Plan Ahead for Natural Disasters

Natural disasters can strike without warning, leaving unsuspecting homeowners with thousands of dollars in home damage. Taking precautionary steps by planning ahead for potential harsh weather can help save heartache and money.

No one is safe from a natural disaster. Weather-related damage can occur no matter where a person lives. Heavy rains, dam failures, tornadoes, hurricanes, landslides, and wildfires are just some of the potentially tragic tricks up Mother Nature's sleeve. Being prepared can mean the difference in saving lives and material belongings.

Flash flooding is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S., and flooding of homes accounts for the large majority of damage to properties across the country. It is important for homeowners to know that damage to the home from flooding is very rarely covered by a traditional home insurance policy. If a home is in a flood zone, close to a water source or even simply in an area with a high water table, the purchase of flood insurance can be a lifesaver. While it cannot prevent belongings from being damaged in a flood, it will mean that items can be replaced and damage can be repaired without significant out-of-pocket expenses.

Homeowners can take other steps to protect their homes from water damage. For those with basements, the installation of a French drainage system and a sump pump can help prevent water accumulation on the bottom level of the home. Individuals should also ensure their homes are properly graded so that rainwater drains away from the house instead of toward it.

Hurricanes are another means by which weather can do a great deal of damage to homes. Fortunately, hurricanes are often forecasted well in advance and targeted areas are forewarned. This means that homeowners can prepare homes for the weather event.

Covering windows and glass sliding doors securely with plywood is one of the precautionary steps homeowners can take in the event a hurricane is on the way. Taping windows is ineffective and will not prevent blowing debris from crashing through window glass. Metal hurricane shutters are also effective and should be a part of home exterior for those who live in areas frequently struck by hurricanes.

Homeowners should remove dead or weakened tree branches so they don't fall on the home. They should also know if the house is located in a zone that could be flooded by a storm surge, which might necessitate evacuation.

Storms with high winds, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, should be taken seriously. It's important to have an evacuation plan if the storm is too strong to ride out at home. Otherwise, a windowless room or inside closet can be a place to retreat to until the storm passes.

Winter storms can also cause damage. Snow and ice can accumulate on roofs, causing them to collapse under the weight. Sloped, metal roofing is ideal for homeowners who live in areas that see high accumulations of snow each season. The snow will slide off the roof.

It's also important to have adequate attic or upstairs insulation. That's because snow that's on a roof that is improperly insulated can melt from the heat of the home, then refreeze. This can cause leaks or ice dams, further damaging the home.

Here are other safety procedures homeowners can take.

* Store bottled water, canned foods and batteries in the home for emergencies. Should utilities be shut off, this ensures residents will have food and water and the use of flashlights should things go dark.

* Have a family meeting and discuss evacuation routes and contingency plans. Keep copies of important phone numbers for banking, credit card companies, utility services, etc., so all information will be on hand should the home be evacuated.

* Pack a go-bag with food, water, money, a first-aid kit, etc.

* Routinely inspect the house for weak areas that can be damaged in bad weather. Be sure the foundation, roof, siding, and downspouts are in good working order.

* Identify a safe room in the home. As previously mentioned, this should be a windowless room, preferably on a concrete slab. It may be the basement or the garage.

* If a home is known to be in a weather-prone area, talk with contractors to determine which modifications can be made to the home to help prevent excessive damage. Hurricane-grade siding, roofing and window coverings may be a solution.