From hurricanes, floods and tornadoes to hail, thunder and lightning, severe storms can take on many forms and leave behind varying degrees of destruction. Fortunately, you can perform a few home upgrades that help to prevent dangerous weather from having disastrous consequences.
Now is the time to prepare your home, says Tim Reinhold, director and vice president of engineering for the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS). “Severe weather events have occurred in every month of the year. This makes the need to keep up with protection projects year-round an even greater priority,” he says. Here are some steps he and other experts recommend to help your home hold its own.
Inspect and detect
To identify problem areas, first thoroughly examine your home’s building envelope, including the roof, exterior walls, windows and doors. These areas are the most vulnerable and provide the first line of defense in severe weather.
The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), a nonprofit organization committed to strengthening homes and safeguarding families from disaster, recommends checking your roof for loose, missing or broken shingles or tiles. Peer into gutters: Large amounts of granular material can indicate that the roof needs repair. From inside your attic, scan for leaks, stains and cracks; also count the number of steel straps connecting the roof to walls. Too few can mean the roof is not securely attached. (Consult local building codes for the recommended number of straps for your location.)
Inspect exterior wood siding for discoloration and damage. IBHS recommends that there be at least 8 in. between wood siding and soil to prevent accelerated decay. Also check expansion joints (between bricks, for example) for cracks and other damage.
Windows and doors are most susceptible to breach during severe weather. If possible, review your records or labels to determine when they were installed and whether they are impact-resistant. Peeling paint or swelling around doors and windows (both interior and exterior) can indicate leaks. Investigate entry-door jambs for cracks and loose screws. Hinges and thresholds should be secure.
Garage doors are especially dangerous during high winds because they are lightweight and cover large openings, so FLASH recommends that you inspect them for missing or rusted bolts, damaged or loose tracks and rollers with excess wear. Review your records or labels for wind ratings.
It’s also important to examine the basement to locate weaknesses such as cracks in the walls. If you have a sump pump, IBHS recommends having it tested at least once a year, and make sure it is free of debris.
Outer shell solutions
If you discover any problem signs when inspecting your roof, it’s time for improvements. Reinhold of IBHS recommends replacing any damaged shingles and roof sheathing. If a home is old, remove the sheathing around the perimeter and add steel straps connecting the roof to the walls. He suggests sheathing be fastened with 8d ring-shank nails. To provide even greater protection and durability, add a secondary moisture barrier and choose materials that are rated for wind-, impact- and fire-resistance. Once your roof is up to par, be sure to keep valleys, gutters and downspouts clean to allow for proper drainage.
If you spot water damage along any exterior walls, replace the affected areas as soon as possible. Seal cracks or holes in walls, expansion joints and foundations, and keep exterior finishes well-maintained. Be sure to store piles of soil, leaves and compost away from the home’s exterior surfaces.
Also limit decorative yard objects. (Stash them indoors when severe weather threatens.) Opt for shredded landscaping materials instead of rocks or gravel, which can cause more damage during storms. And be sure to trim trees and shrubs regularly.
Interior and openings solutions
The key term to remember when upgrading windows is impact-resistance. According to FLASH, this refers to windows that contain a clear plastic-type film sandwiched between two specially treated pieces of glass. Tests for determining impact-resistance also take into account the window frame, attachment hardware and installation method, which simplifies the selection process for consumers. If you live in a hurricane-prone region and window replacement is not an option, consider exterior storm shutters or curtains that can be installed when severe-storm warnings are posted.
Impact-resistant products are also good choices if you’re replacing entry doors, but even a few simple improvements to existing doors will help. IBHS recommends anchoring door frames to walls with 3-in. fasteners and securing hinges with screws that penetrate at least 1 in. into door frames. A deadbolt lock with a minimum 1-in. bolt-throw length will add extra strength. For double entry doors, add heavy-duty barrel-bolt sliding latches to the top and bottom. The bottom bolt should extend through the door header and threshold and into the subfloor.
Garage doors should also be impact- or wind-rated. Removable bracing systems can be installed on existing doors in the event of severe weather.
Indoor projects include caulking any cracks in the foundation floor and walls and applying a coating of sealant to block out moisture. (This does not pertain to drywall.) If you have a water-infiltration problem, sealing cracks and walls will help, but it’s not the final solution. You may need to consider bigger issues such as groundwater, roof runoff, improper grading, etc.
Another precautionary measure is to install a whole-house surge protector, which prevents damage to electrical, telephone and cable or satellite lines during electrical storms.
As you’re planning home-protection projects, remember to consider your geographic location, check your local building codes and consult with your codes-enforcement department before proceeding with repairs and upgrades. Also search for additional ideas by visiting the Web sites listed in SOURCES.
Federal Alliance for Safe Homes 877-221-7233
Federal Emergency Management Agency 800-621-3362
Institute for Business & Home Safety (813) 286-3400
John Boyle & Co. (Storm-A-Rest) (704) 872-8151
Life Gear, (858) 755-2099
Pittsburgh Corning, 800-624-2120
Secure Door, 800-483-3341