What You Need to Know When Preparing Your Home Before a Natural Disaster

What You Need to Know When Preparing Your Home Before a Natural Disaster
August 20, 2020 AD&V
Damaged house during a storm.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR |  AD&V® is dedicated to advanced and energy-efficient sustainable architecture & interior design that enhances people’s experience of the world and improves their lives.

Understanding the possible impacts of natural disasters can help you better prepare your home, family, and community for future events. 

The following lessons seek to help mitigate these impacts while strengthening, and ultimately minimizing damages to your homes:

IDENTIFY POSSIBLE HAZARDS BASED ON LOCATION

Identification and classification of existing and anticipated hazards is an essential first step in working toward a safer and more resilient home within your community. It is the first step toward the implementation of safer strategies. The protection of your home needs to always be considered in the context of its location and within its environment.

Natural disasters manifest differently depending on the area you are situated. For example, in the central mountainous regions of Puerto Rico landslide hazards are a growing concern due to sloping hills. Coastal zones face increased risks of flooding, storm surges, and coastal erosion.

Strategic land use planning and land use policy can help improve resilience against these hazards and mitigate disaster risks.

COMPLY WITH THE BUILDING CODES

Building codes protect public welfare by regulating design and construction practices, materials, location, occupancy and maintenance of buildings and structures. Over the years, new codes have been devised and enforced to make structures safer, thus protecting people from injury and property from damage.

Builders in disaster-prone areas need to make sure structures can withstand extreme circumstances, such as hurricane conditions consisting of strong winds, impact from flying objects, rains, and floods. By making structures more resistant to damage caused by natural and man-made disasters, building codes reduce the number of deaths and injuries and save billions of dollars in property.

AIM FOR RESILIENCY

Resilient design is the calculated design of buildings and other structures or spaces to make them able to withstand natural or man-made disasters and recover rapidly. A resilient building can endure both normal, everyday use as well as disaster scenarios that are probable in that area. Having a resilient home will allow you to maintain livable or workable conditions during interruptions in basic services (electricity, water, etc.) and disturbances resulting from climate change and natural disasters. That’s why you should incorporate resilient design applications into your home before a natural disaster such as:

  • Infrastructure failure and power outages: backup systems, off-grid heating and cooling, daylighting techniques, etc., used to keep buildings operational and comfortable for people when electricity fails.
  • Everyday resiliency and normal wear and tear: long-lasting and low-maintenance interiors capable of enduring decades of constant use.
  • Interior finishes: durable doors and entrance points, protected walls, sealed windows and floors capable of resisting high traffic.

The damage caused by natural disasters remind us that we must always think long-term in order to design and build lasting structures that can adapt to changing conditions.

INSPECT YOUR HOME

The best way to maintain any structure is to understand its vulnerability and implement the solution that best targets it. Periodic maintenance is important for the overall health of the structure and knowing what makes the foundation, walls, and roof of your home strong can help you create an overall approach to protect your home while addressing multiple natural hazards at once.

The condition and strength of a home’s structure depends on continuous monitoring and frequent maintenance. Start by identifying your home’s structural and exterior weakness. For example, check your home’s gutters and drains and move any objects that may block water from receding. If you have a generator for the house, test it and fill it with fuel.

If you need additional assistance consult with a building professional (can be an engineer, or architect) to get the most thorough inspection possible.

SEAL & PROTECT OPENINGS

Check that your home’s entry doors, windows, skylights, and vents or any other opening are properly sealed. If your home’s openings aren’t properly secured, then it can allow for water to seep through the cracks and can also leave it unprotected against projectiles at high-wind scenarios. Here’s what you should do:

  • Inspect seals and framing of windows, vents and doors annually for signs of wear or separation.
  • Watch out for corrosion. Clean immediately and replace corroded elements if necessary.
  • Timber openings must be inspected annually for signs of rot or insect damage. If damage cannot be repaired using painting or sealing, replace damaged timber with new timber or decay-resistant material.

Appropriately securing and sealing openings will help protect your home from natural disasters.

