February 22, 2016

How to Keep Your Home Safe in Strong Winds

Wind is one of the most destructive forces in nature, capable of destroying hundreds of miles of property with violent gusts that can exceed 100 mph. But it’s not just 100-mph winds or hurricane-like conditions that can cause damage – even gusts that are much less severe can knock out power or cause damage.

And unlike more confined types of property damage, such as a home fire, strong winds pose a serious threat because they can impact a larger area. If your home is damaged or destroyed by strong winds, chances are high that your neighbors, and nearby rescue and response units, are also suffering from the consequences of wind damage.

This means that it could take several days before you can begin to address and repair any damage. Follow these tips to prepare your home for strong winds and to take the right steps after the wind has subsided.

Long-Term Home Preparations for Strong Winds

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If you live in an area that regularly encounters strong winds, you will want to modify your home and property to mitigate potential damage. You can make your home safer by removing trees or branches that could easily fall on your home or vehicle. Large trees should be at least twenty feet from your home and you should hire a professional to trim any branches that hang over power lines.

Gravel and small rocks may enhance the aesthetic of your landscaping, but they can be picked up by strong winds and hurled toward your home. Gravel and small rocks traveling at 60 mph can easily shatter windows, destroy siding and damage any vehicles left outside. Instead of small stones, opt for mulch in your gardens, flagstones for your walkways and a cement or asphalt driveway.

You can also invest in modifications to your home that help reduce damage from heavy winds, such as pressure-rated windows. You’ll want to choose window panes that are labeled DP40 or higher. These should be able to withstand wind gusts of up to 150 mph, meaning that they should survive a Category 4 hurricane. In addition, you may want to purchase storm shutters for your windows. These shutters often contain steel or aluminum and help to protect your windows from flying objects.

Any door that leads to outside should be secured with three hinges and a deadbolt to help anchor it to the frame. If you have double doors or French doors, you’ll want to secure them with sliding bolts that anchor into the top and the bottom of the doorframe. Also consider upgrading to a reinforced garage door. These are often made of steel and have reinforced struts that are only visible from the inside of your garage. From the outside, they look like any other garage door.

How to Prepare for an Approaching Storm

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Turning your home into a wind fortress may be a bit extreme if you aren’t regularly forced to deal with strong winds. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take simple preventative measures to mitigate potential damage from the occasional heavy gusts.

If you’re expecting strong winds, secure any objects that could come loose, be moved or be damaged by heavy gusts, or store them in your basement or shed. This includes children’s toys, outdoor furniture and potted plants. If you have a woodpile, you will want to cover it with a tarp and then secure the tarp to the ground with stakes. It’s also a good idea to photograph your home and belongings before damage can occur. This will make it easier to file an insurance claim if something happens to your home or property.

Inside your home, you will want to secure top-heavy furniture, such as bookcases, that may easily fall over. You can fasten the furniture with bungee cords, anchor it with screws or lay it on its side. If you are expecting winds that exceed what your windows are meant to handle, place Xs made from masking or duct tape on them. This will help prevent any cracks that do form from becoming worse and eventually shattering into your home.

Storms and strong winds can cause issues with the flow of electricity to your home. If a power surge occurs, it can easily damage expensive electronics such as televisions and computers. To safeguard your high-end (and expensive) electronics, keep them plugged into a surge protector.

You will also want to create an emergency kit. This kit should include:

One-gallon bottles of water Vegetables in cans Extra bedding and blankets First aid kit with supplies Batteries and flashlights Hand crank emergency radio Corded telephone Book with important contact numbers Waterproof container Traveler's checks Roadmaps Extra pair of eye glasses Emergency whistle Tools that belong in a tool kit

In addition to having bottles of water on hand for yourself and your family, you should place several bottles in your freezer at least four hours before the storm hits (longer for larger bottles). The frozen bottles will help keep the food in your freezer from spoiling if the power goes out in your home.

If you have well water, a power outage will disable the well pumps and prevent water from flowing and toilets from flushing. It’s a good idea to fill a bathtub with water prior to the storm. This water can be transferred to the toiler in order to flush, or be used for washing hands or dishes.

You should also make sure that your mobile devices are well charged. And go over escape routes with those in your household so that everyone knows what to do in the event that you need to leave the house. This may sound excessive, but decisions such as who will carry the emergency kit or help an aging family member should be decided before a serious emergency occurs.

There is one more vital, yet often overlooked step in preparing for a storm: check your home insurance coverage. Most policies cover storm damage – including hail, tornado and wind damage – but it’s wise to review your policy to make sure that you have the right kind and the right amount of coverage before a storm hits.

How to Stay Safe During a Storm

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During a storm with strong winds, try to take shelter in a room that puts as many walls and floors as possible between you and the storm. Most likely, this will be your home’s basement, but if that isn’t an option, hunker down in the room that has the fewest windows (and preferably, located most centrally in your home). Keep all of the essentials, and your emergency kit, in this room.

Use your home’s electricity to power all lighting and electronics while it’s available. If the power goes out, use electronic lamps and flashlights. Avoid using candles to light a room as this can increase the risk of fire.

If there are others with you, especially a child or an elder, no one should leave the room alone to go anywhere in the house. Do not leave your home (even to secure an outside object that could blow away or cause damage to your house) unless a life-threatening emergency arises, such as a gas leak or carbon monoxide buildup. If you must leave, call your neighbor to tell them that you will be heading to their home. Then, take your essentials and quickly move to the neighbor’s house.

What to Do After a Storm

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After the storm and strong winds have cleared, continue to listen to weather channels and emergency broadcasts for the next 12 hours to ensure that the weather system has officially ended and to receive any updates or information pertinent to your area.  In addition, avoid leaving your property unless necessary. Debris, fallen trees damaged roads and bridges, and downed power lines could still pose a hazard.

If the power has gone out in your home, turn off most of your light switches. Having one or two switches set to ON will alert you once the power is back on, but having too many could overload the electrical system. Likewise, you will also want to unplug your appliances and electronics, such as televisions, printers, microwaves, and AC units.

You should immediately transfer any medicine that needs to be cooled (e.g., insulin) to a cooler with ice or frozen water bottles. Once you’ve moved your meds, keep your refrigerator door closed as much as possible to maintain the fridge’s temperature and help keep food safe. After six hours, plan to discard any dairy, eggs and raw meat in case of spoilage. And avoid drinking water from your faucet until you know that it has not been contaminated.

Once it’s safe to go outside, begin to document what has happened on your property, including damage to the structure of your home, possessions (e.g., your car or patio furniture) or landscaping. Be sure to take photos of your property after the storm and catalog any damage. And if you’re insured by The Hartford, call 1-800-243-5860 or visit our online claims center to speak to one of our Customer Care Team members. They can help you work through the claims and repair process.

READ MORE: Market Value vs. Replacement Cost

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