For Every Peril, There’s a Home Improvement

Earthquake
The main structural improvements that mitigate earthquake damages and losses are foundation anchoring, cripple wall bracing, and water heater bracing to prevent gas leaks and fires. Earthquake mitigation steps minimize the ability of a structure to shift from ground movement and help prevent objects and fixtures from falling. Keeping the walls and foundation stable and securing furniture, shelves, overhead lighting, wall art, and gas appliances is essential.

1. Foundation Anchoring – Depending on the construction of the home, a variety of anchoring techniques can help secure the structure to its foundation and reduce the effects of ground movement. The sill plate of the house should be securely bolted to the foundation, and hold downs can be used to secure walls. These construction steps are required by newer building codes in many seismic zones, but can also be done a licensed professional as retrofits.

2. Cripple Walls – Cripple walls are walls less than a story in height and are typically found between the first floor of a building and its foundation. Unbraced cripple walls made of weak material can shift during an earthquake and cause significant damage to the home, injuries to the occupants, or even death. According to FEMA, one way to reduce this potential is to brace the cripple walls by adding horizontal supports between the vertical studs at the top and bottom of the walls. Metal connectors should be added to ensure the supports are securely attached. The next step is to nail plywood or oriented strand board to the cripple wall’s interior face.

3. Water Heaters – Unsecured water heaters are susceptible to falling or toppling over and can break free from gas lines. Strapping the water heater to wall studs, and installing flexible gas and water lines reduces the risk of fire and water damage in the event of an earthquake.

If you are unsure of your home’s ability to perform in an earthquake, you may hire a licensed contractor or structural engineer to perform an assessment. Local building departments may be able to recommend professionals or provide seismic assessments in your community.

Hail
Hailstorms do not usually result in the catastrophic level of damage associated with earthquakes, wildfires, or windstorms; however, hail can cause costly damage to homes, especially roofs. The following home improvements can mitigate damage in the event of hail:

1. Roof Covering – The condition and materials of the roof covering will determine its impact resistance, and worn asphalt shingles are especially vulnerable to hail damage. Impact-resistant roof coverings designed and tested to improve roof performance during hailstorms are widely available in a variety of product options from asphalt shingles to concrete tiles.

2. Roof Decking – Roof decking provides the structural support underneath secondary water barrier membranes and the roof covering. Decking made from 5/8” plywood improves stiffness and performance, and using 8d ring shank nails in a pattern of 6 inches on center can keep the decking secure.

3. Roof Slope – Angling the roof reduces the force of impact from hail because hail hitting the roof at a 90-degree angle causes more damage than hail hitting the roof at an angle that deflects the force of the hail.

Hurricane
Home improvements to mitigate hurricane damage generally focus on the roof coverings, roof system, windows, doors, garage doors, and overall structural connections. Loss mitigation efforts should keep the roof system intact, prevent a structure from being penetrated by the wind or wind borne debris, and prevent the home from sliding off its foundation. Although floods are insured under a separate standalone policy, it is important to consider the effects of flooding during a hurricane.

1. Roof – In evaluating the potential of hurricane damage to your home, roof type and condition matter. Unbraced gable-end roofs are more likely to suffer high-wind damage than hip-shaped roofs because they are weaker against uplift forces. Roof construction quality affects high-wind roof performance as well. When the roof decking is not properly attached to the roof frame, it may lift up, detach, and eventually fail. Roof decking and coverings (shin- gles or tiles) secured with too few nails or nails that are too small decrease roof performance in high winds as well. Once the roof-to-wall connections, roof structure, or roof coverings are compromised, the system is weakened and the home, interior, and contents are susceptible to water damage, progressive damage, or complete roof collapse. Loose tiles and shingles then can become dangerous wind-borne projectiles.

2. Windows/Doors – Installing impact-resistant windows, impact-resistant shutters, or other covering provide protection for your home’s openings from the combination of flying debris and the continuous pressure from high winds. Installing impact-resistant windows and doors can help prevent wind and debris from breaching the home and causing internal pressurization and progressive damage.

3. Garage Doors – Garage doors can pose a special risk during high winds as they protect the largest and weakest opening on the home. Using an impact-resistant garage door, maintaining tight door tracks and roller hinges, or retrofitting older doors with bracing and stronger center and end supports can reduce the likelihood of door failure. Garage doors may also be protected with impact-resistant coverings, like armor screens, during a hurricane.

Lightning
Because lightning can strike anywhere, it is beneficial for homeowners to consider electrical and surge protection devices on the interior and exterior of the home. Interior devices include surge protectors that can mitigate damage to many of the electric appliances and electronics in your home. Exterior devices include whole-house surge protectors and lightning protection systems. These devices provide the highest level of protection, require compliance with local building codes, and require professional installation.

