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A Guide to Prepare for Severe Weather Season
When spring arrives in some parts of the U.S., so does extreme weather like tornadoes and thunderstorms. And as fall and winter approach, many homeowners begin bracing themselves for wildfire season or hurricane season, followed by winter storm season. Although the types and the severity of these extreme weather events varies widely depending on where you live, it’s important for all homeowners to stay informed and to be prepared.
With more people spending time at home under various levels of “stay at home” orders due to COVID-19, now is the perfect opportunity to make preparations for the fast-approaching severe weather season. And it’s important to begin preparing now, considering experts anticipate a second wave of coronavirus infections in the U.S. this fall — better to stay ahead of things.
Whether purchasing a new home or considering updating or changing home insurance coverage, it’s important to ensure you have adequate coverage that’s relevant to your risks. Not only should you make sure your homeowners insurance is up to date, you should also make sure your coverage will see you safely through any severe weather in your area.
How to protect your home from severe weather damage covered by homeowners insurance.
Homeowners insurance coverage can vary from one policy to the next, but there are four types of coverage commonly included in standard homeowners insurance policies: coverage for the structure of your home, coverage for your personal belongings, liability protection and coverage for additional living expenses.
Although your standard homeowners insurance policy protects you from natural disasters, it’s still essential for you to do everything you can to ensure your safety, as well as the safety of your home, during a severe weather event. Here’s a quick checklist of things you can do to prepare your home for different types of extreme weather:
- Check your homeowners insurance: In most cases, your homeowners insurance should cover fire damage caused by a lightning strike, but check whether your insurance policy covers damages caused to electronics or appliances because of electrical surges.
- Install a lightning protection system (LPS): A lightning protection system generally consists of five elements: bonds, grounds, lightning rods, main conductors and surge protectors. Lightning rods, in particular, are easy to find and install yourself, though you may need a professional to help you install the entire system.
- Install transient voltage surge suppressors: These suppressors protect your electronics from power surges caused by lightning and are incredibly easy to use.
- Unplug electronics and appliances: Protect electronics and appliances by unplugging them before the thunderstorm hits.
- Close blinds, drapes and window shades: During a hailstorm, make sure you close all blinds, drapes and window shades to prevent broken glass from blowing into your home.
- Get impact-rated skylights: Install skylights that have a high impact rating. These skylights are much more weather-resistant and less likely to be shattered by hail.
- Examine and fix your roof: Take a close look at your roof before the severe weather season arrives. Check for any wear and tear, and repair the roof where needed.
- Maintain house siding: Make sure the siding on your home is well maintained. If you need to replace it, do so with hail-resistant, fiber-cement siding.
- Clear the area around your house: Make sure your lawn is maintained and the area around your house is clear from dead trees or shrubs. Also, ensure your irrigation system is in working condition and your roof and gutters are free from leaves and debris.
- Box in decks: Use fire-resistant materials to box in the underside of your deck so flames don’t easily reach the underside of your house.
- Box in eaves: Ensure your eaves are boxed in and closed so it’s harder for flames and smoke to enter your house.
- Replace mulch: Create a natural firewall by replacing any mulch in your landscaping with gravel instead.
- Upgrade your windows: Install double-paned or tempered-glass windows, as these are more heat resistant and less likely to shatter.
- Secure garage doors: Ensure your garage door is maintained and secured so it can withstand strong winds. Garage doors are big, and if they’re not well secured, they can cause a lot of damage should they blow off of their hinges.
- Install ground anchors and straps: These are especially important for any smaller structures you may have around your home, such as outbuildings or sheds. The same applies to any outdoor furniture or larger objects you have around the outside of your home.
- Remove or trim trees: Remove big trees that are close to your home. Strong winds can blow them over, which can potentially cause structural damage to your home.
- Secure shingles: Routine roof maintenance will help to ensure your shingles are all secured, so they are less likely to be blown off by the wind.
- Check siding: Check your siding to ensure it is secured and maintained. The same applies to any metal roofing you may have.
- Get reinforced storm shutters: Install aluminum or steel shutters to your windows. These are easy to install and will prevent objects from breaking glass in French doors, sliding doors or windows.
The safety measures you implement to protect your home from strong winds apply to tornadoes as well. However, there are a few additional measures you should take to prepare your home for tornadoes:
- Reinforce your roof: This can be done by connecting the rafters or trusses of your roof to load-bearing walls using straps or clips. It is not uncommon for roofs to be partially or entirely blown off during a tornado, so securing your roof is a good idea.
