It may be hard to imagine your home — the place you feel safest — being ripped apart by wind or flooded in a major storm. But it does happen, whether you live on the coast of Florida or in the middle of the country.
If you haven’t thought about worst case scenarios for your home in a storm, you may be setting yourself up for more damage and potential safety risks to you and your family.
“A lot of people just aren’t prepared because they aren’t sure it can happen to them,” says Ted Olsen, vice president of Goosehead Insurance, an independent public insurance agency headquartered in Westlake, Texas.
There are many steps to both preparing and repairing your home in the before and after of a hurricane, tornado or other major storm. We’re breaking down what you should do now and what you can prepare for later to stay safe and help restore your home following any damage.
— Preparing your home for a hurricane or major storm.
— Repairing your home after a hurricane or major storm.
Preparing Your Home for a Hurricane or Major Storm
Natural disasters get their name because of the devastation they create, and there’s not always a way to prevent damage. You can, however, prepare for damage and better protect yourself and the items you consider most precious. Follow these tips to prepare your home for a hurricane or major storm.
Get Insurance Coverage Well in Advance
Homeowners insurance is often required by mortgage lenders when you buy a house. However, it doesn’t mean you necessarily have the coverage that will return your home to normal following major wind or flood damage.
Review your homeowners insurance policy and flood insurance, and see what’s included. Olsen recommends replacement value, rather than cash value, on your home and belongings because cash value will not take into account higher prices for new items or labor for required work. Complete this review now — don’t wait until a forecast for a major storm, because you likely won’t be able to change anything.
“Insurance companies will put in place a moratorium which means you can’t increase or add coverage during that period of time,” Olsen says.
Document All Your Belongings
Increase your odds of insurance covering all damage by taking an inventory of everything you own. “You definitely have to remember you had it in the first place,” Olsen says.
Olsen says the easiest way to do this is to hit video record on your phone and slowly walk through your house, getting footage of every piece of furniture and belonging you have. Open closets and cabinet doors, and pan slowly to make it easier to zoom in and screenshot later if needed. Zoom in on appliance serial numbers to make finding replacements easier, if needed.
Stock Up on Items That Will Keep Water Away
You can take a proactive approach to reducing damage to your home with sand bags that can keep water from entering through doorways, cleaned gutters and water pumps that can help get water out fast if it gets in.
Olsen notes that the National Flood Insurance Program through FEMA will typically reimburse policyholders for preventative measures like this, up to $1,000. “You just have to keep receipts,” he says.
You can also take preventative measures for wind, like covering windows with wood to protect them from airborne debris, checking the roof for loose shingles in advance and getting any outdoor furniture put away or secured to the ground.
A forecast for a hurricane may prompt some of these last-minute measures to protect your home, but other storms may not have much notice. If winds have already picked up or a tornado watch or warning has been issued, follow guidance of personal safety first and remain inside.
Move Items to Higher Ground
The lowest parts of your home are more likely to flood first. When possible, move belongings to the highest point possible, whether that’s a second floor, an attic or the upper part of a split-level home.
Don’t try to move heavy furniture upstairs by yourself, but books, decor, linens and other items can easily be stored at a higher level. Olsen stresses to put the most emphasis on items that can’t easily be replaced, like official documents or family heirlooms.
Even placing things on counters can help save items from water damage. “I’d start with your most valuable things and move them higher, keeping in mind the bottom 6 to 12 inches (of your home) is susceptible to water, mold damage,” Olsen says.
Prepare for Some Time Without Help
Move Items to Higher Ground
Preparing your home is one thing, but you also need to prepare yourself for any period of time without power, fresh water or a way to get food.
“In general, you should be prepared to manage the baseline needs of your household for up to 72 hours following a disaster before getting assistance from outside resources,” wrote Dr. Daniel Bachmann, an emergency medicine physician at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, in an email. “True emergencies are not part of this consideration, but predictable needs such as food, water and ability to function without power should be covered.”