1. Surge Protection Devices – A good electrical grounding system can protect electronics and electrical appliances from all but the most severe electrical surges or direct strikes. Surge protection devices are typically installed at point of use.

2. Lightning Protection Systems – These systems use rods and cables to create a direct path for lightning to follow to the ground instead of moving through the house and its wiring. Consult a qualified contractor for installation, but note that lightning protection systems will not protect against lightning or power surge that enters through the telephone, cable, or electric lines to the house.

3. Whole House Surge Protection Systems – This device is usually installed on the electric meter and helps protect appliances and electronic equipment in your house. If your local utility provider does not offer installation services, a qualified electrician can install this device.

Power Outage
For the individual homeowner, loss of electrical power is not only inconvenient, but can cause unhealthy and unsafe conditions or even additional building damage. Keeping the air conditioning functional will help prevent mold growth inside the home during warm months, and heating systems are essential for safety during winter.

Loss of electrical power in a neighborhood can also affect the sewage and water systems. Sewage check valves and back flow preventers can be used on homes to guard against contamination from systems that might not operate normally after a disaster.

You can minimize your risk of power outage by having an annual electrical inspection to identify potential short circuits or other problems. Your utility provider can also help reduce your risk of power outages by keeping trees trimmed near power lines, placing power lines underground, and upgrading power grids.

1. Electrical Inspections – To protect against power outages, look for potential hazards, such as tree limbs over power lines near your home. Licensed electricians should periodically inspect your home electrical wiring to identify potential problems.

2. Alternate Power Sources – If used properly, portable and standby generators are affordable, popular, and safe. Battery, solar, and hand-crank power sources are effective and widely available as well.

3. Avoid Spoilage – Food spoilage is a very common loss due to power outages. To minimize spoilage, you should limit opening and closing the refrigerator so as to not lose cooling. Also, try to consume refrigerated food before food that does not require refrigeration. In winter months, snow can be compacted, stacked, and used as a temporary freezer or refrigerator, but liquids and other food may freeze in the snow.

Tornado Property damage to homes from lower level tornadoes, including EF0, EF1 and EF2, can be mitigated by focusing on the roof, windows, doors, and garage doors as well as the overall connections, including roof-to-wall and wall-to-foundation. Keeping the roof intact, keeping the roof secured to the walls, protecting windows and doors, and keeping wind out is of the utmost importance.

1. Roof – As in hurricanes or any type of high-wind event, a structure’s roof type and condition is a critical factor in the amount of damage sustained. Unbraced gable end roofs are more likely to suffer high-wind damage than hip shaped roofs because they are weaker against uplift forces. Roof construction quality affects high-wind roof performance as well. When the roof decking is not properly attached to the roof frame, it may lift up, detach, and eventually fail. Roof decking and coverings (shingles or tiles) secured with too few nails or nails that are too small decrease roof performance in high winds as well. Once the roof-to-wall connections, roof structure, or roof coverings are compromised, the system is weakened and the home contents are susceptible to water damage, progressive damage, or complete roof collapse. Loose tiles and shingles also become dangerous projectiles in the high winds.

2. Windows/Doors – Impact-resistant windows and doors can provide protection for the home’s envelope from the combination of flying debris and the continuous pressure from high winds. Installing impact-resistant windows and doors can prevent wind and debris from breaching the home and causing internal pressurization and progressive damage.

3. Garage Doors – Garage doors can pose a special risk during high winds as they protect the largest and weakest opening on the home. Using an impact-resistant garage door, maintaining tight door tracks and roller hinges, or retrofitting older doors with bracing, a stronger center, and end supports can reduce the likelihood of door failure.

It is essential to note that the ultimate life safety protection in any tornado, especially those above EF2, is a properly constructed or fabricated, tested, and approved tornado safe room or shelter.

Wildfire
Home improvements to help mitigate wildfire damage focus on roof coverings, landscaping, and the area around the home. Wildfire mitigation activities should reduce or remove fuels (for example, building components and landscaping), because wildfire can only ignite when air, heat, and fuel are present. Replacing combustible roofing materials, wood decking, and fire-prone plant varieties will help prevent and reduce losses.

1. Roof Covering – Roof covering should be chosen based on the risks in your location, and combustible wood shake shingles are no longer used in high wildfire risk areas. Asphalt shingles with good fire ratings are often the most cost-effective choice, and regularly clearing the roof and gutters of fuels like leaves, branches, pine needles, and other flammable debris is an essential maintenance activity.

2. Outside – Keep a defensible zone around your home that is planted with water-based vegetation and free of dead brush, dried leaves, and undergrowth. Store firewood away from the home, identify alternate water sources for the fire department to use like pools and lakes, and ensure that your house number is clearly visible from the street.

