This week marks the third anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, which caused $125 billion in damages and ravaged Houston back in 2017. Meanwhile, we’re also staring down a pair of systems, Marco and Laura, that appear to be heading our way. (Why? Well, it's 2020, after all, so why not?)
Harvey destroyed homes all over the Houston area and caused millions of dollars in damages, and as we’re prepping our hurricane kits and stocking up on food and bottled water, we were wondering what we could do to protect our homes whenever—because here in the Bayou City it's a question of when, not if another hurricane will roll in. So we turned to the folks at John Moore Services, who’ve been doing residential repair in the Bayou City since 1965, for advice. While there are plenty of Houstonians who are seasoned hands at riding out a hurricane or tropical storm, there are just as many new to the area who might not know how to prepare their homes for a possible onslaught of rain, wind, and a lot of water. Don't fret too much, though. We've got you covered.
What are the most common problems after a storm?
Each storm is different, says Joe Bany, Director of Field Operations for John Moore. “Harvey kind of sat on top of us and dumped a whole bunch of water.” However, there are some common problem areas after a nasty storm.
Storms with 60 or 70-plus mile-per-hour winds can rip off roof shingles, especially if your roof is older. There’s not much you can do to protect your roof, Bany says, except keep up with repairs and pay attention during the storm. Are there wet spots on your ceiling? “That’s a good indicator that the storm has done something to your roof, and you need to give attention to it as quickly as possible.”
“Pay attention to standing water in your yard,” Bany says. If during a normal rain, you get some puddles, that could become a big problem during a hurricane or tropical storm with flooding. Gutters are another point of interest because they are typically attached to the roof or fascia boards—these are board-coverings on your house’s rafters—so if your gutters are clogged with leaves and pine needles, then that can cause water to leak back into your house.
We all know this: Bad storms can cause surges, blow power breakers and fuses, and destroy electronics. It may not be everyone who loses power, but “typically, if it’s a big storm, somebody’s going to lose power.”
What are some quick fixes I can do to prepare?
Make sure things work
“Number one, we can make sure the things we do have are functional,” Bany says. Clean out your gutters. If you have any lawn irrigation, like a French drain, make sure those are cleared, too, so rainwater will move away from your house. To test it, take a water hose to the drain, and see if the stream is exiting where it is supposed to. If you have a portable generator, fire it up to see if it works. Get more gas for it if needed.
Clean up your yards
Pick up anything that “likes to push around or blow around.” We’re talking toys in the yard and lawn furniture. Also take some time to examine any trees in your yard. If there are low-hanging branches, you might want to trim those away from your home.
Get a surge protector
You can get a power strip surge protector at Walmart, but "it’s only going to protect in that one area in which you place that strip.” Electronics and appliances are a huge cost for everyone, so Bany suggests installing a whole-home protector that could handle surges from coming inside and outside the home. “It’ll protect your AC system. It’ll protect your water heater, if it’s electric,” he says. “Your washing machine. Your refrigerator. All of these things that plug in.”
Brace your windows
If the glass of your windows breaks, the wind could blow the shards “through your house like little projectiles.” So make sure you have some sort of window protection, Bany advises, even if it isn’t pretty. Nail up some plywood two-by-fours, and close your curtains.
If anything, tape up your windows. Create a web pattern of tape: Start with a cross on your window. Then place an “X” over it. And then tape the outlining areas. It doesn’t have to be duct tape—masking tape is better than nothing.
“Say a rock comes through the window and puts a little bitty hole,” Bany says. “That’s where it starts with this little bitty hole. But what ends up happening with wind is that it keeps working on that hole, and it’ll crack it all the way across.” The tape, he says, won’t stop the glass from breaking, but it will keep it from flying all over the place.
What are some bigger, long-term fixes I can do?
“Long-term preparation is what did I go through last time? and then how can I make that a little better?” says Bany.
Get your trees addressed
Take a good look at your trees, Bany says. The last thing you want is something falling on your house. Do you have an older tree? Is it sick? Are there branches hanging over your house? Which way is it leaning? “After storms, you always hear, yeah, someone had some kind of tree come through his house. Well, could that have been preventable?”
Stay on top of roof repair
Make sure your roof is up to date. Get someone to come out and do an inspection, or do it yourself. Climb a ladder, and take a good look. If you see shingles missing or standing strait up, you know you’ve got a problem. If your roof is old, it might be time to get a new one. “High winds don’t do much damage to a new roof,” Bany says. “High winds will do incredible damage to an old roof.”
Get window protection
Upgrade to stormproof windows, but if you don’t want to do that, you can still install some protection. You can buy flips and holders that attach the outside of your windows, Bany says. So when a storm is coming, you can just snap your plywood or covering into place. “Getting ready for a hurricane might take half a day,” he says, “and then I got all my windows covered.”
Buy a generator
“If it’s small hurricane, and we only lose power for a day or so, most people can live through that,” Bany says. “But think through one of the worst-case scenarios. [During Harvey] we lost power for 13 days, and is that something we can sustain?” A standby generator is a great option, he says, so you can power up, keep your refrigerator cold, and run your AC and heat.
What should I do if my house does get damaged?
If you have it, you should contact your insurance right away. Just know that if it’s a big storm, insurance might take too long, and you should take care of the damages, like a broken window or a hole in the roof, right away in case it continues to rain or something else happens. “My biggest advice is not to sit around and wait. If something happens, get it addressed quickly.”
For example, rainwater can pack a serious sucker punch to your house with mold and mildew. Don’t want the water to just sit there, Bany says. Get a water restoration team in as soon as possible to dry out your home and sanitize it.
“Damages might not look bad, might not look like they’re very big, but they can create long-term issues if they’re not addressed right away.”
A note on personal safety
Before anything else, says Bany, is personal safety. Have a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and flashlight. Fill a bathtub up with water as the storm approaches, so even if you lose water access, you can at least bucket flush a toilet and you can clean some things if you need to.
But If you live in an area that’s flooded in the past, leave if you can. “Houses can be rebuilt, and they can be fixed,” Bany says. “But if you feel like if you’re not in a good spot, then let’s find a good spot for you to be.”