Whether by wind, rain, snow or ice, nature can pack a devastating punch.
The resulting numbers are staggering: As of July 2013, the average paid insurance claim for losses for Superstorm Sandy was $54,200, according to the Insurance Information Institute.¹ In 2012, tornadoes caused in excess of $1.6 billion in U.S. property damage, according to the National Weather Service. Lightning, wind and hail accounted for just under $2.8 billion, and floods combined for about $493 million. Hurricanes/tropical storms destroyed nearly $172 million worth. And winter’s sting left behind an estimated $200 million in losses.²
Of course, you can’t completely eliminate risk of loss from a natural disaster. However, you can certainly better safeguard the structural integrity of your home—but only if you plan ahead of a brewing catastrophe.
“You never want to think that a natural disaster will hit your home,” says Bill Windsor, associate vice president of consumer safety for Nationwide. “But if you prepare, you can greatly reduce the impact on your property, while helping keeping you and your family safe.”
To lend insight about precautionary measures, Nationwide Insurance recommends the following tips, courtesy of the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.³ You can find a vast amount of these and other proven, protective measures on the institute’s site, www.disastersafety.org. The site is even searchable by zip code, so you can zero in on the kinds of disasters that are most likely to strike in your community.
Start at the top
The roof is your home’s first line of defense against Mother Nature. Examine it on a regular basis and replace old shingles, tiles and slate. If it’s more than 20 years old, you should have it inspected to see whether it needs to be replaced, which could reduce your insurance costs. “When replacing the roof, be sure that the roof framing is connected to the walls,” Windsor says. “You can improve the connection of your roof sheathing by re-nailing or adding ring-shank nails to fasten it to the roof structure. And you could seal the roof deck using modified bitumen tape or a peel-and-stick membrane. These are relatively low-cost items that will add strength to your roof against severe storms and wind-driven rain.”
Prevention as defense
For floods, hire a plumber to install an interior or exterior backflow valve, which will stop sewage from backing up into your basement if the sewage system gets flooded. Shut off all electrical service at the main breaker if you have outlets that may be under water. Place any appliances on blocks or concrete at least one foot above projected flood elevation. Your important documents—insurance policies, deeds, titles—should be stored in a waterproof container that you can carry with you just in case you need to evacuate.
During winter storms, many opt for space heaters. Before using any such device, install carbon monoxide detectors in several parts of the house. Look for products that have been properly industry-tested, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and use. Alternative heating devices sometimes trigger electrical fires, so never leave them unattended. Check the cord for fraying/cracking/broken wires, and only use heavy-duty extensions marked with a No. 14 gauge or large wire. Don’t run cords under rugs or carpets, and keep them at least 36 inches away from bedding, furniture, books, papers and other flammable items. For liquid-fueled heaters, never use gasoline or substitute fuels, and let the heater cool down before you refuel. Never use a kerosene heater indoors.
No loose ends
If high winds are on the way, clear anything on your property that could smash into the house if the storm whips it around. “Many times, the initial damage to the home is caused by flying projectiles from dead trees or loose items in your yard,” Windsor says. “Once these projectiles create an initial opening in the house, significant damage can occur.” With this in mind, you’ll want to move grills, patio furniture, bicycles, planters and garbage cans into your garage. For items that won’t fit in the garage (or if you don’t have a storage structure), tie them down securely. Also remove any dead limbs from trees and big shrubs, and clean all drains and gutters of debris.
Obviously, tornadoes are capable of immense destruction no matter how prepared you are. But there are steps you can take to minimize damage, particularly during less severe tornadoes. Don’t try to open or close windows anticipating which way the wind will blow. Get to a safe place as quickly as possible and away from glass that can break and cause injuries. Move to the center-most part of your basement (or, if you don’t have one, a small room without an exterior wall on the lowest floor), close interior doors as you go and stay away from glass. Put as many walls as possible between you and the exterior of the house.
¹Sandy losses: www.iii.org/facts_statistics/flood-insurance.html
²Annual disaster property damage estimates: www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats/sum12.pdf
³Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety: www.ibhs.org
Even if you’ve prepared for one of Mother Nature’s perils, your property could still be damaged. Learn how natural disaster protection can help replace your valuables.