How to make your home hurricane resistant, as scientists predict an ‘extremely active’ storm season

How to make your home hurricane resistant, as scientists predict an ‘extremely active’ storm season


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Making your home hurricane resistant can be a significant financial undertaking. But it’s one that has the potential to pay off as such storms become more intense amid climate change.

In 2024, the national average cost to upgrade an entire house with hurricane windows runs between $1,128 and $10,293, or $100 and $500 per window, including installation, according to This Old House. And that’s just one project.

Upgrades could help consumers protect their home, typically one of their most valuable assets, from windstorms and other natural disasters.

About $8.1 billion could be saved annually in physical damages from windstorms if homes had stronger connections between roofs and walls, or tighter nail spacing, according to a 2022 analysis on hurricane-resistant construction by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

‘Now’s the time to prepare’

Hurricanes are among the most expensive natural disasters in the U.S., and experts say the storm-related damage is likely to become more significant as storms become more severe.

Some of the projected effects of global warming on hurricane activity include sea level rise increasing coastal flooding, higher rainfall rates and storms that are more intense and strengthen rapidly, according to a research overview from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

“Warmer sea surface temperatures intensify tropical storm wind speeds, giving them the potential to deliver more damage if they make landfall,” notes the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a think tank.

Projections from reinsurer Swiss Re show that since the 1970s, hurricane residential-loss expectations have been on the rise, in part due to an increase in hurricane activity and changes in property value from population growth. Improvements in building standards have offset some of that increase, however.

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Scientists anticipate an “extremely active” hurricane season in 2024 due to record-warm tropical and eastern subtropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures, according to hurricane researchers at Colorado State University.

The latest forecast calls for 23 named storms, 11 of which are slated to spiral into hurricanes. Of those, five are expected to reach “major” levels, or category 3, 4 or 5 storms with sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour.

This year, the water temperature across the tropical Atlantic on average are about 1 degree Celsius, or 1.5 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal. While it doesn’t sound like much, it’s a big difference, said Phil Klotzbach, a senior research scientist at the Department of Atmospheric Science of Colorado State University.

“The tropical Atlantic right now is record warm,” he said. “That means more fuel for the storms that are trying to form.”

While atmospheric and water conditions may change, it’s wise for residents of storm-prone areas to think about undertaking home projects sooner rather than later.

“Now’s the time to prepare and have a plan in place,” said Klotzbach. “You don’t want to be making these preparations at the last minute.”

Hurricane resistance is about preventing ‘pressurization’

Hurricanes are different and unpredictable storms, said Jeff Ostrowski, a housing analyst at Bankrate.

“You don’t know if you’re going to be dealing with storm surge, or high winds or heavy rains. You’re trying to prepare for all those things at once,” he said.

It’s like a balloon that blows up, and when it blows up so much … it pops.

Leslie Chapman-Henderson

president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes

There are two key elements in your home to help prevent wind-related damage in a hurricane, according to Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, or FLASH. You want to:

  1. Make sure the structural strength between the roof and the wall can withstand wind pressure and impact of debris.
  2. Protect all the openings in your home: the doors, windows and the garage.

“What we’re working to prevent is pressurization. It’s like a balloon that blows up, and when it blows up so much … it pops,” she said. “That’s what happens to your house when the wind comes in.” 

Ways to make your home more hurricane resistant

1. Have an inspector assess your house

Having an inspector come out to see your house is a good starting point for your projects. They will provide a report of what areas in your home need to be redone or reinforced against harsh weather.

2. Reinforce your roof

The average cost to replace a roof in the U.S. is about $10,000, but the exact cost will depend on multiple factors, like the size of your roof, according to the Department of Energy.

For someone getting ready to re-roof their house, Fortified, a nonprofit organization re-roofing program that helps strengthen homes against severe weather, will offer guidelines on how to make the roof sturdy to withstand challenges in your area, said Jennifer Languell, president and founder of Trifecta Construction Solutions, a sustainable consulting firm in Florida.

“It tells you want you need to do to make your roof more sturdy,” she said.

If you’re not ready to completely re-roof your house, adding caulk or an adhesive to strengthen the soffits of your house (that is, the material connecting the roof edge to the exterior walls) will reduce the probability of wind and water gushing into your attic in a storm, said Chapman-Henderson of FLASH. Repair jobs for the soffit and fascia, a horizontal board usually outside the soffit, can cost between $600 to $6,000, according to Angi.com.

