by Tim Smith
Every year, we receive advice on how to secure our property before a storm.
According to construction manager Michael Smith, some received wisdom is more reliable than others–and some is nothing more than a myth. Take, for example, the “old wives’ tale” of leaving a crack in a window on the leeward side of the building to stop pressure building inside your property.
“This misinformation is horrible,” says Smith, president of window and door experts BitCo. “We hear it every year. But it’s an old wives’ tale, like when my grandmother used to say you should put butter on a burn. Just don’t do it.”
Smith explains, “Opening doors and windows on the leeward side is the worst thing you can do. You have outside pressure and inside pressure at your property. If you crack something open, you are allowing that pressure to enter the building. That pressure will then get worse and you could end up popping a roof.” He continues, “In any case, the leeward side is supposed to be the side where you don’t have any wind. But in a hurricane, especially a direct hit, it goes 180 anyway. It’s a fallacy. Every window and door should be closed, locked and latched.”
Another myth, Smith explains, is that you can bolster your windows by putting tape on the glass.“People think if the glass gets hit the tape is going to keep it in place. That doesn’t work. All that does is give you a hell of a hard time getting the tape off afterwards.”
Smith also offers the following advice on securing your property:
“When our homes were built, we originally had shutters for privacy and shade. They weren’t designed for hurricanes,” he says. “They can work fine, but they are only as good as the hardware that keeps them closed. If the hardware is not holding the shutter in place, the shutter becomes a projectile and either breaks another window in your house or a neighbour’s window.” The way to test them is to see if you can flick the shutters open easily with your finger. If you can, so can the wind. Use a bolt to keep them closed.
Particularly in old Bermudian houses, doors might not fit properly and can be difficult to secure. “You need to lock all your doors in a storm. If your door doesn’t lock properly, use a proper screw and fasten it.”
You should block all your rainwater drains to prevent debris from getting into your tank and spoiling your water. Richard Moulder, the general manager at Bermuda Paint, advises that an old-fashioned method works best. “You can buy these $100 inflatable balloons that you can put in and pump up, but I don’t think you need to do that,” he says. “What I have found, which is less expensive, is to get a sponge—the regular kind you use for washing a car—put it in a Ziplock bag and put one into each water pipe. It’s way less expensive and I find it very effective in stopping the debris, leaves and salty water from getting into your tank.”
Once you get debris into your tank, it’s expensive to clean it.
There is not much you can do to protect your roof in the days before a storm, but you can improve your chances if your roof is well maintained and well constructed in the first place.
Many people lost their roofs during Hurricane Fabian in 2003. “We found 99.9 percent of these were slate roofs. We have not had any failures for the roofs that we sold,” Moulder says.
Bermuda Paint sells BermudaTrueRoofs, which are made from materials designed to weather the worst storms, and reinforced on to the rafter with cement. “We are getting more and more people going in that direction. When you build a house, you want to put that type of investment over the top of your head, especially as we are getting more hurricanes these days.”
Moulder warns against buying cheaper parts from the United States to save money, as they might be lower quality.
Anything small is likely to blow around in strong winds, so leave yourself enough time to bring it indoors where it is safe. It may not be practical to store large pieces of garden furniture in your house or shed, so make sure you tie them securely.
Making sure your boat is secure before a storm costs time and money—but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Stephen Cox, a marine analyst at PW Marine, says: “Don’t underestimate the power of these storms. Err on the side of caution rather than risk. Expenditure before the event, although unwelcome, is preferable to the potential for larger expenditure in the event of loss or damage.”
Cox advises the best preparation is to take your boat out of the water. “Coordinate in advance with your marina and service team,” he says.
If you plan on keeping your boat in the water, make sure you check the bridle and mooring of your boat and adjacent boats, check bilge pumps or battery levels, remove canvas and place extra lines to either the mooring or the berth. Place fenders over, lower the outboard to enhance stability or prevent extra damage if your boat breaks free and secure the hatches.
Know Your Home’s History
Steve Cosham, Bermuda’s national disaster coordinator, notes every home is different.
“Look at the history of your house,” he says. “If you have been in your house for the past 10 years, you understand what the vulnerabilities are. If not, you can ask the previous owner or neighbours if there’s anything you need to look out for.”
Always plan your preparation properly, he says. “Every year we get DIY injuries before the storm because people are rushing to make their property secure. If people put a bit more thought into preparation they could prevent some of those injuries.”