11 Easy Ways to Avoid Hurricane Expenses

By Craig GuillotHome MortgageBankrate.com

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.

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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.

&quotWhile 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,&quot says Claire Wilkinson, a blogger for the trade group the Insurance Information Institute. &quotHomeowners may get discounts for things such as hurricane shutters, various types of roof coverings and the way the roof is attached to the structure.&quot

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Because retrofitting your home against hurricane damage can be an expensive project, Wilkinson suggests doing it in stages. &quotInsurance companies may offer discounts for retrofitting, which can help offset the cost,&quot she says.

Top products for storm protection

  • Plywood.
  • Fabric panels.
  • Hurricane straps.
  • Flood barriers.
  • Storm panels.
  • Roll-down hurricane shutters.
  • Colonial shutters.
  • Accordion shutters.
  • Bahama shutters.
  • Garage door braces.
  • Hurricane glass.

&quotThere are a lot of things you can do (to your home) that are meaningful, affordable and make a difference,&quot says Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president and CEO of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, or FLASH. &quotHomeowners should select products that are tested and approved.&quot 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 &quotboard up&quot 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.

  • Cost: Material costs vary by location and season, but a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of 5/8-inch plywood typically runs $20 to $30 in most home improvement stores. Depending on home size and number of windows, total material costs could run $275 to 750.
  • Effect on insurance: None.
  • Pros: This is very effective in protecting from flying debris and easy for &quotdo-it-yourselfers.&quot Materials are easily obtained at any home improvement store. Plywood is relatively inexpensive and, if stored properly, can be used from season to season.
  • Cons: Working with plywood can be time-consuming and may require a helping hand for those with two-story homes. Installing may require drilling holes in siding and bricks. Once windows are boarded, the home becomes very dark.

Fabric panels

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.

  • Cost: Approximately $5 to $15 per square foot
  • Effect on insurance: None.
  • Pros: These can be rolled up and stored in a compact space and can easily be installed and removed. Most are translucent and allow for visibility through windows.
  • Cons: Professional installation is normally required. Permanent wing nuts or pins grommets must be installed in brick or siding.

Hurricane straps

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.

  • Cost: Inexpensive hurricane straps sell for as little as 50 cents apiece, usually by the box or in coils. A typical home could require hundreds of straps.
  • Effect on insurance: Can be significant depending on state and carrier.
  • Pros: When installed properly on a new home, hurricane straps drastically reduce the threat of roof failure in high winds. They are cheap and easy to install, as homes are being built and are increasingly required under building code for new construction in many coastal areas.
  • Cons: These can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive to retrofit on an existing home.

Flood barriers

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.

  • Cost: This varies from a couple hundred dollars up to tens of thousands of dollars to completely surround a home, depending on product and protection level.
  • Effect on insurance: None.
  • Pros: It is effective in preventing minor floodwaters from entering the home. Some products are easy to install and can be deployed just before a storm.
  • Cons: Products can be expensive and time-consuming to deploy and will be ineffective if floodwaters enter the home through other locations or rise above the height of the barrier.

Storm panels

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.

  • Cost: Prices for steel or aluminum storm panels run from $7 to $15 per foot of coverage.
  • Effect on insurance: Can be significant depending on state and carrier.
  • Pros: One of the most inexpensive permanent shutter systems, the panels are strong and can protect from almost any flying debris. Can be quickly deployed and removed before and after a storm.
  • Cons: These require a large spot for storage somewhere in the house or property. Depending on size of windows and stories on home, these can be difficult to install and may require more than one person. Some shutters have sharp edges.

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.

  • Cost: While they are the easiest and most convenient way to protect your home, roll-down shutters also are the most expensive window defense option, averaging $20 to $35 per square foot of window, according to NOAA.
  • Effect on insurance: Can be significant depending on state and carrier.
  • Pros: Easily raised and lowered with a crank handle or the push of a button. They also have an insulating factor and can serve other purposes besides wind protection.
  • Cons: Prohibitively expensive for most average homeowners. Push-button systems need a battery backup or manual override for use during a power outage. Usually 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.

  • Cost: Varies per manufacturer, approximately $150 to $175 per garage door brace.
  • Effect on insurance: Possible discount depending on state and carrier.
  • Pros: Effective and easy-to-brace door once initial installation is performed. Braces are relatively inexpensive. Do-it-yourselfers often make their own from some metal braces and a 4-foot by 4-foot piece of lumber.
  • Cons: May require special tools such as a rotor hammer and masonry bit to drill into concrete floor. Garage door cannot be opened without removing the brace.

Hurricane glass

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.

  • Cost: Approximately $14,000 to install CGI brand windows on a typical 2,000-square-foot home, according to Patco Windows of Pompano Beach, Fla.
  • Effect on insurance: Possible discount depending on state and carrier.
  • Pros: Eliminates the need for shutters. With hurricane glass, there is nothing to install or remove when a hurricane comes; it's always in place and completely transparent. Hurricane windows also help eliminate outside noise, protect against break-ins and filter out harmful UV rays.
  • Cons: There are lots of labor costs involved, and it can be prohibitively expensive. The solution is permanent and must be installed by a contractor. The installation can cause other costs and work depending on the style of the home, thickness of the walls and window sizes.

Accordion shutters

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.

  • Cost: $15 to $25 per square foot
  • Effect on insurance: Possible discount depending on state and carrier.
  • Pros: Easily and quickly deployed in the event of a storm. They are permanently fixed to the house and do not require storage.
  • Cons: May appear unattractive on some houses. Tend to use a wheel and glide system that may be weaker or break more often than other products.

Bahama shutters

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.

  • Cost: $15 to $20 per square foot.
  • Effect on insurance: Possible discount depending on state and carrier.
  • Pros: Permanently attached to the home and can be quickly deployed. Made of aluminum, vinyl or wood, they can easily be painted to complement or match the home.
  • Cons: Almost permanently block full vision from windows and can make a home much darker. Actual hurricane protection varies by style and manufacturer.

Colonial shutters

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.

  • Cost: Moderately priced when compared to other window protection products, colonial shutters run roughly $18 to $30 per square foot.
  • Effect on insurance: Possible discount depending on state and carrier.
  • Pros: Can easily be closed by one person. Can add decorative curb appeal to a home.
  • Cons: Must be permanently installed on the house, a process that can be expensive and time-consuming. May require professional installation.

Copyright 2013, Bankrate Inc.