The roof-to-wall connection is another thing to secure in an existing home with an attic. Installing metal clips and straps strengthens the hold-down effect, essentially anchoring your house, she said. While the exact cost will depend on factors like the size of your home and the scale of the project, such retrofitting costs span from $850 to $1,350, according to Kin, a home insurance company.

You can do all this stuff in terms of hardening the house, but you’re still kind of at the mercy of whatever storm comes.

Jeff Ostrowski

housing analyst at Bankrate

3. Secure your windows and doors

“Do you have hurricane-impact windows? If not, can you put them in?” said Melissa Cohn, regional vice president of William Raveis Mortgage.

If installing new hurricane windows aren’t in the budget, shutters are lower-cost options to protect windows and other openings, said Chapman-Henderson.

Different types of shutters vary by material, installation and price. Removable galvanized storm panels made of steel are $5 to $6 per square foot, making them the most affordable option, according to information compiled by FLASH.

It may be worth installing shutters as an extra layer of protection, even with impact-proof windows, said Trifecta Construction Solutions’ Languell.

Meanwhile, garage doors are the “largest and weakest opening,” said Chapman-Henderson. Replacing the entire garage door for a wind-rated or impact-resistant version can span from $2,000 to $9,000, according to FLASH.

Emergency bracings can be a lower-cost solution: temporary 2-by-4 wood braces can reinforce your nonwind-resistant door for approximately $150 for materials and installation. A garage door storm kit can run up to $750, FLASH data found.

“You can do all this stuff in terms of hardening the house, but you’re still kind of at the mercy of whatever storm comes,” said Bankrate’s Ostrowski.

4. Talk to your insurer about possible discounts

Strengthening your home against disasters may help lower your insurance cost.

Insurers typically factor in natural-disaster risks when deciding what properties to underwrite and at what cost. That’s why some are pulling back in high-risk areas, or raising prices significantly.

Insurance costs also tend to be higher for existing homes than newly built ones, because such properties were constructed under less stringent building codes.

Once you have an inspector visit your house and recommend projects to make your home more hurricane resistant, talk to your insurance agent about which of the suggestions are most likely to reduce your premium, Ostrowski said.

Keep in mind that each state is different in terms of what premium reductions are available and to what extent, and it depends on the risks, the company’s exposure and the regulatory environment, said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.

Homeowners’ insurance premium rates are based on measurable risk and while mitigation efforts might help reduce the risk, the scientific measurement of catastrophe risk and mitigation efforts is still evolving, she said.

“All analysis of premium pricing related to mitigation efforts is a question of degree of risk, and not removal of risk entirely from the policy,” Worters said.

Grants, financing can help mitigate costs

If the cost to prepare your home against hurricanes is daunting, there may be grants, tax credits and other programs to help lessen the burden.

Some states have set up matching grant programs for disaster retrofits, said Chapman-Henderson.

In Florida, residents may be eligible to apply for matching grants that go up to $10,000 dollar-for-dollar match for approved upgrades like shutters, roofing and strengthening your garage door roof-to-wall connections, she said. There are similar programs in Alabama and Louisiana.

To find out more, homeowners can search for loans, grants or tax credits available in their state through dsireusa.org, which lists all of the funding opportunities and incentives to harden your home against disasters, Languell said.

For people with poor credit or who live in states that don’t have matching-dollar programs, Property Assessed Clean Energy programs allow a homeowner to finance upfront costs of eligible improvements on a property and pay the costs over time through the property tax bill, said Chapman-Henderson.

Energy-efficient mortgages, also referred to as green mortgages, may also be worth exploring. These loans are meant to help homeowners finance eco-friendly home upgrades or outright buy homes that help reduce energy consumption and lower utility bills, although they often have strict loan limits and require additional information during your application, according to LendingTree.

Depending on your hurricane-resistance project, that might be a fit: Sometimes, energy efficiency goes hand-in-hand with durability, Languell said.

“Sealing the underside of your roof sheathing would also help you from an energy standpoint because it’s sealing all the cracks and crevices,” she said, as this repair both keeps your roof on your house and helps avoid water or air leaks.

The same goes with window replacements: “If you are going to replace your windows from a single-pane window to an impact window that has a better energy performance, it’s saving you on energy,” Languell said.

In this new series, CNBC will examine what climate change means for your money, from retirement savings to insurance costs to career outlook.

Has climate change left you with bigger or new bills? Tell us about your experience by emailing annie.nova@nbcuni.com.

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