It's hard to protect a home from a monster Category 5 hurricane, but many readily available products can reduce or minimize the impact and save homeowners big bucks in repairs and insurance premiums.
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The peace of mind that can result is priceless.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, predicts the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, will spawn six to 10 hurricanes -- three to six of them major.
"Forecasts of an average season should not lead to complacency," says Claire Wilkinson, vice president for global issues at the Insurance Information Institute. "An average hurricane season was also forecast in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew caused more than $23 billion in property losses.
"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. 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."
Retrofitting your home against hurricane damage can be an expensive project, says Wilkinson, but you can do it in stages. "Insurance companies may offer discounts for retrofitting which can help offset the cost."
"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 of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes. "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 which don't really perform.
"As far as insurance goes, what we are seeing across the country are a number of programs that help place homeowners with matching grants to do retrofitting and to access different products," says Chapman-Henderson. "There are programs in Florida and South Carolina and Alabama and Mississippi. Those programs are linked either by requirement or through the marketplace to ensure savings. The savings in Florida and South Carolina are quite significant. I believe their average savings to the homeowner who is engaged in retrofitting is 23% on their annual wind premiums."
Discounts vary by state and carrier. The Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association, for example, offers a 25% credit for windstorm insurance for houses built to a "fortified" standard. In Florida, the My Safe Florida Home program used to offer a free home inspection to point out a home's vulnerabilities. According to Florida's Department of Financial Services, such programs have saved participants an average of $385, or 20% of their annual premiums. Unfortunately, the program run out of funding in 2009 and it is not known when it is expected to resume.
Here's a look at some of the common products that can save you money.
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 1/2-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 that 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 $15 to $20 in most home improvement stores. Depending on home size and number of windows, total material costs could be around $200 to $500. Effect on insurance: None. Pros: Very effective in protecting from flying debris and easy for "do-it-yourselfers." 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.
Adding some cushion and visibility to window protection, hurricane-strength fabric panels are polymer-based shutters that act much like trampolines, repelling debris from the windows. With a gap between the windows and the panels, they don't rely on rigidity but on flexibility. The panels are anchored to the edges of the windows and doorways with grommets and wing nuts and are put up just before a storm.
Cost: Approximately $12 to $15 per square foot. Effect on insurance: None. Pros: Can be rolled up and stored in a small area and can be easily deployed and removed. Most are translucent and allow for visibility through windows. Cons: Professional installation is normally required. Permanent grommets must be installed in brick or siding.
Hurricane straps, clips and anchor belts help keep a home's roof from blowing off in high winds. 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. Whereas most homes are built relying on gravity and downward pressure, roofs typically aren't designed to withstand the upward and lateral pressure of high hurricane winds.
Cost: Hurricane straps are usually sold in boxes of 100 units or in coils and can run as little as fifty cents each. 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 now part of the building code in many coastal areas. Cons: Can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive to install on an existing home.
Flooding remains one of the most destructive elements of a hurricane and while there isn't much to prepare for 20-foot surges 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; it would take hundreds of sandbags and lots of human help to completely surround a home. Flood barriers on the market include 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: Varies depending on products and the level of protection, from $340 for 50 StormTec Stormbags and $449 for 26-inch high DoorDam to tens of thousands of dollars to completely surround a home. Effect on insurance: None. Pros: Effective in preventing minor floodwaters from entering 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. It will not do any good if floodwaters enter the home at other locations or rise beyond the height of the barrier.
Corrugated steel or aluminum shutters bolted to your windows may not look too attractive when they're up, 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 with wing nuts when a storm is approaching.
Cost: Costs vary depending on thickness and vendor but typically run between $7 and $8 per square foot. Effect on insurance: Can be significant depending on state and carrier. Pros: One of the most inexpensive permanent shutter systems, it is strong and can protect from almost any flying debris. Can be quickly deployed and removed before and after a storm. Cons: Requires a large spot for storage somewhere in the house or property. Depending on size of windows and stories on home, they can be difficult to handle and may require more than one person. Some shutters have sharp edges.
Roll-Down Hurricane Shutters
With the ability to be rolled down with the push of a button or the crank of a handle, roll-down hurricane shutters are the easiest 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 types of sizes and colors, they are usually custom-fitted to your home and require professional installation.
Cost: While they are the easiest and most convenient to deploy come storm time, roll-down shutters are the most expensive window defense option and average $30 to $50 per square foot. 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 so they can be raised or lowered during a power outage. It usually requires professional installation.
Garage Door Braces
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has identified the loss of the garage door as one of four major factors in homes damaged in Hurricane Andrew. And, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes reports that 80% 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 compromise 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 could probably make their own from some metal braces and a 4-foot by 4-foot piece of lumber. Cons: May require some special tools, such as a rotor hammer and masonry bit, to drill into concrete floor. Garage door cannot be opened without removing the brace.
For those who want to skip the shutters altogether and install a permanent solution in the first place, hurricane glass -- or hurricane-impact windows -- provide the defensive advantages of shutters in an invisible fashion. The glass is usually 3/8-inch thick and features a film coating similar to safety glass products like 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 $13,000 (KeepSafe Maximum brand) to install on a typical 1,600-square-foot home. 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 allows for visibility outside of home. They are also effective in eliminating outside noise, protecting from intruders and shielding from UV rays. Cons: Lots of labor costs involved and 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.
Housed beside the doors or windows when not in use, these retractable aluminum shutters open up like an accordion 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. Conveniently closed from inside the house, they can turn any home into a virtual fortress within a matter of minutes.
Cost: $15 to $20 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: Can look odd or unattractive on some houses. They use a wheel and glide system and tend to be weaker or break more often than some other products.
Bahama shutters are hinged at the top and move away from the wall at the bottom with the help of telescoping arms. Support arms are typically adjustable from 60- to 90-degree angles. The shutters not only provide defense from winds but also provide convenient 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. They are made of wood and 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. Some brands and styles have been noted to be weaker than other shutter products.
As a traditional style of window protection, colonial shutters attach to the wall beside each window then fold inward to close. Permanently fixed to the window, they can quickly and easily be closed when a storm is approaching. Held open by a clip system, they are closed and secured during a storm with a brace bar. With double hung windows, these shutters can also be closed from inside the home, reducing the need for a ladder.
Cost: Moderately priced when compared to other window protection products, roughly $18 to $30 per square foot. Effect on insurance: Possible discount depending on state and carrier. Pros: Can be easily closed by one person. They are decorative and can actually add curb appeal to a home. Cons: Must be permanently installed on the home. They can be expensive and time-consuming for initial installation and may require professional installation.