insurance

How to Prepare for a Hurricane

Follow these steps to protect your home and property from storms.

I recently moved to Florida, and I’m not familiar with hurricane precautions. With hurricane season starting soon, what can I do now to protect my house?

Hurricane season officially begins on June 1 and lasts until November 30. Although the start date is fast approaching, there are still several steps you can take to protect your home and property from storms.

Buy plywood now. If you want to use plywood to protect your windows, now is the time to get ready -- rather than scrambling to try to find a store with plywood available and worrying about cutting it to the right size as a storm is approaching. “Buy it now, have it cut and numbered, and know how you’re going to put it up,” says Scott Spencer, worldwide appraisal and loss prevention manager for Chubb Personal Insurance. “Cut it to the right size -- it should exceed the size of the window -- and put permanent mounts up now so you don’t have to think about how it will adhere to the wall when the hurricane is coming. You want that window protection to be able to withstand a 2x4 being shot at it at 60 miles per hour, because that’s what a windstorm can be like.”

Protect your windows and roof. If you’re looking for a more permanent solution, consider installing storm shutters to all of your windows, including transoms and skylights. “Many people make the mistake of only installing storm shutters on the water side of the house,” says Spencer. “But a hurricane has wind in multiple directions.” The wind and air pressure can get into your home from any direction and eventually cause the roof to blow off. Have a professional inspect your roof to make sure it is secured to the walls and foundation, Spencer says.

Eliminate potential projectiles. If a storm is on its way, look around your yard and your neighbors’ yards for things that could become flying missiles during a windstorm -- whether it’s lawn furniture or precarious branches. “We recommend removing all potential airborne objects and putting them in your garage or even throwing them in the pool,” says Spencer. “Evaluate the health of the trees around the house before hurricane season. If there’s a big branch hanging over your roof, don’t wait until the wind takes it down.” If your tree damages your house, your insurance will cover the damages, but it may only cover $500 to $1,000 of the cost of tree removal. And most insurance policies pay nothing if the tree falls but doesn’t hit anything, even though it could cost thousands of dollars to haul it away. See When Your Tree Falls in Your Neighbor’s Yard for more information.

Consider a back-up generator and leak-mitigation system. Your electricity may be out for days after a storm, and if you had some water damage, it can provide a fertile place for mold to grow during a humid summer. You may be eligible for a discount from your insurance company if you have a back-up generator that automatically keeps your air conditioning, alarm system and other key items running as soon as the electricity goes out. You may also get a discount for installing a leak-mitigation system that shuts off your water supply if there’s a leak when you aren’t in the home -- which can be particularly valuable for people with vacation homes, who aren’t around to monitor potential problems in person.

Make sure you have adequate homeowners insurance. Even if your home’s market value is down, the cost to rebuild your home has probably increased over the past few years -- and may rise even higher because of worldwide disasters that are pushing up the cost of building materials. “The number of major global catastrophes that have taken place means that construction costs will go up everywhere,” says Spencer. And the costs might rise even more if contractors boost their prices after a widespread disaster in the area. Make sure your homeowners insurance coverage is up to date (go to www.accucoverage.com to run the numbers), and see if the policy provides an extra 20% to 50% coverage for special circumstances like hurricanes. If building codes have changed since your house was originally built, it may cost even more to rebuild your home. Consider adding “building ordinance coverage” to your policy, which can pay the extra cost to rebuild your home to satisfy new codes. See Save Money on Homeowners Insurance for more information about calculating how much insurance coverage you need.

Consider flood coverage. Flooding isn’t covered by homeowners insurance policies, as many people in the South and Midwest have discovered over the past few weeks. But you can buy a flood policy through the National Flood Insurance Program. There is a 30-day wait before the coverage takes effect, though, so you can’t just buy the coverage when a storm is on its way. See Protect Your Home and Finances Against Floods for more information about flood coverage and other government programs to help people with flood damage.

Also see How to Prepare for an Emergency for steps to take to protect your family and finances from disasters.

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