Hurricane Irma: Preparing your home for the worst

Hurricane Irma’s powerful winds are expected to cause severe damage to houses and buildings on its trajectory toward Florida and the Carolinas. Here are several precautions that can minimize structural damage to doors, windows and exteriors.

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Don’t put tape over your windows

The National Hurricane Center and the Atlantic Oceanographic Meteorological Laboratory agree: Affixing tape over your windows is a waste of time.

“It does not protect your windows,” said Bill Read, the former National Hurricane Center director, in a 2012 statement to the Associated Press. “At best, it's an inconvenience. At worst, some people have the illusion that they're safe … and people can get severely hurt.”

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Install shutters

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The more useful option, according to FloridaDisaster.org and the National Hurricane Center, is to secure your windows with boards or shutters. Commercial shutters, which can be found at hardware stores, or installed by professional contactors, should ideally be installed before a hurricane warning is issued. Aside from those, the National Hurricane Center advises installing recessed plywood boards over windows, which provide more protection than merely affixing plywood boards that overlap the window frames. The National Hurricane Center has a comprehensive list of instructions for cutting and installing these types of recessed plywood shutters.

Window films and shatter-resistant glass may provide some protection, though “they are no substitute for shutters,” according to the NHC. Furthermore, FloridaDisaster.org writes that “experts and … building codes do not consider window film to be an adequate protection for windows of homes in hurricane-prone areas.”

Secure your doors

Doors, too, would benefit from commercial or plywood shutters, especially “sliding glass doors, French doors, or any door with considerable glass in it,” suggest the NHC. In the case of French or double doors, FloridaDisaster.org advises installing additional barrel bolt latches that extend into the header and floor.

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Garage doors are also susceptible — especially if they’re not hurricane-rated — and should be shuttered or braced appropriately. Check with hardware stores for garage door retrofitting systems or braces to prevent the door from buckling inward. Braces and retrofitting kits, however, usually don’t offer protection against impact. Weather.com offers other safety precautions one can take to further secure a garage door, including reinforcing them with wooden or metal girds.

Prevent water entry where you can

Vents or ventilation systems near attics or clothes dryers should be fitted with close-fitting shutters or plates, depending on what kind of vents they are. FloridaDisaster.org offers instructions for securing off-ridge vents, ridge vents, gable vents and soffit vents.

Caulking can also be applied around window frames, door jambs and shutters to further protect against water entry.

Clean up the yard

Ready.gov recommends trimming tree branches, or removing damaged trees entirely, to keep them from coming loose in high winds and becoming projectiles. For the same reasons, toys, lawn furniture, decorations, small potted plants, and trash and recycling bins should be brought inside, if possible. SouthFlorida.com further recommends disassembling trampolines and bringing them into the garage. The same goes for swing sets and barbecue/fire pits, if possible, notes NOLA.com.

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Prepare for the future

FEMA further advises that homeowners in hurricane-prone areas take precautions for future hurricanes, with tips for reinforcing or updating windows, doors and roofs with more permanent solutions in the event of an incoming storm. Read FEMA’s “Against the Wind” and “How to Prepare for a Hurricane” guides for more information.

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