How to Prepare Your Home and Finances for a Hurricane

Hurricane season runs from June through November, and even some small steps can make a big difference in protecting your home.

U.S. News & World Report

Prepare Your Home for a Hurricane

Man applying caulking around window frame to weather seal it for the winter

Sealing windows and doors is one of the easiest things you can do to protect your home.(Getty Images)

Even though many events have been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, one date hasn't changed: Hurricane season started on June 1 and runs through the end of November. September tends to be the most active month. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that this year's storm season could be particularly active – with a 70% chance of 13 to 19 named storms, including six to 10 that could become hurricanes. Even if you aren't in a hurricane-prone area, summer storms can cause expensive damages throughout the country. (See the National Hurricane Center's Hurricanes.gov for forecasts.)

If you have extra time to do some home improvements now, consider taking a few steps that can help protect your home from hurricanes and summer storms. "There are some really low-cost things you can do to give your home a good fighting chance against hurricanes and high winds," says Anne Cope, chief engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. A recent IBHS survey of coastal homeowners in the southeast found that with extra time at home, 21% had completed a project around the house to prepare for hurricane season. Their DisasterSafety.org website has advice for protecting your home from hurricanes and other natural disasters, with an estimate of the cost and time to complete each task. The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes' HurricaneStrong site is also a helpful resource.

Now is a good time to take some key steps to protect your home and your finances from hurricanes and summer storms.

Steps to Protect Your Home

Seal windows and doors. One of the easiest things you can do to help protect your home is to seal windows and doors. "Get some caulk and seal the cracks and gaps around windows, and check for areas where rain can penetrate and get in," says Cope. She recommends walking around your house and looking for any holes. "Are there any little bits of daylight poking through? If that's the case, that means the wind and rain can poke through, too. It's very easy to lay a bead of caulk and take care of that."

Even a small opening can let in a lot of rain or wind and lead to expensive damage. Wind, wind-driven water and flood are the three most common hurricane-related causes of losses to homes in the United States, according to insurer Chubb.

Reinforce your garage door. "The garage door is the biggest door on your home, and it can be a vulnerability," says Cope. High winds can push a garage door in and allow pressure to build up inside the garage, then push up on the roof and walls. Cope recommends looking on the door for a "wind rated" sticker, which means it has extra reinforcements to protect it from wind. If not, you can order a kit with connectors and reinforce the garage door and improve its ability to withstand wind. See DisasterSafety.org's garage door resources for more information.

Examine the outside of your house. Cope recommends walking around the outside of your house and looking for things that can cause damage, such as dead tree limbs, sagging or clogged gutters, damages to the soffit underneath your roof's overhang or patio furniture and toys that can become projectiles in a windstorm. It's a good time to trim trees and shrubbery near your house, clear gutters and check downspouts, and be ready to clear off your patio and yard before a storm. "If you have a forecast for bad weather in the area, bring the big wheels and trikes into the garage so they don't become wind-born debris that could knock into your windows," says Cope.

Protect your roof and windows. Missing just a few shingles on your roof can cause major damages during a storm, which happened to Cope's parents' house in Florida in 2004. "Because the shingles came off, the water came pouring in, and I remember standing in the kitchen and it was raining inside as if it was raining outside," she says. Replace any loose shingles and fix any leaks as soon as possible.

When it's time to replace your roof, consider a "fortified roof," which meets special standards to withstand high winds (and can earn you an insurance discount in some states). See Renovating or Re-Roofing at DisasterSafety.org for more information. "The roof is typically the largest thing on your home, and it is the first line of defense protecting you from all of the wind, driving rain or falling hail," says Cope.

Also consider investing in storm shutters, which can protect your windows and may also make you eligible to save on your insurance premiums, depending on the state, says Ana Robic, chief operating officer for Chubb North America Personal Risk Services.

Close interior doors before a storm. A quick and easy move that can make a big difference at the last minute is to close your interior doors, says Cope. "It sounds like a small thing, but shutting the interior doors sections off your house," she says. "If you get a broken window from a tree branch and wind trying to come in, having the door shut can limit the damage to that room and not spread through the whole house." When you get a hurricane or storm warning, go through the house and close the doors. If you're going out of town, it can also help to close the interior doors before you leave.

Install detection and security devices. Some of the most expensive insurance claims are for water damage, whether from a storm or burst pipes. A leak detection device can either alert you to leaks or shut off the water. "One great home improvement project that Chubb recommends is for homeowners to install a flow-based water leak detection system, which monitors the variations of movement of water throughout your home's plumbing system, and when abnormal water flow is detected, is designed to shut off the home's water supply to help minimize loss," says Robic.

