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Hurricane 2021: Protect property from trees, wind, water — and underinsurance

Make sure you’re fully insured now and fix up your home before the storm arrives.
A roof remains heavily damaged on Mexico Beach in May 2019, seven months after Hurricane Michael made landfall and destroyed many of the structures in the small coastal Florida panhandle city. For the latest news and updates throughout hurricane season, check tampabay.com/hurricane
A roof remains heavily damaged on Mexico Beach in May 2019, seven months after Hurricane Michael made landfall and destroyed many of the structures in the small coastal Florida panhandle city. For the latest news and updates throughout hurricane season, check tampabay.com/hurricane [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published May 24
Updated May 27

There are two ways to protect your property before a hurricane or tropical storm makes landfall: Call your insurance agent and take care of any repairs before a storm hits.

The start of storm season is a good time to check with your agent and make sure you’re covered for the most recent valuation of your property and possessions. Make sure your policy covers recent improvements and any increase in your property’s value in this hot real estate market.

And remember: Home policies don’t cover flooding or storm-related water damage. You need a separate flood insurance policy for that. Those don’t take effect for 30 days, so don’t delay.

Related: Hurricane 2021: Seven hurricane myths that need to go away

Doors, windows and the roof are most vulnerable. If they’re damaged or failing, it’s time to re-seal, repair or perhaps even replace them. If they fail, they’ll allow wind and water to enter and severely damage your home.

Your garage door is another possible way for powerful winds to invade your home. Consider bracing or reinforcing your garage door with a kit from a home improvement store. Online instructional videos can show you how.

Tax-exempt

If you’re thinking about replacing those features of your house, the state offers a bit of an incentive to get it done now.

Residential owners don’t pay sales tax when they buy new impact-resistant doors, windows and garage doors during Florida’s 17-day disaster-preparedness sales tax holiday. It runs from May 28 through June 13.

Start at the top

The roof is the most critical part of your house during a storm. How well it holds up will dictate how well your home holds up.

Shingles or roof tiles that are wearing out or missing should be replaced and any leaks should be fixed. You don’t want your roof to fail during a storm, and you don’t want to leave any weaknesses that a storm could exploit.

And even if that old, leaky roof holds up, don’t be fooled: A strong storm could exacerbate existing leaks and damage. That will leave it vulnerable to more water damage during the rainy season and cause another set of problems, like mold.

Remember making these repairs now is your call. If your home is severely damaged, then you’re at the mercy of your insurer.

Yard work

Trimming trees and foliage will also reduce the number of potential missiles a storm could use to damage your home or your neighbors. But it should be done well before you are in a storm’s path.

There are a lot of rules to trimming trees properly and power lines make it risky to do it yourself. Consider hiring professionals, and consider how much more it will cost to hire trimmers before a storm than after one.

Strong, healthy trees aren’t a risk, but damaged or weakened limbs are. Pruning trees allows the wind to flow through them. Healthy trees are more likely to survive storms. So are palm trees.

Related: NOAA is latest to forecast an active hurricane season in 2021

The real dangers come from dying trees, trees with multiple trunks and newly planted trees that may not be able to withstand a tropical system. Look closely at any trees around your house big enough to cause serious damage if they fall onto it. If you see cracks, decay or suspect the roots are weakened, remove it.

If you wait until a storm shows up to start trimming your yard, it’s too late. You don’t want to stack up yard waste at the curb and then waste collection is canceled.

Identified flying objects

The next step is to protect your home from unnatural elements: patio furniture, flower pots, broken tree branches, anything that tropical-force winds could pick up and throw at your home.

Make sure there is nothing around your home or yard that the wind could turn into a missile. Store your outdoor and patio furniture inside or inside the pool itself (remove the cushions, of course.) Move your lawn decorations and potted plants into the garage.

As if it needed be said anymore, taping windows doesn’t protect them. If you don’t have hurricane shutters, you can cover windows with plywood that is at least ⅝ of an inch thick. Use Google to help show you how to hang plywood. Having some tarps on hand will help cover up damaged areas after a storm.

Buy that stuff and other home supplies in advance, too. Don’t wait for the traditional run on big-box stores.

Sandbagging

Every time a storm approaches, residents line up for sand bags. But they may be exerting a lot of effort for minimal protection.

Sandbags are limited in what they can protect, and only work if used correctly. No amount of sandbags will save a property from storm surge or flooding, especially in a flood zone.

Related: 2021 hurricane forecast: 17 storms, 8 hurricanes, 4 major ones

The best way to use sandbags is to keep minor flooding from entering doorways and the garage doors. If the water is inching up the driveway, and a careless driver suddenly plows through your flooded street, that could send water rippling into your home or business. Sandbags can help stop that kind of water intrusion.

There are also more advanced products that you can buy and store in case of a storm, like water-activated flood bags. They come in a variety of sizes — some are as long as a 2-car garage door — and can be stacked together to protect all the entrances. They’re easier to use, and some are even reusable.

Avoid meltdowns

A storm doesn’t have to physically affect your home to damage it. A lightning strike or a felled electrical pole can send thousands of volts shooting through your home’s voltage and fry your electronics and appliances.

The best protection is a whole-home surge protector hard-wired into the electric service panel. Separate units could be installed to project your cable, Internet and phone lines.

A small percentage of voltage could still leak into the house. Make sure your TVs, computers and video game systems are plugged into surge protectors (power strips do not offer protection; there is a difference) or a back-up battery supply unit.

Those devices only last 3 to 5 years, however. Some will stop working or give a warning when they no longer offer surge protection. Some don’t. There are likely several old surge protectors in your home no longer protecting anything, or power strips you think are surge protectors, so check and replace them.

If a storm is headed your way, if you have to evacuate, unplug that stuff. If you are in a flood-prone area, don’t leave any electronics on the floor and move them away from windows.

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2021 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Seven hurricane myths that need to go away

BACK-UP YOUR DATA: Protect your data, documents and photos

BUILD YOUR HURRICANE KIT: Gear up — and mask up — before the storm hits

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Here’s how to keep your pets as safe as you

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter