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Guide to Hurricane Preparation

Project Planning
October 13, 2017

Floridians know all too well that it only takes one storm to change your life during hurricane season. Protecting your family is priority number one when a storm front rolls in, and bolstering your home with hurricane-resistant upgrades can help you feel prepared should that moment arrive.

Hurricane-proof upgrades are designed to help reduce the potential damage that can be caused by destructive natural forces. No product can be guaranteed to prevent damage completely, but certain home improvements may help a structure withstand a storm surge and strong winds.The right improvements can also make your house more energy efficient, so you could potentially benefit from year-round electric bill savings.

With smart upgrades and these preparation tips, your home—and your loved ones—will be better equipped to face hurricane season.

Must-know for Hurricane Prep

Before you can make your home hurricane-proof, you have to understand what you’re up against. What exactly is a hurricane? A tropical cyclone storm that has minimum sustained winds of 74 mph. These storms are rated using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which is based on a range of 1 through 5. The higher the number, the higher the wind speed and the more dangerous the storm.

Category Wind Speed Type of Damage Expected
1 74 – 95 mph  Very dangerous winds will produce some damage. 
2 96 – 110 mph  Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage. 
3 111 – 130 mph  Devastating damage is likely to occur. 
4 131 – 155 mph  Catastrophic damage is likely to occur. 
5 > 155 mph Catastrophic damage will occur.
*Table adapted from NHC

How a Hurricane Can Impact Your Home

How a Hurricane Can Impact Your Home

If your house goes head-to-head with Mother Nature, you want to be sure you’ve got all the necessary safeguards in place. What kind of damage can a hurricane cause? Plenty.

Hurricanes are characterized by heavy winds; the worst storms have wind speeds of more than 155 mph—that’s strong enough to rip a tree’s roots straight out of the ground, which could be sent hurtling toward your home and capable of ruining siding and wrecking your roof.

Hurricanes come with heavy rains that can flood cities far from the storm’s center. Hurricane Harvey produced up to 50 inches of rain in certain pockets of the city—just imagine that much water flooding your home and you’ll understand why hurricane proofing measures are important to consider.

Storm surge:
A hurricane’s strong winds can force ocean water up onto land, which can cause major flooding and extensive damage.

Learn more about storm protection

How Hurricane Andrew Changed Storm Proof House Design

Hurricane proof house design isn’t an option anymore—it’s a necessity. After historic storms caused unprecedented damage, certain storm-proof home upgrades became prerequisites. Following Hurricane Andrew, a deadly storm that hit South Florida in 1992, building code requirements changed for hurricane-prone areas of the Sunshine State.

What types of changes? Buildings are now crafted using missile-impact resistant glass, which is designed to hold up against the debris that gets kicked up during a hurricane. Stick frame construction was also banned, and most modern hurricane proof houses are now built with cinder blocks, reinforced by sturdy concrete pillars.

While these code requirements put homeowners on the right path, they’re not always enough to protect against the elements—especially when Mother Nature unleashes her wrath on coastal areas.

Insurance Incentives for Florida Homeowners

After storms like Andrew, the government recognized the need for hurricane preparation, and there are now incentives for Florida homeowners to upgrade their homes with hurricane-resistant products. According to The Florida Department of Finance, 15% to 70% of your insurance premium could be due to the risk of wind damage.

The State of Florida now requires insurance companies to offer significant discounts to homeowners that make upgrades to protect their home against windstorm damage. These discounts are called Wind Mitigation credits. Investing in windproof house design upgrades in Florida can provide significant long-term savings and reduce the risk of costly damage down the line.

To qualify for these credits, you need to schedule a wind mitigation inspection. A certified inspector will come to your home and look for key features and upgrades that would reduce the amount of damage to your home in the event of a hurricane.

Why Should I Prepare My Home for a Hurricane?

The cost of hurricane damage in recent years has been astronomical. After Hurricane Matthew, a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane that hit Florida in 2016, 82,957 homeowners filed insurance claims for property damage. The cost estimates of total damage were staggering; property damage claims totaled over $218 million.

The damage also extends beyond insurance claims. The injury and death statistics from recent storm systems are chilling. Hurricane Andrew resulted in 26 deaths, and 88 percent of those deaths were due to storm surge and flooding.

In the past few months, various parts of the United States have been hit with terrible storms. Hurricane Harvey slammed Texas with violent winds and record-breaking rains, causing millions of dollars of damage across the city of Houston and killing over 70 people.

More recently, Hurricane Irma barreled into islands throughout the Caribbean before making landfall in Florida, breaking records as it went. Irma sustained maximum winds of 185 mph for 37 hours—something no other storm in recorded history has ever done.

Given the track record of hurricane activity in recent years, it’s important that homeowners take steps to strengthen their homes. While no one can predict the exact impact of a hurricane, certain improvements and strategies can help your family better prepare for these types of storms.