Smart home systems make it easy to monitor your home from your smartphone and will send alerts if it detects smoke, carbon monoxide or a water leak, says Elena Mauer of SecurityNerd.com. You can also install door and window sensors, and some home security systems have the option of a glass break detector. New systems make it easy to install security cameras that you can see from your phone and receive alerts for movement or sound. "Security cameras can help you check on your property while you're away, which can give you peace of mind if you've been evacuated," says Mauer.

Find out if your security system will operate during a power outage, or whether it can run on backup batteries. If the system needs Wi-Fi, you may want to purchase an uninterrupted power supply, which can allow the router (or anything you plug into it) to run off battery power for a short amount of time, says Mauer. You can also keep those systems running if you have a permanently installed backup home generator that kicks in automatically if the power goes off – and could earn you an insurance discount, too.

Steps to Protect Your Finances

Make a video home inventory. One of the best things you can do ahead of time to help an insurance claim go smoothly is to have a home inventory. "The process of creating an inventory of items of property in your home can seem daunting, but there are ways to make it simpler," says Robic. "Many insurers will provide tools that can assist in creating an inventory of all of your belongings."

Walk through your house with your smartphone and take a video of every room, open closets and drawers, and save the file on the cloud so it's available from anywhere. Robic recommends updating your video documentation at least once a year. Also scan receipts for valuable items, and update your list when you add new pieces of art or jewelry or other valuables.

Do a home insurance check-up and fill in gaps. Make sure your home insurance is up to date and covers any home improvements and special items, such as jewelry, antiques and artwork. Ask your insurer or agent about any coverage gaps, such as for sewage backups, which usually requires a separate rider that you can add to your homeowners insurance policy. Also, home insurance doesn't cover flooding, but you can get coverage from the National Flood Insurance Program (see FloodSmart.gov), or you may be able to get flood coverage from a growing number of private insurers in some states. The private insurers may offer higher coverage limits – Chubb, for example, sells personal flood insurance with limits of up to $15 million (the NFIP offers a maximum of $250,000 in coverage for your home and $100,000 for contents). Ask your homeowners insurance agent about flood coverage options in your area, or visit your state insurance department's website (go to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' map for links).

Don't wait until the last minute: The National Flood Insurance Program has a 30-day waiting period before coverage kicks in, and private policies may also have waiting periods.

Get your "go bag" ready. Gather key documents and contact information that you can grab quickly in an emergency. "You might have to leave your house with almost no notice when a disaster is approaching," says Neal Stern, a CPA in Deer Park, New York, and member of the American Institute of CPAs' National Financial Literacy Commission. Take important documents that you may need in original form, such as your driver's license, birth certificate, marriage certificate, passport and Social Security cards. You'll need some of these documents for identification if you file for government assistance, and it could be difficult to get them replaced after a disaster, says Stern. He also recommends bringing your prescriptions and a current supply of your medications, and keeping some cash in your go bag because ATMs may not work during a disaster. See the AICPA's Disaster Action Plan for more information about steps to protect your family and finances.

Include your homeowners insurance policy and contact information for your agent and insurer. Know the steps to take if you need to file a claim. Find out if your insurer will reimburse you for any expenses you take right away to protect your home from further losses (and keep those receipts). Some may also help you find people to do the work. "Chubb can dispatch mitigation specialists who can board up the home, tarp the roof, extract water, help limit the potential for further damage, and provide a warranty for the work" says Robic.

Be prepared for out-of-pocket costs. Even if you have home insurance, you may still need to pay several hundred dollars or more yourself. For example, homeowners insurance policies generally have limited coverage for tree removal and you could end up with large out-of-pocket costs. You may also need money to pay for temporary repairs or housing while your house is being fixed – even if you'll eventually be reimbursed by your insurer. "The insurance money may come in a few weeks, but you may need funds right away to start making quick repairs or to cover temporary living expenses," says Stern. "You don't want to be faced with the option of running up high credit card balances. Having an emergency fund can get you through that immediate period after a disaster." He recommends having at least three to nine months of essential living expenses in an emergency fund.

Also make sure you have enough money to pay your home insurance deductible, which may be higher for windstorms in hurricane-prone areas. For example, even if you usually have a $500 or $1,000 deductible, you may have to pay 2% to 5% of your dwelling coverage for damages caused by windstorms – which would be $6,000 to $15,000 if you have a $300,000 policy.

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