How to prepare your home for a hurricane

(MoneyWatch) Batten down the hatches: Hurricane season is coming, and this year's weather looks particularly nasty.

Forecasters are already warning that the Atlantic hurricane season is going to be "above normal and possibly extremely active," according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The group predicts between seven and 11 hurricanes in 2013, with three to six of them turning into major cyclones with winds topping 110 mph. Keep in mind that technically Superstorm Sandy wasn't even a hurricane, let alone a major hurricane like Katrina, when it slammed into the Atlantic seaboard, and Sandy still caused $50 billion in damage.

In short, preparation is vital. While fully locking down your home could cost upwards of $4,000 or more, it will likely be worth it in the end. Take these steps to make sure your home is correctly insured and prepared for the worst this year's hurricane season can dish out.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Review and update your insurance. Make sure you have enough insurance coverage to repair or rebuild your home now.

If you've added or changed anything structurally about your home, from new kitchen appliances to a new back patio, update your insurance policy to cover your improved home.

Remember that a home's value doesn't matter here. Regardless of changes in value, you need coverage to pay for rebuilding your home exactly as it stands.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Make or update a home inventory. If you haven't done so already, it's time to inventory your home's contents. Make sure you list all the items in your house and store the information online or outside your home. There are plenty of free mobile and online apps from insurance providers or the Insurance Information Institute that help you organize the inventory. Then make sure you have adequate contents coverage to pay for replacing these belongings.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Check your current deductible for hurricane losses. You will find a percentage and an exact dollar amount on your policy's declaration page, which spells out your deductible options, said Loretta Worters, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Consider purchasing flood insurance. Hurricane damage is largely caused by wind and water. Almost all homeowner's insurance policies will cover the wind damage and some water damage -- if it comes from the sky and not the ground. But none cover water damage from flooding. Flooding from a hurricane's storm surge is only covered by the federal National Flood Insurance Program, and you must elect to take this special coverage. Talk to your insurance agent about the specifics of covering your home.


How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Prune your trees. Your goal here is to take the weight out of tree canopies, said Sabine Schoenberg, an expert who writes about property management, development and home improvement at Sabineshome.com. Taking some of the density out of these trees means wind can pass through branches and leaves more easily without taking them down. But don't overdo it and hurt your tree's health.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Cut branches that face your home. You want to create less weight in the direction of your home, so if a tree topples, it'll miss your home.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Dig a hole. Study your home and property during other heavy rains to see where water tends to pool. Schoenberg recommends digging a hole in your property there, away from your and your neighbors' homes, and fill it with rocks to give some excess water somewhere to go, at least temporarily. If you notice that the pool of water now gets pretty deep, water drainage in the area may have changed. Visit your local building department to discuss what options your municipality might offer to clear nearby drainage pipes.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Consider an impact-resistant garage door. This is a door with twice as many steel struts and stronger tracks to help keep it secure. Your garage door is a huge opening into your home, and in a major storm older doors could let water and debris enter.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Secure roof shingles. Secure shingles on your roof using roofing cement. Otherwise wind can peel them off until your roof is stripped bare, allowing wind and water to get in.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Seal off any openings. Fill cracks and holes with caulk to keep water from getting into your home. This includes sealing off areas around cables, pipes, windows and doors.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Secure your doors. Make sure exterior doors have at least three hinges and a deadbolt lock that is at least an inch long. Any glass doors or walls, like windows, should be covered, even if it is only with a piece of plywood, to prevent glass from flying around in the event of breakage.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Prepare your windows. You could install storm shutters for an easy way to close off windows in an emergency, though they won't necessarily provide as much protection as plywood or aluminum shutters. You can prep this beforehand by cutting and installing the plywood or aluminum with fasteners and hurricane clips, then taking them down, leaving behind the fasteners for easier installation in the face of a storm. Don't forget vent openings as well.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Consider a permanent generator. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, you might want to purchase and install a permanent generator that supplies your home with electricity automatically when the power goes out. They're quieter than temporary ones, don't pose as much of a safety risk and prevent having to queue up to buy gas.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Remove everything from your yard. Any outdoor furniture, garbage cans, even a tire swing can do a lot of damage once it's picked up by the wind. You can secure some furniture with a tarp, but your best bet is to get whatever you can inside.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Turn everything off. One of the last, and easily forgotten, steps before a storm hits is to turn everything off, according to Florida Power and Light. Switch off and unplug your TV, lower your TV antenna or satellite dish, turn off pool pumps and filters and wrap them in waterproof materials, and unplug any unnecessary electrical equipment. The one thing you may want to leave running is your refrigerator, so set it on the coolest setting to keep food cold longer in the event of a power outage.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

Pack up beforehand. Make sure you have all your important documents in one place so they are easy to grab. Gather food and water, regardless of whether you stay or go. Keep your medication and a first-aid kit together and handy. Finally, consider grabbing some priceless items, or those that are irreplaceable (like photos) just in case.

How to prepare your home for a hurricane

When you're told to evacuate, do it. This won't do much to save your home, but it could save your life. If your home is already prepped for the hurricane, you can leave knowing you've done everything you could to protect it. If authorities have told you to leave, your insurance might even cover your expenses while away from home.