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How to Prepare Your Home for a Hurricane

 When a hurricane warning is issued, rush to complete any tasks outside your home. A last-minute trip to the store may subject you to heavy traffic and long waits in line, so try to stock up on necessary supplies several days in advance or soon after you hear a hurricane may be coming.

If you live in an evacuation zone, evacuate as soon as the order is issued. If you choose to evacuate an unprotected structure, you should do so as soon as possible. Trying to keep a clear head is difficult in an emergency situation, so having an emergency storm supply checklist you can refer to is helpful.

Hurricane Preparedness: Outside Your Home

Impact-resistant shutters are probably the single most imporatnt measure you can take to protect your home from hurricane-force winds. Unfortunately, they can also provide you with a dangerous false sense of security. Before you invest thousands of dollars in shutters, make sure that the rest of your home is sturdy. Have your roof inspected by a certified building inspector or structural engineer for the following:

  • Hurricane anchors and straps are properly anchored to the tie-beam
  • The appropriate number of nails have been used on anchors
  • Roof trusses have adequate horizontal and vertical bracing, especially on gable ends.
  • Roof sheathing panels are properly attached
  • Soffits, flashing, and roof tiles are in good shape

Once you are sure your home is solid, you can invest in code-approved impact-resistant storm shutters. You’ll know that you’ve done everything within reason to protect your home, and it is now a safe place to stay, provided it’s outside of an evacuation zone, when a hurricane is on the way.

  • Do not prune trees at this time. Trash collection will be delayed, and loose branches may become dangerous wind-blown projectiles.
  • Locate storm shutters, garage door supports, and any hardware or tools necessary for installation. Install second story and other difficult shutters first.
  • Cover and/or brace all window and door openings.
  • Unplug your television before attempting to lower an outdoor antenna. Take great care not to allow antennae anywhere near power lines.
  • Do not drain in-ground swimming pools completely. Drain six to 12 inches out of the pool to allow for possible heavy rains. Super-chlorinate to avoid contamination. Disconnect and protect electric pumps.
  • Bring lawn furniture, grills, potted plants, garden decor, and any other object that could get blown away inside. Encourage neighbors to do the same.
  • Disconnect propane gas at the tank, even if you don’t evacuate.
  • Disconnect propane gas tanks from outdoor grills. Store them inside the garage or home. If electricity is off after the storm, this may be your only means of cooking meals. Never use gas grills indoors.
  • Fuel up. All vehicles should have full gas tanks so you can be ready to go at a moment’s notice. If the electricity is off, service stations may not be in operation for several days or longer. Park your vehicle in the garage or pull it up as close as possible to the side of your home.
  • Mobile home residents: EVACUATE. Turn off water where it enters the home. Turns off gas at the tank, but do not disconnect. Bring in or sucure all outdoor objects. Do not stay in a mobile home during any hurricane, tornado, or other severe weather event.
  • High-rise condo residents should evacuate if located in an evacuation zone or on an upper floor.

Roofs

Gable-end roofs are styles most vulnerable to high winds. The most common failure results from inadequate horizontal and vertical bracing of the gable. This can be easily fixed by a qualified contractor. Trusses can be tied together through lateral bracing. While hipped roofs are usually less vulnerable, the trusses should still be properly braced to provide sufficient strength.

Regardless of the style of your roof, current codes also require hurricane straps to help hold the roof to the walls. It is possible to retrofit older homes that do not have hurricane straps.

Inspection of roof-damaged homes following Hurricane Andrew revealed that the plywood sheathing was not properly attached in some cases. Problems included the use of staples instead of nails, and inadequate number of nails used, and in some cases the nails actually missed the truss underneath.

Skylights present a difficult problem in hurricanes. Nailing plywood over the opening is possible, but after the storm passes, you are left with nail holes in your roof. The most effective solution is to replace older skylights with new ones that are built to current codes. This may not be as expensive as you think and is certainly worth investigating.

Vents on gabled ends should be protected like any other window opening. Rotary roof vents should be removed and capped. Vents beneath eaves can probably be left unprotected. Do not cover plumbing vent stacks. They allow sewer gas to escape.

