How to Prepare Your Home for a Hurricane Before the Weather Forecast

A 10-step checklist for getting your home and family ready for heavy rains and high winds.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Prepare Your Home for a Hurricane

(Getty Images)

If you live along the coastal part of the southeastern U.S., hurricanes are common and expected each year. Even for those farther inland and farther north along the Eastern Seaboard, it’s possible that a hurricane or tropical storm could put your family and your home at risk.

The best step you can take to reduce long-lasting damage is to prepare well in advance for a major storm.

“They should start taking action now,” says Michael Rimoldi, senior vice president of educational and technical programs for the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.

As soon as you purchase or rent a home in a part of the country prone to hurricanes and tropical storms – particularly Florida, along the Gulf of Mexico and up the coast through North Carolina – you should develop an evacuation plan for you and your family. When in doubt, leaving the area that a hurricane will likely hit is the safest option, so your evacuation plan should be easy and accessible.

In addition to your personal safety, you should take the right steps to protect your home from potential damage – since, unfortunately, few houses are able to move themselves out of a hurricane’s path. Before the nightly news warns you of a hurricane and well before any damage occurs, you should have a conversation with your home insurance provider so you know you’ll be covered if a tree falls on your roof, the basement floods or worse.

“In general, people want to make sure they have enough coverage on their homeowners policy to rebuild their home,” says Kathy Phillips, senior underwriter at insurance company USAA.

With a plan for you and coverage for your home, it’s time to take steps to help keep your home healthy should a storm hit. The worst thing you could do is procrastinate, then use precious time before the storm on prevention that isn’t effective. One useless task Rimoldi sees homeowners do all too often is taping windows with duct tape or masking tape, theoretically to protect them from shattering. “That’s a waste of time,” he says, noting it doesn’t do anything.

Here’s a checklist of 10 things to do before the forecast of a major storm.

Make an evacuation plan. Before you do anything else to prepare, know where you’re going to go in the event of an evacuation, and then notify family of that plan, so they know where to find you if you have to get out quick. In fact, Phillips suggests making two evacuation plans: “Have more than one route to get out because when evacuations happen, things get bottlenecked.”

Make sure you’re covered. Your homeowners insurance policy should cover damage caused by heavy winds, but flood insurance typically has to be purchased separately. “The best thing to do for homeowners in those areas is to contact their insurance company,” Phillips says.

Make shutters ahead of time. If you don’t have functional storm shutters on your house, it’s easy enough to make them from plywood, but you should make them long in advance. “That’s a beautiful Saturday-afternoon, sunny-day project – not two days before the storm and it’s already getting windy,” Rimoldi says. Not to mention, plywood in a hurricane is the same as a shovel in a snowstorm – once the forecast comes, it’s hard to find in any hardware store.

Be ready for damage. No one wants to anticipate damage to their home, but you can prevent further damage if you store useful items ahead of time. “Maybe go buy a tarp now,” Rimoldi says. A tarp, chainsaw and spare plywood could be key to avoiding additional damage in a storm if a branch goes through a window, for example.

Read owner’s manuals. Whether it’s a generator, chainsaw or water pump, you should read the owner’s manual prior to use – and certainly prior to a hurricane – to ensure you’re safely operating the equipment. Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, stresses that generators in particular, when placed improperly near a home, can become a major safety hazard: “You cannot use them near the house, near a window or an open door. You cannot run them in the garage,” he says. “Know your machine, read the owner’s manual. It will spell out in clear terms how and where to run the unit.”

Test your power equipment. Once you know how it works, make sure your tools are actually working. Especially if you haven’t operated your chainsaw since the last time a tree branch fell in your driveway, you want to be confident that it doesn’t need any repairs. “You want to start your generator, start your chainsaw – make sure they fire, make sure they operate,” Kiser says. Once you’ve tested the equipment, keep it in an easily accessible place that won’t be flooded, such as a hall closet or on a shelf in the garage if you can get in without power. And keep in mind that if you have an electric-powered garage door, you won’t be able to get in if the power goes out.

Have fuel on hand. A call for evacuation doesn’t usually come in time to leisurely cruise out of town, so around peak hurricane season, be sure to always have enough gas to get you out of danger should the announcement come. “The lines for gas become incredible,” Phillips says.

Know the kind of fuel you need. In addition to gas for your car, it’s smart to also keep power equipment-specific fuel on hand. Kiser says fuel with ethanol in it, like that used in automobiles, is not recommended for power equipment. “That fuel stales really, really quick,” he says. It will likely be more expensive, but fuel designed for power equipment – often sold at hardware stores – will be less likely to go stale as it sits and will make your generator or chainsaw run better when you need it following a hurricane.

Have a plan for your pets. Emergency shelters are often set up when an evacuation is ordered, but not all shelters will allow the family pet in with you, Phillips says. Should you and your family have to go to a shelter to spend a few nights, find a friend or family member who has the ability to work your pet into his or her evacuation plan.

Have a place for all your outdoor decor. Keep space in your garage or basement to make it easy to get your patio furniture and any lawn ornaments inside quickly when the forecast for high winds comes. Rimoldi says he hears the classic tale of a homeowner getting all but one chair inside. “Sure enough, that’s the one that went through one of my windows,” he recounts being told.

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