Winter Freeze
The simplest and most effective winter freeze mitigation steps are part of regular home and property maintenance. Adequate indoor temperature and attic ventilation will help prevent ice dams. Clean gutters will move water away from the home and prevent ice buildup. Insulating outdoor faucets and pipes with foam or covers will prevent burst pipes, and regularly trimmed trees will not freeze, become heavy, and fall on roofs and vehicles.

1. Indoor Temperature/Ventilation – Keep a constant temperature in the home even when it is vacant to prevent pipes from freezing. Attics should be ventilated so that temperatures remain nearly as cool as the outdoor temperature. This will prevent a cycle of ice build-up and melting that creates ice dams. Regularly caulking and flashing windows and doors will help eliminate drafts and increase energy efficiency too.

2. Gutters – Clear gutters of debris by flushing them out with a garden hose and install mesh gutter screens to reduce future maintenance. This will help keep leaves and plant debris out and prevent ice dams from forming at the base of the roof and in the gutter area.

3. Outdoor Plumbing – Drain water from all outside hoses, and insulate all exposed faucets and pipes with foam sleeves or covers. Drip faucets during extremely cold weather.

4. Outdoor Hazards – Avoid winter freeze problems outside by keeping trees trimmed, maintaining fences and sheds, and avoiding water ponding and retention in the landscaping.

5. Alternate Power Sources – If used properly, portable and standby generators are affordable, popular, and safe. Battery, solar, and hand-crank power sources are effective and widely available as well.

6. Avoid Spoilage – Food spoilage is a very common loss due to power outages. To minimize spoilage, you should limit opening and closing the refrigerator so as to not lose cooling, and should consume refrigerated before non-refrigerated food. Snow can be compacted, stacked, and used as a temporary freezer or refrigerator, but liquids and other food may freeze in snow.



Power Outage
For the individual homeowner, loss of electrical power is not only inconvenient, but can cause unhealthy and unsafe conditions or even additional building damage. Keeping the air conditioning functional will help prevent mold growth inside the home during warm months, and heating systems are essential for safety during winter.

Loss of electrical power in a neighborhood can also affect the sewage and water systems. Sewage check valves and back flow preventers can be used on homes to guard against contamination from systems that might not operate normally after a disaster.

You can minimize your risk of power outage by having an annual electrical inspection to identify potential short circuits or other problems. Your utility provider can also help reduce your risk of power outages by keeping trees trimmed near power lines, placing power lines underground, and upgrading power grids.

1. Electrical Inspections – To protect against power outages, look for potential hazards, such as tree limbs over power lines near your home. Licensed electricians should periodically inspect your home electrical wiring to identify potential problems.

2. Alternate Power Sources – If used properly, portable and standby generators are affordable, popular, and safe. Battery, solar, and hand-crank power sources are effective and widely available as well.

3. Avoid Spoilage – Food spoilage is a very common loss due to power outages. To minimize spoilage, you should limit opening and closing the refrigerator so as to not lose cooling. Also, try to consume refrigerated food before food that does not require refrigeration. In winter months, snow can be compacted, stacked, and used as a temporary freezer or refrigerator, but liquids and other food may freeze in the snow.

Tornado
Property damage to homes from lower level tornadoes, including EF0, EF1 and EF2, can be mitigated by focusing on the roof, windows, doors, and garage doors as well as the overall connections, including roof-to-wall and wall-to-foundation. Keeping the roof intact, keeping the roof secured to the walls, protecting windows and doors, and keeping wind out is of the utmost importance.

1. Roof – As in hurricanes or any type of high-wind event, a structure’s roof type and condition is a critical factor in the amount of damage sustained. Unbraced gable end roofs are more likely to suffer high-wind damage than hip shaped roofs because they are weaker against uplift forces. Roof construction quality affects high-wind roof performance as well. When the roof decking is not properly attached to the roof frame, it may lift up, detach, and eventually fail. Roof decking and coverings (shingles or tiles) secured with too few nails or nails that are too small decrease roof performance in high winds as well. Once the roof-to-wall connections, roof structure, or roof coverings are compromised, the system is weakened and the home contents are susceptible to water damage, progressive damage, or complete roof collapse. Loose tiles and shingles also become dangerous projectiles in the high winds.

2. Windows/Doors – Impact-resistant windows and doors can provide protection for the home’s envelope from the combination of flying debris and the continuous pressure from high winds. Installing impact-resistant windows and doors can prevent wind and debris from breaching the home and causing internal pressurization and progressive damage.

3. Garage Doors – Garage doors can pose a special risk during high winds as they protect the largest and weakest opening on the home. Using an impact-resistant garage door, maintaining tight door tracks and roller hinges, or retrofitting older doors with bracing, a stronger center, and end supports can reduce the likelihood of door failure.

