Extreme weather events are becoming more commonplace thanks to climate change. For homeowners and for those on the market, considering a home’s potential vulnerability to natural disasters is becoming a top priority. Proximity to work and good schools, or the number of bathrooms are still important, but flood zones, weather patterns, and resilient grids matter too.
“Too few consumers are empowered to ask simple, upfront questions about disaster-resistant home features that can prevent costly damage and save lives,” says Leslie Chapman-Henderson, the president and chief executive of Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (or FLASH) a non-profit that helps prospective homeowners prepare for natural disasters.
According to Darius H. Grimes, president and chief executive of Disaster-Smart Inspection Consulting, those who already own homes are seeking strategies for making their homes more resilient. “If people were more aware of the risks, they would be much less likely to suffer a total loss,” Grimes stresses. Preparation can make a huge difference.
Here are four steps that homeowners and buyers alike can take to assess the risk of their (potential) home, as well as ways to better protect it against disaster.
Tap into available resources
A good first step is to visit FLASH’s website, flash.org. From their drop-down menu, users can select their state and see the top threats in their area. The site asks for a zip code, and based on that information can share that region’s disaster history.
For instance, those living on the Gulf Coast or Eastern Seaboard will already know about hurricanes. What they may not know is their property may also be in an earthquake zone. FLASH can help them see what’s up.
FLASH also offers a free tool called the “Buyer’s Guide to Resilient Homes.” The guide provides a framework for determining the best ways to protect a home and offers resilience and disaster-preparedness checklists.
Another good resource is disastersafety.org. They offers both DIY and professional suggestions that will help home and business owners protect their properties.
On inspecttoprotect.org, users can look up the building code for the time a certain home was constructed. Users can also find their community’s disaster history, and whether or not the code under which the home was built complies with current standards. If not, the site recommends retrofits and upgrades.
For those living in a wildfire zone, contact your local fire department to learn how to connect with an inspector who can assess your risk. To determine a structure’s risk of flooding, realtor.com allows users to check neighborhoods using the map view for flood zones.
Review your home checklist
Once a thorough understanding of a home’s risk is achieved, users can look to the “Buyer’s Guide to Resilient Homes” to help them come up with more questions and checklists to ask themselves, or that can be given to a real estate agent or inspector.
“We give people questions to ask on the front end, then things to do—a recipe for things they can tackle,” says Chapman-Henderson.
Get a specialized inspection
As Grimes says: “you get what you inspect, not what you expect.”
While buyer and seller inspections are standard for the completion of a sale, they don’t usually include assessments for the risk of natural disasters. To get a specialized inspection, search for an inspector who specializes in peril. (We know, it sounds awful.)
For those who already own their home, you can seek a fortified home evaluation that assesses what your home is already equipped with to withstand a storm as well as ways the home can be improved. This is a new field, so some hunting may be necessary.
If it’s proving difficult to find a suitable inspector, insurance agents will usually have a recommendation. If not, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety maintains a membership list of insurers who could point you in the right direction. The expected price tag on a specialized inspection is between $500 and $1000, according to Grimes.
Take appropriate steps
Once the risks are determined, there are many affordable strategies to mitigate the effects of potential natural disasters. Here’s a few tips for common weather events.
Chapman-Henderson recommends caulking and bracing roof ventilation soffit vents to reduce the amount of water blown into the attic during hurricane-force winds and rain. Trees that may pose a hazard to the home during high winds should also be trimmed.
Older foundation vents should be replaced with engineered hydrostatic vents (flood vents). Check that the sump pumps are in working order and that the batteries are fully charged. Furnaces and air conditioning systems should also be flood-proofed or elevated.
To keep electrical equipment safe, disastersafety.org suggests installing a lightning surge protector. If hail is common in the area, installing screens around air conditioning units will protect them from damage.
Ensure that there is a five-foot minimum buffer around the home that is free of yard debris and dead plants. Also, covering attic vents and chimneys with wire mesh or installing non-combustible metal leaf guards over gutters can reduce the chances of wildfire embers getting into the home or igniting debris.
Here’s to keeping our homes safe and secure!