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Disaster-proof your home
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Take action when you hear a hurricane watch, says Lopes. Secure your home. Take inside items that "could become missiles" during high winds, he says. That includes trash cans, lawn ornaments, patio umbrellas and doghouses. Remove anything loose that could be torn off in a storm such as flapping gutters and loose shutters. If you're good about maintenance, especially keeping dead branches and trees trimmed, this is when it will really pay off.

Have some sort of plan with the neighbors so that if someone's not home, you can help secure that home too, especially when it comes to flying lawn debris.

"Your neighbor's trash can won't discriminate in where it might hit," Lopes says.

While you can probably protect your home from the wind damage, water is another matter.

"The greatest danger from a hurricane is surge, a dome of water that causes flooding for many miles inward," says Lopes.

The good news: hurricanes typically have long warning periods, so you'll have plenty of time to evacuate if you pay attention. The bad news: your home's best protection is your ability to replace it and your things if damaged by water. Get insurance and make sure you have flood insurance.

"Storms can intensify and change direction rapidly," says Lopes. If there is a hurricane in your region, stay apprised of its movements and when the authorities recommend evacuation -- clear out.

Basic rule of thumb: if you live in an earthquake-prone area, bolt down everything you can. But start by getting earthquake insurance. Second, earthquake-prone areas will have special housing codes. Make sure yours is up to snuff and keep it maintained.

Some other things you can do:

  • Put childproof latches on your cabinet doors. This prevents the shaking from dumping, and breaking, your valuables. If you have delicate objects or collectibles to showcase, keep them on lower shelves. To keep books and valuables secure on shelves, put a screw to the left and right of each shelf and run string or elastic across the front to act as a barrier.

  • Arrange bedrooms so that there is nothing near the bed that could fall onto it, especially mirrors and bookcases. Consider securing bookcases to wall studs with L-brackets.

  • Have a plumbing or heating professional install flexible fittings on all gas appliances, from the hot water heater to the stove and the oven. "It provides room for the equipment to shake," says Lopes.

  • Strap the hot water heater to the wall studs to keep it from tipping during a quake, says Lopes. You can purchase perforated metal tape from a hardware store, says Lopes, who recommends wrapping it twice around the heater and bolting it to the wall studs (while being careful not to block any of the vents, the gas meter, the gas opening or the thermostat.)

And before you buy a home in an earthquake zone, have it inspected both for prior quake damage and to make sure that it's properly bolted to its foundation. "Once a home comes off its foundation, it's uninhabitable," says Lopes.

Next: "... Make pets part of your plan, too."
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Disaster proof your finances
Cost-effectively disaster proof your home
What's flood insurance?
Home equity can be used to buy car
Interest Rate Roundup
Interest Rate Roundup

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