Is your house hurricane-season ready? Here’s what you need to do – The Times

June 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

For as often as we’ve prepared for hurricanes, the process can still catch us off guard. Many of us scramble for supplies and rush against the clock to batten down the hatches when a storm is swirling in the Gulf.

What about the yard?

Read gardening columnist Dan Gill’s tips for preparing your landscape to weather a storm.

Why subject yourself to so much panic and stress? This year, remove some unnecessary worry by starting to prepare your home weeks instead of days in advance.

Forecasters predict this year will be a mild Atlantic hurricane season. But that’s no reason to relax.

I’ve put together a hit list of home improvement items that will make your house stronger and more ready to handle hurricane winds this season and for many to come. These preparations focus on preventing wind damage, and go beyond just boarding up your windows and wishing for the best.

The roof
Start your hurricane prep, literally, at the top, by cementing loose roof shingles, replacing roof ridge tiles and adding hurricane straps.

On asphalt roof shingles, the factory-applied adhesive strips can “lose holding capacity over time,” inviting wind to kick them up, said LSU professor Claudette Reichel, who directs the university’s LaHouse, a resource center for best building practices and storm and emergency preparedness.

Loose roof shingles are a risk that can be avoided with some effort and a $5 tube of roof cement. But before we go any further, I want to stress the importance of caution before starting any roof maintenance job. How comfortable are you on tall ladders, at high heights and at steep grades? Before getting started, honestly evaluate your ability to tolerate the heat and the heights. Be sure to start early in the morning, and tell family members of your plans so they can check on you.

To cement loose shingles, start at the bottom edge of the roof and work upward toward the ridge, identifying shingles which have slipped partially out of place or have very slightly upturned edges. Keeping each nailed in place, use one hand to gently pry the shingle up and the other to quickly squirt three equidistant, 1-inch blobs of cement beneath it, let the shingle down, press and release.

As for the roof ridge tiles,Reichel cautions not to settle for a poor installation job. “If your roofer installed ridge tiles with mortar alone, the ridge tiles could become airborne in high winds,” she said. “Secure tiles to an attached ridge board, which is clipped to the roof structure instead.”

Roof ridge tiles add equal parts curb appeal and reinforcement to your roof, protecting asphalt shingles from blowing off the ridges.

Cement tile, terra cotta and clay roof ridge tiles are holdovers from when slate (and later asbestos) roofs were the norm, said Bob Hecker, who with his brother operates Atlas Tile Roofing, a family business founded in 1963.

Installing a completely new roof? Select asphalt shingles with high Class G or H wind rating, and opt for a synthetic roof underlayment rather than common roof felt. The synthetic underlayment is a more expensive product, but recent storms have proven that it’s an important second-layer barrier against roof leaks.  

During the installation, be sure to ask your roofer for progress photos of the work on your house. You’re looking for evidence that the shingles are being installed with a dedicated starter strip, Reichel said, and that the number of nails per shingle meets the manufacturer’s mandate.  

If these straightforward steps are skipped, the installer may have both voided the shingle manufacturer’s product warranty and destined the roof to poor performance.

Next, take a look at your soffits, the underside of the exterior overhanging section of a roof eave. If you have wood soffits, as many older homes do, you only need to double check that they are water-tight, then caulk any which aren’t.

For vinyl soffits, you can secure them by gluing and nailing any sections resting in J channels. Nailing vinyl soffit to the framing every foot or so assures that the soffit won’t budge and that wind-driven rain won’t travel behind the panels and into your home’s ceilings.

For a full roof repair primer, watch LaHouse’s “Get A Storm Ready Roof” on YouTube or visit the LaHouse website.

Another way to make your home more resistant to high winds and uplift is to add hurricane straps. (Homes built to code after 2012, though, shouldn’t need them.)

Hurricane straps are small metal brackets that help direct weight downward to the foundation, reinforcing the structure. If you are considering straps, consult a structural engineer to draw a plan for how many, what type and where the connectors should go before you hire an experienced — and insured — contractor to do the work.

For further reading, check out FEMA’s Coastal Construction Manual.

Finally, it’s worth a call or email to your insurance agent to make certain that anything attached to your roof, such as solar panels or a satellite dish, is covered by your insurance policy.

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Windows and doors are weak links in your home’s defense against storm winds. A blown-in window or door can result in a serious air pressure differential inside your home, resulting in structural damage, or in the worst case, a dislodged roof.

Boarding windows before a hurricane — and removing them after the threat has passed — is a good habit. An even better — though costly approach — is to install shutters.

Fortunately many New Orleans houses have functioning shutters. If your home doesn’t have them, consider adding them. They not only protect your windows in a storm, they also protect your home from wind, sun and rain, increase your privacy and minimize noise.  

On older homes, shutter types should be selected based on the house’s age and style: batten shutters for homes from the early 19th century, panel shutters for mid-19th century homes and louvered shutters for everything from the late 19th century on. Check with the Historic District Landmarks Commission to be sure the shutter type you select fits your home’s style.

Call a mill shop or hunt around salvage yards for traditional, side-hinge wood shutters that can be fit to your window size. Keep wood shutters painted and operable so they are durable when closed against storms.

