Benjamin Franklin once said, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." He was talking about fire prevention, but it holds true for preparing for storms and hurricanes. In addition to readying pets and stocking up on non-perishable food items, batteries and water, local experts offer the following tips for storm-proofing your home when inclement weather comes calling.
Give your home
Roy Olsen, owner of Norseman Construction and board member and past president of the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans, recommends walking around your home before hurricane season starts to check gutters, downspouts, screens, fascia and siding to make sure they are in good working condition and securely attached to the house.
Greg Kleinpeter, owner of American Leak Detection of New Orleans, advises checking for potential leaks. Indicators include discolored or buckled wood flooring (especially around doorways and windows), staining on ceilings, staining or rusty nails on the roof decking inside the attic and peeling paint, all of which suggest moisture damage. Fixes run the gamut from caulking to roof replacement. Kleinpeter also says hurricane season is a good time to have air conditioning systems, gas ranges and other appliances inspected for leaks and problems.
- Generators range in price from $700 to $7,000, and some insurance companies offer premium discounts on homeowner policies for owning one.
Some insurance providers grant premium credits on policies for specific storm-proofing measures. Cheryl Munguia, a manager at J. Everett Eaves insurance, says the following modifications may lower your insurance premium: storm shutters, hurricane-impact glass, water-resistant roofing, hurricane straps or clips to secure roofs to walls and backup generators. Munguia also points out that homeowner's insurance does not cover flood damage, so check with your agent to understand your policy and what types of coverage you need.
Protect windows and doors.
If you're going to board up, Olsen suggests using at least five-eighths-inch thick plywood to cover windows. Opt for clips that affix boards over windows rather than nailing or screwing them into walls, but Olsen warns not all clips work with all exteriors — check product labels. Wind and water-resistant hurricane fabric coverings and metal, wood or plastic storm shutters require lead time but are worth the investment. Shutters are simply closed; fabric protectors are secured in place via permanent fasteners installed around openings.
Secure outdoor items.
Anything that isn't secured to the ground — tables, chairs, lawn umbrellas, potted plants, tools, grills and the like — should be brought inside so they can't become airborne during strong winds. While awnings are intended to protect doors and windows, fabric awnings can be damaged during a storm. Erin McDonald, operations manager of C. Bel for Awnings, recommends closing retractable awnings or tying down drop-down awnings. Metal awnings are designed to withstand tearing, though they too can be damaged. Ed Perez of Comfort Engineered Systems, which specializes in generators, air conditioning systems and solar panels, also recommends strapping down the bases of outdoor AC units.
- Rain barrels collect storm water and keep it from entering the city drainage system, which can mitigate flooding.
Short-term measures include sandbags, which are easy to make at local home improvement and hardware stores. Long-term measures include installing green infrastructure, which helps mitigate water runoff. Scott Mayer of Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL) says green infrastructure includes trees, bioswales, retention and detention basins, rain barrels and rain gardens. Landscape architects can help homeowners get started, as well as the Urban Conservancy's Front Yard Initiative (FYI), which encourages removal of concrete so rainwater can be absorbed into the ground, and Green Light New Orleans, which builds and installs rain barrels.
Get generators ready.
Perez says generators range in price from about $700 for a small, portable, gasoline-powered generator to around $7,000 for a whole-home generator powered by natural gas or propane. He recommends inspecting units before a weather event to make sure internal batteries, fuel systems and carburetors are clean and working properly, and making sure there's safe, dry storage for fuel. When using a generator, disconnect the house from the utility grid to avoid the risk of back-feeding power to the grid. Always use a portable generator outside, away from the house and clear of windows, doors and soffits to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Cover yourself as a renter.
Olsen suggests talking with your landlord or homeowners' association to see what hurricane precautions are taken or allowed. Renters can take other steps as well; for instance, if you're in a low-lying area, move furniture to a protected area (such as a second story) and carry a rental insurance policy to cover the cost of your belongings.
Know the don'ts.
Olsen says one of the most frequent mistakes is taping windows to prevent breakage. If the taped glass is broken, glass shards are larger and can do more damage. Another storm-proofing myth is leaving a window open to prevent a buildup of air pressure. Olsen says the goal is to prevent wind and water from getting in your house at all.
The elderly, infirm and anyone else in need of help should coordinate with a family member, neighbor, handyman or other assistant if a storm is forecast. If you have doubts about vulnerable areas of your home, Olsen advises checking them well in advance so that you have a short list if a storm does come. "Have a plan and take steps so that you're not in a panic," he says.