Preparing your home for a hurricane


The Martin Luther King Memorial is seen the morning after Hurricane Irene moved through the East Coast in 2011. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
August 15, 2012

Summer brought the Washington area its fair share of wild weather, but forecasters are warning that the worst probably is still to come.

Atlantic hurricane season runs from June through November. Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration increased its prediction of the number of tropical storms we can expect to between 12 and 17 (in May, it was nine to 15). As many as five to eight of these storms could be hurricanes, they said.

For homeowners, this means one thing: Don’t get complacent. There are plenty of things you can do to prepare your home and family for a hurricane, and some are as simple as a trip to your local hardware store.

“Tropical storms are similar to snowstorms, just without the shovels and salt,” said Wayne Kahn, 59, of Logan Ace Hardware Group. “They come fast and can cause a lot of damage, as Washingtonians now know. But you can buy a lot of the same kinds of things.”

First, Kahn recommends buying C and D batteries. They were the first things to fly off the shelves during the derecho, he said. Then, stock up on flashlights, A-cell batteries, toiletries, fans and emergency cooking supplies such as grills or hot plates that work on propane.

“As soon as something like this is projected to hit, the battery-operated stuff gets wiped out immediately the same way bread disappears when a blizzard is coming,” he said. “So it’s in your best interests to skip that step and keep a small reserve handy.”

When it comes to prepping your home for a hurricane, the two biggest threats are roof damage and flooding. Claude McGavy, the executive director of the National Association of Home Inspectors, said both are severely underestimated.

“The safest place to be during a hurricane is Nebraska,” McGavy joked. “If you can’t get to Nebraska, remember that the two dangers during a tropical storm are water and wind. And there isn’t much you can do if your roof has flown off, so the first thing to do is get away from the water.”

If you live in an older home (McGavy said homes built before 2004 probably aren’t built to withstand hurricane-level winds), plot escape routes to friends’ houses that might have sturdier shelter. It’s difficult to outrun a storm, particularly if the area is subject to flooding, so make arrangements with friends or family ahead of time, he said. And don’t forget pets and elderly neighbors.

“A lot of shelters won’t accept pets, and elderly people may need some assistance,” he said. “Please try to include them in your plans.”

Some coastal states now require that homes be hardened, which means connecting the roof to the walls by steel traps that are embedded in the concrete or nailed to the frame. Hurricane-proof glass and shutters are also popular options. Standard aluminum hurricane window panels cost about $25-$55 at Home Depot.

If you’re forced to leave town altogether, McGavy recommends bringing a copy of your insurance policy and your agent’s contact information with you. This will speed up the recovery after a storm, he said. The same advice holds true for business owners.

“Many businesses totally fail and go under after a storm because they don’t have records to fall back on,” he said. “You need that paper trail.”

For Kahn, who lives in a 110-year-old house in Mount Pleasant, personal experience has taught him not to overlook the details — like little drips or leaks that he stumbles upon while cleaning. Although his home didn’t suffer much damage from the derecho (the power lines in that neighborhood are buried) he was hit hard by the 2010 blizzards.

“When the snow hit a couple of years ago, I realized that the areas in which I had the most work to do were the areas that had been damaged in previous storms,” he said. “Storms turn minor problems into major ones in a matter of minutes, so pay attention to the small stuff.”

Kahn said it’s important for homeowners to be aware of any structural or water issues their homes might have, big or small. It’s wise to perform a regular monthly checkup to ensure that gutters and drains are functioning properly.

“It sounds like simple stuff, but you can’t take anything for granted,” he said. “Assume nothing.”

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