How to prepare your home for a natural disaster

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Natural disasters occur in every corner of the country. The West Coast experiences major earthquakes, the Southeast deals with frequent hurricanes and New England faces crippling blizzards. These destructive events can cause costly and widespread damage.

As a homeowner, preparing for a natural disaster is important. Home insurance covers certain natural disasters, but there are limitations. It’s important to learn how to prepare for a natural disaster and what type of natural disasters a homeowners insurance policy will cover.

The damage caused to homes by natural disasters

Natural disasters can cause extensive damage to homes in their path, including broken windows and water or structural damage. In 2019, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), insured losses due to natural disasters totaled $25.5 billion, down from $52 billion the year before. Here are some of the most common natural disasters and their estimated insured losses in 2019:

  • Thunderstorms: In 2019, nearly 50 major thunderstorms resulted in $20.3 billion in insured losses.
  • Earthquakes: In 2019, two earthquake events totaled $50 million in insured losses.
  • Floods: In 2019, nine flooding events totaled $200 million in insured losses.
  • Wildfires: There were 11 wildfires recorded in 2019 that totaled $830 million in insured losses.
  • Hurricanes: In 2019, there were five recorded hurricanes or tropical storms, totaling $1.9 billion in insured losses.
  • Winter storms: There were 16 recorded blizzards in 2019, which totaled $2.1 billion in insured losses.

Tips to prepare your home for a natural disaster

The best time to prepare for a disaster is before it happens. To protect a home from a natural disaster, being proactive is key. Building the home with wind-proof and fire-proof materials offers some of the best protection, but it is not essential. Some simple steps can be taken to keep a home safe before a natural disaster strikes.

Reinforce doors and windows

During a hurricane or tornado, doors can fly off and loose debris can break windows. Consider installing wind-resistant doors and windows or storm-proof shutters to keep them intact during a storm. For a temporary fix, board up windows and doors with plywood before a storm is expected to hit.

Find water, gas and electrical lines

When a storm is on the horizon, a homeowner might receive emergency instructions to turn off the home’s water, gas and electricity connections to prevent flooding and fire hazards. Before a disaster happens, it’s important to know where those lines are located and how to shut them off. If there is an evacuation order, disconnect water, gas and electrical lines before leaving.

Use sandbags

Sandbags divert water, and placing them around doors or in flood-prone areas is an effective way to keep floodwater from seeping into a home during a hurricane. The sandbags should be stacked at least one foot high for adequate protection.

Secure outdoor furniture

If there is outdoor furniture on a porch or patio, make sure everything is tied down and secured before a storm hits. Loose items, like sporting equipment, grills or umbrellas should be moved inside, if possible. Double-check that toys, yard tools and other small items are not left outside before a storm.

Prune large trees

Trees can cause major damage during a storm. Heavy branches that overhang the home’s roof can easily fall and cause significant problems, including injuries to people inside. To keep the roof safe, regularly prune large trees on the property and ask neighbors to keep any trees that cross property lines trimmed.

Secure heavy furniture to the walls

Earthquakes can be powerful enough to knock over heavy furniture, including appliances like a refrigerator. Items that fall can cause serious injuries, especially to young children. If the home is located in an earthquake zone, secure heavy furniture to the walls with a bracket and be sure there is nothing near them that can be damaged if they fall.

Look for fire-retardant plants

During a wildfire, plants in the yard can fuel the flames and spread the fire towards the house. Cal Fire recommends planting fire-retardant plants, like Rockrose, ice plant, aloe, hedging roses, sumac and shrub apples. Maple, poplar and cherry trees tend to be less flammable than pine or fir trees.

Create a plan

Creating a natural disaster survival guide for the family is important. Keep a physical document that includes information like evacuation routes, insurance policy information, local radio stations and a checklist for securing the home. Make sure to have a digital and hardcopy version in the event of a power loss.

What your insurance covers during natural disasters

In many cases, home insurance will cover natural disaster claims. Any weather event that causes heavy winds, heavy rain, freezing, snow and ice, fire and lightning or falling objects is typically covered under insurance.

Home insurance will usually cover damage to the home’s exterior and personal belongings inside and outside the home. If it becomes necessary to move out temporarily while the home is being repaired, loss of use coverage will pay for hotel and food expenses.

Here are the natural disasters that are typically covered by home insurance:

  • Thunderstorms
  • Hurricanes
  • Tornados
  • Wildfires
  • Blizzards

Several natural disasters are not covered by standard homeowners insurance policies, including flood or earthquake damage. Homeowners who live in areas where floods and earthquakes are common are encouraged to purchase separate flood insurance and earthquake insurance policies.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best home insurance company?

There are a variety of options when it comes to home insurance all across the country. Based on our in-house research, the best home insurance companies include Amica, Allstate, Geico, MetLife, USAA and Chubb. It’s a good idea to do some research to compare providers or speak with a licensed insurance professional to determine the right company and coverage.

How do I get flood insurance?

Flood insurance is available through most major insurance companies. Many providers sell flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), funded by the federal government. Some providers offer private flood insurance or offer a flood insurance endorsement, which can provide coverage above and beyond NFIP policies, particularly for personal belongings.

Will my insurance premium increase after a natural disaster claim?

Yes, home insurance premiums go up after almost any covered claim. However, the rate increase depends on the severity of the claim and the cost of repairs. Homeowners can take advantage of discounts, improve their credit score, raise the deductible and lower coverage limits to avoid a significant rate increase after a claim. It’s a good idea to speak with a licensed insurance professional to ensure that there is still adequate coverage before making any policy changes.