11 Ways to avoid hurricane damage

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), accurately predicted a record-breaking storm season for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. 14 of the 30 storms that occurred developed into hurricanes, including seven major hurricanes with winds in excess of 111 mph.

The tremendous power of a hurricane can turn a home inside out and leave it in ruins. But you can minimize the potential for damage, cut the cost of your home insurance now and save on repairs later with the help of many readily available home improvement products. Bracing your home for what the season might bring doesn’t have to be expensive.

The Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) recommends that you make your property more resilient to hurricanes. Invest in items that will harden your property against wind damage, such as a wind-rated garage door and storm shutters. The Triple-I also recommends you have your roof inspected annually by a licensed and bonded contractor to make sure it will hold up to high winds and torrential rains.

Here are 11 different ways to bolster your home in advance of this year’s hurricane season.

Plywood

A sheet of plywood and a handful of nails have stood out as one of the most popular ways to prepare for a hurricane. Homeowners typically “board up” a day or two before the storm is forecast to strike and attach 5/8-inch or 1/2-inch plywood to the windows of their homes. Plywood can help effectively reduce the impact of damage or even prevent damage from strong winds, heavy rain, hail and flying debris.

  • Cost: Material costs vary by location and season, but a 4-by-8-foot sheet of 5/8-inch plywood typically runs from $20 to $30. Depending on home size and the number of windows, total material costs could run from $275 to $750. Please note that plywood prices have risen dramatically across the U.S. during the pandemic, although the market is starting to stabilize.
  • Effect on insurance: None.
  • Pros: Plywood is very effective for protection from flying debris and is easy to do yourself. You can find the materials at any home improvement store. 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 as daylight is shut off.

Fabric panels

Polymer-based, hurricane-strength fabric panels add trampoline-like cushion to windows and doors and repel flying debris without sacrificing visibility in a storm, which can help prevent hurricane damage. 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.
  • Effect on insurance: None.
  • 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.

Hurricane straps

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, reducing the impact of a hurricane. 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.
  • Effect on insurance: Can generate significant savings depending on state regulations and your insurer. To find out how this would affect specific insurance policies, please visit the Best Home Insurance Companies in 2021.
  • 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.

Flood barriers

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 cities and 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 of hundred dollars up to tens of thousands of dollars to completely surround a home, depending on product and protection level.
  • Effect on insurance: None.
  • Pros: Barriers are effective in preventing minor floodwaters from entering the home. Some products 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.

Storm panels

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.
  • Effect on insurance: Can result in significant savings depending on state regulations and your insurer.
  • 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 the number of stories your home has, and you may need extra help. Some shutters have sharp edges.

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 the NOAA.
  • Effect on insurance: Can be significant depending on state and carrier.
  • 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.

Garage door braces

Your garage door is one of the areas 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.
  • Effect on insurance: Possible discount depending on state regulations and your insurer.
  • Pros: Braces are effective and relatively inexpensive.
  • Cons: They may require special tools such as a rotor hammer and masonry bit to drill into the concrete floor. The garage door cannot be opened without removing the brace.

Hurricane glass

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 $50 per square foot.
  • Effect on insurance: Possible discount depending on state regulations and your insurer.
  • Pros: With hurricane glass, there is nothing to install or remove when a hurricane comes; it is 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.

Accordion shutters

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.
  • Effect on insurance: Possible discount depending on state regulations and your insurer.
  • 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.

Bahama shutters

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 the 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.
  • Effect on insurance: Possible discount depending on state regulations and your insurer.
  • Pros: Bahama shutters permanently attach to the home and can be quickly deployed. Made of aluminum, vinyl or wood, they can easily be painted to complement or match the home.
  • Cons: 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.

Colonial shutters

As a traditional style of window protection, colonial shutters attach to the window’s sidewalls 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.
  • Effect on insurance: Possible discount depending on state regulations and your insurer.
  • 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 a house, a process that can be expensive and time-consuming. Professional installation may be required.

The bottom line

Hurricane season runs from June to November, some of the most dreaded months for homeowners across the country who live on or near the coast. The impact of a hurricane can leave a home severely damaged or in ruins. Additionally, those living in coastal states are at higher risk of experiencing more hurricanes, which can lead to higher-than-average homeowners insurance costs. However, there are a few ways to mitigate expensive home insurance, such as doing your research, shopping around for the right coverage, and taking preventative measures to protect your home. To find out how much you should be paying for home insurance in your location, visit our guide on How Much Does Homeowners Insurance Cost.

Prevention is an effective option to help mitigate costly repairs. In fact, many property insurers offer discounts for homeowners who take effective measures to reduce or prevent damage. For example, installing storm panels to your home in some locations not only can significantly reduce the damage that can be caused by a hurricane, but you may also get a discount from your insurer. The best way to determine which preventive measures to take to avoid hurricane damage is to consider your geographic location and speak with your insurer to learn about discounts offered for risk mitigation efforts.

Written by
Grace Kim
Insurance Contributor
Grace Kim has two years of experience in writing for finance and insurance domains such as The Cheapest Car Insurance Companies in New Jersey at Bankrate and Reviews.com. She has written about auto, homeowners, renters and life insurance. She holds an M.Sc from New York University in Corporate Communications and has spent most of her professional experience writing about finance and tech topics.
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Director of corporate communications, Insurance Information Institute