Your home is one of your largest investments, so protecting it from natural disasters is probably one of your top priorities.
This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center expects a "near-normal" hurricane season. That means approximately 10 to 16 named storms, including four to eight hurricanes, one to four of which may be severe, between June 1 and Nov. 30.
"It is very important to note that the seasonal outlook cannot forecast where and when storms will form, let alone if/where they will make landfall and what the impacts would be," said Dennis Feltgen, public affairs officer for NOAA's National Hurricane Center. "It only takes one storm hitting your area to make it a bad year, regardless of the number of storms that are forecast in the seasonal outlook."
To figure out how to best protect homes from damage in a hurricane, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety built a six-story test chamber where experts can simulate the effects of hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and other natural disasters on full-scale one- and two-story homes, said President and CEO Julie Rochman.
Rochman and her team have tried different home fortification techniques in the test chamber to see what works, and they've developed a set of building standards called Fortified Home that they're working to implement in hurricane-vulnerable states.
But if you don't have the money to retrofit your home to meet the Fortified Home standards (which could include taking precautions like reroofing your home or installing new windows and glass doors), you can still do many small things to improve the chances of your home making it through a storm.
Remember: Your own safety is more important than protecting your home, so staying behind when others are evacuating is never a good idea.
"If the order comes to evacuate, you evacuate," Rochman said. "You're not going to stay home and hold onto the doorknob and hold the door closed. You want to go having done the things you should have done so there's a good chance when you return that your house is in good shape."
Here are 10 things you can do before the winds start howling and the rain starts pouring down to make sure your home is protected in the event of a hurricane.
Review your insurance policies
Take time each year to make sure your insurance policy will cover the full cost of rebuilding if you lose your home in a storm, suggested Loretta Worters, vice president of communications for the Insurance Information Institute (III).
"A lot of people insure their home to what the value of the home is, but maybe the cost to rebuild is more," Worters said. "Building costs are always on the rise, so you want to make sure you'll have enough to rebuild."
Consider flood insurance
Many homeowner insurance policies cover damage during a hurricane, but not the floods that often follow the storm, Worters said.
"The big thing after Hurricane Sandy (in 2012) was that a lot of people's homes were destroyed by the flooding, and they didn't have insurance for that," she said. "There's a huge amount of flooding associated with hurricanes."
Take an inventory of your property
Survey your home and tally your possessions each year, so you know exactly what you need to replace and how much it's worth, Worters suggests.
The III offers a free app for Android and iOS devices that could help you document your possessions and your insurance policies so you know what you own and what your policies cover. It also provides ready access to your insurance agent's contact information, in case you ever need to get in touch regarding your coverage or a specific claim.
Secure and seal your roof
"It all starts with the roof," Rochman said. "The roof is the largest potential opening on the house, and wind and water can do terrible things if they get through the roof."
Inspect your roof covering to make sure all the shingles or tiles are secured and that none are cracked or missing. If you're reroofing, consider spending about $500 extra to seal the roof deck, Rochman said. This usually involves either putting waterproof tape over the roof's seams or covering the whole thing in a membrane that seals water out.
Add roof straps
In some states, including Florida, builders are required to attach a home's roof to the walls with metal straps, Rochman said. In other places, roofs are mostly held on to the house by gravity.
If you can access your roof via an attic, you can have these metal roof straps added to your home for about $400 to $600, she said.
Secure porches and carports
"If you've got a porch or carport on your house and you think it looks like a wing, that's what it's going to be," Rochman said. "It will tear a hole in your house."
Make sure the posts supporting your porch, carport or other structures attached to your home are firmly anchored to the ground.
Seal windows and doors
Check the seals around your windows and doors. Normal weather -- especially in hot climates -- can damage seals over time, allowing sideways-blowing rain to get in during a storm, Rochman said.
"Where you have cable or other electrical wires coming into the side of your house, they punched a hole through the exterior wall," Rochman said. You can seal these holes to prevent water from getting in using caulk you can buy for a few dollars at most home-improvement stores.
Clear the lawn
"Make sure you're not creating missiles by leaving things lying around in your yard," Rochman said. Any items that can be picked up by strong winds -- your grill, lawn furniture, garden gnomes and other items -- should be stored indoors or secured to the ground.
Reinforce your garage door
"Garage doors often blow in, and if you have an attic above that, they can also blow up and literally tear your house apart," Rochman said. You can strengthen your existing garage door by installing a vertical garage door brace and reinforcing it with horizontal wooden beams.