You never know when a disaster might strike. Whether flash flood, earthquake, fire, or electricity outage, disasters happen. And they can be costly. In 2016, natural disasters cost $175 billion in damages across the globe.
While you can’t predict when or where the next disaster will strike, you can take steps to protect your home and family. Here are ten things you can do to disaster-proof your home.
#1: Carry the Right Insurance
A seatbelt only works if you’re wearing it. And insurance only protects you against disasters if you’re carrying the right coverage.
Two thirds of American homeowners are underinsured; they don’t have adequate coverage to protect against financial losses in the event of a claim.
Your homeowners insurance typically doesn’t include coverage for floods or earthquakes. If you haven’t purchased additional policies for flood and/ or earthquake protection you could be left with no assistance in the event one of these disasters strikes.
Be sure to understand exactly what your homeowners insurance covers -- and what it doesn’t. Be clear about your deductible and policy limit amounts, too. Let’s say you’ve got a policy limit of $250,000 and a deductible of $25,000. What if your house is destroyed by a covered peril, such as a fire, and your total cost to rebuild and replace the house and its contents is $350,000? You would be responsible for the $25,000 deductible and the $100,000 over your policy limit.
In this situation, being underinsured could cost you a total of $125,000 to recover from a disaster. On the other hand, the cost of increasing your policy limit could be as little as $50 a month.
Check in with your insurance agent annually and make sure you’ve got adequate coverage. In the event of a true disaster, being underinsured could really cost you.
#2: Conduct Regular Home Inspections
Home inspections are common when you’re buying a new home, but what about the home you’ve lived in for years? It’s much easier (and cheaper) to catch and fix small problems before they grow to become larger, more expensive issues.
You can perform your own annual home inspection and check your home from top to bottom, inside and out. Look for:
- Cracks in walls and foundation
- Roof damage: missing or damaged shingles, loose panels, visible leaks
- Signs of rot or wear on attic trusses and floor joists
- Window or door damage
Your home inspection can be done in an afternoon. If you find anything that needs repair, contact a professional to help you address it before it leads to big damage. It’s far better to find and repair a small leak in your roof in early fall than a major leak in the middle of winter.
#3: Check Smoke Alarms and Carbon Detectors
Fire claims are the most expensive of all homeowners insurance claims. You can do your part to prevent fires by paying attention to the leading causes of fire in the home from cooking, heating, electrical malfunction, clothes dryers, and smoking. But even the best of prevention efforts can’t guarantee that a fire won’t happen at your home, so it’s good to have smoke and carbon alarms installed and functioning.
Nearly half of home fires that fail to trigger alarms occur in houses where batteries have expired or been removed from smoke alarms, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. At least twice a year check the batteries in your alarms and conduct a test to ensure they’re working properly.
#4: Prepare an Emergency Kit
Natural disasters affect 844,239 people a year. Floods, storms, wildfires, earthquakes, even extreme temperatures could impact you at any time. What if you couldn’t get to a store for supplies? An emergency kit could provide life-saving supplies like food and water just when you need it most.
According to the Red Cross, your emergency survival kit should include the following:
- Water (one gallon per person per day): 3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for the home.
- Food (non-perishable, easy-to-prepare): 3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for the home.
- Extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Medications (7 day supply)
- Cell phones with chargers
- Battery powered or hand crank radio
- Sanitation and personal care items
- Family and emergency contact information
- Area maps
- Emergency Blanket
- Multi-purpose tool and can opener
- Supplies for babies or pets
- Extra sets of keys (house, car)
Keep your supplies in an easy to carry kit that you can use at home or take with you in the event of an evacuation.
#5: Keep it Clean
Keeping your home clean can help you prevent some pretty costly disasters, such as mold and fire.
Each year an estimated 7,000 fires, 200 injuries, and 10 deaths are attributed to dryer fires, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The leading cause of these blazes? Not cleaning the dryer.
Here’s how you can keep your dryer clean and prevent fires in your home:
- Clean the lint trap after every load
- Clean the dryer vent every few months
The health risks of mold inside a home have been well documented. Not only is mold hazardous to your family’s health, it can also lead to extensive property damage and high clean up bills, as well.
Here’s how you can prevent mold growth with some basic housekeeping:
- Eliminate clutter - clutter can block airflow
- Clean up water spills or leaks immediately - mold loves a moist environment
- Vacuum regularly - mold loves to feed on organic substrates such as dust and pollen
If you suspect that mold is growing in your home already, continue your cleaning and prevention efforts and arrange for mold removal.
Keeping your home clean and clutter free can go a long way towards preventing major disasters.
#6: Mind the Exterior
Did you know that blocked gutters can lead to roof leaks and water damage to your home? Overflowing gutters can pour rain water down your walls, flood basements, and crack foundations. Gutters that are full of leaves and debris can get heavy and pull away from the house.
To avoid expensive home repairs resulting from gutters, don’t wait until the rainy season to clean them out. Clean gutters a few times a year by getting on a ladder and removing the debris.
While you’re giving your home exterior some attention, be on the lookout for trees or bushes that need pruning, too. A heavy storm could send a tree branch crashing right through your home.
#7: Secure Against Wind Damage
Exterior wind damage is the leading cause of all homeowners insurance claims. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the amount of damage that could occur at your home during the next big storm or heavy wind:
- Inspect and reinforce your garage door - high winds could blow a garage door off your house
- Fasten metal siding and roofing - have a contractor fasten siding to the frame of the home
- Remove trees too close to the home - your closest tree should sit no closer than it is tall
- Anchor and secure outdoor furnishings, like grills and furniture, and structures, such as sheds
#8: Brace Heavy Furniture and Appliances
In the event of an earthquake, even a minor one, heavy furniture or appliances could be sent flying. Anchor heavy furniture and TVs to the wall (studs, not just drywall) using flexible fasteners, such as nylon straps. Secure each piece to at least two wall studs.
#9: Have a Plan
Every home should have a plan in the event of a disaster.
- How would you respond to a variety of disasters, such as fire, flood, earthquake, or evacuation?
- What what you do if family members were separated during an emergency?
Take the time to put together a written plan and discuss and protect it with the members of your family. The Red Cross has family disaster plan templates to help you, or you can create your own based on the emergencies that are most likely to happen based on your geographic location.
#10: Protect Valuables
Safeguard critical documents and information that you may need in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and the valuables that you would most want to protect or take with you in event of an evacuation.
Your valuable information and possessions may include:
- Household information - vital records, personal identification
- Financial documents - loan documents, deeds, financial accounts, insurance policies, tax statements, income documents
- Medical information - medical/ dental insurance, wills, power of attorney, caregiver information, current medications, pharmacy
- information, doctor contact information
- Emergency contact information - family members, employers, schools, childcare, service providers
- Valuables - family photos, art, jewelry, collectibles, other items of value
Store paper copies of important documents in a fire and water proof box or safe or in a safety deposit box. Store digital copies in a secure, password protected cloud-based service. Have a plan for securing, retrieving and evacuating high-value or priceless items.
Download the FEMA Critical Documents Checklist and keep it with your disaster plan.
You may not be able to prevent every disaster, but you can take steps to reduce the risk, mitigate the damage, and recover quickly if one happens to your family or at your home.