Expert Advice for Minimizing Home Damage from a Hurricane

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Written by: Rebecca Graham | Best Company Editorial Team

Last Updated: February 24th, 2020

In part 1 of our series on preparing for a hurricane and flooding, our panel of experts emphasized the importance of flood insurance. In part 2, home services professionals including a number of franchise owners within the Neighborly network weigh in on minimizing damage in various parts of the home.


White building with open-shuttered windows and flowers on the window sills

Windows

Windows should be inspected for cracks long before hurricane season, so they can be repaired or replaced, according to John and Emily Anne Thomason, franchise owners of Glass Doctor in Melbourne, Florida. “Windows throughout your home may have tiny cracks that could potentially turn hazardous once a storm hits,” they caution.

Is there an easy way to protect windows? The Thomasons explain that a common misconception is that tape prevents glass from shattering. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Instead, use plywood, shutters, hurricane film, or, better yet, hurricane impact glass.

If you plan to board up windows with plywood prior to a hurricane, purchase supplies well in advance. Once a hurricane warning is issued, it can be difficult or even impossible to find sought-after plywood in your area. Don’t procrastinate cutting the plywood to fit your windows. If you wait too long, you might realize you don’t have enough plywood to cover all of your windows, and you want to keep a little extra in the house during the storm if needed.

When placing the plywood, do not screw the plywood into the window frame because it is hard to determine just how far the glass is inside the frame. “If the nail is screwed in too tightly, it will shatter the glass,” the Thomasons warn. Instead, set the plywood into place with carbon steel clips. “Simply cover the window with plywood, and then clip the plywood into the window casing,” they explain.

If, despite plywood coverings, window glass breaks during the hurricane, avoid the room where the window is broken and utilize extra plywood to cover up holes until windows can be repaired.

Plumbing

Don Glovan of Mr. Rooter Plumbing recommends three tips for getting your plumbing system ready for storm-related floods:

  1. If you have a basement or crawl space sump pump, check to see if it is operating automatically and clean debris from around the intake/suction area of the pump. “Debris can decrease the amount of water the pump can remove or it can clog the pump, causing damage or a burnout,” Glovan explains. He also recommends homeowners consider a battery-backup system.
  2. Find your main shut-off valve. Then, make sure it works and know how to use it. During an emergency, turning off your water can prevent damage from leaks.
  3. Check for signs of stress in your foundation and patch any visible blemishes. According to Glovan, cracks in the foundation of the home “could be the root cause of potential flooding or plumbing issues” even if they are not visible.

Finally, during a storm, keep an eye on the lowest plumbing fixture in the house, as that is where back up can occur. If you’re concerned about this, you can have a backwater check valve installed if your house sewer is for sanitary use only. Backwater valves prevent water from flowing backward and prevent sewer backup from the public drainage system from entering your home.


Gardening supplies on a white background: crate, plastic pots, clippers, gloves, and a sprig of green leaves

Yard and home exterior

Outside, the best place to start is securing items that could become a hazard in high winds. J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, recommends storing any items that are not tied down inside a garage, including patio furniture and garbage cans.

Jack White, vice president of technical services at Rainbow International, agrees that you can “prevent items from flying off to Oz,” including your roof, garage, and fuel tanks, by securing those things with roof clips, garage door braces, and fuel tank anchors.

Sassano says to “keep trees and shrubs trimmed to increase their wind resistance,” a suggestion echoed by White, who adds, “Trim back any branches touching your home, because if they rub your roof, they could pull parts of it off in a storm.” White also suggests homeowners consider re-grading around trees to strengthen the ground and give roots something to cling to.

Prior to a storm, it’s a good idea to clean out your gutters so they don’t get clogged and potentially damage your roof and cause flooding inside. Jeff Dudan, founder and CEO of AdvantaClean, recommends adding a longer downspout extension on your gutters to divert water farther away from your home.

Flooring and interior

When properly used, sandbags, towels, and other barriers can be effective against flooding. Dudan shares the following tips for keeping your surfaces as dry as they can be during a storm:

  • Don’t overfill sandbags, as they will not lay flat if filled too much. And if they’re underfilled, they’ll leave gaps that allow water to seep through. Opt for filling bags ⅔ of the way.
  • “Don’t put sandbags directly on top of each other,” Dudan says. “You need to lay them on the tied opening of the sandbag next to it and underneath it to build a proper wall to stop water.”
  • To cover doors, duct tape a plastic tarp to the door first, then lay down sandbags at the door’s opening.
  • Place towels on the windows and buckets on the floor before rain starts, and be vigilant about changing the towels and buckets several times as necessary. Dudan cautions, “Remove wet towels and buckets or you risk mold growth, which can start 24 hours after the rain hits.”
  • Put pie plates or aluminum foil underneath furniture legs to prevent staining.

Black and white photo of a woman plugging a cord into the second socket of a power strip

Electrical and HVAC systems

While most of the preparations discussed thus far are DIY-friendly, when it comes to protecting your home’s electrical system, it’s safest to hire a licensed professional.

Mark Farmer, owner of Mr. Electric of Paola and Overland Park, Kansas, explains that surge protectors “are key to offering sensitive electronics protection in the event of power surges or spikes that often occur during tropical storms.” They prevent damage to components within all of your expensive appliances. He describes three types of surge protectors:

  1. Whole house protection between street power lines and your home
  2. Whole house protection between the meter and the breaker box
  3. Point-of-use protection at wall outlets in your home

HVAC franchise owner Brian Anderson of Air Serv in Seminole, Florida advises homeowners to install surge protectors on heating and air conditioning systems specifically, as electricity surges can damage HVAC components like electronic control boards, motors, and compressors. He also recommends the following precautions:

  • Keep your HVAC condenser, which releases or collects heat, elevated above the base flood elevation to minimize water damage.
  • Have your air conditioner checked after an event to mitigate potential mold and mildew damage from excessive humidity.
  • Invest in a rainguard, a protective cover that works in conjunction with HVAC systems to offer the proper amount of air circulation with air vents. Anderson warns against DIY coverings like boards, plastic wrap, and garbage bags, which “create a hostile operational environment, allowing moisture and condensation to build up and become trapped inside the system, where it can corrode and rust metal components, rot wire and rubber, and offer an attractive home for insects and critters.”

In part 3 of this series on preparing for a hurricane and flooding, we’ll cover how to prepare yourself and your family for an evacuation.

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