4 Steps to Prepare Your Home for a Natural Disaster

by Susan Evans

Whether it’s high winds, flash floods or snowy weather, make your shelter from the story and strong one.  Follow these tips from disaster victims, home improvement professionals and Federal Emergency Management Agency (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!

Get the Facts

  • Consult your local building authority for the BFE (base flood elevation) for your property and your immediate area.
  • Check building department records or your property survey (or hire a licensed surveyor to determine it) for the elevation of your home’s lowest floor.
  • Use the FloodPartners map 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.

WHN TIP – Mitigation: For detailed drawings and instructions on mitigation, read FEMA’s articles on Protect Your Property From Flooding.

Prepare Indoors

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, recommends Wendy Rose, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).

  • Anchor tall bookcases, china closets and file cabinets with “L” brackets, corner brackets, aluminum molding or eyebolts (depending on the item) to help prevent injuries and protect both the furniture and its contents.
  • Secure your large appliances, especially your water heater, with flexible cable, braided wire, or metal strapping to prevent toppling over.
  • Install sliding bolts or childproof latches on all cabinet doors to keep doors closed and prevent contents from falling.
  • Store all hazardous materials such as poisons and solvents in a sturdy latched or locked cabinet in a well-ventilated area.
  • Install backflow valves or plugs in drains, toilets, and other sewer connections to help prevent floodwaters from entering the home.
  • Elevate the main breaker or fuse box and the utility meters above the anticipated flood level in your home to prevent damage from floodwaters.
  • 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.
  • Buy extra plastic storage bins to have on hand to hold water or valuables.
  • 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.
  • 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 Grab and Go Kit or Home Disaster Preparedness Kit. (Download our Home Disaster Preparedness Kit.)
  • Prepare a Car Emergency Kit with bottled water, first aid supplies, flashlight and fresh batteries, warm blankets, a shovel and a battery-operated radio. (Download our Car Emergency Kit.)

WHN TIP – Do a Monthly Check: “Exterior walls have openings for pipes and wires. Water can easily hide in these places. Once a month, do a water damage check looking for condensation or water damage in these areas: the attic, the underside of the roof, the garage, the basement. This gives you a baseline and identifies problems before they get out of control.” Wendy Rose, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS)

Prepare Outdoors

WHN TIP – Get more Info. Read the Institute For Business & Home Safety’s What to Do After a Flood for more information.

  • 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 – House 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. Make sure it’s visible at night and not blocked by shrubbery or trees. Add a second set of numbers if needed. Mailbox at the street? Numbers should face oncoming traffic.

  • Anchor propane tanks and gas cylinders.
  • Clean and maintain storm drains and gutters to allow the free flow of potential flood water.
  • Add waterproof veneer to exterior walls and seal all openings, including doors. to prevent water entry.
  • Landscape with native plants and vegetation that resist soil erosion.
  • Make trees more wind resistant by removing diseased and damaged limbs, then strategically removing branches so that wind can blow through.

Prepare Your Structures

  • Follow FEMA’s recommendations for anchoring critical building components
    • 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 to make the truss system stronger.
  • 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.
  • Permanent shutters are the best protection for high winds. Is a hurricane or tropical storm on the way? A lower-cost approach is to use 1/2 inch plywood – marine plywood is best – cut to fit each window, with pre-drilled holes every 18 inches for screws. Remember to mark which board fits which window.

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 or putting down a second moisture barrier. Making these improvements could also lower your insurance premiums so ask your agent.” Wendy Rose, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS)

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If you live in a mobile home, inspect straps and tie-downs for wear before the season. But even with precautions, mobile homes can be easily overturned. When a tornado warning is issued, take shelter in a building with a strong foundation or lie in a ditch or low-lying area a safe distance away from the unit. (More mobile home disaster preparedness tips here.)

Photo Credit: Roger Brown Photography

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