How to prepare your home for a hurricane

The official hurricane season typically runs from early June to late November for the Atlantic. Although coastal areas are most susceptible to hurricanes, they can also move inland and create issues for homeowners in their paths. Before a storm hits, take steps to prepare your house for a hurricane, limit your losses, and help keep you and your family out of harm's way whether you shelter in place or evacuate.

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Ways to prepare your home for a hurricane before the season begins

Depending on the type of home you own and its surroundings, there are steps you may want to take to prepare your home for a hurricane, so you won't have to scramble when there's a major storm in the forecast.

Watch out for Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), which broadcast emergency information on television, radio, and cell phones to enhance public safety.

  1. Review your insurance policy.

    Get clear on what your homeowners policy covers regarding storm-related damage. Consult with your insurer to find out if windstorms, including hurricanes, are a covered peril on your policy.

  2. Do you have flood insurance?

    The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), managed by FEMA, delivers flood insurance to the public through a network of more than 50 insurance companies and NFIP Direct. To purchase flood insurance, call your insurance company. There is a 30-day waiting period before a NFIP policy goes into effect, unless a federally backed lender requires it, or your community flood map has recently changed.

    Why might you need flood insurance? The NFIP reports that only 40% of their claims occur in high-risk flood areas, and many property owners discover too late that their homeowners insurance does not cover flooding.

  3. Make a weatherproofing plan.

    Make a list of the hurricane or severe weather proofing your home currently has. Stock up on plywood to cover the windows, sliding glass doors, and garage doors if you don't have stormproof windows. Inspect your roof, seal any openings, and repair loose roofing materials.

    Installing storm shutters over windows and doors in advance may help limit storm damage. Another option is to install wind- and impact-resistant windows and doors, which offer the highest level of protection during hurricanes.

  4. Secure important documents.

    Place important documents in waterproof containers or digitally back them up if you have time.

  5. Arrange for backup power.

    Consider getting a generator for essential appliances in case of power outages. There are several different types of generators, ranging from small recreational units that can power a single appliance, to standby models that can power your entire house.

  6. Make an emergency kit.

    Having a fully stocked home emergency kit can help keep you and your family safe when a big storm or other unexpected event occurs. Pack the kit with enough supplies to meet your family's needs for a week while you wait for the storm to pass. You may also want to gather wrenches (to turn off broken gas or water utility lines), fire extinguishers, and a hand-cranked radio in case you lose power and cell phone service.

  7. Prepare for your pets.

    Gather supplies for your pets including food, water, and carriers. Also, pack any medications your pet requires. Prior to storm season, you might pack a pet emergency kit that you can just grab and go when you are evacuating with pets.

  8. Trim trees.

    Trim the branches near your house to protect them from falling on your property or your neighbor's. Identify trees that are dead, dying, or diseased, as well as limbs that are weak, broken, or too close to your house and prioritize these for removal. If you're unsure about how to prune properly, hire a professional arborist so you don't damage your trees.

  9. Plan to secure your boat.

    Know how to prepare your boat for a hurricane. Confirm well ahead of the season what your boat insurance covers. If your boat is in a slip, review the marina's hurricane plans. If your boat is already on a trailer, know how to anchor the trailer to the ground or store it in a garage.

Preparing your home for a hurricane when there's a storm coming

Once you've completed the previous steps throughout the summer, when a big storm is in the forecast, you won't be scrambling to prepare. Here are some steps you can take to prepare your home for a hurricane — particularly when a storm is already developing:

  1. Protect doors and windows.

    Cover the windows and doors without storm shutters with plywood. Seal all openings and gaps with caulk to help prevent water leaks.

  2. Secure loose objects.

    A hurricane's strong winds can send objects flying at high speeds. If an outdoor object isn't anchored in some way, it should be brought indoors or stored securely in some manner to prevent damage.

  3. Fill tubs and freeze bags of water.

    A big storm can knock out your water supply. Filling tubs with water ensures you'll be able to flush toilets after the storm. Another good idea is to fill quart-size bags with water and freeze them. It will keep your perishables cold for a while if you lose power and provide safe drinking water.

  4. Sandbag.

    Use sandbags to redirect water away from your home and prevent water damage. Overlap the sandbags and pile them up like pyramids with a wide base for stability.

  5. Turn off utilities.

    Turn off gas, electricity, and water before the storm hits to reduce the risk of accidents. Find out in advance where the shutoff points are in your house so that when you need to turn off the utilities in an emergency, you're not rummaging around.

  6. Battery-operated radio.

    Keep a battery-operated or hand-crank radio to keep informed about the storm's progress.

  7. Stay informed.

    Monitor weather forecasts and follow advice from local authorities. The National Weather Service Hurricane Center has updates on weather forecasts, storm warnings, and storm watches. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will have updated information if the government issues a state of emergency.

  8. Plan your evacuation route.

    It's important to have a plan if local authorities advise you evacuate. If you're in a vulnerable area, determine the evacuation routes you'll use. Ensure that your vehicle has a full tank of gas before the storm hits. Ready.gov has resources and information about preparing your car for emergencies, as well as car safety tips in a storm.

Preparing your home for a hurricane whether you evacuate or shelter in place

As the hurricane approaches, you must prepare to either evacuate or shelter in place. If the authorities issue an evacuation order, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you never ignore an evacuation order. If you are safe to remain where you are for the moment, you've still got to be ready to leave if conditions become more dangerous. The tips we've shared will help you to prepare and stay safe as you weather the storm.

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