Prepare Your Home for a Natural Disaster

Whether its high winds, flash floods or snowy weather, your home will be your shelter from the storm. Make it a strong shelter!

Below are tips from disaster victims, home improvement professionals and FEMA.

WHN TIP: Just Ask!

Not sure about certain home improvement projects or what would be best for the weather in your area? Contact a professional or head to a hardware or home improvement store in your area and ask plenty of questions!

Indoor Precautions

  1. Learn and know your BFE (base flood elevation)
    • Consult your local building authority for the base flood elevation in your immediate area.
    • Check building department records or your property survey for the elevation of your home's lowest floor, or hire a licensed surveyor to do it.
    • Consult the same sources to determine if your home is in a Special Flood Hazard Area, which has at least a one percent chance of being flooded in any given year. For more information, visit the Institute For Business & Home Safety.

    WHN TIP: Mitigation

    For detailed drawings and instructions on mitigation, read FEMA's articles on Protect Your Property From Flooding or Above The Flood: Elevating Your Flood Prone House

  2. Your cordless phone won't work without electricity. Buy a phone with a regular cord to use in an emergency.
  3. Store valuables (papers, furs, jewelry, heirlooms, family photographs, expensive clothing) in waterproof containers and place large items in garbage bags. Store them in a safe location, perhaps on the highest level to avoid flood damage.
  4. Buy extra plastic storage bins to have on hand. You can fill these with water or place valuables inside at the last minute.
  5. Relocate appliances out of the basement of your home and elevate or relocate your furnace, water heater, and electric panel if they are in areas of your home that may be flooded. Floods can follow hurricanes.
  6. Elevate the main breaker or fuse box and the utility meters above the anticipated flood level in your home, so that floodwater won't damage your utilities.
  7. Install backflow valves or plugs in drains, toilets, and other sewer connections. This will help prevent floodwaters from entering home.
  8. Store all hazardous materials such as poisons and solvents in a sturdy, latched or locked cabinet in a well-ventilated area.
  9. Install sliding bolts or childproof latches on all cabinet doors. This will keep the doors closed and prevent contents from falling.
  10. Secure your large appliances, especially your water heater, with flexible cable, braided wire, or metal strapping. This will keep them from toppling.
  11. Anchor tall bookcases, china closets and file cabinets with "L" brackets, corner brackets, aluminum molding or eyebolts, depending on the item.
    • Anchoring furniture so that it remains upright not only helps prevent injuries but also helps protect both the furniture and its contents.
  12. Anchor propane tanks and gas cylinders.
  13. WHN TIP: Do a Monthly Check

    A lot of things happen between your walls – we all have holes in our house where pipes and wires go in and out, and water can easily hide in these places. Once a month, do a water damage check - look in the attic, look on the underside of the roof, the garage, etc. – look for condensation or water damage. That way, you’ve already established some sort of baseline and you can say that wasn’t there last time! Do it once a month to get a handle on what’s normal.
    -Wendy Rose, Institute of Home and Business Safety

    WHN TIP: Do a Home "Disaster" Inspection

    Home inspectors are going to spot maintenance flaws and concerns. Consider hiring a home or wind inspector with disasters in mind.
    -Wendy Rose, Institute of Home and Business Safety

Outdoor Precautions

  1. Make sure your house number is visible from the street — emergency personnel will need to find your house in a hurry. Some cities offer a program to paint your house number on the curb for a small fee. Ask your city or county administration officials about this option.

    WHN TIP: Numbers

    The best place for your house number on your house is near the front door, at or slightly above eye level and lit by a light.

    WHN TIP: Night Vision

    When you drive home at nighttime, check to see if your house number is clearly visible. Consider moving the number or adding additional lighting if necessary.

    WHN TIP: Mailbox

    Make sure your mailbox number faces the traffic side of the street.

  2. FEMA recommends to anchor critical building components in three areas:
    • Attach roof rafters to the walls with a metal connector - most easily added when new roof sheathing and shingles are installed - to help the structure resist wind uplift.
    • Tie one floor to another with a continuous strap (nailed on the outside of the wall) or with a floor-tie anchor, nailed to the inside of the wall.
    • Secure the structure to the foundation with connectors nailed to the studs and bolted into the concrete - also to help the structure resist wind uplift.
    • Know what kind of roof you have and if you need additional truss bracings. Homes with gabled roofs are more likely to suffer damage, requiring additional truss bracings (they cost about $75) to make the truss system stronger.
  3. Reinforce glass windows and doors by installing impact-resistant laminated glass window or door systems or applying high-strength window security films to standard window and patio door glass.
  4. Permanent shutters are the best protection for high winds. Is a hurricane or tropical storm on the way? A lower-cost approach is to put up plywood panels. Use 1/2 inch plywood - marine plywood is best - cut to fit each window. Remember to mark which board fits which window. Pre-drill holes every 18 inches for screws.

  5. WHN TIP: Look at Your Roof and Soffits

    At some point in home ownership you’re going to need to replace the roof. Improve your home's safety from the elements by using better materials, better nails, putting down a second moisture barrier. Making these improvements could also lower your insurance premiums so ask your agent
    -Wendy Rose, Institute of Home and Business Safety

  6. Consider using reinforcing bolt kits made specifically for doors. Standard bolts and pins are not strong enough to resist hurricane winds. If you have double-entry doors, reinforce them with dead-bolt locks.
  7. Garages are usually one of the most easily damaged items during any storm.Consider retrofitting your garage door with horizontal bracings. Check with your local building supplies retailer to see if a retrofit kit is available.
  8. Clean and maintain storm drains and gutters. Removing debris from your property allows the free flow of potential flood water.
  9. Add waterproof veneer to exterior walls and seal all openings, including doors. This will help prevent water entry.
  10. Landscape with native plants and vegetation that resist soil erosion.
  11. Make trees more wind resistant by removing diseased and damaged limbs, then strategically removing branches so that wind can blow through.
  12. Make a list of the items that need to be brought in the event of a storm (patio furniture, lawn ornaments, bikes, doghouse, trash cans, etc). Keep the list in your Home Disaster Preparedness Kit, along with WHN Get Prepared and Get Help and emergency phone #s.
  13. Have a Car Emergency Kit. Include water, first aid, and a way to signal need for help, flashlight & batteries, warm blankets, a shovel, and a battery-operated radio.
  14. If you live in a mobile home, inspect straps and tie-downs for wear before the season.
    • However, a mobile home can overturn very easily even if precautions have been taken to tie down the unit.
    • When a tornado warning is issued, take shelter in a building with a strong foundation.
    • If shelter is not available, lie in ditch or low-lying area a safe distance away from the unit.

Last Updated: 5/2009