How to Protect Your Home From a Natural Disaster
Find out the basic steps every homeowner should take to prepare for the worst
The time to prepare your home against a natural disaster is before a catastrophe strikes. All the preparation in the world might not save your house, but it may mitigate damage and save your family members’ lives during a wildfire, hurricane, flood, tornado or earthquake. Here are some general steps you can take to shore up vulnerable areas of your home.
Keep Roof, Windows and Doors in Good Repair
Houses are particularly vulnerable at entry points such as windows and doors, as well as the roof and garage door. Replace loose roof shingles and tiles and make repairs to any other damaged areas. Check for small cracks around windows where water can enter, and recaulk if necessary.
Know How to Shut Off Your Gas, Water and Electricity
Natural disasters can damage gas, electric and water supplies, causing leaks and potential fire. Every adult household member should know where utility shutoff switches and valves are and how to use them.
Since gas shutoffs vary, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends contacting your local gas company for instructions on how to turn off your gas. It also says only a professional should turn it back on. Locate and label the shutoff valve for the water line that enters your house and make sure it’s in working order. Know where your electrical circuit box is. For safety, FEMA recommends shutting off all individual circuits before shutting off the main circuit.
Unclog Gutters and Drains
Gutters, downspouts and storm drains clogged with leaves and other debris can keep water from flowing off a roof during heavy rain, and dried debris can ignite from a wildfire’s embers. Severely clogged gutters can lead to roof leaks, foundation damage and basement flooding during heavy rain. FEMA recommends installing noncombustible leaf guards, which allow rainwater into the gutter but keeps combustible leaf debris out.
Tree branches hanging over your house can come down in strong winds, so cut back branches that could damage your roof. Large-diameter limbs should be cut by a licensed professional. If you use rocks as xeriscaping, consider replacing the stones closest to the house with mulch because high winds can throw rocks into windows, according to the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.
Texas National Guard soldiers assist Houston residents during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Photo by Lt. Zachary West
Elevate and Strap Water Heater
Flooding and earthquakes can damage a water heater, submerging or causing it to fall over. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, the water heater should be strapped or braced to a wall. In regions where flooding is common, water heaters should be elevated.
You can find out if you’re in an area likely to flood by using FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center. FEMA also recommends contacting your local building department for historical flood information. A water heater that has been exposed to floodwater will likely end up with corroded components and should be replaced, according to the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute.
Check Your Home’s Foundation
Repair holes and even small cracks in your house’s foundation, where water can enter. If you’re in earthquake country, be sure the foundation is bolted to the house.
Have a Working Sump Pump
Sump pumps remove excess water when it gets to a certain level in the lowest part of a basement or crawl space. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety recommends making sure that the pump operates correctly and that the battery is fully charged.
Make Sure Your Home Insurance Is Up to Date
Double-check your homeowners coverage for flood, fire and earthquake damage, depending on your geographic location. Basic coverage may not include damage from some natural disasters, such as floods. Learn more about flood insurance on FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program page. Keep your policy numbers in a safe place along with other emergency supplies. It’s a good idea to take photos or video of valuable items in your home, which can come in handy when making a claim; store the images online in the cloud.
Store Important Documents in a Safe Place
Keep documents such as deeds, titles, birth certificates and other papers in a fire- and waterproof lockbox. Take digital photos of the documents and store them online.
The Woolsey Fire seen from Topanga, California in November 2018. Photo by Peter Buschmann
Have an Emergency Supply Kit
Make sure your emergency kit includes supplies for basic survival, including medical items, toiletries and disinfectant. Include candles, matches, a manual can opener, batteries and a flashlight. Don’t forget pet supplies, such as medications and extra leashes. Consider including a crank- or battery-operated radio for getting information if internet service and electricity are out.
Port Arthur, Texas, after heavy rainfall from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez
Keep a Go Bag Handy
When disaster strikes and you need to evacuate, you don’t want to be rifling through drawers for extra clothing, shoes and other items. Keep a duffel bag handy with a few items for each family member, including extra eyeglasses if needed. Make sure the bag is in a closet or stored near one of the home’s entries or exits.
Keep Your Pantry Stocked With Nonperishable, Nutritious Items
In addition to everyday items, make sure your pantry has some shelf-stable goods, including a variety of canned and dehydrated foods. The American Red Cross recommends having at least three days of nonperishable food on hand, as well as a supply of bottled water (one gallon per person per day).
Make Sure Your House Number Is Visible
A clearly marked address number on the front of your home or curb will help emergency responders in the event of a disaster.
Julie Sheer | 4 days ago