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When you own a house, you want to protect your investment and those inside from any threat, including Mother Nature. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods, and earthquakes wreak havoc on millions of people and their homes every year.

According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), since 1980, the U.S. has sustained 308 weather and climate disasters where the overall damage costs per event reached or exceeded $1 billion. The cumulative costs for these 308 events reached over $2 trillion with the death toll totaling over 15,000.

Some disasters, like lightning strikes, fires, and windstorms can occur anywhere. Others, like earthquakes and hurricanes, are more common in certain regions. While your zip code may be a calling card for certain types of natural disasters, regardless of where you live in the world, natural disasters are an imminent and now growing danger. 

Understand Your Risks

Climate change impacts the frequency, severity, and reach of natural disasters. Wildfires, floods, storms, heat, and drought can pose a health and safety danger to your family and cause costly damages to property. With 22 climate-related disasters causing $95 billion in damages in the U.S. last year alone, climate change has become a serious threat for homeowners in many communities. A recent CoreLogic report revealed that almost one-third of the nation’s homes are at a high risk of a natural disaster.

Given these changes, it is past time to factor in the costs of climate change when purchasing, selling, repairing, or maintaining property. Properties that are at more risk to climate change will lose real estate value, become damaged more frequently, and will be more costly to insure.

Protect Your Property

Protect your home and family from climate change risks. Acting before disaster strikes can prevent the destruction of your home and lessen the cost and time needed to recover from severe weather events.

Unsure of where to start? Here’s the top three actions you can take right now to protect your home that in same cases, won't cost you a single penny upfront, but could save you thousands on the back end.

1. Get a property risk assessment

Sign up for Pearl Certification’s free online Green Door platform to use ClimateCheck’s natural disaster risk assessment tool, access specific strategies to mitigate risks, and learn tips to certify energy-efficient home improvements.

2. Create a disaster preparedness plan and practice.

Visit the American Red Cross to download made-for-you disaster plan templates you can use with your family or household members to discuss how to prepare and respond to the types of emergencies that are most likely to happen where you live, learn, work and play.

3. Create a home investment plan.

Get smart on the types of climate risks in your area and then take steps to protect your home. With Pearl’s Green Door app, you can create a home investment plan to prioritize a variety of home improvement options - from DIY projects to heating and cooling equipment replacement to remodeling projects. Pearl’s recommendations focus not only on investments to mitigate risks associated with climate change but can also make your home more comfortable, healthier, and efficient.

Most Common Natural Disasters

Now that you have a baseline action plan to protect your home, let’s take a look at what you can do specifically to counter the most common natural disasters.

According to the World Health Organization, between 80-90% of all documented disasters from natural hazards during the past 10 years have resulted from floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, heat waves, and severe storms. While wildfires weren’t one of the top five most common natural disasters in this poll, we also share some strategies to consider given that in 2020 there were 58,950 wildfires which burned about 10.1 million acres that year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. 

Here are a few expert tips from Pearl Certification and ClimateCheck you can take to reduce risks from these top calamities.

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Recommendation #1: Ensure your home has a strong water management strategy. Natural disasters: Floods, storms, and hurricanes

Tips:

  • Hire a Building Performance Institute (BPI) Building Analyst or other qualified inspector to assess your home’s ability to keep water out. BPI professionals can inspect for evidence of exterior water intrusion, such as roof leaks, foundation leaks, fenestration assembly leaks and ground-water intrusion.

  • Add waterproof veneer to your foundation, exterior walls, windows, and doorways to prevent shallow flooding from leaking in to damage your home and possessions. You can also seal your basement walls with waterproofing compounds.

  • Clear your gutters and be sure your downspouts route water away from your house to prevent water from pooling around your foundation or entering the basement.

  • Hire well qualified exterior remodeling experts when making improvements. Transitions between different building components (window to wall, wall to door, wall to foundation) are the areas of greatest risk. When hiring professionals to maintain or replace these components (siding, windows, roof), make sure they not only follow the manufacturer's installation specifications for their product/trade, but also understand how their specific trade or product impacts the home's holistic water barrier.

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Recommendation #2: Minimize water usage and waste. Natural disasters: Droughts

Tips:

  • Consider purchasing high-performing fixtures and appliances - from faucets to toilets. Look for the WaterSense label. You can also look for the ENERGY STAR label on dishwashers and clothes washers. They are not only energy efficient, but water efficient.

  • Identify water leaks in your indoor and outdoor water lines. Smart water heaters and other smart devices can identify water leaks on the inside and outside of your home so you can take action and prevent waste.

  • Plant native and drought tolerant plants.

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Recommendation #3: Protect your home from high winds. Natural disasters: Hurricanes and severe storms

Tips:

  • Install impact resistant shutters or impact resistant glass to minimize the risk of your windows shattering. Once a window is broken, the wind blows inside and not only wrecks the interior, it also applies upward pressure on the roof, which might be enough to send it flying.

