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How to secure your home against a hurricane: Before and during the storm

While few can forget the wrath of Superstorm Sandy and hurricanes Katrina and Irene, any hurricane can pose a threat to your property.

Superstorm Sandy left $18.75 billion in property losses in its wake, according to Property Claim Services, a division of Verisk Analytics.

For individual homeowners, a hurricane can be devastating. A survey conducted by Consumer Reports found that the average claim filed by Hurricane Katrina victims was for $15,000, but a home that is completely destroyed can incur hundreds of thousands in damage. 

If you live on the East or Gulf coasts where hurricanes often set their sights, here's how to make sure your home is as secure as possible.

secure your home against hurricane How to prepare before a hurricane

1. Renovate wisely.

If you live in a region that's prone to hurricanes, be proactive about weather protection when you're upgrading your home, says Tim Reinhold, senior vice president of research for the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

Make sure your home adheres to local building codes; some hurricane-ravaged areas have revamped their codes over time to hold up better in severe weather.

You can also choose siding and roofing materials that are designed to withstand high winds. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advises homeowners in at-risk areas to use siding products that manufacturers have tested for use in high-wind environments.

2. Review your insurance.

The best time to make sure you have enough insurance to cover your losses is long before a hurricane forms, says the Insurance Information Institute (III).  Some insurers charge hurricane deductibles, typically between 1 and 5 percent of your home's insured value.

That means if you have $100,000 in insurance and you have a 2 percent deductible, you'd pay $2,000 before your insurer would pick up the tab for any damage caused by a hurricane. If that applies to you, make sure you have enough money saved to cover the deductible.

3. Keep bushes and trees well-trimmed.

Before windy conditions hit, trim your landscaping to prevent downed trees and fallen branches from damaging your home.

4. Protect your windows.

Permanent hurricane shutters can be attached to your house so when a storm approaches, you can simply unfold them and cover the windows. Another option is to have plywood on hand. Measure your windows, cut the plywood to fit those dimensions, and store the plywood so you can install it quickly if a storm heads your way.

5. Consider the garage.

All of the work you've done to fortify your home will be for nothing if wind gets inside your garage and causes expensive structural damage. Have a professional engineer or a trained door-systems technician inspect your garage door to see if it's strong enough to withstand major winds. If it's not, the professional could make the adjustments or replace the door. FEMA estimates this could cost about $600, though the cost can vary based on the type and size of the door.

6. Clean the gutters and drains.

Wind isn't the only threat during a hurricane. Rain can cause flooding, leaks and other types of damage as well. Have someone clean the gutters and make sure nothing is keeping water from draining properly. A clogged gutter can lead to rainwater seeping into your ceilings and walls.

When the hurricane is approaching

1. Download weather apps.

FEMA, as well as insurers including Progressive and Farmers, offer apps that will keep you informed of weather alerts including the latest changes in a hurricane forecast.  

Hurricanes can quickly and unexpectedly change direction or strike further inland than expected. An app can help you monitor such changes, providing, for example, "storm surge alerts to give people 24-hour notice when there's a real probability that storm surge will reach their home or business," says Andy Rice, general manager, enterprise products and services for The Weather Company.

With such advance notice, you can take extra precautions, such as boarding up the windows if a storm changes direction and heads your way.  

2. Secure loose objects.

Survey your yard and look for any items that aren't secured, such as lawn chairs and trash cans. Something as small as a children's toy can shatter a window or cause damage if it's picked up and forcefully carried by the wind. If you can't tie down the items, bring them inside until after the storm.

3. Get the windows ready.

If you have permanent storm shutters, close them. If you don't, board up your windows with the boards you cut to fit your windows' dimensions. If you have them on hand, you won't be caught in the last-minute rush. 

4. Have emergency supplies.

Prepare for power outages by having flashlights, a battery-operated radio and extra batteries on hand. If you have a propane tank, turn off the gas supply before the hurricane hits. A first aid kit may also come in handy. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommends that you have 1 gallon of water per person per day for a two-week period, as well as enough nonperishable food to last that amount of time. 

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