Prepare your house before tornadoes, snowstorms, or more strike.

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Couple sitting in garden looking at their house
Credit: Getty / Westend61

As you continue to spruce up the inside of your home during the COVID-19 pandemic (whether it be for a work-from-home space, virtual get-togethers, or anything in between), it's also important to prepare your home for more serious matters, including extreme weather. This could mean snowstorms, tornadoes, or wildfires. Ahead, we rounded up advice from our experts on how to do just that, so you can be prepared for any weather event that heads your way.

Thoroughly examine your home.

Before inclement weather hits your area, check the landscape surrounding your home. Jenny Naughton, the executive vice president and risk consulting officer at Chubb, an insurance company, says that you should do a physical walk through and around your property before each season to make sure everything is intact. "Take note of tree limbs, landscaping, and any potential nesting that may have developed over the previous season," she shares, also noting that tree limbs in particular can cause damage to power lines or your home in the event of strong wind. "Pay close attention to your roof: Look for damaged or missing shingles and make sure the flashing around chimneys is in good condition." (These spots most commonly experience water damage during hurricanes.) Wind-resistant garage doors and hurricane shutters are helpful additions in the case of extreme wind, Patrick Causgrove, the vice president of property product management at Allstate, says. At a minimum, also make sure you have any yard furniture tied down when high winds are expected.  

In the event of a wildfire, it is important to check for anything around your home that might be flammable. "Create a buffer zone around your home by reducing flammable vegetation," Rebekah Nelson, a lead communications director at USAA, says. "For example, remove branches that overhang the roof or come within 15 feet of the chimney, or place flammables like woodpiles, liquid propane gas tanks, and gas grills at least 30 feet from all structures." If at all possible, try using fire-resistant materials when renovating or making repairs on your home—you can even go as far as building your home with fire-resistant wood if you're working towards a full remodel.

Clean out your gutters.

Nelson notes that you should clean out your gutters and any surrounding drains to make sure they can handle heavy snow or rain during storms. After you've tackled down this step, take note of your downspouts' directionality, Naughton says. "For example, are they positioned to take water away from your house without puddling up and saturating landscaping or walkways?" she adds. Continue them with a gutter extension to move any rainwater away from your house—which reduces the chance of flooding if you are hit by an unexpected level of rain—and put a landscaping rock beyond this extension so water can flush out in different directions.

Prepare the inside of your home.

Naughton also suggests tackling your interior ahead of cold weather or snowstorms. "In the cold-weather months, keep your thermostat at 65 degrees to prevent pipes in remote areas of your home from freezing," she says. "To protect against significant water damage if a frozen pipe bursts, install a whole home water shut-off device that would turn off the main water valve in the event of a leak." You will also need to make sure your attic space is ventilated and cool to avoid any possible damage from ice damming. She says that melting ice from the warmth of your attic is the reason moisture seeps under roof shingles and causes water rot. "If your home will be unoccupied in cold weather, turn off the water and drain your pipes," she adds. At the very least, having a generator will also come in handy to prepare for extreme weather patterns, Naughton says. You'll want to have a monthly and seasonal maintenance check on this and all of your utilities to make sure everything is working properly.

Take inventory of your items.

"In case of an evacuation, think carefully about what items are easily replaceable by insurance and what items are not, like family heirlooms, keepsakes, and pictures," Causgrove says. He suggests making a quick recording of your possessions (including important documents, like bank and financial information, bills, checkbooks, insurance policies, birth certificates, and IDs) as you walk through your home, something that is important in the scope of your home insurance policy. "Start with a written inventory," Nelson says. "Store the inventory away from your house—such as in a safe-deposit box at a local bank—or online through mobile home inventory apps. Update the inventory at least once a year or whenever you make a major purchase."

Review your insurance policy.

Make sure you understand your home insurance policies so you know exactly what you could receive if damage due to a natural disaster does occur. "Evaluate your policies regularly and note their dollar limits, what they cover, and the deductibles you would have to pay if you filed a claim," Nelson shares. "You should insure your home for at least the minimum estimated replacement cost recommended by your carrier." Plus, depending on where you live, you will want to take an extra look to make sure you are covered for the right type of extreme weather. "Please note that in some states, coastal homeowners may have insurance for wind and flood with a different company than their primary homeowners' insurance policy," Causgrove says. "Make sure to gather all information and policy numbers."

Build an emergency fund and shelter. 

If extreme weather does strike and cause damage, you'll want to have funds saved up to cover costs accrued from this type of emergency. "Save at least three to six months of your ongoing expenses in a secure place that you can access easily, such as a savings account," Nelson says. "Withdraw cash if a natural disaster heads your way, and remember to save your receipts for any disaster-related cash purchases, because your insurance company may reimburse some of your expenses." And if your property allows, consider building a storm shelter, Naughton notes; these are especially helpful to protect families from windstorms or tornadoes in addition to standard home construction plans. During the building process, check that your underground shelter or safe room meets FEMA or ICC 500 standards, Nelson adds.

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