Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

Preparing your home for a hurricane

Home preparation

Does it do any good to tape up windows?

Generally, no. Tape does not protect a window from shattering. It might help stop the spread of glass fragments, but not much. Commercial films that will hold shattered glass in place can be applied to the insides of windows.

Do hurricane shutters help?

Yes, but be sure you get the right shutters for you. Removable steel plates are heavy and awkward to handle and not appropriate for everyone. Roll-up shutters are easier to use, but they are expensive. Some companies make a fabric that is tough, less expensive and easy to handle.

Is plywood a good alternative?

It isn't as strong as commercial storm shutters, but it helps if you are strong enough to handle it. Be careful how you put it up. If you nail it into the frame of the window or the house, you create holes into which water can leak later, causing damage inside your walls. Ask your home supply store experts how to mount plywood so the holes can be plugged after the storm passes.

What are the most vulnerable points in a home?

The garage door and the front door. Garage doors are easily broken or bent and ripped from their tracks. They can be retrofitted for added strength. Front doors are seldom windproof, especially double doors. High winds can crack dead bolt locks and get in through damaged garage doors. Once the wind finds a way into a house, the roof is in danger. If the roof goes, the house is lost. Consider replacing double front doors with single doors that can be reinforced from the inside. In the space remaining, install long, stationary, shatterproof windows.


What do I really need to stock up on before a storm?

You can't count on federal, state or local help reaching you the first few days after a storm. You need survival supplies for at least three days: drinking water, food that doesn't need refrigeration or cooking, clean clothes, flashlight batteries, a battery-powered radio with extra batteries, and personal items such as soap and shampoo. Charge every cellphone in the house. Keep the car's gas tank topped off all summer.

Can I reuse sandbags from last year?

Yes, if they have been stored in a dry place and have not become moldy, water-logged or torn.

How long is bottled water good for?

It depends on who bottled it. If you filled empty bottles from a cooler or the tap, it's best consumed within a day or two if it has been at room temperature. It's good for two weeks if refrigerated. If it is commercially bottled and sealed, it's good indefinitely, even if there is an expiration date on the bottle. Some states require an expiration date, but you can safely ignore it where water is concerned.

What about food left from last hurricane season?

Obviously, perishables have long since spoiled. Canned goods are safe indefinitely. Prepared meals that don't require refrigeration are good until the expiration date. Tip: Most of these meals are edible at room temperature, but if they come in black containers, you can safely put them in the sun, black side up, and warm them.

During a storm

What is a tropical storm?

An area of low pressure over tropical waters with organized convection near the center with counter-clockwise surface winds. The maximum sustained wind near the center must be between 39 and 73 mph for it to be classified as a tropical storm.

What is a tropical depression?

Similar to a tropical storm, but with sustained winds less than 39 mph.

What is the difference between a watch and warning?

In a word, urgency. A watch is issued when hurricane or tropical storm conditions are possible within 36 hours. A warning is issued when those conditions are expected with 24 hours.

Home aftermath

If my home is badly damaged, what should I do?

Take a piece of metal or plywood, spray-paint your address on it and put it in front of your house. That way family, rescue workers and insurance adjusters can find you. Be careful not to cut yourself on sharp edges.

How do I find help?

If you have Internet access, check for detailed information. Or listen to the radio and seek out first-responders — fire and rescue, police, medical and insurance personnel — in your neighborhood.

Should I try to do any repairs to my house?

Be careful. You could get hurt. Warranties and insurance could be voided. And when electricity is restored, there could be fire danger.

Should I stay with my house to protect it from looters?

Your belongings aren't as valuable as your life. Let the police do the policing. If there is a place for you to go and you can get out of a devastated neighborhood, you should do that. Presumably, you already have identified and made arrangements for your most valuable personal effects.


If my house is badly damaged, how do I prove to my insurance company what I owned?

Buy a digital camera, take pictures of everything in the house and store the camera or the picture card with the valuable items that you plan to take with you when you evacuate. Or videotape your valuables. Then you can show the insurance company what you lost. If you have sales receipts for big-ticket items, they will help place a fair value on lost property.

What does homeowners insurance cover?

It generally covers damage to the building and contents and provides living expenses until the dwelling is livable again. In the case of a condo, the exterior of the building and the roof generally are covered by a homeowners association master policy. Individual owners have unit policies that cover floors, ceilings, interior walls and contents.

What does renters insurance cover?

