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Hurricane Florence is threatening to wreak havoc on the U.S. East Coast. Millions of worried homeowners likely are wondering what they can do to shore up their homes against the coming assault of wind, rain and storm surge.
In addition, this is unlikely to be the last storm to rattle nerves this hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, we have just entered the peak period for such storm activity, which lasts through the end of October. And the Atlantic hurricane season itself runs through Nov. 30 — and possibly beyond.
If you are in harm’s way — either right now or at any time over the next several weeks — you must take steps quickly to protect your property. Following are some key ways to protect your home from a storm’s fury.
1. Storm-guard your home
You can take several steps to fortify your home against the nasty winds and downpours that hurricanes generate. Some of these moves are relatively easy to complete. For example, clean out your gutters and make any needed structural repairs. Also, have a plan for moving outdoor furnishings out of the wind’s reach and into your home.
Consider purchasing a generator in case the power goes out. Learn how to turn off the electricity and gas or propane.
Other preparations are likely to take more time. They include:
- Strap down the roof. Use hurricane straps or clips to fasten your home’s roof to the frame of the house, reducing potential roof damage.
- Put head and foot bolts on entry doors. Give doors extra protection against being blown in the wind by installing bolts at the top and bottom.
- Buy or make window covers or storm shutters. Purchase commercially made storm shutters, or cut window covers to fit each individual window that are made from exterior grade or marine plywood that’s at least five-eighths of an inch thick. Use heavier, reinforced plywood to cover big pieces of glass, such as sliding doors.
- Caulk around doors and windows. Wind-driven rain can cause moisture damage in your home, even when the structure remains intact.
- Protect attached structures. Make sure carports, porches and decks, entry canopies and sheds are structurally sound and firmly attached.
- Test sump pumps and drains. Test drains and sump pumps to be sure they’re working well. Keep fresh backup batteries on hand.
2. Safety-proof your landscaping
Plants, trees and other landscaping elements also are vulnerable to a hurricane’s fury. Take these steps to protect your landscaping:
- Trim trees and shrubs. This helps them better resist the wind, saving the plants and also reducing the chances of damage from falling or windblown limbs.
- Replace gravel with shredded bark. When it’s time to refresh your gravel paths or drive, consider replacing gravel with bark, because windblown gravel can damage structures.
- Hire an arborist. Get a professional to assess the health of trees near your home. Remove any that are likely to come down in the wind. Crashing trees can pull down power lines and badly damage a home or car.
- Tie down small trees and shrubs. This helps prevent uprooting.
3. Review your insurance coverage
If Florence is bearing down on your neck of the woods, it’s likely too late to change your insurance coverage in any way. So, simply review the coverage you have. That way, you will know where you stand as the storm approaches.
Home insurance policies vary a great deal. If you have any questions, call your insurance agent or broker to find out the details of your coverage.
Once Florence has passed, begin preparing for future storms. Depending on where you live, standard homeowners insurance may or may not cover wind damage. If not, you may need to purchase a separate wind policy.
Homeowners insurance does not cover flooding. Again, it is too late to purchase flood insurance to protect you from Florence’s wrath. You must buy separate, government-backed insurance to protect your home from flooding related to future storms. Such coverage is available if your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program.
4. Inventory your home and possessions
Document the contents of your home and the home itself, inside and out. The easiest way to do this is to shoot video or still photos. Take pictures from every angle, including close-ups and shots that pull back to show the big picture.
If you make an insurance claim, you’ll want this evidence to support the claim and recover the maximum amount.
Another option is to create an inventory of your possessions that includes an appraised or estimated value for the most expensive items. The Insurance Information Institute has instructions for creating an inventory at its website.
Remember to send the inventory, photos or video to your insurance agent. You also can store it, along with important documents, in the internet cloud, or somewhere else safe from a hurricane.
5. Get ready for the next storm
With any luck, you and your home will dodge a bullet and Florence will stay far away. If you are so fortunate, count your blessings — then, get to work shoring up your coverage for the future.
Insurance can be complex. Make sure you have an agent or broker whom you trust, and a company that offers good value.
A good independent insurance broker can find the best coverage at the lowest price by comparing products from several companies. Whether you use a broker or a company agent, look for respectful, readily available customer service and professionals who take the time to answer your questions and explain the reasons behind their recommendations.
Do some research to make sure you are dealing with a quality company. Call your state’s insurance commissioner, or visit the commissioner’s website — find yours on this map — to check consumer complaints against insurers.
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