Storm-proofing your home, before the next time

One way to prepare for the inevitable East

One way to prepare for the inevitable East Coast storms is to spend time when the weather is calm stormproofing the house. (Credit: iStock)

Worried about the next Sandy? There is one surefire way to avoid the mayhem that comes with East Coast storms. Pack up the van and move to Mesa, Ariz., a suburban community just outside of Phoenix singled out as the place with the country's fewest natural disasters.

Maybe that's a bit radical. But those sticking around are going to have to put on their Scout uniforms and prepare for the next tempest, whether a run-of-the-mill nor'easter or a hurricane surge. One of the best ways to do that is to stormproof your home.

Obviously, there is no way to completely safeguard a residence against all damage, housing experts say. And even the best preparations can't prevent a weather assault on homes at the shoreline.

"You can't stop floodwaters if you're at that elevation," says Artie Cipoletti, president of da Vinci Construction of Wantagh and one of the directors of the Long Island Builders Institute, an industry group.

But for most people, an ounce of storm-proofing now may prevent tons of problems later -- things like smashed roofs, flooded basements and having to spend weeks shivering and without power.

Here are some ideas on what to do and how to get started:

GET READY OUTSIDE

There is good news and bad news: The bad news is, exterior building materials vary in degrees of vulnerability. The good news: No matter what it's made of, if your house is well constructed, it will probably stand up to the storm.

"It's like the story of the big bad wolf blowing away the little pigs' houses," Cipoletti says. "Brick homes fare the best. But rest assured that whatever the type of exterior construction you have, if it's done properly, it should withstand most types of bad weather."

Roofs, though, are another matter. One storm-hardening tip from Cipoletti is to put down an ice and water shield, a protective membrane that is placed between the wood sheathing and the shingles. He also suggested replacing three-tab shingles with architectural shingles, which are more resistant to wind.

"I looked at two houses in a neighborhood the other day," he says. "One had a roof with architectural shingles and was in decent shape. The other had the three-tab kind, and I could see the plywood."

Also, examine your gutters and leaders to see if they're cleared of debris and of the proper size and position to carry water away from your home and basement.

Simple things like lawn furniture can become dangerous projectiles when the breezes blow. To avoid this, Cipoletti advises tying everything together -- lawn furniture, barbecue grills, propane tanks, etc. -- to make them harder to lift.

Windows and doors are particularly vulnerable. Among the recommendations from Jeffrey Colle, a Hamptons contractor who builds mostly high-end homes, is to install impact-resistant glass in window and doors, which is available in different types and degrees of resistance. "It's pretty tough stuff," he says. "You can get glass that's virtually bulletproof."

State building codes don't require this type of window in new construction, though they may in a couple of years, says Mitch Pally, chief executive of Long Island Builders Institute.

If impact-resistant glass is too pricey, Colle suggests measuring your windows and doors, then pre-cutting and storing plywood that can be quickly screwed into place. Colle also advises reinforcing garage doors, which can be blown in during high winds, and checking the flashing around windows and doors to be sure it's waterproof.

Cipoletti says he likes storm shutters, more commonly found in places like hurricane-prone Florida, but which can be a fast method to get ready for big winds.

Storm doors, which are meant to protect against driving rain, also should be looked at, he says. Stay away from those with a full pane of glass. Instead, pick ones with a half pane or less, a design that provides more protection.

"Storm doors are great, but people tend to think of them in terms of their aesthetic value rather than practical value," he says.

GET READY INSIDE

Nearly everyone in Sandy's path on Long Island lost electrical power. That's why Cipoletti recommends buying a generator and getting it pre-wired, ready to switch on during the next blackout. Have an electrician create a "quick connect" from the circuit breaker panel to the generator to power necessary areas in the house -- a bathroom, a family gathering spot and the kitchen. That way, your family will have lights, a living area, a refrigerator and a microwave.

If you're going to prep your basement, consider elevating boilers and furnaces with concrete blocks to keep them from being flooded, Colle says. He also suggests adding a dry well at the bottom of the basement stairs to keep water away and a sump pump to prevent water levels from rising. The pump would require electricity, but could be connected to the emergency generator.

Homeowners may renovate with materials that can resist potential storm damage. Eco Building Products Inc. in Vista, Calif., for example, makes treated wood products that the company claims can help protect against fire, mold/mycotoxins, fungus, rot-decay, wood-ingesting insects and termites.

There are also mildew-resistant wallboard materials, but for absolute protection from mold, Cipoletti says, replace your wall studs with steel ones -- an extreme solution, but one that also gives walls greater wind resistance.

GET CHOPPING

Trees are wonderful things to stretch a hammock between, but they can be dangerous when storms hit. Trees were toppled like tenpins in Sandy's gales, crushing roofs, cars and people.

"This kind of storm opens people's eyes as to what Mother Nature's wrath can do," says James Presutti, president of the New York State Nursery Landscape Association and owner of Hudson Valley Horticulture Services Inc. in upstate Newburgh.

The best way to avoid this is to have a certified arborist take a walk around your property to assess your trees, he says. He or she can tell you which ones should be pruned, strengthened with a cable or possibly removed. Don't get agitated just because a tree looks dangerous.

"People say, 'Wow, that tree is two times as tall as my house. It has to be removed.' That's not necessarily true," Presutti says.

Some types -- like silver maples -- have weak branch unions that make them more susceptible to wind damage. But stress is what actually puts a tree in danger, the arborist says. This happens where the root system is inhibited from spreading out by barriers such as a sidewalk or driveway.

Presutti tells his clients to have their trees pruned every three years to remove deadwood, vines, etc., to help them survive a storm's onslaught. You can do some of the work yourself if the trees are small enough, he says.

GET A KIT

It may not exactly prevent damage, but gathering an emergency kit before the next storm can help during the recovery period.

The one proposed by Federal Emergency Management Agency authorities -- detailed at ready.gov -- recommends packing enough water, nonperishable food and supplies for three to six days. Throw in a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlights and extra batteries, maps, dust masks, towelettes, tools such as a wrench or pliers, a whistle (to call for help), a cellphone with a charger and a first aid kit, along with sheeting and duct tape for a makeshift shelter.

If you have time, collect sleeping bags and a change of clothes for family members along with needed medications and glasses. Put in some mess kits and/or paper plates along with books, games and puzzles.

In addition, learn how to safely shut off utilities before you leave and plan what to do with your pets. Take along some cash and checks. Store important documents in a secure, waterproof place and put copies at another location. Last, consider making a video of the interior and exterior of your home for insurance purposes.

GET SERIOUS

Cipoletti had two final words about storm preparation: Pay attention.

"When the newscasters put out a warning, people sometimes ignore it because it seems like they're wrong half of the time," Cipoletti says. "But this isn't something you should gamble with. This is about preserving your life and property. Don't ignore it, and make sure you prepare for the worst case scenario."

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