Nowhere in the U.S. is immune to climate hazards. Planning ahead not only protects you and your family, but the investment in your home.
The last thing you want to think about when buying a home is what could go wrong. But potential hazards are also the things you should consider before you buy, and that includes the risk for climate hazards.
Every day brings new headlines about stronger storms, hotter wildfires, and more devastating floods. The reality is, nowhere in the U.S. is immune to the effects of climate change.
But you can reduce the threat of climate hazards to your home by understanding the risks in your area and making strategic upgrades, renovations, and even landscaping choices that make your property more resilient.
“It is essential to prepare your home for disasters,” said Brian Coutu, a South Florida-based loan officer with Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation (Home.com is owned by Fairway). “You can do this by installing new windows, a whole home generator, updating your roof with wind-resistant materials. These changes can be the difference between keeping the disaster outside of a homeowner’s four walls and entering the home.”
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Preparing for climate hazards before they happen can bring you peace of mind and reassurance if a major storm or fire does occur.
There’s another benefit, too.
“Owning a home with weather-resistant aspects is a huge deal for future resale and marketability,” Coutu said.
The features that will yield the best return will depend on the climate challenges where you live. In South Florida, for instance, Coutu said many homebuyers specifically search for properties that have impact windows and wind-resistant roofs because of the hurricane risk there.
“By not having these items in your home you may be limiting the pool of buyers who are searching in your area,” he said.
But the primary reason to weatherize your house against climate risk is to protect your home and your family.
The following tips can help you get started on shoring up your property. But you may want to talk with a contractor in your area about common environmental issues they see and whether they advise any other renovations or upgrades.
Replacing a roof is one of the biggest expenses — and headaches — homeowners face. Fortunately, there are building materials that can make your roof more resilient to extreme storms, wildfires, and other types of climate hazards.
“A metal roof is storm- and fire-resistant,” said Melanie Musson, a home safety expert with Clearsurance. “It's one of the best ways to protect your home from disaster, and sometimes, your insurance company will even give you a discount for putting a metal roof on your home.”
She added that smart window choices can also protect your home.
“Insulated, double-glazed, tempered glass windows are far superior to single-glazed windows in resisting fire breakage,” said Musson. “They'll also keep your home more temperate because they'll insulate it from temperature extremes outside.”
The website Fire Safe Marin, which provides resources for residents of Marin County, Calif., about protecting their homes, recommends regularly checking your roof for signs that animals have gotten inside. When birds and other small creatures make nests under your roof, the dried leaves and twigs they use can make the home more prone to burning quickly.
The site also advises regularly cleaning your gutters of leaves and other highly flammable debris, as well as opting for fire-resistant roofing shingles and materials.
Adequate insulation can keep your utility bills in check and provide relief during extreme heat, cold, and other climate hazards.
“The main key to weatherize your home properly is to invest in a home energy checkup to figure out what works have to be done to boost the energy efficiency of your house,” said Sean Chapman, a professional carpenter and founder of the Tools’n’Goods blog. “In most cases, the checkup reveals the necessity to insulate a house better.”
Chapman explained that insulation is key in both cold and hot weather.
“Proper insulation can help you not only get rid of drafts here and there but also reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and cool the structure,” he said. “Fortunately for homeowners, high-quality insulation can both conserve heat in winter and protect the house from heating up too much during extreme heat waves.”
If the home is already built, the easiest place to install extra insulation is the attic. Insulating walls is much harder for obvious reasons. But if you plan to gut a room – or the entire house – anyway, you might as well plan on a wall insulation upgrade while you’re at it.
Coutu recommends taking out flood insurance even if you’re not in a mandatory flood insurance zone.
“If you are not in a FEMA Mandatory flood zone, the insurance premium is extremely inexpensive,” he said. But the coverage could save you thousands of dollars if you’re struck by a storm. Coutu gave the example of Hurricane Harvey, which brought severe flooding to Houston in 2017. He noted that three-fourths of the homes damaged by the floods were outside mandatory flood insurance areas.
“A family could protect themselves and the unbearable expense of dealing with flood damage by obtaining a very inexpensive flood insurance policy,” Coutu said.
“Fire-resistant landscaping requires you to prune trees to prevent them from contacting the house or overhanging it, keep shrubs at a distance from structures, choose mainly fire-resistant plants in drought-prone regions, avoid easily flammable mulch material, store wood for the fire pit at a safe distance, and many more.
“Almost all US states have become more prone to wildfires, so investing in your house protection can potentially save you from building a new house after a disaster,” said Ronnie Collins, a professional woodworker and founder of the Electro Garden Tools blog.
Collins recommended the following preventive steps:
- Prune trees to keep them from touching or overhanging your house
- Plant shrubs at a distance from the home
- Choose fire-resistant plants if you live in a drought-prone area
Poplar, cherry, and maple trees are fire-resistant, whereas firs and conifers are more flammable, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). The organization’s website also notes that rocks and mulch are good options for ground cover because they act as firebreaks. When it comes to decorative plants and shrubs, aloe, ice plants, hedging roses, and sumac are fire-resistant, though CAL FIRE emphasizes that no plants are “fire-proof.”
Musson also advised planting trees, shrubs, and ornamental plants away from the house.
“If you view a region following a wildfire, you'll see the impact that space around the home can make in saving a home from fire,” Musson said. “Homes adjacent to trees will burn up with the trees, but homes with green grass and manicured shrubs around have a better chance of remaining intact.”
Wildfire risk isn’t the only reason to landscape strategically.
“No longer just for design, landscapes are being designed to go with the flow of climate,” said Chris Campbell, a partner at The Charming Bench Company. “Wind-resistant trees and shrubs that can withstand strong winds without being uprooted, as well as serving as wind barriers, will be popular for landscapers.”
He added that homeowners can also hedge against hot, dry summers by planting hearty, tall plants that shade other areas of the garden, as well as plants that require little water.
If you recently purchased your home, you may not have significant savings left to overhaul your roof or outfit the home with new windows just yet. But there are steps you can take while saving up for those bigger investments.
“We help many families buy homes and in a lot of cases, the properties do not have hurricane impact windows,” Coutu said. “One tip that we pass along to hurricane-proof their house without replacing all of the windows in the house is to check out the local Habitat for Humanity Home Store.”
Coutu said the store in his area has stacks of donated storm-resistant shutters that new homeowners can purchase for much less than brand-new windows, and the shutters “offer the same level of protection that a new set of windows will offer.”
“They then hire a handyman or general contractor to drill the proper holes for installation (when needed) and voila, all the storm protection one would need next time a pesky hurricane comes to town, and at a fraction of the cost,” Coutu said.
Creative solutions of this kind can be found anywhere once you understand the climate risks in your area.
The important thing is to take risk management steps now so you’re prepared if extreme weather strikes. Then you can focus on your family’s safety, knowing you’ve protected your home from climate hazards as much as possible in advance.