a garage door is not impact-rated, the heavy winds could remove it from the opening, causing air pressure to build up and potentially blow off the roof.
Invest in a heavy-duty garage door
If you live in a hurricane-prone area, it’s worth it to invest in hurricane-resistant garage doors, such as Clopay’s WindCode series. These types of doors have steel reinforcements, extra hardware, and spring components that provide added strength and durability against severe wind pressures. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s specifications for wind resistance and make sure they meet any code requirements in your area.
Protect using removable metal panels
If you don’t have the budget for hurricane-resistant garage doors, there are still ways to bolster them against hurricanes. Smith recommends using removable galvanized steel and aluminum panels, which can be mounted to the garage door when a storm is approaching. If you have non-wind-loaded doors, you can also install vertical storm braces for extra reinforcement.
For the front, go with fiberglass
For entry doors, fiberglass is seen as the best material for hurricane resistance. In addition to being impact-tested for wind, fiberglass doors are also better at keeping out rain than wood or steel doors. According to data HomeAdvisor gathered from homeowners who recently completed this project, the cost to buy and install a fiberglass door ranges from $150 all the way past $3,000, depending on design and features.
4. Protect and secure your HVAC system
A hurricane can easily inflict thousands of dollars of damage on a home’s HVAC system. Anthony Perera, founder of Air Pros USA Residential and Commercial Air Conditioning Services, offers these expert tips to help reduce damage and ensure safe indoor air quality during a storm.
Before the storm
Use hurricane straps or a protective cage to secure the base; put a trap over the unit to protect it from any loose objects or debris.
- Remove any foliage, bushes or loose items from around the unit to prevent impact damage.
- Cool down the home as much as possible in case of a future power outage.
- Schedule an HVAC professional to check the system and perform any necessary maintenance.
- Invest in a backup generator to keep the system running in the event of an outage.
During the storm
- Shut off the thermostat and circuit breakers for your HVAC system to prevent damage to the unit.
After the storm
- Once it’s safe to step outside, check the HVAC unit for any dents or other damage. Have a professional inspect the unit to make sure it’s dry and safe to operate. Never turn the power on if there is water in or around the unit.
- If you don’t see obvious damage to the unit, turn on the circuit breaker and listen for any abnormal noises.
- Take photos of any damage so you can submit them to your insurance company.
5. Do these affordable, last-minute hurricane prep projects
Proactive preparation is the best-case strategy, but what if a hurricane is headed your way and you only have hours or minutes to get ready? The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has identified these last-minute steps to minimize damage to your home.
- Close your garage door and all interior doors: The simple action of closing interior doors can reduce pressure on the roof by up to 30%, which gives it a better chance of staying intact during a storm.
- Get reliable weather information and alerts: Staying informed is key to staying safe. The National Hurricane Center provides real-time updates of hurricane forecasts. It’s also a good idea to keep a battery-powered radio on hand for local updates and enable wireless emergency alerts on your mobile phone.
- Secure loose items outside. Items like outdoor décor, patio furniture, planters, bicycles, and other loose items can be blown away or cause damage to structures in hurricane winds. Also secure any loose fencing, deck boards, and mailboxes.
- Create a home inventory list. Before the storm hits, create a list or video of your belongings so you’ll know what’s missing or damaged in case you have to file an insurance claim. Check out these tips on how to create a home inventory from The Insurance Information Institute.
6. Keep these necessities on hand
- Sump pump: Basements are very susceptible to flooding during hurricanes. Paul Simpson, chief editor of PrimalSurvivor.net, recommends having a sump pump ready with a battery back-up in case of power outages.
- Surge protector: In the event of a power surge during a hurricane, Mr. Electric says a surge protector can help protect electronic devices by passing the electrical current from the outlet to the devices plugged into the strip.
- Home generator: If the power goes out during a storm, a home generator will keep the fridge, freezer, HVAC system, lighting, sump pump, stove, and other essential appliances running to keep you safe and comfortable.
- Water barriers: Sandbags, water diversion tubes or expanding flood barriers can be placed around the house to divert water away from the property and prevent flood damage.
- Disaster supplies kit: Make sure you have a flashlight, plenty of extra batteries, a battery-powered radio, a first-aid kit, and enough water and non-perishable food for three days.
7. Don’t forget these overlooked areas
- Clear out built-up leaves and debris from the gutters periodically. Clear gutters will drain faster and help prevent roof leaks. While you’re at it, secure any loose gutters to prevent them from getting pulled off by hurricane winds.
- Redirect your downspouts away from the foundation of your home, suggests Mr. Handyman. This will help keep rainwater as far away as possible from your basement or crawl space.
- Do a tree audit. Remove any damaged or dead tree branches, which could break and fall on the house during a storm.
- Check your outdoor drains. “Be proactive with drain maintenance and cleaning if you live in a hurricane-prone area,” says Smith. “Just one clogged area drain can bring you a mountain of flooding problems.”
Hurricane risk is one of the costs of enjoying life on the coast. In the event that your property is in the path of one of these damaging storms, a little preparation can go a long way toward protecting your home and the people who live in it.
Header Image Source: (Michael M / Unsplash)