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house floating on water

A few years ago, I lived on the Georgia coast. While I was there I saw my share of tropical storms, but not a single hurricane. Fast-forward to 2011, when I spent my first summer in eastern Pennsylvania. What did I encounter? My first hurricane — the soaking monster named Irene. I lived for years in hurricane country, but I didn’t see a hurricane until I moved to an area where hurricanes are rare.

Then in 2012, Hurricane Sandy roared into Pennsylvania. Roads were shut down, countless homes were damaged, creeks and rivers escaped their banks, and power was out for weeks in the rural areas. We heard stories of subway tunnels flooded with water and houses on fire in the midst of the raging waters.

Hurricane Sandy made landfall on our wedding day. Fortunately our damage was minimal, and we have a great story to tell the grandkids one day!

Now that hurricane season is approaching again, I find myself looking to the sky and wondering what the next big one will bring. After the last two whoppers, now we take precautions — inside and out.

Going beyond typical hurricane preparedness

When you think of home decor, most people do not think of what that decor might do if winds suddenly blast through the house or water pours in. Start by protecting the outside of your house, but then look to the inside and what might become a serious hazard to life and limb if a hurricane comes calling.

On the outside of the house, consider installing true shutters instead of decorative ones. Most homes today have shutters that are firmly affixed to the house and don’t swing closed over the windows. Installing those that do can look just as nice on your home, but offer the added protection of a solid layer of wood between the glass and the wind. If you can’t do that, invest in 3/4 inch plywood, a good power drill and sturdy screws. Do this now, because if you wait until the hurricane warnings go out, you’re too late. Go ahead and drill the holes for the screws, too — about 18 inches apart, all around. This will help save time when it’s time to put the boards up.

Other typical hurricane preparedness includes having plenty of water, non-perishable food, flashlights and batteries, blankets, a first aid kit, a battery-powered radio and other essentials tucked away in the safest room of your house. That “safe room” is typically one that has no windows, or a central area of the home far away from windows and doors. Keep in mind the location of your home, too. If there is a chance the bottom floor might flood, make sure your safe room is on the second floor.

Preparing Inside the House

Most people simply prepare the outside of their home by boarding up window and putting away things that might be flung about by high winds. But what about inside the house? Much damage can be done by a hurricane that dumps gallons of water on your home. Even if your house appears to be perfectly sturdy, the loss of a few shingles is all it takes to lead to water infiltration. A shattered window, a door that is blown in, and suddenly you have not only water damage, but high winds reaching into your home as well.

To help protect against the pounding winds, we have taken steps to protect from earthquakes.

At this point, you might be thinking: Wait. Didn’t you say this was about hurricanes? Here’s why it is a good idea to take hint from earthquake preparedness: High winds from a hurricane can make your house tremble and shiver just like a mild earthquake can, and for a much longer period of time. During Hurricane Irene, our damage included a few broken picture frames and shattered lamps, all of which were affixed to the outside walls of the home.

Securing falling objects

To be absolutely sure of safety, affix all bookcases, television stands, and other heavy items with a bracket or strap. Make sure these are firmly attached to the studs for added protection. If a hurricane is coming, relocate the delicate things on the shelves to an interior room, or attach them to the shelves with earthquake putty. (This is a good move even if a hurricane is not coming, especially if you have rambunctious pets or small children!) Secure picture frames with sturdy hooks that are designed to tolerate a few bumps and vibrations.

Water damage

When it comes to water damage, prevention is a great idea, but it only goes so far. You can have a perfectly sturdy home, but a flying branch that takes out a row of shingles or even cuts through the roof can lead to serious damage within minutes. You are likely not going to go outside during the fury of the storm, so what can you do?

Plenty, it turns out. Have several tarps, nails, a hammer, towels and buckets tucked away inside the house before the hurricane hits. If the worst happens, you can use the bucket and towels to catch small drips, and you can use the tarp to help close off the water pouring in from the outside. It might not help mitigate the damage to your home, but it can certainly help protect your home decor and floors — and that can save you thousands of dollars in the long run.

A final word on protecting your home

There are many other things you can do to protect your home, inside and out. Portable generators can be a wonderful thing to have, and the preemptive use of tarps on roofs that are showing their age can be a good idea. Cleaning all gutters of debris, moving patio furniture to an inside location or lashing it down can all help ensure that your house comes through safely. When it comes to home decor you can even start now by choosing items that are safer during serious threats, such as avoiding top-heavy bookcases and armoires or choosing furniture you can easily move if water begins pouring down the walls.

When hurricane season comes around, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure!

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.