When a disaster strikes, you think of the safety of yourself and your family first and your home and its contents second. That doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't take the proper precautions to secure what you can. Homeinsurance.com has your back.
Here's a timeline to help you through even everyday personal disasters and give you the best chance for keeping your home and life intact. Property insurance damage in 2012 was the highest ever recorded, with $65 billion in insured losses in the U.S. Here's how to keep your house safe:
Do it Now: Create a Home Inventory
A home inventory is an itemized list, including photos, serial numbers, receipts, and other information about the possessions in your home. It will help establish what you have and what it's worth. You don't want to try to put this together in the chaos after a catastrophe. A home inventory can make the claims process much smoother and help you repair or replace the exact items you lost. The best thing about a home inventory is how easily you can create one.
Steps for Making a Home Inventory
Download a free home inventory checklist such as this one from HomeInsurance.com. Go from room to room listing all of your possessions, recording the following information:
- Make and model
- Price at purchase
- Current value
- Store your home inventory in a safe, accessible place, with at least one copy outside the home. Making an electronic copy also is a good idea.
Don't be caught off guard by a catastrophe. Make a home inventory today, because after a disaster is too late.
Know Your Risk
After you create a home inventory, the next step toward protecting your home is identifying and understanding your risk for certain disasters. You can't predict every event, but you can inform yourself about the ones your neighborhood is most likely to suffer. To determine your risk, have a general idea in place as to what kind of disasters your terrain is prone:
- If you live on or near a body of water, you could be at risk for flooding. Remember, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the federal flood insurance program, says 20% of flood insurance claims come from homeowners in moderate to low risk areas. Find out your area's flood risk rating here.
- If you live in a relatively flat region and trees or other possible wind-driven projectiles surround your house, you could be at risk for tornado damage. At Weather.com, you can determine your state's average risk for tornadoes during each month.
- If your home sits anywhere along the eastern coast, even inland, it could be at risk of hurricane damage. Hurricanes combine strong winds, thunderstorms, flooding, and other hazards that can prove dangerous to your family and your home. Find out your risk level with this American Red Cross map.
- Though the right conditions for wildfires can occur anywhere and at any time, the Western and Southeastern parts of the country experience the greatest risk for widespread destruction. You can find wildfire risk maps for your area at the American Red Cross.
- You'll probably know if and when your area is at risk for a large scale winter storm by the location's temperature and storm history. For weekly winter storm tracking, go to the National Weather Service.
- Examine fault line data to find areas most at risk for earthquakes. You can find detailed earthquake risk maps based on fault line data and earthquake history at FEMA's earthquake website.
Once you know what kind of storms or other disasters are most prevalent in your area, you can make sure you have the right coverage for them. Remember, standard home insurance policies typically do not cover damage caused by flooding or earthquakes. If you live in an earthquake prone area, a separate earthquake insurance policy purchased to supplement your standard coverage could be a good idea. If you live in or near a floodplain, consider purchasing a flood policy through FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program.
Prepare Your Home
There are steps you can take to help ensure your home's safety no matter the event. Some ways you can avoid destruction to your home include:
- Trim foliage around and over the house. Separating tree branches from your house's windows or roof can help avoid damage from branches that are windblown, frozen or on fire. Sparseness near the house also can serve the added benefit of deterring thieves.
- Store firewood at least 100 feet uphill from the house. This way, you also can avoid some of the critters (such as spiders and snakes) that like to hide in firewood and might find their way into the house if the woodpile is close.
- Install fortified or impact-resistant windows. Impact-resistant windows can be expensive, but if you live in an area prone to wind damage of any sort, they could be worth it.
- Update your roof. New roofs can be more resistant to damage from thunderstorms, wind, and hail. If you live in an area prone to such roof-killers as hurricanes or tornados, consider installing a sturdy roof that complies with local building codes.
When Disaster Looms
During the seasons normally prone to disasters, take proper precautions to make sure you aren't blindsided by the unexpected. Click on the disasters below for which your region is at risk for specific safety tips.
When a Storm Threatens
When the threat of a storm becomes an actual dot on the radar, there are specific steps that you can take to better protect your home from damage. Make sure you have enough time to safely complete these steps before attempting them. A house can be replaced; you cannot. Click on the disasters below for which you need to prepare.
When you evacuate your home for a hurricane or flood, protect it from more than just the elements. Evacuation leaves your home vulnerable to others, including animals and other people. Maximize your home's protection during an evacuation. Extra locks, a security system, and fortified windows can help to keep unwanted visitors out.
It may be hard for you to think about leaving your home under evacuation. Evacuations, however, are for your safety, the safety of those around you, and the safety of rescue workers. Follow evacuation orders to stay safe. Remember to plan for your pets during an evacuation, and to thoroughly lock your house before leaving.
When You Return
When returning to your house after a disaster, take extreme caution. Unexpected hazards, such as natural gas leaks, could await you. Upon your return, take a post-disaster inventory, including photos and a list of damages to possessions and your home's structure. Also make minor repairs to prevent further damage from the elements and theft from looters. Temporary repairs are covered under typical home insurance policies, so keep all receipts. Watch out, however, for contractors who require an exorbitant deposit up front and encourage high spending on temporary repairs. They could attempt to scam you.
File a Claim and Rebuild
You should file a home insurance claim immediately after a covered event. The sooner you get the claims process moving, the sooner you can rebuild and get back to your life. The visible difference between your pre- and post-disaster inventories can work as a tool to help relations run smoothly between you and your insurance adjuster.