Hurricane Proof Home Design Offers More Than Protection

Hurricane Proof Home Design Offers More than Protection

When upgrading your home, consider the ways certain projects could help in other ways, like increasing your property value or enhancing the efficiency of your home.

Perhaps you’ve been interested in fixing up your home with modern upgrades that can make everyday life more comfortable. Maybe you’re interested in saving energy (and saving on utility bills, too!) Whatever your reasoning, it’s easy to combine hurricane prep with important home upgrades.

Hurricane home improvement projects may be able to kill two birds with one stone. How? Many hurricane-resistant home improvements can also make your home more energy efficient. You may also be able to make these upgrades using innovative forms of financing, and help you create a home that works smarter, not harder—whether a hurricane hits or not.

Home Improvement Projects That Protect Your Home Against Hurricanes

There are plenty of ways to better protect your home from a future hurricane. Upgrading to impact-resistant windows, installing storm shutters, revamping your garage door and installing roof-to-home attachments are all excellent options that can help protect your home, lower your insurance premiums, and in many cases offer additional benefits like energy savings.

Home Improvement Projects That Protect Your Home Against Hurricanes - Windows

Windows: Your windows are especially vulnerable to wind damage, and if the glass breaks or the seal isn’t tight enough, water can infiltrate your home. You have a few options when it comes to hurricane proofing your windows:

  • Hurricane film: This innovative type of film has become a popular option for homeowners because its quick and low maintenance. Apply it once, and it stays in place all year long. Hurricane film can protect against UV rays that penetrate your windows and help you weather a storm when it comes your way. While this film can help keep shards of window glass from shattering into your home, it won’t necessarily prevent high winds from displacing the entire window frame.
  • New windows: Heavy-duty, wind-resistant window replacements are another option. Modern windows are crafted from strong, durable frames and shatter-resistant glass that can provide a wide array of benefits. Energy-efficient windows can keep water out, stand up against strong winds, and provide better insulation for your home. An added benefit? Window replacements may help reduce your energy bill.
  • Storm shutters: Storm shutters are your sturdiest form of protection against high winds – one of the main causes for intensive window damage. Hurricane winds can transform everyday items into airborne missiles; unanchored chairs can be tossed high in the air, outdoor pottery can go flying, and loose tree limbs can quickly become dangerous. Even the strongest panes can shatter when enough force is applied, so it’s a good idea to install window shutters. These shutters can be taken off during the off-season, while the hardware remains for easy reapplication.

Average project timeline: Once final measurements are taken, the average window replacement project takes anywhere from four to eight weeks*. This may include ordering the windows, prep work, and actual installation time.

Skylights and tubular daylighting devices

Skylights and tubular daylighting devices: When upgrading your windows to protect against hurricanes, don’t forget the skylights in your home. Invest in strong, energy-efficient skylights that can help protect your home from wind-borne debris.

You may also want to consider investing in a tubular daylighting device. These are designed to capture sunlight through a rooftop dome. The sunlight is then transferred to your home through a reflective tube, where light is dispersed. With less glass surface area, tubular daylighting devices are less susceptible to hurricane damage. An added plus? They make your home a brighter and more comfortable place to live.

Average project timeline: Ready to add more light to your home? The average skylight replacement project takes one day per skylight*.

Home Improvement Projects That Protect Your Home Against Hurricanes - Doors

Doors: Don’t let storm debris make its way through your front door. Having strong, durable doors is a must when you’re combating high winds; certain storms have actually seen winds and debris bust through closed doors in the past.

To get FEMA’s approval, a windstorm door must be able to survive a 15-pound, 12-foot-long 2 x 4 flying at around 100 mph, while also dealing with pressure from 250 mph winds. Sounds like a hefty job, right?

Durable doors are a hallmark of a hurricane proof house. While these are generally intended for safe rooms and shelters, you could up the ante and install a very impressive—and sturdy—front door. With impact resistant doors, your home has a much better chance of standing up against the strongest storms. When a hurricane comes knocking, your door will help keep you protected.

Average project timeline: Once your new door has arrived, the average door replacement project can be completed in just a day*.

Home Improvement Projects That Protect Your Home Against Hurricanes - Garage door

Garage door: Your garage door plays an important role during a hurricane. Why? It’s essentially the biggest hole in your home. If it fails, high winds can infiltrate your house, causing a huge shift in air pressure. This shift acts like a pressure cooker, and the air pressure in your home can become so forceful that it blows the roof right off. To help your garage door (and your entire home) stay put, you can choose to reinforce your current system or buy a modern, durable garage door replacement.

Average project timeline: Garage door replacements are typically quick to install. The average garage door replacement project takes many contractors only a day to complete*.

