Weather Alert

No longer is Kansas – or any other Midwestern state, for that matter – the only place where tornadoes touch down, as those living in western Massachusetts found this past June when two twisters left widespread damage and took four lives. Though there are times when there’s little, sometimes nothing you can do to prevent a tragedy due to Mother Nature, there are steps to minimize the chances and protect your family and property.

Here are several precautions to consider, which may also help you lower insurance premiums:

Fierce Winds and Rain

Whether strong winds are due to hurricanes or tornadoes, they can cause flying debris from homes or trees to damage houses, belongings within and most importantly, homeowners. Karen Clark, president and CEO of the Boston risk assessment and management firm that bears her name, recommends taking patio furniture and trash cans inside when bad weather is a possibility, and also trimming dead or dangling tree limbs (many cities will do this for you if you call) and periodically checking a roof for loose shingles or tiles.

Jodi Marks, an Atlanta-based home improvement expert who co-hosts HGTV’s “Fix It Up!” advises having a builder or contractor install hurricane straps to attic rafters to reinforce the roof’s structure. Hurricane shutters are another safeguard, according to Todd Recknagel, CEO of Mr. Handyman, a network of home-repair franchises.

Since a basement is often a home’s primary shelter, all its parts – walls, flooring, ceiling – should be sealed and insulated. French drains outside can help prevent water from entering; if it does, a sump pump can stop it from accumulating. Gutters should be directed away from the house and foundation with downspouts extended several feet from the home. Land around the house should be sloped to channel away excess water.

Freezing Temps, Precipitation

Besides cleaning gutters and downspouts each fall, it’s important to check them again before winter since frozen water can cause ice dams to build. In such cases, melting water backs up, getting under shingles and leaking into an attic and rooms beneath. Removing snow and having good attic insulation also helps avoid these dams, Clark says. If a new roof is needed, she suggests dimensional asphalt shingles rather than flat ones and staying away from metal in areas prone to hail, which can dent the metal. Before temperatures dip, outside faucets and valves also need to be turned off so water doesn’t freeze in pipes and burst.

To keep the interior protected, R-rated insulation based on the area’s building code and climate should be added throughout the house, says Recknagel. Temperature sensors can notify homeowners if a drop in temperature is too precipitous, which also could cause pipes to freeze. One major goal is to keep a house habitable if power goes out, says Mike Rogers, senior vice president for GreenHomes America, a residential home performance company. But if it does, a whole-house generator can provide temporary relief, and needn’t be exorbitant in price, Stewart says.

Insurance Caveats

Even though real estate prices may have dropped in many parts of the country, the cost to replace a house and contents damaged by weather hasn’t gone down. Increases in materials and labor may have actually increased them, says Clark. She stresses the importance of a policy that guarantees full replacement cost.

Amy Danise, senior managing editor of, an online consumer resource, also recommends having a detailed home inventory, since remembering contents can prove tough during stressful times.

Any home improvements should also be reflected, Stewart says. Otherwise, your coverage may prove inadequate.

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