real estate

8 Ways to Protect Your Home and Finances From Hurricanes

Tips on how to make sure you're covered before disaster strikes.

I see that hurricane season started June 1. What can I do to protect my home?

Hurricane damage can be costly. A study of Travelers Insurance claims from 2009 to 2015 found that exterior wind damage was the most common cause of home claims, accounting for one-fourth of losses. Take these steps to protect your home and finances.

1. Trim trees. Now is a good time to remove dead limbs. One of the biggest causes of damage from windstorms is flying tree limbs, which can also snap power lines or break windows. Homeowners insurance generally provides limited coverage for fallen trees, paying to fix the damage but usually paying very little for tree removal, which can cost thousands of dollars.

2. Check windows. People in hurricane-prone areas should consider storm shutters (you may get a discount from your insurer for installing them). This is also a good time to make sure your windows don't have leaks that can cause water to pour in, says Scott Humphrey, second vice president of risk control for Travelers. Also clean the gutters and make sure they're directed away from your home.

3. Protect your basement. If you have a sump pump, make sure it's working and consider adding a battery-powered backup that can keep water out of the basement if you lose power, recommends Humphrey. If your basement tends to get wet during storms, it also pays to take the precaution of moving valuables off the floor.

4. Add sewage-backup coverage. Heavy rain can overburden the storm-water system and cause water or sewage to back up into your house. Most homeowners insurance policies don't cover sewage backup. However, for about $50 per year, you can usually add $10,000 to $25,000 in sewage-backup coverage to your policy. Ask your home insurance agent or insurer about your options.

5. Consider flood coverage. Homeowners insurance covers water damage that comes from the top down, such as damage from rain and wind, but doesn’t cover rising water and flooding. However, you can get a flood policy from the National Flood Insurance Program. Enter your address at Floodsmart.gov to find your risk of flood and the estimated cost of premiums. Prices for new coverage recently increased: Maximum coverage of $250,000 for property (with a basement) and $100,000 for possessions in a low-risk area has risen from about $350 per year up to $474. There's a 30-day waiting period before flood coverage takes effect, so act quickly if you want it to cover the bulk of hurricane season.

6. Update your home inventory. With a smartphone and a good app, it’s much easier to maintain a home inventory than it has been in the past -- and having an inventory ready can speed up claims significantly after a storm. See KnowYourStuff.org for more information.

7. Prepare an emergency kit. Be prepared, whether you need to evacuate quickly or stay in your home without electricity. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends having enough water and food to last for at least 72 hours. Also make sure you have medications, food for pets, some cash, a flashlight, a battery-operated radio, and a phone that isn't dependent on electricity. Also fully charge your cell phone and other electronics before a storm, and consider a backup charger. (See FEMA's fact sheet on building a disaster-supplies kit; also see our 7 Must-Haves for Your Emergency Kit.) The Red Cross Store has premade emergency kits, including kits you can keep in your car or grab quickly when evacuated.

8. Find out about other risks. Go to DisasterSafety.org and type in your zip code to find out about other common disaster risks in your area. The Travelers study found big differences in the most common claims by region. Wind was the most common cause of claims in the Northeast, followed by damage caused by the weight of ice and snow. Wind damage was also the most common cause of claims in the South, but hail was the most expensive. Hail was the most common and costliest cause of claims in the Midwest and West, and midwestern homeowners also had a lot of claims caused by sewer or sump-pump backups. Travelers Prepare & Prevent page and the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes also have advice for protecting your home against weather-related damage.

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