Home Improvement Projects That Protect Your Home Against Hurricanes - Roofing

Roofing: Roofs are particularly vulnerable to hurricane damage. Your roof is your home’s first line of defense against any storm, and high winds and heavy rains can rip off shingles, tiles, and in extreme cases, the roof deck underneath. You have a couple of options when it comes to hurricane proofing your roof:

  • Replacing your roof: New roofing can provide year-round benefits like enhanced curb appeal and better insulation. New materials have made roofs more energy-efficient than ever before.
  • Roof-to-home attachments: During a hurricane, winds can get so strong that they lift the entire roof from the house. This may seem like a scene from a blockbuster movie, but unfortunately it happens more than homeowners think. If your roof is not adequately connected to the other parts of your home’s frame, it can easily be ripped up. Roof-to-wall connections and roof-deck attachments can provide an extra point of connection. These systems attach sturdy, steel clips to your roof’s top plate, which are then fastened to your home’s trusses, rafters, or walls.

Average project timeline: A roofing project can take anywhere from one to three weeks*.

Secondary water barrier: Water intrusion is one of the biggest concerns when it comes to hurricane damage, but you can help prevent it with a secondary water barrier. This fairly new type of home upgrade is designed to prevent water from entering your home when your roof fails. The barrier is a layer of material placed directly on the roof deck, right under your primary outer roof cover (tiles, shingles, or metal panels, for example). If you’re looking for a leak-free roof, a secondary water barrier should be on your list.

Average project timeline: Some homeowners choose to DIY secondary water barriers with self-adhesive, which can usually be completed within a few days’ time. However, this material can be hard to handle, and contractor-installed barriers may provide better protection. This project can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks*.

*Project time estimates are based on local averages. Your timeline may vary based on products chosen, installation practices, and weather conditions.

Next Step: Finding a Contractor

Finding a contractor for your hurricane preparation projects

Many contractors living in the Florida area have a great deal of experience with hurricane proof home design, but it’s still important to find the right contractor for your needs. Most often, your upgrades won’t require any specialization; for example, a contractor that tackles your window replacements is likely knowledgeable about hurricane proofing procedures as it pertains to shutters, window upgrades and more.

It’s important to take your time when looking for a home improvement contractor. The right contractor or company can make or break your hurricane-proofing upgrades. Hiring a skilled contractor is crucial, as proper installation can make your home more efficient and leave you better protected in the event of a storm.

Take your time:
You don’t need to hire the first contractor you interview. Give yourself enough time to meet with multiple contractors. The person you hire will be tasked with making your home safe for your family, so taking the time to properly vet your candidates is essential.

Take referrals:
If you live in Florida, you likely know someone who’s had to deal with hurricane damage. Be sure to ask friends and family members about their experience with hurricane preparation or repair. They may offer valuable referrals, which is one of the best ways to find an experienced, trustworthy contractor.

Ask about credentials:
Be sure that you assess every contractor’s credentials. Both general contractors and subcontractors should be licensed, but specialty certifications can differ. Florida licensure will help ensure your contractor understands the building code requirements for hurricane proof house design.

Find a local contractor

Maintaining Your Hurricane-Proof Upgrades

Once your hurricane-proof house upgrades are installed, be sure to follow some simple maintenance strategies to protect your investments:

  • Landscaping concerns: When winds kick up, even the smallest pieces of debris can become a big problem. Keep trees and bushes around your home trimmed for improved wind-resistance. If there’s a hurricane on the horizon, be sure to secure outdoor patio furniture and clear any loose items that could be sent flying.
  • Inspect roofing: High winds can easily rip off roof shingles, so be sure to keep an eye on your roof throughout the year. If you spot loose shingles, be sure to secure them properly. While you’re up there, take a look at your rain gutters and spouts, too. When the water comes, you’ll want to be sure it can continue flowing. If water flow is blocked, it’s more likely to find its way into your home.
  • Place sandbags strategically: Sandbags can be invaluable during a storm. Placing sandbags around your home strategically can help redirect storm surge, protecting your house and keeping floating debris away from your family. Something to remember—sandbags are a temporary fix, and won’t seal out water, so don’t base your preparation solely on sand.
  • Hurricane supplies: Your family’s safety and comfort is priority number one in the event of a storm, so keep basic supplies on hand that can help you ride it out. A great rule of thumb: store three days’ worth of supplies, including batteries, clean water, canned foods, candles, and a first aid or emergency kit.

Hurricane-proofing your home with innovative upgrades can help you save money, keep your family safe, and give you peace of mind. Be fully prepared with hurricane proof house projects that do double-duty, will benefit you year round by not only bolstering your home against storms, but improving energy efficiency to help you save money on utility bills as well.

Learn more about planning these hurricane prep projects on our home improvements page.