FLOODPROOF YOUR HOME 

Verify if your home or building is located in designated floodplain along the coast. Designated flood plains can experience storm surge with breaking waves during or along a river that may overflow during heavy rains. You can floodproof your home by:

  • Clearly labeling breakaway walls and critical components.
  • Regularly inspecting outdoor fixtures for signs of rust, corrosion, leaks, seepage and cracks.
  • Moving items used or stored in flood-prone basements or ground-floor spaces to higher floors or out of the building prior to an expected flood. These include vehicles, mechanical equipment, furniture, area rugs, personal belongings, cleaning supplies and toxic chemicals.

Understand how flood water can affect your structure so that you can mitigate the risks, damages and costs associated with flooding.

PRACTICE “PASSIVE HABITABILITY”

The concept of “passive habitability,” refers to improving a housing facility’s ability to maintain habitable conditions in the event of extended power loss or in the event of hazardous conditions related to natural disasters. In other words, a building’s structure, energy system, water system and immediate surroundings all work together so that people can live “off the grid.”

Some techniques of passive habitability are useful for new construction, such as locating your house in relation to the sun and wind patterns in order to keep the interior temperature comfortable with little or no power. Other methods of managing your current home on an everyday basis, include optimizing air flow and natural light, which can reduce your dependence on electricity for cooling and lighting. This is especially important for hot nights due to power outages caused by storms.

HAVE A BACKUP PLAN

For years, it has been common knowledge that both equipment and purchasing sources of electricity need to be diversified. Luckily, a growing alternative energy industry is making renewable technology, such as solar panels and solar thermal systems, available to more people. While emergency generators remain a good support for short-term power loss, new renewable energy systems can provide long-term value.

The way to scale down dependence on electrical suppliers is to reduce daily energy consumption patterns in your home, evaluate alternative energy systems, and to manage a backup system to get through an emergency.

HAVE AN EMERGENCY PLAN

Establishing an emergency plan is vital to suit your household’s unique needs. Begin by talking about what would happen if a disaster struck and what each person could do. Here’s where to start:

  • Determine who your household members need to be in touch with, and how they will reach each other.
  • Discuss shelter options.
  • Select two places to go if it is impossible to return home and communications are down.
  • Make sure you have at least 5 days’ worth of supplies for each household member.
  • Have an emergency backpack ready for each member in case you have to leave your home.

Having an emergency plan set before a natural disaster comes your way, will keep you and your family better prepared.

CREATE A COMMUNITY PLAN

Even when households carry out their individual plans, people always come together. Living in a neighborhood will bring up common concerns in terms of safety, housing, and services. Engaging communities to establish an emergency protocol that could apply before, during, and after the emergency is one of the best ways to prepare against adversity. Begin by:

  • Creating a community profile and making a map of your community.
  • Gathering your community members.
  • Together, developing plans for: evacuation, communication, and transportation.

In the end, times of turmoil can become an opportunity for people to get to know or develop deeper relationships with their neighbors and harness the power of mutual solidarity.

RESEARCH FINANCIAL RESOURCES

If your struggling to finance making your home safer through these strategies, there are many financial and programming resources available to help you do so. Funding for a project can be provided to homeowners or residential building owners through loans, grants, or by participating in a program administered by a federal, state, municipal, or non-profit organization.

There are different types of institutional resources and assistance available online. Funding resilient upgrades, range of direct grants, subsidies, and loans may be available for housing repair and construction. Here’s a full list of resources. For more information visit: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1474548130660-db3c22abcc03741642….

KEEP SAFE

While no one can anticipate all the consequences of a natural disaster, past events have taught us that being prepared is the key to successfully overcome them. It’s important to take advantage of resources like the Keep Safe Guide for Resilient Housing Design in Island Communities that can help you and all citizens become educated and be better prepared to survive future disasters. You can download the complete Keep Safe Guide for free! Click here to get the English version of the guide. For the Spanish version of the guide click here. 

As you can see, each home has its own set of vulnerabilities based on its structure and its site. Understanding these lessons will help you determine the safest strategy for protecting your home against environmental risks.

FURTHER READING: 5 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT RESILIENT HOUSING

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