Extreme weather has become the new reality for all parts of the country, not just coastal regions, as what used to be considered “1000-year storms” are now happening approximately every five years. When disaster does strike, in the rush to rebuild, homes and buildings are often not completed up to minimum building codes. That, in and of itself, is a recipe for disaster.

The good news is that, in recent years, the design and construction industry has recognized that responding to these sets of natural challenges is a national imperative. But what can you to prepare for the possibility of a dangerous storm or disaster? All homeowners should consider these actions in advance of a potential weather-related disaster:

  • Document your home before disaster strikes. Take photos of the inside and outside of your property and share with your insurance company to have in their files, list rare and special items separately. Put extremely valuable items in a fire and waterproof safe or box.
  • Familiarize yourself with the specifics of your home: age, framing, construction documents, and recent roof repairs. This will help guide what design changes or updates should be made.
  • Prioritize making easy and inexpensive fixes and phase repairs, maintenance, and retrofits so they are manageable. Use wind-resistant nailing patterns to secure roof sheathing. Consider what flying debris and storm waters might do before reworking areas to minimize damage.
  • Communicate your building performance goals. Make your desire for storm-resistant and resilient design elements known to your architect from the outset of a project and include site selection, program, and building life cycle in your conversations. Make sure that you are comfortable with their expertise in this area before proceeding with work.
  • Designate a safe room within your home for certain hazards, including tornadoes and earthquakes. Examples include mud room, laundry room, or even a powder room as space allows. If you have a shelter in a low area, make sure you can get out in case of flooding. Consider multi-hazard possibilities.
  • Design to meet your needs. Building codes are a life-safety standard that affords only the bare minimum for the protection of property. Hazardous conditions may not be up to date in local maps and regulations to reflect current realities and risk. Any reworked areas or additions can be built to higher strength standards often for just a few percent more than your planned budget giving you a better alternative in a storm.

If you are making any big-picture construction or renovation plans, be sure to work with a licensed architect. Design professionals are well-versed in best practices to prevent destruction with cost-effective mitigation features and advanced planning.

Proper preparation may help change a disaster into just a short-term uncomfortable event. Now is a great time to see where your homeowner’s insurance policy stands and also to have your home evaluated with an overall risk assessment that an architect can provide, before the next time Mother Nature’s unpredictable fury strikes.

About the author: Tom Hurd, AIA, is an architect and past chair of AIA's Disaster Assistance Committee.

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