5 Things You Can Do to Protect Your Home From Severe Weather

A flooded house in North DakotaImage: FEMA/Michael Rieger

Freaky weather happens. Here’s how to protect your home when severe storms strike.

Brown lawns. Flooded basements. Piles of snow dumped on your doorstep. Topsy-turvy weather can test your patience, and even put your home at risk. 

If a freak storm drops in your area, will your home be up to the challenge? Consider this:

The median age for U.S. homes is 37 years — getting up there when it comes to handling severe storms.

But a few value-adding improvements provide some peace of mind. Here are five home improvements to consider to protect your investment:

#1 Get a Cool Roof

It can make your home more comfortable when the temperatures spike — and reduce your cooling costs. A traditional dark-colored roof can heat up to almost 190 degrees, creating sweltering indoor conditions. A lighter-colored cool roof stays 50 to 100 degrees cooler since it reflects sunlight instead of absorbing heat. As an added bonus, keeping your roof cooler can extend its life.

Cool roof shingles on a houseImage: Owens Corning Roofing & Asphalt Duration Premium Cool Shingles in Sage

There are a ton of roofing materials. Among the options:

  • Cool roof coating. It’s like a very thick white paint that can be applied to different roof types. Coatings can offer additional perks such as water and chemical protection.
  • Cool-colored roofing tiles. They look like traditional tiles but have a higher solar reflectance. Tiles like these also come in a wide range of shades. Keep in mind darker colors like black will be less reflective than a lighter shade like terra cotta.

Tip:  If you have a flat or shallow-pit roof, a green roof could be an option. They reduce storm water runoff because the plants absorb the water that would otherwise flow into the gutter.

#2 Install a Standby Generator

You’ll have electricity to run essential appliances and your central air system. A standby generator can even reduce your chances of flood damage by keeping your sump pump running.

It’s permanently installed outside your home and fueled by liquid propane or natural gas. Since it’s wired directly into your home’s electrical system, it can automatically restore power in seconds. Price depends on the size of your home and the amount of wattage needed, anywhere from around $3,000 to $16,000.

Tip: If the ticket price is too high, you can opt for a portable generator. They’re fueled by gasoline or propane, and are powerful enough to keep a few appliances and some lights running. Most big-box stores sell portable generators with prices starting at $299. Try the generator-buying guide from “Consumer Reports” for product reviews.

Generator Buying Guide

Consumer Reports: Generator Buying Guide

#3 Hurricane-Proof Your Home

Powerful windstorms and hurricanes can cause weak places in your home to fail. Hurricanes are responsible for eight out of the 10 most expensive natural disasters to have hit the U.S. High winds (and water) can wreck your stuff and, at worst, rip the roof off your house.

Even if you don’t live in a hurricane-prone area, making your home impact resistant can protect against tornadoes and other high-wind storms. Here are ways you can windproof:

1. Add truss bracing to homes with gabled roofs, which are more prone to hurricane wind damage. The bracing uses wood beams to attach the rafters at the ends of gable roofs to boost stability.

2. Install impact-resistant windows, doors, and garage doors. These can inhibit high winds that cause structural damage from entering your home. Impact-resistant features like these come with additional perks. They can:

  • Protect your home from intruders
  • Reduce outside noise
  • Stop warm or cool air from escaping
  • Entitle homeowners to a discount on home insurance

If you’re considering shutters, keep in mind, they may not be the best long term investment:

  • They’re not convenient. You have to put up the shutters and brace your garage door whenever a storm is coming, and that can be potentially dangerous. Most homeowners don’t have the tools, time, or experience to properly install them.
  • They may not resist high wind pressures as effectively during Category 4 or 5 hurricanes. This is especially true for older, less wind-resistant homes, and if your garage door is made of wood.
  • New windows and garage doors, in general, have more value when it’s time to sell.

Tip: Hurricane-proofing your yard can also protect your home. Proper tree maintenance can prevent diseased or weakened branches from falling and damaging property. In addition, remove anything in your yard that’s not secured in place — wind chimes, outdoor furniture, garbage cans, garden equipment, and toys — which can become projectiles.

#4 Landscape With Fire-Wise Plants

Drought not only makes lawns look scruffy, it also creates ideal burning conditions for wildfires, especially in Western states.

Incorporate fire-wise landscaping to put a damper on kindling by limiting the amount of flammable vegetation and materials around your home.

Fire-resistant plantsImage: NFPA Firewise Communities Program

The right materials can act as fuel breaks. Here are just a few:

  • Replace mulch with pebbles or gravel.
  • Replace a wood deck with a concrete patio.
  • Add pavers and rocks.
  • Avoid fire-prone plants that have volatile oils that burn easily. One way to identify plants in the pyrophytic family: Crush their leaves to see if they produce a strong smell. Examples include: sagebrush, rosemary, and pine trees.
  • Plant high-moisture annuals and perennials native to your area. You can find lists of plants appropriate for your area at firewise.org

Related: How to Landscape Against Wildfires

Tip: Wire mesh offers some protection by reducing the risk of nearby embers entering or hitting vulnerable parts of your home. You can use wire mesh to:

  • Cover soffit, attic, and under-eave vents
  • Cover openings in areas below patios, desks, and porches to prevent the collection of combustible materials like dried leaves and other flammable debris

#5 Retrofit for Flooding

The best way to physically protect your property from flooding is with a flooding retrofit. FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program have strict guidelines on what would work (and they aren’t cheap). Here are a few:

  • Elevate your home so that the lowest floor is at or above flood level.
  • Dry flood-proof your home so it can withstand floodwaters for at least 72 hours. This involves making the portion of a home that’s below flood level watertight using materials like concrete.
  • Wet flood-proof your house, which involves making changes that will allow floodwater inside a home’s structure to minimize damage.

Tip: Regular homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding. And when you consider that almost 25% of all flood insurance claims come from moderate-to-low risk areas, you may discover you need it. You can find out what your flood risk is at FloodSmart.gov.

Related: Do You Need Flood Insurance?

Finally, remember that regular preventative maintenance is the cornerstone of home protection. So if you’re not cleaning your gutters or sealing your home against water and air leaks, add-ons won’t make much difference.

Related: The Simplest Home Maintenance and Protection Strategy