Published June 13, 2013
A Category 5 hurricane will always be a monster and a real test for any home. But many readily available products can reduce or minimize the impact of hurricane season and save homeowners big bucks in repairs and home insurance premiums.
The peace of mind that can result is priceless.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, predicts an active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season that will spawn 13 to 20 named storms. Seven to 11 of those could become hurricanes, including three to six major hurricanes with winds in excess of 111 mph.
Bracing your home for Mother Nature's impact doesn't have to be expensive, however.
"While many products don't cost much money, they can have a major impact on the ability to withstand a hurricane and in many cases, offer opportunities for discounts from your insurance carrier," says Claire Wilkinson, a blogger for the trade group the Insurance Information Institute. "Homeowners may get discounts for things such as hurricane shutters, various types of roof coverings and the way the roof is attached to the structure."
Because retrofitting your home against hurricane damage can be an expensive project, Wilkinson suggests doing it in stages. "Insurance companies may offer discounts for retrofitting, which can help offset the cost," she says.
Top products for storm protection
"There are a lot of things you can do (to your home) that are meaningful, affordable and make a difference," says Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president and CEO of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, or FLASH. "Homeowners should select products that are tested and approved." As the market for hurricane protection products has exploded, she adds, so has a wealth of products that claim to protect -- but don't really perform.
Here are several ways to avoid hurricane costs.
A sheet of plywood and a handful of nails have stood the test of time as one of the most popular ways to prepare for a storm. Homeowners typically "board up" a day or two before and attach 5/8-inch or one half-inch plywood to the windows of their homes. Those in hurricane zones who plan ahead often measure their windows and cut and label their wood beforehand so they don't have to scramble for materials at the last minute. Plywood can be secured to the home with nails, screws or specialty anchor bolts and clips.
Polymer-based, hurricane-strength fabric panels add trampoline-like cushion to repel flying debris from windows and doors without sacrificing visibility in a storm. Panels anchored to the edges of windows and doorways with grommets and wing nuts or clips and pins, making them easy to install ahead of a storm.
Most homes are built to hold the roof up, not down. To correct for the upward and lateral lifting forces of hurricane winds, builders install hurricane straps, clips and anchor belts, which can help keep a home's roof from blowing off. In a correct setup, galvanized straps securely attach the roof to the walls and the foundation, creating a rigid support system and continuous load path where the roof is tied into the entire house.
Flooding remains one of the most destructive elements of a hurricane. While there is little a homeowner can do to prepare for a 20-foot storm surge on the coast, there are products that can help protect inland residents from minor flooding. Sandbags remain the least expensive option (many counties give them away for free), but they are heavy and it would take hundreds of sandbags and lots of help to completely surround a home. Flood barriers on the market include powder-filled absorbent DoorDams, water-filled tubes, expanding bags and portable walls that can be quickly deployed in the event of a flood. It could be quite expensive to entirely surround a home and protect against a few feet of floodwater, but there are some products on the market and companies that do exactly that.
Corrugated steel or aluminum shutters bolted over your windows may not look like it, but they are one of the best ways to protect a home from flying debris. Storm panels vary in thickness and attach to window exteriors with a system of tracks and bolts. With prefitted panels and tracks permanently installed around the house, the shutters can be attached quickly and easily when a storm is approaching.
Roll-down hurricane shutters
With the push of a button or the crank of a handle, roll-down hurricane shutters are the easiest home protectors to deploy in the event of a storm. Made of double-walled aluminum slats that interlock, these shutters roll up into a narrow box that sits above the window or doorway. Available in all sizes and colors, they are usually custom-fitted to your home and require professional installation.
Garage door braces
Your garage door is one of the most vulnerable parts of your home to high wind. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, identified compromised garages as one of four major factors in homes damaged by Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 hurricane that slammed into South Florida in 1992. And, FLASH reports that 80 percent of residential wind damage starts with entry through the garage door. Failure of a garage door can allow the full force of hurricane winds to enter the home and threaten the roof or walls. While some newer garage doors are rated for winds of up to 150 mph, many older ones should be braced. Vertical bracing systems are typically made of aluminum and are anchored above the garage door and to the floor to provide a backbone of extra support.
Want to skip the hassle and closed-in feeling of shutters altogether? Consider installing hurricane-impact windows. The glass is usually 3/8-inch thick and features a film coating similar to the safety glass used in vehicle windshields: If the windows crack or are smashed, the glass will stay embedded in the frame. In some areas, such as Miami-Dade County where building codes require protection on every opening, hurricane glass is becoming a popular option with new construction.
Housed to the side of doors or windows when not in use, these retractable aluminum shutters open up like an accordion, often from inside the house, to protect the openings during a storm. The shutters compress to roughly 1 inch per linear foot and keyed locking systems not only provide protection against wind but also forced entry. They also can be used to enclose balconies and doorways and are usually available in a variety of colors.
Bahama shutters are hinged at the top of the window and angle outward from the wall with the help of telescoping arms. The support arms are typically adjustable from 60- to 90-degree angles. The shutters protect against wind while providing light, ventilation and privacy control in everyday use. Bahama shutters often are used in sunny and coastal environments and can give a home a distinct, tropical appearance.
As a traditional style of window protection, colonial shutters attach to the window's side walls and fold inward to close. Permanently fixed to the window frame and held open by a clip system, they can quickly and easily be closed and secured with a brace bar when a storm approaches. With double hung windows, these shutters can also be closed from inside the home, eliminating the need for a ladder.
Copyright 2013, Bankrate Inc.