It is essential to note that the ultimate life safety protection in any tornado, especially those above EF2, is a properly constructed or fabricated, tested, and approved tornado safe room or shelter.

Wildfire
Home improvements to help mitigate wildfire damage focus on roof coverings, landscaping, and the area around the home. Wildfire mitigation activities should reduce or remove fuels (for example, building components and landscaping), because wildfire can only ignite when air, heat, and fuel are present. Replacing combustible roofing materials, wood decking, and fire-prone plant varieties will help prevent and reduce losses.

1. Roof Covering – Roof covering should be chosen based on the risks in your location, and combustible wood shake shingles are no longer used in high wildfire risk areas. Asphalt shingles with good fire ratings are often the most cost-effective choice, and regularly clearing the roof and gutters of fuels like leaves, branches, pine needles, and other flammable debris is an essential maintenance activity.

2. Outside – Keep a defensible zone around your home that is planted with water-based vegetation and free of dead brush, dried leaves, and undergrowth. Store firewood away from the home, identify alternate water sources for the fire department to use like pools and lakes, and ensure that your house number is clearly visible from the street.

Winter Freeze
The simplest and most effective winter freeze mitigation steps are part of regular home and property maintenance. Adequate indoor temperature and attic ventilation will help prevent ice dams. Clean gutters will move water away from the home and prevent ice buildup. Insulating outdoor faucets and pipes with foam or covers will prevent burst pipes, and regularly trimmed trees will not freeze, become heavy, and fall on roofs and vehicles.

1. Indoor Temperature/Ventilation – Keep a constant temperature in the home even when it is vacant to prevent pipes from freezing. Attics should be ventilated so that temperatures remain nearly as cool as the outdoor temperature. This will prevent a cycle of ice build-up and melting that creates ice dams. Regularly caulking and flashing windows and doors will help eliminate drafts and increase energy efficiency too.

2. Gutters – Clear gutters of debris by flushing them out with a garden hose and install mesh gutter screens to reduce future maintenance. This will help keep leaves and plant debris out and prevent ice dams from forming at the base of the roof and in the gutter area.

3. Outdoor Plumbing – Drain water from all outside hoses, and insulate all exposed faucets and pipes with foam sleeves or covers. Drip faucets during extremely cold weather.

4. Outdoor Hazards – Avoid winter freeze problems outside by keeping trees trimmed, maintaining fences and sheds, and avoiding water ponding and retention in the landscaping.

5. Alternate Power Sources – If used properly, portable and standby generators are affordable, popular, and safe. Battery, solar, and hand-crank power sources are effective and widely available as well.

6. Avoid Spoilage – Food spoilage is a very common loss due to power outages. To minimize spoilage, you should limit opening and closing the refrigerator so as to not lose cooling, and should consume refrigerated before non-refrigerated food. In winter months, snow can be compacted, stacked, and used as a temporary freezer or refrigerator, but liquids and other food may freeze in snow.



Potential Premium Discounts for Loss Mitigation

Insurers sometimes offer lower premiums to homeowners with home mitigation features because the features can reduce losses. The most common property insurance discounts are provided for dead bolt locks, fire sprinklers, and smoke alarms however, disaster-specific discounts are also available in many states. Mitigation features that qualify for premium credits or discounts range from foundation anchoring, water heater strapping, and cripple wall bracing in earthquake zones to use of high-wind shingles in hurricane zones and impact-resistant roofing in the hail belt.

Your community’s building codes also may affect your insurance premiums. Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS) classification, a program of the Insurance Services Office, Inc. (ISO)®, is a tool used to measure the effectiveness of a jurisdiction’s building code enforcement. The BCEGS program measures the adoption and enforcement of a community’s building codes with special emphasis on reduction of losses from natural hazards.

Communities benefit from a favorable BCEGS classification. For example, a favorable BCEGS classification may positively impact jurisdictions in one or more of the following ways:
  • Result in better homeowners and commercial insurance rates
  • Allow the community to apply for a better class rating in the Community Rating System (CRS), which may in turn result in lower flood insurance premiums
  • Reflect and further incentivize better building practices that strengthen a community’s resilience against disasters
For more information about the BCEGS program, call ISO at (800) 444-4554, email bcegsupdate@verisk.com, or visit isomitigation.com.



The Actuarial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, was established in 1994 to help facilitate and broaden the profession’s contribution to society. The Foundation explores innovative ways to apply actuarial skills in the public interest and brings together broad partnerships of individuals and organizations to address social problems in creative ways.


The nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc. (FLASH®) is an award-winning coalition of government agencies, professional associations, and private industry committed to strengthening homes, safeguarding families, and protecting economic well-being by promoting disaster preparedness.

©Copyright 2015 by Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc. (FLASH®) and The Actuarial Foundation.