- Find a safe room or space: Find and allocate a safe room or space in your house where everyone in the home can go to ride out the storm. This should be on the ground floor or in the basement.
- Tie down furniture and appliances: Tie down and secure large furniture and appliances to ensure they don’t topple over. You can use straps and anchors designed specifically for this purpose.
- Turn off utilities: Make sure you know where to turn off your electricity, gas or water before the storm hits, so you can turn them off quickly if necessary.
- Get window boards: If you don’t have shutters for glass doors or windows, you can improvise by installing DIY plywood shutters.
- Clean gutters: Make sure your gutters are clear of leaves and other debris.
- Install insulation: Ensure all outdoor pipes are insulated. Also, consider adding insulation to your roof. This is a cost-effective way to keep your house warm and save on energy costs.
- Examine the exterior of your home: Make sure your shingles, shutters and siding are all in good condition.
- Seal the deck: Check to see whether your deck may benefit from a fresh layer of paint or sealant.
- Test your heating system: Whether or not winter is upon you, it’s worth testing to see whether your heating system works before it’s really needed.
- Close vents: Close any vents to keep heat in the home.
How you can protect your home from severe weather damage not covered by standard homeowners insurance.
It is essential to know the ins and outs of your homeowners insurance policy. Not all severe weather threats are covered by insurance companies. The most prominent example of what is not covered by insurance companies is flood damage. A 2016 Consumer Insurance Survey revealed 43% of people with homeowners insurance believe their insurance covers damage caused by floods. It does not. People living in the United States have to supplement their homeowners insurance by getting flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
The same applies to hurricanes. For people living in high-risk areas, such as many coastal states, hurricane insurance is not a given in their standard homeowners insurance plan. People living in these high-risk areas often have to supplement their insurance with additional coverage or endorsements. Also, make an inventory of everything in your home. If your home is damaged or destroyed, an inventory will help you assess what you need to claim from the insurance company.
Other severe weather threats that are not commonly covered by general homeowners insurance policies are earthquakes, landslides and sinkholes.
Luckily, there are practical ways in which people can implement measures to protect their homes from severe weather threats, such as floods and hurricanes. Let’s take a look:
- Fill foundation cracks: FEMA recommends that you fill foundation cracks with materials such as masonry caulk and mortar, or hydraulic cement. They will expand and fill the gaps entirely.
- Get a sump pump: A sump pump will help you pump excess water out of your house or basement. FEMA recommends getting a battery-operated pump so you can use it in case there is a power outage.
- Grade your lawn: Make sure your lawn is laid out in such a way that it leads water away from your home.
- Install check valves: These are easy to install and they ensure there is no backflow from pipes. They will prevent excess floodwater from flowing through your water pipes and into your home.
- Clear gutters and downspouts: Keep these clear of leaves and debris. Also, ensure all of your downspouts are pointing away from the house.
- Raise your electrical outlets: Raise your electrical outlets to a higher level that is less likely to be reached by floods.
- Apply sealants: Apply sealants to your floors and walls. This is especially important in your basement, as the waterproof compounds prevent seepage.
- Install sewer backflow valves: Sewage backup is generally not covered by a basic homeowners insurance policy, but it is common in the aftermath of a flood. That’s why it’s a good idea to install a sewer backflow valve to prevent a sewage backup. You may need to enlist the services of a professional for this.
- Clear storm drains: Make sure these are cleared of any leaves and debris, so water can easily flow into storm drains.
- Caulk doors and windows: Make sure your doors and windows are sealed with caulk. You may need to fix up and reapply the sealing compound in certain places.
- Secure external structures: Double check that any external structures attached to, or detached from, your home are sturdy and secured.
- Clear flying debris: Store away or tie down any objects that may be swept up by strong hurricane winds. This includes items like outdoor furniture, grills or planters.
- Trim nearby trees: Trim or cut down trees near your home, so they don’t cause damage to your home should they blow over.
- Reinforce doors and windows: Consider replacing your windows and exterior doors with ones that are impact and pressure rated.
- Maintain your roof: Check that your roof is in good order. If there are any loose or missing shingles, you need to fasten or replace them.
- Install or make shutters: If your windows don’t already have shutters, you can make your own improvised versions with building materials such as wooden boards or metal sheeting. Cut boards to size and fasten attachments so they’re easy to hang up. Remember to label them so you don’t waste precious time when you have to hang them up before the storm hits.