While tap water is still safe to drink, fill up any water bottles you have in the home and clean your bathtub, then fill it with water for a greater supply. Keep food that doesn’t require refrigeration near you, and keep blankets and flashlights within reach in case damage makes it hard to get to your garage, kitchen or other parts of the home. If you have prescription medication, be sure you have enough to last more than a few days in case you don’t have access to a pharmacy immediately following the storm.
Follow Emergency Instructions
If officials advise you to evacuate your home ahead of a storm or other potential natural disaster, do so as soon as possible.
“Staying safe will be different depending on the type of event, the region, the resources available, and many other factors. So stay connected to the emergency management outlets and take guidance from them as to how you can stay safe,” Bachmann says.
If you are evacuating, consider turning off the gas or power to your home to cut down on potential additional damage to your home.
Repairing Your Home After a Hurricane or Major Storm
Once the damage has been done, it’s time to jump into repairs, insurance claims and any additional effort to get your home back to where it was before the storm hit. Follow these steps for repairing your home after a hurricane or major storm.
Call and Begin Your Insurance Claim
As soon as you know your home has sustained significant damage, call your insurance company to begin a claim. It may be a couple of days before you’re assigned a claim adjuster, so the sooner you call, the better.
Only Enter Your Home if You Know It’s Safe
To get the full scope of the damage to your home, you’ll want to walk through and see everything — especially if you evacuated and were away for the duration of the hurricane or storm. However, Olsen stresses that you should only enter the home if you know it’s safe to do so. Unstable structures or possible gas leaks could make walking through the house dangerous.
Just because the storm has passed doesn’t mean the danger has, too. Bachmann says the time after a storm has passed is considered the third phase of common injury — the first two being prior to the storm, when injuries are sustained preparing a home, and during the storm, when conditions pose significant danger to people.
“This (after-storm) pattern includes some of the same soft tissue injuries as people try to re-enter or repair homes. There are unique illnesses during this phase including exacerbation of chronic diseases that are inadequately treated due to lack of resources,” Bachmann says.
Assess the Damage and Take Pictures
By standing outside and going in when it’s safe, take stock of all the damage that has occurred, including damage to your home’s exterior, any interior damage and broken or destroyed belongings.
For your insurance claim, you’ll need to take photos. Some insurance companies will send an adjuster to assess the damage in person, but if many homes have been damaged in a storm there may not be anyone available right away, and the company will likely request photos from you.
Open Windows, Drain Water and Clear Out Wet Items
If your home has flooded, don’t wait for the adjuster to start drying out the house. As soon as it’s safe to go inside, open windows, pull wet and damaged items out onto the lawn and get fans blowing to help dry out the interior of your home.
“Flood insurance doesn’t cover mold, and mold can start setting in within 48 hours,” Olsen says. “The only exception to the mold coverage there with FEMA is they won’t allow you to go back.”
FEMA’s flood insurance program fact sheet also notes that the program won’t cover mold if the homeowner fails to take reasonable action to prevent it.
Find Contractors to Get Quotes
Keep the ball rolling and start reaching out to contractors as soon as possible to get quotes. They’ll likely be busy if the storm caused a lot of damage in the area, so the sooner you contact them the less likely you are to have a long wait.
Focus first on any skilled work needed to make your home habitable: electrician, plumber and roofer, for example. Following major natural disasters, it may be harder to get multiple quotes from different contracting companies, but still go through the review process as much as possible to find a contractor you can trust. Ask your insurance adjuster or neighbors if they have companies they recommend, check references and ask detailed questions about the scope of the work.
Check if DIY Repairs Are OK
There may be some work you’d like to complete yourself, either because you’re pretty handy or because there is a long wait for contractors. Check with your insurance company first, as there may be preference for a professional job — especially if electrical work is involved.
Olsen says some DIY repairs are possible with insurance, it just requires more documentation to ensure the work is done well, and you’re paid properly to cover your work. “They’ll let you know what process will need to take place,” Olsen says.
If the needed repair is minor and cosmetic, “I’d actually second guess filing the claim at all. It might not be enough to have that claim on your record at all,” Olsen says.
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How to Prepare and Repair a Home Before and After a Hurricane or Major Storm originally appeared on usnews.com