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What to Do to Your Home Before Evacuating Ahead of a Storm

Haniya Rae

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Hurricane Florence is on track to make landfall on the East Coast later this week and the National Hurricane Center says "that there is high confidence that Florence will be a large and extremely dangerous hurricane." The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia have already declared states of emergency and officials are urging residents to prepare for the worst.

Two other storms, Isaac and Helene, have also formed in the Atlantic. To help you protect your home and belongings, Consumer Reports spoke to some storm veterans and gathered their advice on everything from documenting your belongings to shutting off your power and water.

If you do evacuate your home, try to complete as many of these tasks as possible, while it's still safe to do so.

Take Stock of What’s in the House

Walk around the house with a smartphone or digital camera and take photographs of all the items you own, says Susan G. Millerick, Director of Public Affairs of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety in St. Petersburg, Fla. Take the device with you when you evacuate.

Be thorough, and don’t stop with bigger-ticket items, such as televisions and large appliances. Make sure to take photos of clothing, furniture, cookware, and so on. If something happens to your home, these items probably won’t be where you left them, and taking inventory after the fact might be impossible.

Walk through every room and snap a photo from each corner. Then work your way through storage, bookcases, and the like.

“Go around and open all the drawers and closets,” Millerick says. “Insurance companies are going to ask how many pairs of jeans were in your closet—with photos, you’ll have proof of what you had.”

Clear the Yard, and Make Sure Water Can Flow Away From the Home

Store patio furniture, grills, bikes, plant pots, and so on inside. Move loose items to the garage, elevating items (like a gas grill or lawnmower) that won’t mix well with saltwater.

“You need to get all of the loose debris away from your house,” says Michael Lingerfelt, an architect who is based in Orlando and has experience building theme parks to withstand hurricanes. “You don’t want anything to become a projectile.”

Make sure there aren’t any objects diverting the water from running into storm drains, because any water buildup can cause your house to flood.

Brace Every Opening

“During a hurricane, the first thing that fails in a home is often the garage door,” Lingerfelt says. In a rush to evacuate, many homeowners might stack sandbags on the exterior of their doors and windows but forget about the biggest entrance they have: “If you can brace your garage door from failing, then it’ll keep the rest of the house from depressurizing.”

Likewise, windows and doors may blow off when met with high winds. An open hole in the house during a hurricane causes depressurization—the calm air on the inside meets the whirlwind on the outside—which can, in turn, cause a house to collapse. Millerick says the IBHS Research Center recommends also closing all interior doors to reduce the overall pressure on the roof.

“If you see cracks of light around window frames or door frames, they need to be covered or sealed,” Millerick says. Most homeowners opt for plywood to secure their windows because it’s inexpensive and generally readily available.

Florida’s Division of Emergency Management recommends plywood that’s at least a half inch thick to provide some impact resistance. Make sure the plywood you buy is suitable for outdoor use.

Even if you have impact-resistant windows, you should still brace them and leave shutters closed, says Chris Gratton, a licensed contractor in the Florida Keys.

Don’t bother using tape. “That’s an old wives’ tale,” Lingerfelt explains. “It’s not going to do you any good.” Removing tape would also be an unnecessary chore when you return—and you’ll probably have more important concerns to address.

Elevate Anything That Rusts or Corrodes

Unplug all your appliances, moving portable appliances and electronics to higher ground. Televisions, speakers, vacuum cleaners, even generators—these need to be several feet off the ground, such as on a countertop or dining room table, or on the second level of your home if it has one, in case your ground floor floods.

“When moving heavier items, such as a generator, be sure you will be able to move it into position on your own or with the help of someone else when you return,” advises John Galeotafiore, associate director of product testing at Consumer Reports.

Another tip: “If you have area rugs, make sure to roll them up and stand them vertically,” Millerick says. “Otherwise they’ll just become large floor sponges.”

Turn Off the Power and Water Lines

Once you feel you’ve done all you can do to secure your house and you’re making your way to the car, FEMA recommends shutting off your electricity and main water valve if you can do so safely before you leave.

To turn off power, find your circuit breaker panel (typically located in your garage or basement) and set the main circuit switch to off.

To cut off the main water valve, walk around the perimeter of your house. Usually you’ll see a water meter mounted on the side of the house, then the water main valve below it, connected by a pipe. You may need to use a wrench to successfully turn the valve clockwise to shut off the water supply to your house.



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