Soffits covered only with thin vinyl or aluminum has failed in hurricanes. They allowed wind to enter the attic, which led to structural failure. A building inspector can identify this problem and recommend a solution.

Always use great care when working on your roof or in your attic. When on the roof, watch your footing and avoid power lines and antennas. In your attic, step only on joists. Watch your head and protect yourself from fiberglas, exposed nails, and heat.

Doors

Unprotected garage doors can be the most vulberable part of a home in a hurricane. Many are only held on by a flimsy track. If your garage door fails, it can allow the wind to begin breaking apart the rest of the home, even if you have quality hurrican shutters.

Bracing garage doors is easy and inexpensive. Use vertical 2′ x 4′ braces (2 bolted together for added strength). Use one brace for single doors and two or more for larger doors. Bolt the braces to the garage door frame and use an “L” bracket to attach them to the concrete floor. Like all hurricane preparations, you should cut and fit all lumber and hardware before the start of the hurricane season and practice installation.

Consider replacing older garage doors with a new one that meets tougher impact codes. Use caution with working with garage doors.

Here are some other things to consider while preparing your doors for a hurricane:

  • Wind forces on entry doors are focused on locks, jambs, and hinges. Double doors and french style doors that open inward are the most vulnerable to hurricane-force winds.
  • The bolts that secure the top and bottom of double doors must be strong enough to withstand hurricane-force winds. Most are not. Some manufacturers make reinforced bolt kits.
  • Doors with windows, even small ones, must have impact protection like any other window.
  • Replacing old doors with new ones that comply with wind and impact codes is one potentially expensive option. Remember that jambs may have to be reinforced as well.
  • Older, weaker doors can be protected using 2′ x 4′ braces bolted into the frame or concrete block. The holes left behind will be much easier to repair than any damage caused by a door left unprotected.

Windows

The single most important step you can take to protect your home from hurricane-force winds is to cover all windows with code-approved impact resistant shutters. There are many different styles and prices available. Follow these tips to ensure you have the best window protection for your home:

  • Hurricane shutters should pass the 1994 Southern Building Congress codes. Shutters with these specifications should be able to withstand the force of a piece of debris flying through the air traveling hundreds of miles per hour.
  • Hurricane shutters should not be mounted to the window frame. Instead, they should be affixed to the wall surrounding the window. This allows the force of the impact to transfer from the window to the wall and minimize damage.
  • When you buy hurricane shutters, make sure you get certification documentation stating the shutters as impact-resistant. Get written assurance that the shutters will be installed according to the SBC-94 codes. Never sign with a contractor who proposes to do the job without pulling a permit. Contact your local building department and ask that they review the plans and inspect the completed job.
  • If you want to make your own plywood shutters, purchase and pre-measure the shutters before or at the beginning of hurricane season. Properly installed plywood shutters can be effective, but it’s a big job. Most people will find it nearly impossible to purchase and install shutters on an entire home as a storm threatens. It also takes valuable time that you could be using to complete other important parts of your hurricane preparedness plan.

The idea of window protection is to keep the wind out of your home. Once hurricane winds get inside your home, they begin to act upon the interior walls and celiing. Meanwhile, the wind continues to apply tremendous pressure on the outside walls and roof. These forces act together to literally break your house apart.

Hurricane Preparedness: Inside Your Home

  • Turn your refrigerator and freezer to the colest settings. Freeze water in plastic jugs and fill empty spaces with the frozen jugs. This will keep the inside of your refrigerator cool longer.
  • Fill clean, empty plastic jugs with tap water. Make sure you have at least one gallon of water per person, per day.
  • Clean your bathtub using bleach. Rinse thouroughly and let dry. seal the drain with silicone caulk and fill the tub with water. This water is to be used for bathing and sanitary purposes only, not for drinking.
  • Prepare your safe room. Stock it with a battery-powered TV and/or radio with spare batteries, sleeping bags, pillows, chairs, snacks, and drinking water. If you have young children, you should include games, books, favorite blankets, stuffed animals, and toys. Have a mattress ready nearby in case your home suffers structural damage.
  • Close all windows. It is a myth that you should keep windows on one side of the house open to equalize the pressure.
  • Put as many loose objects as possible in drawers.
  • Call your out-of-town emergency contact and tell them where you will be during the hurricane.
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