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How to safeguard your home ahead of a hurricane

Storms and property damage go hand in hand. Here’s how to prepare.
Tim Mullen, 47, and Michael Brissette, 11, cover their windows with hurricane shutters in preparation for Tropical Storm Elsa, Tuesday, July 6, 2021 in Tampa.
Tim Mullen, 47, and Michael Brissette, 11, cover their windows with hurricane shutters in preparation for Tropical Storm Elsa, Tuesday, July 6, 2021 in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Sep. 26

Whenever a storm passes through the Tampa Bay region, it brings the possibility of widespread property damage.

Whether you choose to shelter in place or evacuate, there are several precautionary measures homeowners and renters should take to minimize damage and make recovery easier once the storm passes.

Call your insurance company

  • If you own your home, you’ll want to review what your policies cover and make sure you’ve accounted for any recent improvements or increases in value in this real estate market.
  • You’ll also need a separate flood policy because home policies don’t cover that or storm-related water damage.
  • If you rent, rental insurance can help replace personal property like furniture and electronics that may be damaged in a storm

Create an inventory

  • Make a list of all the significant items in your home. This will make it easier to file an insurance claim when the time comes.
  • Break it down room by room and provide an estimate of each item’s value. Include photos and proof of ownership where possible.
  • The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has a home inventory checklist. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners also has an app.
  • Go over the list with your insurance agent to make sure your belongings are covered.

Secure important documents

  • Find any deeds, receipts, ID cards, contracts and other documents you may need down the line.
  • Keep them in a safe place and be ready to grab them quickly if you need to evacuate.

Make repairs

  • Replace worn-out roof tiles or shingles.
  • If the roof leaks, fix it. Water infiltration could cause another set of problems, like mold.
  • Inspect each window and door, and reseal them if needed. If broken, fix or replace them before the storm takes them out for good.
  • Remember that making repairs now is your call. If your home is severely damaged, then it becomes your insurer making the decisions.
  • If you rent, contact your landlord as soon as possible about maintenance issues.

Clean the yard

  • Trim trees and foliage to reduce the potential missiles a storm could hurtle at your home.
  • Trimming trees around power lines is dangerous to do yourself. Hire professionals.
  • Dying trees, trees with multiple trunks and newly planted trees are all potential problems. They may not be able to withstand a tropical system. If they are close to your house, check them for cracks, decay or weak roots. They may have to be removed.
  • Don’t wait until the storm shows up to trim and clean up your yard or property. If garbage day is canceled by the storm, those branches will become a pile of trouble sitting at the curb when tropical storm-force winds show up.
  • Bring bikes, outdoor furniture, grills, propane tanks, and building material inside.

Secure windows, doors and other openings

  • Remember to lock windows and doors before a storm. Install a heavy-duty bolt to doors to keep them secure.
  • Taping windows doesn’t protect them. You’ll need to cover them with plywood that’s at least ⅝ of an inch thick. Or consider installing shutters.
  • Storm winds and rains can also get in through the garage door. Consider bracing or reinforcing the garage door with a kit from a home improvement store.
  • Seal outside vents, electrical outlets, garden hose bibs and locations where cables or pipes go through the wall. You’ll want to use a high-quality urethane-based caulk.

Sandbags

  • Pile sandbags in front of doorways and garages to keep out minor flooding. If a careless driver plows through a flooded street, sandbags can help prevent waves from rippling into a home or business.
  • There are more effective variants, such as water-activated flood bags. They come in a variety of sizes — some as long as a two-car garage — and can be stacked together. They’re also reusable.
  • Prepare the inside of the home or business for flooding. Get anything the water could destroy off the floor.

Protect your electronics

  • If lightning strikes your home it could fry all your electronics and appliances. Consider having a whole-home surge protector hard-wired into the electric service panel.
  • Valuables like TVs, computers and video game consoles should be plugged into surge protectors. Power strips don’t count!
  • Surge protectors only last three to five years. Make sure yours are still effective.
  • If you have to evacuate, unplug all your electronics. If you’re able, turn the electricity, gas and water off too.
  • Place electronics away from windows and on an elevated surface to protect them from flooding or water damage.

Times Staff Writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.

• • •

2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

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

RISING THREAT: Tampa Bay will flood. Here's how to get ready.

DOUBLE-CHECK: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits

PHONE IT IN: Use your smartphone to protect your data, documents and photos.

SELF-CARE: Protect your mental health during a hurricane.

• • •

Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change

PART 1: The Tampa Bay Times partnered with the National Hurricane Center for a revealing look at future storms.

PART 2: Even weak hurricanes can cause huge storm surges. Experts say people don't understand the risk.

PART 3: Tampa Bay has huge flood risk. What should we do about it?

INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.

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