Weathering the Storm - Making Your Home Nearly Hurricane-ProofPosted by Lee Cameron on Thursday, September 8th, 2011 at 11:55am.
Hurricane Irene's devastating tour of the East Coast has reminded us that we are in the midst of this year's hurricane season. Here in Florida, especially, hurricanes are a very real threat each year. Since your home is likely the biggest investment you have, doesn't it make sense to protect it as best you can?
So what do you do to defend your home against the raging storm? Here are a few tips.
Out of every part of your home, your roof is likely to be the most exposed to the elements. Strong winds can do severe damage to a roof. At best, you may lose a few poorly secured shingles, at worst the entire roof may go. But there are things you can do to prevent this.
The first thing you should do is check and see if the roof you currently have is built to local wind-rating codes. Here in Central Florida, many of our newer homes already have roofs that are designed to handle high wind as much as possible.
If you have an older home and an older roof, you can still reinforce it. Hire a professional or, if you know what you're doing, do it yourself. Going into your attic and properly installing braces, collar ties, hurricane straps and even construction adhesive can all help your roof withstand storm-level winds.
Reinforcing the Weak Points
Windows are likely the most fragile pieces of the structure of your house. Hurricane force winds can turn even small objects into dangerous projectiles. When one of these objects hits your window, it not only damages your home and sends dangerous glass flying through the air, but it exposes you to a devastating effect known as "internal pressurization". Once the strong winds find a way into your home - like through that broken window - they have to find a way out again which can lead to the pressure building up inside your home until it literally explodes through any weak points in the structure.
To prevent this, you could consider installing impact windows. These new window designs have a thin layer of plastic between two sheets of glass. The windows react to impacts the same way a car's windshield does - it splinters but it doesn't easily shatter. The only downside, of course, is that these stronger, safer windows are also more expensive.
A more affordable option might be to install storm shutters. You can find them in a variety of styles, from cheap fabric shields to expensive, heavy-duty, steel roll-down shutters. It might be a good idea to shop around and look at your options before deciding what would be best for your home.
Now that you've thought about the windows, it's time to take a look at a part of your home that most people never think to protect during a storm. If you've ever accidently backed into your garage door (and who hasn't?) you've probably noticed how structurally weak it actually is. With numerous unsealed joints and, likely, a weak aluminum structure, it doesn't take much force to compromise a garage door. If you can damage it by backing up at three miles an hour, imagine what will happen if it gets hit by 110 mile-per-hour winds! Just like with your windows, not only will this cause major damage to your home but it will also likely lead to internal pressurization.
Like windows, it is also possible to replace your garage doors with newer, stronger versions that are designed to hold up in a storm. These models are usually made from steel or fiberglass but can be quite expensive to install. On a budget, you could look into reinforcing the structure of your door with specially made kits. These kits allow you to fasten vertical poles from floor to ceiling across the back of your garage door, preventing high winds from completely blowing the door open.
Of course, everyone knows that when a storm is coming, it's important to move furniture and lawn ornaments out of your yard to prevent them from flying away (or worse, flying into your house) but what about the parts of your yard that are more permanent? Hurricanes often bring heavy rains long before the strong winds come. These rains saturate the ground, making it soft and loose and making it easier for the strong winds to come through and knock down your trees.
If you're landscaping your home in an area where storms are a large threat, be careful where you place your trees. It's important to give your trees enough room to develop strong, extensive root systems that can hopefully hold them in the ground in high winds. Remember those cut-out drawings you used to see in your school textbooks that showed how a tree's root system is about equal to the size of it's crown? Keep that in mind. If you plant a tree on a small strip of land, like a median or side yard next to your home, you're not allowing for enough room for that tree to develop a strong root system. It will be relatively easy for a strong wind to come through and push that tree over. You should also talk to your local nursery about getting stronger trees. Sturdy, slow-growing trees like live oak withstand storms easier than many other types.
If your landscaping is already finished, the best thing you can do to prepare for a storm is to make sure your trees are properly pruned. Removing dead and fragile branches will prevent them from becoming projectiles and thinning the canopy of branches and leaves will allow the wind to hopefully pass through cleanly instead of catching the tree like a sail and pulling it over. Additionally, you can brace your smaller, younger trees by wrapping nylon straps around them and staking them into the ground. This may be enough to keep them from getting knocked over.
Preparing for the Worst
During hurricane season, remember the boy scout motto - Always Be Prepared! Strong storms will likely knock down power lines and disrupt utilities in ways that could take days or even a week to fix. Prepare for this possibility as best you can by stocking up on necessary supplies. Make sure you have an adequate supply of water and food. Consider getting yourself a gas generator that can be used to power your refrigerator, freezer and any other essential appliances. Have an extra battery charged and handy for your cell phone. There are even solar-powered cell phone chargers that you can buy that will fully charge your phone after a few hours in the sun. To keep abreast on the news and get weather updates, get yourself a hand-cranked emergency radio. These often get automatic updates from the NOAA Weather Radio and can be recharged simply by turning the hand-crank for a minute.
Before the next big storm comes around, take a look at your home and make sure you're ready. Some smart planning and caution can keep you protected in all but the very worst situations. Keep an eye on the sky and be safe out there!
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