Hurricane Preparedness For Old Houses

By Scott Sidler October 10, 2016

hurricane preparedness for old housesHurricane preparedness is no joke here in hurricane country. Having just finished the storm clean up from Hurricane Matthew here in Orlando my mind can’t help but focus on ways to keep us all safer. We dodged a bullet in Central Florida, but the coast and islands like the Bahamas and Haiti were not so fortunate.

There isn’t much you can do to a building to help it survive a direct hit from a Category 4 or 5 storm, but for the less intense Cat 1-3 there are definitely ways to protect yourself and your home from damage in the future.

This post may be coming a bit late to do much good for Matthew but there will always be another storm, With this hurricane fresh on our minds now is the best time to make those changes that you put off after the last storm.


Hurricane Protection For Windows

Windows are one of the most at risk items in your house. They are the most fragile element on the exterior and if they break your house can be severely damaged.

The #1 reason windows break during a hurricane (or tornado) is from wind-blown debris. It’s not leaves and mulch you need to worry about, it’s 2×4’s, siding, tree branches, and anything else not screwed down that become missiles launched at your house by the strong winds.

After a storm Google searches for impact windows go through the roof. People want protection and rightly so, but since we focus on old and historic buildings here I’m not going to point you toward replacement windows.


Impact Storm Windows

Instead or replacing your windows, install storm windows. The folks up north know this one well. You’ll rarely find exterior storm windows in the south because it just never gets cold enough to warrant the expense, but cold weather is not the only reason for storm windows.

My company and other window restorers can make traditional wood storm windows with laminated impact glass to not only protect your windows against flying debris but make them more energy efficient.

Simply add these storm windows to your existing windows and you get double-paned efficiency and protection from that debris that too easily damages most everyone else’s windows.


Boarding Up Windows

A cheap temporary alternative to impact storm windows is simply boarding with plywood or OSB. You don’t need expensive plywood for this. Simple 7/16″ or 1/2″ OSB is more than sufficient for temporary coverings.

Cut to fit as best you can to cover the opening and screw in place using 1 1/2″ screws for wood and 2″ Tapcons or anchors for masonry buildings. Screw every 16-24″ for a secure hold.

Tip: When the local home stores are sold out with an approaching storm try the local lumberyards. They almost always have more plywood because homeowners never think to go here.


taping window glass
Just a bit of overkill and a waste of money

Taping Window Glass

This is an old wive’s tale. Taping window glass does not do anything to keep you safe or to keep your windows from breaking. Don’t waste your time taping windows, it only makes a mess and doesn’t help.


Curtains & Towels

If all else fails and you haven’t been able to do anything to protect your windows then the best thing you can do is to close your curtains or hang big towels on the inside of your windows.

If your glass should break during the storm this will at least keep the glass from shattering into the room and injuring you. It helps to keep the broken glass contained in the vicinity of the window as much as possible.


Hurricane Protection For Roofs

More than any other element in your house your roof protects you from storms. If the covering blows off then everything else is quickly damaged so choosing the right roof covering is imperative the keeping your home safe.

Choosing the cheapest asphalt shingles to save a few bucks is not worth the money. The cost of shingles is so minimal compared to the labor to install them that you should always upgrade to the more expensive wind-rated shingles.

Most of the major manufacturers now offer asphalt shingles rated for 135 mph winds and some even offer shingles that will withstand 150 mph winds!

The next time your home is due for a re-roof step up and get the best shingles you can and you’ll sleep better at night.


Install Hurricane Straps

hurricane strap
Simspon hurricane strap

The Simpson company makes metal straps that can be retrofit to the framing on almost any house with attic access. These straps greatly increase the holding power of your rafters and help keep the roof structure tied down to the rest of the structure so the roof doesn’t blow away.

Retrofitting these straps is an easy project for any contractor who knows the building code and is willing. In addition to the peace of mind it provides, almost every homeowner’s insurance agency will give a significant discount to your policy for this add on. The project usually pays for itself in less than 5 years!


How To Protect Against Flooding

If you live on the coast or in other low-lying areas then flooding is almost assured, but that doesn’t mean your home will be damaged. There are steps you can take to protect yourself.


Can You Avoid Storm Surge?

Storm surge is the ocean water that is pushed ashore and up rivers and streams from the massive power of these hurricanes. It is inevitable when a hurricane or tropical storm is nearby so you need to know how to protect yourself against it.

This is not just high waves, it is an actual rise in the sea level from a couple inches to 10 or even 20 feet in the most extreme conditions. Add the high waves and rough surf to that and your have potential devastation.

There is little you can do to protect against big storm surges other than to evacuate the area. Listen to the authorities and follow any evacuations called for.


What About Other Flooding?

Yes, the coast has to deal with storm surge, but inland areas have to deal with localized flooding from the heavy rains associate with hurricanes too. If you live in a low lying area then sandbags are absolutely your best defense.

Make sure you have enough sandbags to build up a hedge of protection around any openings. Doors with low thresholds, garage doors, basement doors, crawlspace vents. Do your best to keep these items protected against rising waters.


Hurricane Preparedness

Hurricanes are a part of life for many Americans and they cannot be denied. I’m hopeful that you made it out safely from the last storm and that after reading this you may be a bit more prepared before the next storm shows up.

Hurricane preparedness should not be something we do at the last minute when supplies and options are low. Take the initiative and have your storm plan in place. Sandbags at the ready, storm windows installed, and roof adequately prepared.

Then you just have to worry about whether you’ll have enough peanut butter and jelly to last till the lights come back on.

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