Knowing how to prepare your home for natural disasters and taking precautionary steps now could significantly lessen damage should your home be in the path of a hurricane, wildfire, flood, or other unforeseen event.
Of course, disaster mitigation is something that’s of great importance for vacation property owners. For starters, it’s savvy to invest in a vacation rental property in the most popular vacation destinations. But these same vacation hotspots can often be in disaster-prone regions, whether that’s a beach house in a coastal town that could be hit by hurricanes or a serene mountain retreat in a forest where wildfires pose risks. Compounding this is the fact that vacation rental owners often don’t live in the same states or even regions as where they own their rentals. That means they can’t necessarily get to their properties quickly to perform last-minute tasks should the weather forecast predict a severe storm.
If your vacation rental is hit hard by a storm, it doesn’t just cost money to make repairs. Your rental could be off the market for an extended period of time, creating a challenge when it comes to meeting your revenue goals.
Making sure you’re prepared for an insurance claim, performing some mitigating chores (or hiring someone to do so) as well as hiring a property manager are all worthwhile strategies when it comes to disaster-proofing your vacation rental.
Here’s a guide to help prepare your vacation home for natural disasters.
Review your insurance policy
It’s crucial for vacation rental owners to read their homeowner’s insurance policies line-by-line and thoroughly understand what’s covered. For example, a business exclusion could be in the policy, allowing insurance companies to deny claims if a home is being used to generate income from long-term rentals.
Other stipulations that should come into consideration include whether you’re protected against liability claims and whether you should add on coverage to help shoulder the costs of disaster clean-up.
Jennifer Elder, a certified public accountant and a professional speaker who specializes in disaster recovery, suggests doing a thorough review of your policy with your insurance broker. Ask specific questions, such as: “What’s not covered?” and “What additional forms of coverage should I consider?”
“The most common mistake is thinking ‘this will never happen to me’ and doing no planning,” says Elder, who is the author of an upcoming book that focuses on faster disaster recovery for businesses.
Create a home inventory list
Another worthwhile task is making sure you have an updated home inventory of what’s in your vacation rental property, says John Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada, a home organization app that allows homeowners to manage things like maintenance and home improvement projects.
Ideally, this home inventory includes photos of every room, with an itemized list of fixed assets, such as appliances and equipment, as well as a list of personal property, such as furniture, electronics and housewares. Get up-close photos, Bodrozic suggests.
Updating the inventory of a home is important because it helps property owners recognize any possible gaps they might have in their existing homeowner’s insurance policies, Bodrozic says.
“Also, if a disaster were to destroy the home, homeowners will need the documented home inventory to make their claims so they can get properly reimbursed,” Bodrozic says.
A final tip on this point: Don’t store the home inventory in the home. Consider storing the information digitally in an app, a word document, or in an online storage cloud so that it’s backed up and easily accessible.
Prepare for hurricanes in coastal regions
Hurricanes are typically the most common and devastating natural disasters that vacation rental property owners face, with the massive storm systems affecting homes along the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. But it’s not just homes perched along the coastlines that can be affected by hurricanes. The storm systems that bring heavy rainfall, powerful winds, and flooding can affect areas that are as far as 100 miles inland, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s emergency response campaign.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs June 1 to Nov. 30 and the Pacific hurricane season runs May 15 to Nov. 30.
For property owners in hurricane-prone regions, investing in hurricane shelters, which can easily lock up, is highly recommended, says Rob McClelland, Director of Staff Operations at TurnKey Vacation Rentals.
When a hurricane is approaching, it may be tough to find a local contractor who is available to come board up your home, which is a time-consuming task. Rather, having the hurricane shutters that can quickly be locked up is an easy task that can swiftly be performed by a property manager, points out McClelland. The shutters can help prevent broken windows and water damage, which could otherwise lead to expensive insurance claims, he explains.
Additionally, hurricane doors can help reinforce entry points, lessening the chance for water and wind damage, McClelland says.
Emergency planners also recommend trimming trees, shrubbery and any dead limbs that are near your home. Homeowners should also repair broken fences, inspect the roof for any loose tiles, shingles or debris, replace any old shingles with new ones rated for hurricane force winds, and install hurricane clips to secure roof trusses to side walls. Gutters should be cleared of any clogs. If you’re unable to take these precautionary steps yourself, consider hiring a contractor in your area to perform the inspections and any work needed.
How to prepare for wildfires
When it comes to fires, the National Forest Service has a fire danger rating system that factors in fuels, weather, topography and other risks. The rating system ranges from low to extreme, with the latter meaning fires can start quickly and burn intensely, with the potential to rapidly spread. But, other than the danger rating system, it’s difficult to predict wildfires and they do spread fast.
If you own a vacation rental in an area that’s prone to wildfires, the best thing you can do, according to McClelland, is make sure that you have a well-landscaped home. If there’s no break between the fire and your home, and you’ve got tall grass surrounding your property, the fire is able to spread with spread. It’s worth hiring a landscaper to make regular rounds at your property.
Also, McClelland recommends that if you’re going to have a firepit, make sure it’s a well-built one with a concrete barrier. You don’t want a fire pit in the grass in the backyard of the property, he says.
Unfortunately, mudslides can occur after wildfires when it starts raining and there’s not anything homeowners can do to mitigate this risk, McClelland says. Since wildfires dramatically change the landscape and alter ground conditions, there’s an increased chance of flash flooding when it rains. The charred ground isn’t able to absorb the rainfall, which can lead to more damage.
Prepare for earthquakes and other disasters
No matter where you’re buying a vacation rental property, it’s important to identify and assess the risks in the area and know about the terrain and the vulnerability to natural disasters, McClelland says. What are the risks of hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and other extreme natural disasters?
If you’re in hurricane-prone area, like California, you should do have your home assessed to determine whether it has any weaknesses that may make it more vulnerable to earthquakes, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Some examples could include structures that aren’t anchored to their foundations or weak crawl spaces. You can hire a professional to make these structural fixes.
FEMA also suggests doing a walk-through to look for any unsecured objects in your home that could move, break or fall in the event of an earthquake. Give special attention to tall and heavy objects like bookcases or electronics. Secure these items with flexible fasteners, like nylon straps. Also, make sure plumbers have installed flexible connectors on gas appliances, FEMA suggests.
Consider hiring a property manager
Want the assurance that your property will be tended to in case of a natural disaster? It’s a great idea to hire a property manager, who can help make last-minute preparations to secure your home, as well as help notify guests about any impending storms.
For example, TurnKey Vacation Rentals h can assist homeowners and guests in the event of a natural disaster. Say the weather forecast shows your vacation rental is in the path of a hurricane, a local field operations team can prepare you home by bringing grills and patio furniture inside, activating hurricane shutters, turning off the water so there aren’t any leaks. The staff can also help notify guests of evacuation orders.
After a natural disaster, the team can inspect the home and send owners updates about any potential damage, along with videos and photos.
If your home was damaged in a natural disaster, a property manager can help connect you with trusted contractors to start the rebuilding process. It’s important to act fast because mold can develop within a day or two of flooding.
While it can be overwhelming to think about your property being hit by a hurricane, earthquake, or fire, knowing that you’re best prepared for potential natural disasters can bring peace of mind.