  • Perform regular maintenance or hire professionals to maintain your home. Inspect the shingles on your roof and use roof cement to glue down any loose shingles that could come loose during severe storms. Patch any small holes or cracks while inspecting your roof.

  • If installing solar panels, ensure you work with a high quality contractor that follows installation best practices. Ensure the panel’s wind rating is appropriate for your area and that the company has NABCEP qualified staff to properly affix the panels to the home’s roof.

  • Some roof types are more prone to wind damage than others. A roofing contractor can tell you whether it is a good idea to add reinforcing bracing. You can also install hurricane straps to your roof.

  • Garage doors and double-entry doors can fail in high wind conditions. You can add extra protection by adding reinforcement girts and strengthening the wheel tracks in your garage. Double-entry doors can be reinforced with a heavy-duty deadbolt, adding sliding bolts, or using longer hinge attachments on the door and frame.

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Recommendation #4: Make your home resilient during power outages. Natural disasters: Drought, hurricanes, wildfires, severe storms and heat waves

Tips:

  • Insulate and air seal your attic and attic door. Attic insulation is one of the highest returns on investment of all home improvement projects, thanks to its low material and installation cost. You will also want to insulate around where you access the attic space. During heat waves, insulation can protect your family from life-threatening heat or frigid temperatures even when the home’s heating or cooling system cannot operate.

  • Insulate your home between your walls, floors, and ceilings. Adding insulation can make a significant difference in reducing your energy costs throughout the year.

  • Install drapes or shades on every window and door to provide insulation and block the sun. Another option is to install window tinting or use low-emissivity coating to reduce solar gains.

  • Consider whole home batteries to power your home in the event of brownouts and blackouts. Solar panels and efficient heating and cooling equipment pair especially well with batteries. Solar panels can extend the amount of power your home can access during extended outages, and efficient heating and cooling systems will drain the battery much less than older or less efficient equipment.

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Recommendation #5: Limit the presence of combustible materials. Natural disasters: Wildfires

Tips:

  • Remove vegetation and combustible materials from within five feet of windows, glass doors, and decks. This includes firewood, outdoor furniture, playsets etc. Use hard landscaping options like gravel, pavers, concrete or noncombustible mulch within this five-foot zone.

  • Cover all vent openings with 1/16 or ⅛ inch metal mesh. Fiberglass and plastic mesh shouldn’t be used because they can melt and burn at high temperatures. You can also install ember and flame-resistant vents, called WUI vents. Chimneys should also be covered, but with mesh no smaller than ⅜ inch and no larger than ½ inch.

  • Clean your roof, gutters, decks, and the base of walls to remove accumulations of plant debris like fallen leaves, needles, and other flammable materials. Use a corrosion-resistant and noncombustible metal drip edge and gutter cover for extra protection against debris buildup.

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Recommendation #6: Protect your family’s air quality. Natural disasters: Wildfires

Tips:

  • Air seal your home so poor outdoor air quality doesn’t enter your home. Work with a qualified professional that can measure how leaky your home is, identify areas to seal, and then can measure the results by using a “blower door.” With air sealing, you not only benefit when outdoor air quality is poor due to wildfires, but also when there is a high pollen count or other poor outdoor conditions.

  • Work with a well qualified HVAC contractor to install mechanical ventilation, good filtration, and other indoor air quality solution to your home’s heating and cooling system.

Natural Disaster Preparedness

Truth be told, most homeowners are ill-prepared to handle a natural disaster. According to a new Wells Fargo & Company survey, 84% of Americans live in areas that have experienced some form of natural disaster in the past three years, and 54% live in areas that have experienced severe natural disasters, specifically hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, or earthquakes. Despite these sobering statistics, 71% admit they don’t have a detailed emergency plan and 16% haven’t thought about emergency planning at all.

With natural disasters happening more frequently, now is not the time to sit and wait. Be proactive and inspect your home to help you prioritize what needs to be done. The last thing you want to do is be caught off guard. You may not be able to change the physical location of your home, but you can surely give it a fighting chance to sustain whatever climate change throws your way. For more tips and to connect with a natural disaster home preparedness expert, visit pearlcertification.com.

For an event to be characterized as a natural disaster event, at least one of the criteria must be met: economic loss of 50 million U.S. dollars; insured loss of 25 million U.S. dollars; ten fatalities; 50 injured; or 2,000 homes or structures damaged.

Insurance Information Institute

Natural Catastrophe Losses in The United States by Peril, 2020($ millions)

Event

Number of events (1)

Fatalities

Economic losses (2)

Insured losses (3)

Severe convective storm

51

106

$49,323

$35,000

Tropical cyclone

12

73

40,059

21,600

Wildfire, drought, heatwave

19

43

22,959

13,900

Flooding

4

8

5,292

2,200

Winter storm

4

6

1634.1

930

Earthquake

4

0

152

58

Total

94

~250

$119,000

$74,000

Originally Posted in Extreme How-To: The Enthusiast's Guide to Home Improvement(December 2021).

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