Real Estate Co Ltd, #137- 4370 Lorimer Road, Whistler, BC V0N 1B4
Every part of North America is subject to natural disasters. Flood, earthquake, wildfires, tornados and hurricanes are the most common disasters that can affect homeowners, and every one of them is capable of destroying your home.
In this, the first of two articles, we will look at high winds (tornados, hurricanes) and flooding, and what you can do to help strengthen your home against them.
First Things First: Personal Preparedness
Have a personal emergency plan in place for you and your family. It should include a home escape plan, an emergency kit, and a disaster plan. Tailor it to your home and the disasters common to your region as well as those common to all regions. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a comprehensive guide to emergency preparedness called "Are You Ready?" You can download a copy free at their website: www.fema.gov/areyouready/index.shtm
Hazard Mitigation For Your Home
Hazard Mitigation is a term used by FEMA to describe actions that you can take to reduce or eliminate your risk from natural disasters. In the case of your home, the building codes in your area are designed in part with the possible disasters that can occur in mind, but you cannot rely on them to completely protect your home.
The best time to work on hazard mitigation is when your house is being built, but there are things you can do to improve your existing home's survivability. Most of these retrofits are not easy, so call a professional to make sure they are done right.
High Winds (Hurricanes, Tornadoes)
Secure your roof: Get strapping to secure your roof trusses to the top of your walls. Use adhesive to secure your roof deck to each rafter or truss that holds it up. Make sure the adhesive on your shingles is secure, and add more if necessary (you will probably lose some anyway, but this will help minimize it).
Brace your gables: Make sure the gable end trusses are securely nailed to the top of the gable wall and braced across the bottom to adjacent trusses (use 8-foot long braces 4 feet apart, at right angles to the truss). Also have the end truss tied back to several interior trusses along the ridge of the roof with at least one more brace.
Strengthen your doors: Exterior doors should be solid wood or hollow metal with at least three hinges and a dead bolt with a minimum one-inch throw length. Double entry doors should have top and bottom bolts that extend into the door header and through the threshold to the subfloor installed on the inactive door. Sliding glass doors are particularly vulnerable, so get an impact resistant door system that uses laminated glass or plastic.
Reinforce your garage: Garage doors need to be reinforced with permanent horizontal and vertical bracing (unless your garage has a tested, hurricane resistant door). Kits are usually available from the manufacturer, but you may need to have one custom made.
Clean up your yard: Everything in your yard has the potential to become a projectile in high winds. Have a place for lawn furniture, kids toys, etc and put them there before the storm. Cut away all dead tree branches or other vegetation. If you have gravel as part of your landscaping, replace it with shredded bark.
Coastal states from Texas up through Maine, and Hawaii are most at risk from hurricanes. "Tornado Alley"-an area that runs north from Texas to eastern Nebraska and northeast to Indiana-is prime tornado country, but tornadoes have shown up in most states and provinces at one time or another. Both hurricanes and tornadoes cause damage from high winds. Hurricanes can also cause flooding from heavy rains and tidal surge. The preparation for both is similar:
For Hurricanes (because you won't have time in a tornado):
Get hurricane shutters: Rigid shutters work best, properly installed and securely fastened (have a professional do it). If you are doing it yourself, ¾ inch plywood will work (lag bolted every 2 feet, anchored into the frame of the house), but prepare it in advance, because you don't want to be doing construction with a hurricane coming in.
Secure for evacuation: Make sure your evacuation plan includes securing your home, protecting your valuables, and shutting off all power, water and gas before you leave.
Prepare for flooding: Because hurricanes can cause flooding, read the section below for tips on preventing flood damage.
Know your elevation: Your Base Flood Elevation (BFE) is the level of flooding that you can expect in your community. Find out the elevation of the lowest floor of your home, including any area that is enclosed by earth on all sides (your basement, for example). If that elevation is lower than the BFE your will have trouble when a flood comes.
Use water resistant building materials: in areas below the base flood elevation, to help minimize damage.
Don't finish the basement: If your basement is below the BFE, it will flood, and anything you keep in it may be ruined. Save yourself the money and the aggravation.
Stop sewer backup: Sewers can back up into your home, destroying your possessions and leaving a stinking mess. Install backflow vales or standpipes to keep the sewage out.
Raise your appliances: Washers, dryers, water heater, oil heaters, furnaces, etc. Should all be raised to level higher than the BFE. If you cannot raise an appliance, consider anchoring it and providing it with a floodwall or shield.
Install flood shields: For doors and basement windows, to prevent water from entering. The top of the shields should extend above the base flood elevation.
Get a sump pump: For any floors below the BFE, a sump pump can help drain away the water before it accumulates high enough to cause severe damage.
Landscape: Using native plants and vegetation in your landscaping can help reduce soil erosion and protect your yard.
This is one of the most common natural disasters, and one of the most difficult to prepare for. To find out if your community is in a flood zone, contact your local building authority, insurance agent, or mortgage lender and ask if your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program. If the answer is yes, then you live in a flood zone.
Also ask in you live in a Special Flood Hazard area, which means that your area has at least a one percent chance of being flooded in any given year. If so, you live in one of two types of flood zones: A zones, where your home may be subject to rising water from a lake, river or stream; or V zones, where your home is susceptible to wind-driven waves as well as rising water, such as on a coastline. In both cases, your chance of being flooded is quite high.
If you live in a flood zone:
The Institute for Business and Home Safety has a number of free publications on their website (www.ibhs.org) that show what you can do ahead of time to protect your home from disasters.