LDS Emergency Preparedness

Be Prepared, Not Scared!

Disaster Proofing Your Home

Posted by Elise on March 31, 2014

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The federal government declared 86 major natural disasters in the first nine months of 2011, more than in any full year in the past. Ten of those disasters topped $1 billion in damage, and at least three—Hurricane Irene along the Atlantic coast up to Vermont…the Virginia-based earthquake…and wildfires as far north as Minnesota—remind us that disasters can strike homes that are not built to withstand them. There’s no way to make a house completely disaster-proof, but there are home-improvement projects that can significantly limit damage and/or improve the odds that a home will survive. Not all of these projects make financial sense for every home owner, but many provide considerable protection at a reasonable price.

Helpful: Insurers sometimes offer discounts to home owners who invest in home-protection upgrades.


Wildfires are most common in hot, dry areas but can strike any homes built near wild lands. Managing vegetation within 100 feet of your house, especially the closest 30 feet, helps keep away flames and intense heat. Keep this area clear of leaves and other dead-plant debris, and choose fire-resistant vegetation (search for “Fire-Safe Landscaping” at Additional wildfire-protection steps…

Have a Class-A fire-rated roof installed when you next replace your roof. The roof is the most vulnerable part of your home in a wildfire. If it is not sufficiently fire-resistant, a single ember from a fire a mile or more away could drift on the wind, land on your roof and burn down your home.

Class-A roofs typically feature asphalt shingles (though not all asphalt shingles achieve a Class-A rating), clay or concrete tiles or steel roofing products. Roof coverings that don’t qualify as Class A on their own still can qualify as Class A as part of a roof design that includes fire-resistant underlayment materials, such as fiberglass.

If leaves collect where roofing intersects with siding—along the side of dormers or where the lower section of a split-level roof meets the higher part of the home, for example—ask your roofer to install metal flashing (thin continuous pieces of sheet metal) along these intersections. Otherwise, if those leaves catch fire, the fire could spread to the siding and then into the home.

Also: Cover roof vent openings with 1⁄8-inch metal mesh. This costs very little and reduces the size of embers that can get into the attic through vents.

Add metal flashing between your wood deck and your home. If your deck catches fire, this flashing will significantly reduce the odds that the fire will spread to the rest of the home. The flashing ideally should extend 18 inches or more above the deck surface. A contractor typically can do this for a few hundred dollars.

If you are replacing your deck and you are in an area that is prone to wildfires, consider having the new deck made from a composite material that includes fire-retardant chemicals or from wood that has been treated with an exterior fire retardant. This is likely to increase the cost of materials by at least 50%, and potentially much more.

Replace wood fencing within a few feet of the home with fencing made from a nonflammable material, such as metal or brick. Otherwise, the wood fence could act as a wick, leading a wildfire right to your home. Even replacing just the portions of the wood fence that are directly adjacent to the home with a noncombustible material will reduce the odds that a fence fire will spread to the home.

Select double- or triple-paned windows with a fully tempered outer pane the next time you replace your windows. These are less likely to shatter in the heat of a wildfire. Shattered windows give wildfires a way to enter the home. Double- and triple-paned windows are expensive, but their energy efficiency can help recoup those costs.


Projects that can help protect homes located in flood zones…

Have components of the heating-ventilation-and-air-conditioning (HVAC) and electrical system raised as high as possible—ideally to 12 inches or more above the base flood elevation (available at FEMA’s online Map Service Center,, search for “Flood Maps”) or above the high-water mark reached in previous floods, whichever is higher. Electricians and HVAC contractors might charge anywhere from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars to do this, depending on the extent of rewiring and ductwork alterations required, but this could prevent destruction of those systems.

Have a sump pump installed in your basement to remove any water that gets in.Select one that has battery backup that will last up to 24 hours or more so that it doesn’t stop working if flooding knocks out your power. Expect to pay perhaps $500 to $1,000, installed.


Destructive earthquakes are possible in parts of the US located far from the famously quake-prone Pacific coast. Among home owners’ options…

Have flexible connections spliced into gas and water lines. The odds of a gas or water line snapping in an earthquake can be significantly reduced by replacing sections of rigid pipe with flexible piping near where these lines connect to appliances and equipment. A plumber should be able to do this for a few hundred dollars.

Strengthen cripple walls. Cripple walls are short, wood-framed walls found above the foundation in basements or crawl spaces. They’re often vulnerable to collapse in earthquakes. Contractors can affix plywood or cross-bracing to strengthen cripple walls, greatly reducing the risk for collapse, typically for just a few thousand dollars.

Add strapping or bolts to strengthen the connection between the home and its foundation. A contractor should be able to do this for a few thousand dollars.

Also: Have your water heater strapped to a wall so it is less likely to break away.


Screwing plywood over windows isn’t the only way to protect a home from hurricane damage…

Strengthen the connection between roof decking and framing when you next have your roof reshingled or replaced. Driving additional nails through the decking (the structural skin of a roof) and into the framing below it significantly decreases the odds that the roof will be ripped off in a hurricane—the single greatest hurricane damage risk. Ask to have 2 ⅜-inch (eight-penny) or longer ring-shank nails used to do this, not the six-penny nails or staples that most roofing contractors use. Installing these extra nails should add only a few hundred dollars.

When the roof is replaced, have the roofer install a secondary moisture barrier that’s more robust than the usual layer of felt paper. This protects against moisture damage and also, in the winter, prevents ice dams from forming from melting snow. This could be a synthetic underlayment, two or more layers of underlayment cemented together or a self-adhering waterproof membrane called a polymer-modified bitumen sheet. For specific guidance, check (put “Roofing the Right Way” in the search box). This could add from a few hundred to $1,000 or more to the cost.

Warning: Your roof-strengthening options are less appealing if you are not reshingling. There are foam adhesives that improve the connection between decking and framing when sprayed onto the underside of roof decking along all the joints with the roof framing, but these provide minimal benefit. Contractors sometimes recommend adding hurricane strapping to tie the roof to the walls of a home, but this often just causes the top of the walls to be ripped away, along with the roof, in a hurricane. To be effective, strapping must connect the roof all the way down to the foundation—a cost-effective project only during initial home construction.

Strengthen doors and windows. Once hurricane winds have found a way into the home, the odds that the roof will be blown off increase dramatically.

Plywood window and door coverings are a cost-effective solution. If hurricanes are very common in your area, consider getting commercially produced shutters that have permanently installed anchor systems and are easier to install when a storm threatens. Hurricane shutters range from $10 to $50 per square foot installed. Impact-resistant windows can be a viable alternative, though expensive.

Source: Tim Reinhold, PhD, chief engineer and senior vice president of research for Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization supported by the property insurance industry, based in Richburg, South Carolina. He previously was a professor of civil engineering at Clemson University and a consulting engineer for the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Reinhold serves on the American Society of Civil Engineers wind loads subcommittee.  (11-15-2011)


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