Contents and living expenses if your apartment or house is no longer livable. Your lease might not require your landlord to find alternative housing for you.

What do I do if my car is damaged?

That is generally covered by auto insurance. If the inside has flooded, don't try to start it. Cover broken windows. List all lost valuables.

Personal safety

What's the first thing I should do after a storm has passed?

Take care of yourself. A hurricane can take a toll on you as well as your property. One big problem is stress. Get plenty of rest.

What are the warning signs of stress?

Symptoms include a short temper and frequent arguments; drinking more alcohol or smoking more than usual; getting upset over minor irritations; difficulty sleeping; aches, pains and stomach problems; apathy or loss of concentration; and depression.

What about my children?

Understand their fear is normal. Try to keep the family together. Explain the disaster factually and reassure the children that life will return to normal.

What else can I do to stay healthy?

Long before a storm arrives, ensure that you have plenty of any prescription medicines you take. Wash your hands often or use an antibacterial lotion. Make sure any water you drink is safe. Disinfect dishes and cups. Don't overdo it or try to lift something that's too heavy for you.

The evacuation is over and I can return home. How do I enter my home safely?

If there is standing water next to the outside walls because of flooding, do not go in. If there is not standing water, walk around the outside of the house first, checking for loose power lines and gas leaks. Look at the foundation and porch roofs or overhangs to see if there are any cracks or sagging. If there is obvious damage, have a building inspector check the home before you go in. Open the door carefully and make sure the ceiling isn't about to fall in.

Okay, I'm in. What should I do first?

Find and protect the irreplaceable valuables, such as money, jewelry, insurance papers, photos and family heirlooms. If books and photos have gotten wet, clean off any mud and put them in plastic bags. Get them to a freezer as soon as possible. They can be cleaned and preserved with professional help.

What else should I do?

If it's safe to be in the house, protect it from further damage. For example, if the roof is damaged, cover it with a tarp. Open windows to get fresh air moving through the house. Don't take on more than you can do yourself. Be patient.

How long until things get back to normal?

A complete recovery could take months or even years. Create an organized recovery plan for your family. If you need it, begin the process to get financial assistance. Check with your mortgage holder and let them know that your house has been damaged. Seek outside help when you need it.


I want to get a generator. What should I look for?

It depends on how much you want to run and how much you want to spend. It would take a permanently installed backup generator to run the whole house, including air-conditioning, washer and dryer. The price is prohibitive, and so are some community codes. A portable generator is the best bet.

How big?

The smaller ones, in the 1,000-watt category, will run a few lights and a microwave (if you turn off most of the lights while you cook). Many homeowners want something in the 4,000- to 6,000-watt category. That will run a refrigerator, lights, microwave, maybe even a small portable air-conditioning unit for the bedroom. These range in price from $700 to several thousand dollars.

Should the larger generators be wired into the home electrical system?

That's your best bet if you don't want extension cords snaking all over the house. But don't try to do it yourself. Buy a circuit box and have it installed by a professional electrician. It can pose a hazard to power company workers if not done correctly.

Can I keep the generator in the garage?

You can store it there, but never operate it there or anywhere near your home. Generators emit carbon monoxide, much like your car's engine exhaust, and is deadly. In 2003, 36 people died nationwide from generator-produced carbon monoxide. The number was 40 the year before. Buy a generator on wheels with an electrical cord long enough to stretch well away from the house, out into the open air.

Preparing your home for a hurricane 05/12/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2014 8:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. The Daystarter: Rick vs. Rick 2.0 tonight; Bucs' McCoy says some fans cross line; Trump associate to testify; helicopter crashes onto Odessa roof


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.


    Rescuers respond to a crash of a small helicopter on the roof of a home in the Odessa area on Monday. [Hillsborough County Fire Rescue]
  2. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals


    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  3. Trump associate Roger Stone to talk to House panel in Russia probe


    WASHINGTON — The House intelligence panel will interview two of President Donald Trump's associates behind closed doors this week as congressional committees step up their investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

    Roger Stone talks to reporters outside a courtroom in New York this past March. The House intelligence panel will interview Stone behind closed doors Tuesday as congressional committees step up their investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Fformer Trump staffer Boris Epshteyn also will talk to the House panel. [Associated Press]
  4. Pinellas commission set to discuss next budget, licensing board

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Commission will be busy on Tuesday.

  5. Romano: Sure, let's trust a board with no professionalism, transparency or ethics

    Local Government

    So, if you've been following the bureaucratic carnage: