Follow these basic safety tips as you prepare your home for hurricane season or clean up damage caused by severe weather
If your home has been damaged by a hurricane or flood, this guide follows Red Cross and FEMA recommendations to provide basic guidance on steps for a safe preparation and recovery.
Print out this Home Depot guide for quick reference.
How to Prepare Your Home for a Hurricane
Be prepared to evacuate quickly – know your routes and destination. If local authorities have advised your area be evacuated, follow their warnings as quickly as possible.
- Protect windows. If you don’t already have storm shutters or time to install them, cut ½-inch marine plywood to fit your doors and windows. Secure with nails over all windows and entrances.
- Store outdoor décor and toys. Collect all loose lawn furniture, bicycles, bird feeders, toys, gardening tools, trash cans, children’s toys and playsets that can be moved and store them indoors.
- Clear rain gutters and downspouts. Clear out any clogged gutters and downspouts, and secure if loose.
- Research flood insurance. Standard homeowner’s insurance does not cover flooding – FEMA has more information here.
- Collect water. In addition to collecting drinking water, fill bathtubs and sinks with tap water. You can use this water for flushing the toilet, bathing, or washing clothing in the event that your water supply gets cut off. You can also fill your washing machine with ice to serve as a temporary refrigerator if necessary.
- Turn off propane tanks and unplug appliances. Unplug small appliances to reduce the potential for power surges and turn off your propane tank. If you lose power, refrain from opening the refrigerator or freezer doors as much as possible in order to keep the temperature inside cold. Turn off your utilities if instructed to do so by authorities.
- Move valuables to the top floor. Move all the furniture that you’re able to carry to the top floor of your home, along with all valuables and sentimental mementos.
- Remove or trim damaged trees and limbs to reduce property damage.
- Have a portable generator or install a permanent generator, if you have time. Follow safety instructions provided by the manufacturer. Make sure it’s running outside with the exhaust directed away from openings to your home or nearby buildings. At least 20-feet from any occupied buildings.
If you have a FEMA safe room or storm shelter, fill it with all food and supplies you may need.
How to Clean Up After a Flood
Only return to an evacuated area affected by flooding and hurricanes after local authorities advise that it is safe to do so.
- Do an initial inspection of your home without children or pets. Keep children and pets away from hazardous sites and floodwater. If you have children, leave them with a relative or friend while you conduct your first inspection of your home after the disaster. The site may be unsafe for children, and seeing the damage firsthand may upset them even more and cause long-term effects, including nightmares.
- Check power lines. If power lines are down outside your home, do not step in puddles or standing water. Report them immediately to the power company. Have water, gas, electric and sewer lines checked professionally.
- Check the outside of your home before you enter. Look for loose power lines, broken or damaged gas lines, foundation cracks, missing support beams or other damage. Damage on the outside can indicate a serious problem inside. Ask a building inspector or contractor to check the structure before you enter.
- Do not cut or walk past colored tape that was placed over doors or windows to mark damaged areas unless you have been told that it is safe to do so. If a building inspector has placed a color-coded sign on the home, do not enter it until you get more information, advice and instructions from your local authorities.
- Beware of snakes, insects and other animals that may be in or around your home. As you inspect your home, tap loudly and often on the floor with a stick to give notice that you are there.
- Make a list and take pictures of home damage, both of the buildings and its contents, for insurance purposes. Make temporary repairs such as covering holes, bracing walls, and removing debris. Save all receipts.
- If the door is jammed, don’t force it open – it may be providing support to the rest of your home. Find another way to get inside. Once inside, check all doors and cabinet doors – if they are waterlogged, they may have warped and need to be replaced.
- If power is out, use a flashlight. Do not use any open flame, including candles, to inspect for damage or serve as alternate lighting.
- Sniff for natural gas. If you detect natural or propane gas, or hear a hissing noise, leave the property immediately and get far away from it. Call the fire department after you reach safety.
- If the weather is dry, open windows and doors to ventilate and/or dry your home.
- Wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and rubber boots, and be cautious when cleaning up.
- Throw out items that absorb water and cannot be cleaned or disinfected. This includes mattresses, carpeting, cosmetics, stuffed animals and baby toys.
- Throw out all food, beverages and medicine exposed to flood waters and mud. When in doubt, throw it out. This includes canned goods, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and containers with food or liquid that has been sealed shut.
- Be careful when moving furnishings or debris as they may be waterlogged and much heavier.
- Don’t use any gas or electrical appliances that were flooded until they have been checked for safety.
- Pump out flooded basements gradually (about 1/3 of the water per day) to avoid structural damage. If the water is pumped out completely in a short period of time, pressure from water-saturated soil on the outside could cause basement walls to collapse. A pump or wetvac can be rented or bought to remove the remnants of the water in the house. However, it is just as important to use a dehumidifier to pull the moisture from the air and woodwork behind the walls.
- Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible.
- If you use one, turn off all valves of your propane tank system and contact a propane supplier to check the system out before you use it again.
- Check if your ceiling is sagging. If it did, it is heavy and dangerous. The ceiling will have to be replaced, so you can try to knock it down. Be careful: wear eye protection and a hard hat, use a long stick, and stand away from the damaged area. Poke holes in the ceiling starting from the outside of the bulge to let any water drain out slowly. Striking the center of the damaged area may cause the whole ceiling to collapse. If your ceiling is damaged, your drywall may be as well.
- Check if your floor is sagging. It could collapse under your weight, so don’t walk there! Small sections that are sagging can be bridged by thick plywood panels or thick, strong boards that extend at least 8 to 12 inches on each side of the sagging area.
Dry water-damaged areas and items within 24 to 48 hours to help prevent mold growth – visit epa.gov/mold for more detail. Some places to check include:
• Interior Walls: All drywall a reasonable distance above the water line should be removed to avoid mildew and mold build up.
• Insulation: Remove as much insulation as is moist to avoid mildew and mold.
• Air and Heat Ducts: If water has reached any ducts, the ductwork should be replaced to avoid mold problems.
• Exterior Walls: Brick walls will have to be pressure washed, while wood and masonite siding should possibly be replaced if it's water-damaged.
• Carpet and Padding: Carpet and padding should be pulled up so that the floor underneath can be cleaned with bleach to sanitize.