Don't wait until a storm approaches to try to protect your property from high winds and flying debris.

Forecasts for a quiet hurricane season may lull you into complacency. But remember that the 1992 storm season was uneventful until Hurricane Andrew blew billions of dollars of damage into South Florida in late August.

There's much you can do now so you won't get caught making last-minute -- and probably inadequate -- preparations.

"If you buy shutters or other coverings with product approvals and use licensed contractors who pull building permits, you're on your way to protecting your home," says engineer Jose Mitrani, associate professor of construction management at Florida International University in Miami.

"And be sure that inspections are done of the work," says Mitrani, who served on building code task forces after Hurricane Andrew.

Start At the Top

Roof cover damage is the biggest reason for hurricane insurance claims that are not related to storm surge, says the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, or IBHS, in Tampa, Fla.

A cascade of trouble can happen when a roof is roughed up by a hurricane: Water gets in through gaps in the roof decking, which soaks the attic insulation, which collapses the ceiling, which damages your furniture and other belongings when wet wallboard and insulation fall on them.

And that's if your roof mostly stays intact. You could lose part or all of it because of unbraced or improperly braced gable ends or if you don't have truss tie-downs called hurricane straps.

That's why IBHS and FLASH, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, suggest these roof precautions long before hurricane season:

  • Nail or caulk loose roof tiles or shingles.
  • Check for rust and loose anchoring on a metal roof.
  • Install hurricane straps. (Consider hiring a licensed contractor to do this.)
  • Brace gable ends. (Ditto on hiring a professional.)
  • Install a backup water barrier under the roof cover if necessary.

IBHS also recommends checking attic ventilation. Loose eave and gable end vents, soffits and turbines will let water pour into your attic.

Window and Door Coverings

To a great extent, getting your home hurricane-ready means making sure it's equipped with the right hurricane-resistant window and door coverings. They run a gamut that includes various types of shutters, panels, screens and sheeting, as well as impact-glass windows and doors.

Plywood is cheap but considered an emergency measure -- and it's critical that sizing and anchoring are done properly.

Even the smallest window must be covered because smaller openings actually get higher wind pressures than larger areas such as the side of your house, Mitrani says.

The average window area to be covered (including doors with windows) is about 15% of a home's total square footage, according to IBHS. A 2,000-square-foot home would need about 300 square feet of shutters. If your shutters cost $20 per square foot, you'll spend $6,000.

IBHS notes that some coverings can be installed only by professionals and cost up to $30 per square foot of opening. Do-it-yourself products cost about half as much.

Beware of contractors who try to sell DIY products, warns Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president and chief executive of FLASH. "Those are products that are cheap and can't get product approval," she says.

Consider Looks, Construction of Coverings

Some coverings are permanent attachments to the building, such as accordion shutters. They rest folded and highly visible on either side of your windows.

Panels sit in tracks at the top and bottom of openings, but only the tracks are permanently attached to the building.

If you live in a condo or a development with an active homeowners association, be aware that there may be rules about the type and color of shutters allowed. Check before outfitting your doors and windows.

Also, ask your local building department what's required of coverings in your state or region, Chapman-Henderson says. Building codes in Florida, for example, require that hurricane products be able to withstand certain levels of impact by windborne debris, adds Mitrani. So those products have to undergo impact tests to earn approval.

Once your new coverings are installed, do a trial run, says Tim Reinhold, IBHS chief engineer and senior vice president of research.

"Make sure you have all the parts and everything is sized and fits properly," he says.

Other Property Precautions

Before hurricanes start forming, do a spot-check from the attic down. FLASH recommends caulking holes in building exteriors and tightening or replacing loose and missing screws and brackets in windows and doors -- including garage doors. Also, be sure to clean out the gutters.

A Few Final Notes on Preparation:

  • Taping windows: Don't do it. It doesn't keep your windows or glass doors from shattering, yet most homeowners still think it should be done, according to a FLASH survey released ahead of hurricane season.
  • Manufactured housing (mobile homes): Even if you have a newer home built to higher wind speeds, plan on evacuating, Reinhold says. There's too great a chance of damage from flying debris from older neighboring homes.
  • High-rises: If you live in a high-rise building, be aware that potentially damaging wind pressures increase with height.
  • Patio/yard: Don't leave anything outside. Trim trees so branches don't bang against the house. Do it early enough so the trimmings can be hauled off before a hurricane. Otherwise, they could cause damage if they fly around.
  • Car: Gas up before the storm. If you don't, you risk power outages afterward that mean pumps won't run. And not all stations have generators.