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6 ways to tornado-proof your home
tornado-2Although most tornadoes occur in spring in the area of the U.S. known as "Tornado Alley," in reality tornadoes have been known to occur in every state and in every month. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there were 41 confirmed tornadoes through the end of March 2015, with a preliminary count of 929 through July 22. What steps can you take to protect tyour home from tornadoes? "The precautions are similar to those you would take to prepare your home for a hurricane,” says JoAnn Streem, vice president, global risk consulting manager, at ACE Private Risk Services.
"The biggest risk is from flying debris," Streem notes. "It's important to protect what we refer to as the envelope of the structure—which includes the entry doors, garage doors, windows and roof—and keep the debris from getting inside the home," she says.
Streem provides these six tips agents and brokers can share with clients to help them be prepared for tornadoes and minimize losses.
1. Secure entry doors Ensure that entry doors have a two-inch deadbolt lock and three hinges, with screws long enough to secure the door and frame to the wall framing. Streem stresses that the framing aspect is the most critical element, and it has to be the most secure. "You might have a very strong steel door that also is wind resistant," she explains, "but the frame could be the weakest point. If something heavy hits the door, it could pull away from the frame, creating an opening for wind and debris." The key is to make sure that the door frame is anchored well. Streem advises drilling into the wall framing and floor with something longer and stronger than standard framing nails.
2. Brace garage doors Your garage door—the largest potential opening in your home—is another vulnerable point, Streem explains. If the garage door goes missing, is left open or is taken out, it completely compromises the structure of your home. A single-car garage door is usually eight-feet-wide or less, and it can usually withstand 50 pounds of pressure per square foot. If you have a multi-car garage, however, or an oversized door, Streem advises homeowners to install wood or metal stiffeners for added support. She suggests using metal vertical bracing, although wood may be acceptable in certain circumstances. You can buy bracing products that can be installed before a tornado hits, which will make the door stronger and more wind resistant. If you're expecting bad weather, and your door isn't braced already, Streem recommends that you install a vertical brace into the framing of the wall and the floor, similar to the way you would board up windows in a hurricane.
  3. Install impact-resistant windows "Shattered windows can cause serious injury," Streem says. "The best protection—especially if you're building a new house or remodeling and existing one—is to install impact-resistant windows." She admits that they are more expensive to buy, but they can be customized to the space and provide better protection. Depending on where the house is located, they also may be required by the local building code, especially in coastal Florida and Texas. If impact-resistant windows are not an option, Streem advises homeowners to install hurricane shutters, which also can be customized. Shutters, too, come in several sizes, materials and colors to fit any residence. As a last resort, Streem notes that homeowners can prepare plywood covers for their windows. When the weather is good, you can buy plywood and have it cut to fit each window, she explains. Make sure it’s big enough to cover the exterior frame and has long screws to attach it to the frame. You can predrill the holes and label to plywood so you know which window each piece goes with. When a storm is imminent, you can match the plywood to the correct window and better protect the interior of your home. Streem also wants to correct a major misconception about windows and tornadoes. "People think they should open windows to normalize pressure between inside and outside, but that's the wrong thing to do." She explains: "What can happen is that the inside of the house becomes pressurized, like blowing up a balloon until it pops. The air pushes off the roof or a wall and causes the house to collapse in on itself."
4. Install wind-resistant roof structures "Roof sheathing and covering should be rated to resist high winds," Streem says. Generally, a home's roof is attached with roofing nails, which are inserted at an angle, but this kind of roof can come right off. She recommends attaching roofs with hurricane clips, which create a stronger connection between the roof and the house. The clips come in a range of protections, depending on the clip you buy and the weight of your roof. Clips are required by the building code in hurricane prone areas, Streem notes, but they also help maintain roof integrity in tornado prone areas. When replacing your roof, she advises that you make sure all roof and wall framings are secured with hurricane framing clips. All materials should be wind-rated and impact resistant.
 
5. Protect important documents and valuables Streem recommends storing your important papers and valuable possessions in a fire-proof safe or safety deposit box to ensure that you'll be able to access them after a tornado. "If you have to evacuate," she says, "take the documents with you to a shelter." She also notes that many insurance companies, including ACE, have relationships with security firms that will help with the process of recreating documents, like birth certificates or marriage licenses, for example. For the best protection, bolt the safe to the floor of an interior room or keep it in your home shelter. Many people store documents and photographs "in the cloud," but "not everything can be stored in the cloud," Streem observes. She adds that the security of the cloud storage service and its vendors also can vary.
6. Prepare your home shelter If you live in a tornado-prone area, Streem recommends preparing your home shelter location by stocking it with essential items such as a battery-powered radio, a flashlight, spare batteries, water and snack food like energy bars—anything you don’t have to cook. When deciding where to locate your home shelter, "think about the envelope of the structure," Streem says. The basement is safest place followed by the center of the home—anywhere with little potential for doors and windows to be compromised. She also notes that many companies build home shelters but you need to understand what materials are being used and confirm that they're wind- and impact resistant. "Be sure you have a few hundred dollars in cash, because cash machines and credit card machines may not work, especially if there is a power failure along with the tornado," Streem says. If you have to shop for gasoline or groceries, the cash registers may not be able to process credit or debit cards. "Nothing beats thinking ahead," Streem concludes. In her view, the best thing agents and brokers can do for their clients is to look at the way the homes are built and consider whether it’s necessary to take steps to tornado-proof the structures. Agents and brokers should remind clients who are building or remodeling to use impact-resistant and wind-resistant materials as a way to minimize losses.
Kimberly Beach
Other articles by: Kimberly Beach
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