Decorative shutters, those surface-nailed to the side of your home, may become flying debris if left in their open position, so screw them in or strap them down, too.

The closest thing to a maintenance-free shutter is made of composite materials, such as those by Atlantic Premium Shutters. These can be ordered in various styles through local distributors, including lumber yards.

The Tapco Group, maker of Atlantic Premium Shutters, recommends  stainless-steel hinges for its shutters. “Customers send in window measurements, and we’ll ship custom shutters and hinges to New Orleans ready to install,” said Buddy Eldridge, a business development manager with the group.  

Prepare wood window frames for shutters by addressing any split wood or rot. In some cases, old hinge locations will need to be reinforced with caulk or wood fill and painted prior to reuse.

Accordion shutters, Bahama shutters, roll-down shutters and lightweight polycarbonate resin panels are other options for storm protection. When choosing a shutter style, though, cost should not be the only consideration.

Electric roll-down shutters move into place quickly but rely on backup batteries to operate during power outages. Accordion and roll-down styles collapse for storage in-place, eliminating the need for a garage full of stored plywood.

Is your home shaded by an awning? Professionally mounted metal awning frames have proven durable in recent storms. A good aluminum awning is designed to function as a single unit once bolted into your home.

Before you install a new metal or wrap-around awning, consult with a structural engineer to be sure the design meets municipal building codes for wind uplift.

As for fabric awnings, you should take some precautions before a storm. First, find the cord or line that ties your awning to its frame. “Use a regular household scissors and cut the line,” said Tom Pontheiux, general manager of C. Bel for Awnings, an 80-year-old company which fabricates custom awnings at its Tchoupitoulas Street location. Once the line is cut, the awning can be rolled up and stored on its frame.

For the C. Bel frames, the rolled fabric fits into a C-shaped channel as wide as the metal frame. “When the storm threat has passed, the awning can be removed from the channel and laced again through the grommets to the frame. Re-lacing should be done by professionals, and we do it for a small fee,” Pontheiux said.

During a storm, an entry door should be kept operable for safety reasons, but it’s a good idea to secure side-by-side double “French” doors. Doorknob locks alone may not prevent double doors from swinging open when wind rushes at them.

Adding 6-inch surface bolts at the top and bottom of each door will reinforce them in the closed position but not be an inconvenience during the rest of the year. For an even stronger, but temporary, reinforcement, bar the door by screwing 2-inch-deep U-shaped brackets to each side of the interior door trim and then drop in a 2×4 a few inches longer than the door’s width.

Garage doors also are vulnerable during storms. While newer models come certified for wind loads, older garage doors can be retrofitted with a DIY kit containing braces and brackets. For more information, contact a specialty installer, such as Overhead Door Co.

Gas lights
If your porch is illuminated by a gas lamp, there’s no need cut off the gas supply to it before a storm; the dim glow can actually add a small amount of safety light to dark streets during a power outage.  

Gas lighting survived Hurricane Katrina exceptionally well, and has for decades been relied upon in our city.

If you’re concerned that gusts will snuff out your flame, a second layer of fixture glass can be added as a wind baffle to your lamp.  

“The gas lamps we manufacture here in New Orleans are designed to burn continuously,” said Drew Bevolo, owner of Bevolo Gas and Electric Lights. “Because they are hand-riveted, rather than soldered, Bevolo lamps endure wet conditions well. If a glass pane cracks, we’ll replace it.” The best action, in the case of gas lighting, is taking no action at all.

Keeping the power on
In 2012, more than a week after Hurricane Isaac made its slow trek across the New Orleans area, thousands of homes and businesses remained without electrical power.

Across the state, more than 700,000 lost electricity in that storm. It was a hot, muggy, miserable time in the south Louisiana.

Since then, not surprisingly, whole-house, standby generators have grown in popularity. As opposed to portable generators, sophisticated whole-house, gas-powered systems monitor your home for a power outage and automatically transfer to generator power when a service interruption is detected. Gas-powered systems run off fuel tanks supplied by the utility company or filled, by order, with propane gas (in less populated areas).

Standby generators should be installed by professionals, including an electrician, to help calculate the wattage the generator will need to deliver as well as to attach the monitor to your electric panel. A plumber will have to run the gas line for the fuel tank.

Sticking with your portable generator? Now is a good time to check it. If you left fuel in your generator from last year, it could be stale and may prevent it from starting easily. Read your user’s manual for guidance on fuel additives.

When purchasing a new generator, follow the directions for breaking it in, including the advantages of running it at partial capacity for intervals that allow the new engine to cool down before it becomes relied upon for continual use.

LaHouse open house
Curious to compare shutter types or the performance ratings for roof shingles, impact-resistant windows and garage doors? Visit LaHouse at 2858 Gourrier Avenue, adjacent the LSU golf course in Baton Rouge.

The university’s model home features the latest technology for energy efficiency, storm readiness, wind- and flood-resistant construction methods and materials. The house is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. A Saturday open house will be held July 19, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Maryann Miller is assistant director of the Preservation Resource Center’s Operation Comeback program. Send your home maintenance and repair questions to her at or add them to the comment stream below.

Now it’s your turn. What is your best hurricane-prep tip?

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