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Preparing Your Home for a Natural Disaster

June 5, 2014

As summer approaches, a number of natural disasters become more prevalent and threaten thousands of Americans throughout the country. From hurricanes that impact the Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast, to wild fires on the West Coast and heat waves throughout the country, the summer season is closely associated with devastating events caused by nature.   Not to mention, hurricanes can often be accompanied by heavy rain and dangerous thunderstorms that produce floods, hail, landslides, mud slides and tornadoes which can affect areas located hundreds of miles inland and farther.

Natural disasters can be catastrophic and can happen at any moment without notice, so it is crucial to understand what precautions you can take to protect your home. Regardless of where you choose to weather the storm, executing the following preparation tips will help secure your home and hopefully, reduce the damage incurred to your property.

  1. Hurricanes and Tornadoes: Although many associate hurricanes with coastal cities and tornadoes with “tornado alley”, hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage beyond the coastline and tornadoes do not discriminate against their area of impact.
  • Both hurricanes and tornadoes are characterized by damaging wind speeds, so it is important to secure your home. Fortify garage doors; add hurricane clips or straps to the roof and attach it to wall studs to help maintain structure; bolt walls securely to the foundation; protect windows with storm shutters, install double pane windows and replace old roofs with impact resistant ones to protect against hail; etc.
  • Schedule a home inspection to check your home and roof. Make any recommended repairs.
  • Install a safe room in your home or basement that can withstand extreme winds and debris.
  • Secure large appliances with flexible cable, braided wire or metal strapping, as well as top heavy furniture with L brackets, corner brackets or aluminum molding.
  • If time permits, gather and store items that pose more risk of destruction, such as tools, lawn furniture, trash cans, recreational equipment, etc.
  • Trim trees and shrubs around your home to ensure they are more wind resistant.
  • Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Shut off electricity, water, and utility switches if time permits before tornado.
  • Store hazardous materials within a sturdy, locked cabinet and in a well-ventilated area.
  • Move heavy or large items to lower shelves to reduce their chances of being projected.
  1. Flooding: Flooding is the most common natural disaster throughout the country. You should always have a plan mapped out with a route to transport your family and pets to higher ground in the case of a flood, and equip your home with the following accommodations to protect your home and family in case time does not permit evacuation:
  • Seal basement walls with water proof compounds.
  • Construct flood walls around your home to restrict water flow to your home.
  • Purchase a battery operated sump pump to remove standing water, and keep a back up handy just in case.
  • Elevate electrical components, water heater, washer, dryer, and furnace at least 12 inches above assumed flood levels.
  • If building a new home in a flood zone, make sure it is elevated and reinforced.
  • Install backflow valves or plugs on drains, toilets, and other sewer connections to prevent contaminated water from entering your home.
  • Fill bathtubs, sinks, and large containers with clean water, and make sure that there is enough for the entire family to drink, flush toilets, and clean.
  • Identify and secure any items that pose a potential threat, including fuel tanks, outdoor equipment or possessions, etc.
  • In the case of fallen power lines or evacuation, make sure to turn off all utilities and electrical power at the main power switch, close the main gas valve, and disconnect appliances and the furnace to prevent electric shock in the presence of standing water.
  1. Wild Fires: Wild fires often start in forests, remote hills, mountain areas, or other woodland settings, but they can happen in any vulnerable drought area and spread rapidly.  If you live in an area that is more conducive to wild fires, you can help spare your home with the following tips:
  • Avoid using combustible material on the roof or other part of the home.
  • Build your home with fire-resistant material, such as stucco or fiber cement. Any wood should be fire-resistant treated.
  • Around your home’s perimeter, plant fire-resistant shrubs and other plants that help contain rather than fuel the fire.
  • Create a 30 feet to 100 feet safety zone around your home, and move lawn furnishings and other items that can burn easily (dead limbs, leaves, twigs, flammable vegetation, vines, etc) outside of this “defensive space”.
  • Invest in a hose that is long enough to reach around the entire house, and keep a ladder that will reach the roof.
  • Maintain an adequate outside water source, like a pond, pool, or water well.
  • Install a dual-sensor smoke alarm on each level of your home, test them monthly and replace batteries once a year.
  • Place a 1/8-inch mesh screen beneath the home, porches, decks, floors, screen openings to floors, roof, and attic.
  • Regularly clean roof and gutters, and mow the lawn.
  • Inspect chimneys twice a year, and keep dampers in good condition. Equip chimneys and stove pipes with a spark arrester.
  • Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structures on the property.
  • Clear space around propane and barbecue pits, and place a screen over the grill.
  • Store gas, oil and flammable items in approved safety cans, and place them in a safe location away from the base of buildings.
  • Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from the home.
  • In a warning, keep all windows and doors shut, turn off the gas, wet the roof, and evacuate as instructed.
  1. Heat Waves: Induced by stagnant atmosphere conditions and poor air quality, heat waves are extended periods of extreme heat. This can be dangerous and even life threatening, as the body must work extra hard to maintain normal body temperatures. As the hot summer months approach, it is imperative that your home possesses the necessary accommodations for your family.
  • Make sure that any window AC units are installed snugly and insulated.
  • Check AC ducts for proper insulation.
  • Install temporary window reflectors that reflect heat back outside. Try cardboard with aluminum foil wrapped around it.
  • Weather strip doors and sills to hold air inside.
  • Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, awnings or louvers.
  • Keep storm windows up all year.
  • Limit the use of the stove or oven, especially in the warmer periods of the day.
  • Stock your refrigerator with plenty of drinking water and less sugar-filled drinks that dehydrate you.
  • Cool off your body with cold showers if there is an AC shortage.
  1. Landslides: Most landslides are caused by natural forces or events, like heavy rain and snowmelt, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and areas burned by forest and brush fires. These disasters can threaten almost every state, so it is important to maintain your home accordingly.
  • Contact a private consulting company that specializes in earth movement for opinions and advice on landslide problems and on corrective measures you can take. Taking steps without consulting a professional could make your situation worse.
  • Plant ground cover on slopes and building retaining walls.
  • Build channels or deflection walls to direct the flow around your home.
  • Avoid building near steep slopes, close to mountain edges, near drainage ways or along natural erosion valleys.
  • Get a ground assessment of your property.
  • Install flexible pipe fittings to avoid gas or water leaks.
  1. Earthquakes: Earthquakes are largely unpredictable and do not limit their activity to the summer months, as they occur when tectonic plates in the earth shift, break and slide together. While they are often associated with the West Coast, 45 states are actually at risk.
  • Secure heavy items to the wall or floor, including water heaters and large appliances.
  • Inspect your home for cracks in the foundation and defective wiring, and make repairs as quickly as possible.
  • Bolt your home to the foundation.
  • Fasten shelves securely to walls, and store breakable items, china, glass, and bottled foods in low, closed cabinets with latches or locks.
  • Brace overhead light fixtures.
  • Install flexible pipe fittings to avoid gas or water leaks.
  • Install an automatic gas shut-off valve that is triggered by strong vibrations.
  • Store weed killers, pesticides and flammable products in closed cabinets with latches.
  • In an earthquake warning, turn off gas and electricity to prevent explosion, invest in a supply of food, water and supplies for a minimum of three days, make sure your important documents are stored in a fire proof safe, and lock doors and windows.

While your home can be impacted by other catastrophic events caused by nature, the combination of those listed affect millions of Americans every year. Each emergency is unique, and it is important to recognize and acknowledge the appropriate actions to take for each threat in order to prepare your home accordingly. If you need more preparations tips, visit

4 Comments leave one →
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