11 ways to protect your home against hurricane damage
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Guard against costly hurricane damage
The ferocious strength of a storm like Hurricane Harvey can turn a home inside out and leave it in ruins. But a homeowner can minimize hurricane damage with many common home improvement products.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has predicted a busier than average Atlantic hurricane season, with 14 to 19 named storms likely in 2017. Five to nine of those could become hurricanes, including two to five major hurricanes with winds in excess of 110 mph.
Harvey, with winds up to 120 mph, is in that group.
Bracing a home for the worst that the season might bring doesn’t have to be expensive.
“There are a lot of things you can do that are meaningful, affordable and make a difference,” says Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president and CEO of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, or FLASH.
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A sheet of plywood and a handful of nails have stood out 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 1/2-inch plywood to the windows of their homes.
- Cost: Material costs vary by location and season, but a 4-by-8-foot sheet of 5/8-inch plywood typically runs $20 to $30. Depending on home size and number of windows, total material costs could run $275 to $750.
- Pros: Plywood is very effective for protecting from flying debris, and it’s easy for “do-it-yourselfers.” You can find the materials 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. Installation may involve drilling holes in siding and bricks. Once windows are boarded, the home becomes very dark.
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Polymer-based, hurricane-strength fabric panels add trampoline-like cushion to windows and doors and repel flying debris without sacrificing visibility in a storm. Panels are anchored to the edges of windows and doorways with grommets and wing nuts or clips and pins, making them easy to install.
- Cost: Approximately $5 to $15 per square foot.
- Pros: The panels can easily be installed and removed, then rolled up and stored in a compact space. Most are translucent and allow for visibility through windows.
- Cons: Professional installation is normally required.
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Most homes are built to hold the roof up, not down. To correct for the upward and lateral lifting forces of hurricane winds, builders install hurricane straps, clips and anchor belts, which can help keep a home’s roof intact.
In a correct setup, galvanized straps securely attached to the walls and foundation keep the roof tied into the entire house.
- Cost: Inexpensive hurricane straps sell for as little as 50 cents apiece, usually by the box or in coils. A typical home could require hundreds of straps.
- Pros: When installed properly on a new home, hurricane straps drastically reduce the threat of roof failure in high winds. They are easy to install on new homes.
- Cons: Retrofitting straps on an existing home can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive.
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While there is little a homeowner can do to prepare for a hurricane’s 20-foot storm surge on the coast, there are several products that can help protect inland residents from minor flooding.
Sandbags remain the least expensive option (many counties give them away for free), but they are heavy and it takes hundreds of bags and lots of help to make a solid barrier around a home.
Other types of flood barriers include powder-filled absorbent door dams, water-filled tubes, expanding bags and portable walls that can be quickly deployed in the event of a flood.
- Cost: The price varies from a couple hundred dollars up to tens of thousands of dollars to completely surround a home.
- Pros: Barriers can be effective, and some are easy to install and can be deployed just before a storm.
- Cons: The products can be expensive and time-consuming to deploy, and they’re ineffective if floodwaters rise above the height of the barrier.
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Corrugated steel or aluminum shutters bolted over your windows and doors are one of the best ways to protect a home from flying debris. Storm panels vary in thickness and attach to window exteriors with a system of tracks and bolts. When tracks are installed permanently around the house, the shutters can be attached quickly and easily when a storm is approaching.
- Cost: Prices for steel or aluminum storm panels run from $7 to $15 per foot of coverage.
- Pros: One of the most inexpensive permanent shutter systems, the panels are strong and can protect from almost any flying debris. Can be deployed quickly before a storm and removed quickly afterward.
- Cons: Panels require a large space for storage. They can be difficult to install, depending on the size of windows and number of stories on your home, and you may need extra help. Some shutters have sharp edges.
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Roll-down hurricane shutters
With the push of a button or the crank of a handle, roll-down hurricane shutters are the easiest home protectors to deploy before a storm. The shutters are typically made of double-walled aluminum slats that interlock, and they roll up into a narrow box that sits above the window or doorway.
Available in all sizes and colors, they are usually custom-fitted to your home.
- Cost: While they are the easiest and most convenient way to protect your home, roll-down shutters also are the most expensive window defense option, averaging $20 to $35 per square foot of window, according to NOAA.
- Pros: The shutters are easily raised and lowered. They also can be used to temporarily darken a room.
- Cons: They’re prohibitively expensive for most homeowners and usually require professional installation. Push-button systems need a battery backup or manual override for use during a power outage.
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Garage door braces
Your garage door is one of the parts of your home most vulnerable to high wind. Failure of a garage door can allow the full force of a hurricane to threaten the roof or walls.
While some newer garage doors are rated for winds of up to 150 mph, many older ones should be braced. Vertical bracing systems are typically made of aluminum and are anchored above the garage door and to the floor to provide a backbone of extra support.
- Cost: The price varies by manufacturer, approximately $150 to $175 per garage door brace.
- Pros: Braces are effective and relatively inexpensive.
- Cons: They may require special tools such as a rotor hammer and masonry bit to drill into concrete floor. Garage door cannot be opened without removing the brace.
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Want to skip the hassle and closed-in feeling of shutters altogether? Consider installing hurricane-impact windows. The glass is usually 3/8-inch thick and features a film coating similar to the safety glass used in vehicle windshields. If the windows crack or are smashed, the glass will stay embedded in the frame.
- Cost: Hurricane glass windows are not cheap, costing up to $55 per square foot.
- Pros: With hurricane glass, there is nothing to install or remove when a hurricane comes; it’s always in place and is completely transparent. No shutters are needed. Hurricane windows also help block outside noise, protect against break-ins and filter out harmful UV rays.
- Cons: The windows must be installed by a contractor, and the labor costs can be steep. Consider funding options, including a cash-out mortgage refinance.
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Housed on the sides of doors or windows when not in use, these retractable aluminum shutters unfold like an accordion to protect your home’s openings during a storm. The shutters can provide protection against not only wind but also forced entry. They are usually available in a variety of colors.
- Cost: $15 to $25 per square foot.
- Pros: Accordion shutters are easily and quickly deployed in the event of a storm. They are permanently fixed to the house and do not require storage.
- Cons: They may appear unattractive on some houses. The mechanisms that open and close the shutters may be weaker or break more often than with other products.
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Bahama shutters are hinged at the top of the window and angle outward from the wall with the help of telescoping arms. The support arms typically are adjustable from 60- to 90-degree angles.
The shutters protect against wind while providing light, ventilation and privacy control in everyday use. They often are used in sunny and coastal environments and can give a home a distinct, tropical appearance.
- Cost: $15 to $20 per square foot.
- Pros: Bahama shutters attach permanently to the home and can be installed quickly. Made of aluminum, vinyl or wood, they can easily be painted to complement or match the home.
- Cons: They almost permanently block full vision from windows and can make a home much darker. The amount of hurricane protection they offer can vary by style and manufacturer.
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As a traditional style of window protection, colonial shutters attach to the window’s side walls and fold inward to close. Permanently fixed to the window frame and held open by a clip system, they can quickly and easily be closed and secured with a brace bar when a storm approaches.
- Cost: Moderately priced when compared with other window protection products, colonial shutters run roughly $18 to $30 per square foot.
- Pros: The shutters can easily be closed by one person. They can add decorative curb appeal to a home.
- Cons: They must be permanently installed on the house, a process that can be expensive and time-consuming. Professional installation may be required.