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.
[Read: How to Build an Emergency Fund.]
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.
Renovation options that aren't overly pricey.
Your house may be due for an update, but that doesn’t mean you have the cash on hand for the necessary renovations. A complete room remodel or significant addition to a home can cost well over $10,000, but you don’t have to spend every penny to make a difference. Whether you’re looking to save up for a larger renovation down the line or simply want to make a big impact with as little money as possible, here’s what you can do with a $5,000 budget.
(The following information is based on national averages and could vary based on the cost of skilled labor where you live.)Exterior paint
For an exterior refresh, a new coat of paint on your house can yield a major transformation for a relatively small price. Even if you don’t select a new color, repainting your siding and trim can make your home's exterior look newer and stand out among other properties in your neighborhood. HomeAdvisor reports that the national average to paint a home exterior is just $2,802. The cost of this project may increase slightly if the type of siding on your home requires additional coats of paint or special materials, but homes two stories or less can likely be painted within a $5,000 budget.Patio
You want the luxury of outdoor living, but you don’t necessarily have the budget for it. A wooden deck, complete with installation and finishing, will likely cost more than $10,000, according to home cost comparison site Fixr. But a patio is a simpler option that can achieve a similar look and feel for a fraction of the cost. Fixr reports that a 12-foot-by-16-foot patio costs, on average, $2,000. Patios are often built with brick, pavers, stone or concrete, depending on personal preference and the optimal material for your local climate and soil.Interior paint
Paint is widely considered an inexpensive way to give a home a new look, so why not refresh every room? HomeAdvisor notes that the cost to have the average 10-foot-by-12-foot room painted professionally ranges from $380 to $790. Even at that maximum price, you could cover three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and living room within the $5,000 budget. Of course, painting the interior of a home is an easy task for some homeowners. The average cost to paint a home's interior is well within budget at $1,755, according to HomeAdvisor, in part because so many homeowners opt to make the relatively simple project a DIY task. Combined with rearranged furniture and a few new pieces of decor, fresh paint can give the house a completely different feel.Hardwood floors
Hardwood floors can increase your home's value and are a desirable feature for many homeowners. While hardwood floors may be a pricier alternative to laminate or carpeting, installing them is feasible on a budget. HomeAdvisor reports the national average cost to install new wood flooring is $4,386. Of course, the final cost depends on the size of your home or the space you’re planning to renovate and the flooring material you choose. High-end wood flooring throughout a large floor plan can cost upwards of $10,000, according to HomeAdvisor.Built-in bookshelves
Sprucing up a living room or home office can be a much simpler task than dealing with the plumbing or major appliances you’ll find in a kitchen or bathroom. But if you want to invest in a new focal point for the room you hang out in the most, consider built-in bookshelves. HomeAdvisor reports built-in shelves or cabinets cost, on average, $2,307, with custom design and installation reaching up to about $5,000. Bookcases offer an organization solution while also adding a desirable feature for your home’s future sale.Kitchen appliances
If you’re hoping to renovate your kitchen, be aware that a complete overhaul will likely be well beyond a $5,000 budget. The 2019 U.S. Houzz Kitchen Trends Study, released in January, reports homeowners plan to spend a national median of $11,000 on a kitchen renovation alone. You can, however, tackle the parts of your kitchen that can make a major impact for a cheaper price. For better efficiency, consider new appliances throughout your kitchen. Luxury models can climb in price, but midrange kitchen suites that include a new refrigerator, range, dishwasher and microwave fall under a total of $5,000 for brands such as GE, Samsung, LG and Maytag at Home Depot, before installation and sales tax.Kitchen countertops
Another option for refreshing your kitchen for less is replacing your countertops, which can transform the look of the room. According to the Houzz Kitchen Trends study, 93 percent of respondents plan for new countertops in a kitchen remodel, making them the most popular feature to replace. Of course, if you’re looking to install rare Italian marble countertops, you may find yourself with a big bill. But butcher block, engineered quartz, stainless steel, laminate and some types of granite and marble can all be purchased and installed for less than $5,000 for 50 square feet. On average, new countertop installation costs $2,300, according to HomeAdvisor.Shower or tub replacement
Shower or tub replacement
Like in the kitchen, a full bathroom remodel will likely exhaust an entire $5,000 budget and more, but a smaller-scale change may give the bathroom a new look that allows you to enjoy it more. Consider replacing your old shower or tub with a new one, which can cost between $400 and $4,500 on average, according to Fixr. Opting to move the location of the shower or purchasing a luxury tub could take you over budget, but a replacement shower with new fixtures and subway tiles could make the bathroom look new again without requiring a deep dive into your savings.Open floor plan
Open floor plan
A major change with a high price tag may not be in the cards, but you can achieve maximum impact for less if you decide to embrace the ever-popular open floor plan. The cost to remove a wall varies if it involves electrical or plumbing or if the wall is load-bearing, meaning it’s vital to the structure of your home. Removal of a load-bearing wall in a single-story house averages between $1,200 and $3,000, according to HomeAdvisor, and falls within your $5,000 budget with money left over to even out the flooring and repaint. A load-bearing wall in a two-story house may get more expensive, however, reaching as much as $10,000 on average.Closet system
A new organization system for your closet can make life much easier, and with a clean closet you’re able to splurge and budget on what works best for you. Home improvement professionals network Thumbtack reports a custom closet installation typically costs between $2,000 and $6,000. The type of construction or closet brand you choose can help keep your total bill below $5,000. The Elfa brand from The Container Store, for example, offers custom-design options with pricing based on the cost of each individual piece. You can also choose existing closet designs, such as the Platinum Elfa Walk-In Closet, which is about $2,500 at full price with installation included, based on a 6-foot-by-8-foot closet.Cost-effective home renovations
Cost-effective home renovations
Improve your home with these renovation projects for under $5,000:
- Exterior paint.
- Interior paint.
- Hardwood floors.
- Built-in bookshelves.
- Kitchen appliances.
- Kitchen countertops.
- Shower or tub replacement.
- Open floor plan.
- Closet system.
She received the personal finance Best in Business Award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, and she has written three books: “Rescue Your Financial Life,” “The Insurance Maze” and “Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions.” She also wrote the “Financial Field Manual: Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Guide for Military Families,” which has been reprinted in three editions and is distributed to servicemembers at military bases throughout the world. Kim has been featured as a financial expert on NBC’s Today Show, CBS This Morning, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, National Public Radio, PBS and many local radio and TV stations. Her website is www.kimberlylankford.com.