insurance

11 ways to avoid hurricane costs

A Category 5 hurricane will always be a monster and a real test for any home. But many readily available products can reduce or minimize the impact of hurricane season and save homeowners big bucks in repairs and home insurance premiums.

The peace of mind that can result is priceless.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, predicts an active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season that will spawn 13 to 20 named storms. Seven to 11 of those could become hurricanes, including three to six major hurricanes with winds in excess of 111 mph.

Bracing your home for Mother Nature's impact doesn't have to be expensive, however.

"While many products don't cost much money, they can have a major impact on the ability to withstand a hurricane and in many cases, offer opportunities for discounts from your insurance carrier," says Claire Wilkinson, a blogger for the trade group the Insurance Information Institute. "Homeowners may get discounts for things such as hurricane shutters, various types of roof coverings and the way the roof is attached to the structure."

Because retrofitting your home against hurricane damage can be an expensive project, Wilkinson suggests doing it in stages. "Insurance companies may offer discounts for retrofitting, which can help offset the cost," she says.

Top products for storm protection

  • Plywood.
  • Fabric panels.
  • Hurricane straps.
  • Flood barriers.
  • Storm panels.
  • Roll-down hurricane shutters.
  • Colonial shutters.
  • Accordion shutters.
  • Bahama shutters.
  • Garage door braces.
  • Hurricane glass.

"There are a lot of things you can do (to your home) that are meaningful, affordable and make a difference," says Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president and CEO of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, or FLASH. "Homeowners should select products that are tested and approved." As the market for hurricane protection products has exploded, she adds, so has a wealth of products that claim to protect -- but don't really perform.

Here are several ways to avoid hurricane costs.

Plywood

A sheet of plywood and a handful of nails have stood the test of time as one of the most popular ways to prepare for a storm. Homeowners typically "board up" a day or two before and attach 5/8-inch or ½-inch plywood to the windows of their homes. Those in hurricane zones who plan ahead often measure their windows and cut and label their wood beforehand so they don't have to scramble for materials at the last minute. Plywood can be secured to the home with nails, screws or specialty anchor bolts and clips.

  • Cost: Material costs vary by location and season, but a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of 5/8-inch plywood typically runs $20 to $30 in most home improvement stores. Depending on home size and number of windows, total material costs could run $275 to 750.
  • Effect on insurance: None.
  • Pros: This is very effective in protecting from flying debris and easy for "do-it-yourselfers." Materials are easily obtained at any home improvement store. Plywood is relatively inexpensive and, if stored properly, can be used from season to season.
  • Cons: Working with plywood can be time-consuming and may require a helping hand for those with two-story homes. Installing may require drilling holes in siding and bricks. Once windows are boarded, the home becomes very dark.

Fabric panels

Polymer-based, hurricane-strength fabric panels add trampoline-like cushion to repel flying debris from windows and doors without sacrificing visibility in a storm. Panels anchored to the edges of windows and doorways with grommets and wing nuts or clips and pins, making them easy to install ahead of a storm.

  • Cost: Approximately $5 to $15 per square foot
  • Effect on insurance: None.
  • Pros: These can be rolled up and stored in a compact space and can easily be installed and removed. Most are translucent and allow for visibility through windows.
  • Cons: Professional installation is normally required. Permanent wing nuts or pins grommets must be installed in brick or siding.
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