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Pensacola News Journal – Prepping for the hurricane

JAHNA JACOBSON

Why hasn’t a cable channel started a show called “Hurricane House”?

They could come to the Gulf Coast any time between June and November and shoot exciting footage of residents sitting in their plywood-darkened homes, feet propped up on ottomans constructed of canned goods and using cases of bottled water as end tables.

But while stocking up for the possibility of a hurricane is just a matter of a shopping trip, securing the outside of your home against damage from winds of more than 100 miles per hour is a more labor- intensive project.

Fortunately, there are more attractive and simple options than boarding up the windows and forgoing trees in the landscape. While there isn’t anything that will withstand the strongest storms, you can find ways to shore up against lighter hits.

Even though we’re into the hurricane season, it’s not too late to batten down the hatches, said Jonathan Wells, marketing director at Majors Home Improvement.

Take a look around the exterior of your house and really examine it for problem areas, Wells said.

“You want to look for anything that is not well attached to the home,” Wells said, such as siding or soffit.

“The main thing is making sure all your openings are properly secure, such as doors, windows and roof vents,” he said. “When that opening is breached, creates a vacuum inside the house, and you lose the roof.”

Some people forget about securing the garage doors, but if they blow loose, you could have some extensive problems, Wells said.

Right now, most of Majors’ calls are for hurricane shutters and impact-resistant replacement windows. Updated hurricane codes and possible impact on insurance rates should be considered in any such renovation plans, Wells said.

And since most of the Pensacola area storms come later in the season, even custom systems are still a good option for area homeowners, Wells said.

“With these systems, there can be some time involved,” he said. “If you are getting something basic, you might be able to get it as soon as two weeks. Some may take as long as six weeks.”

Covering windows is one of the biggest concerns for Gulf Coast residents when we see that there is a system heading our way. Rather then lugging the plywood out of the back shed, many homeowners are opting for easier, lighter systems that can even result in a break on their homeowners insurance.

Joe Tillman, a sales representative with Ventilated Awnings Improvement Co., said there are a lot of different options available with different levels of ease and cost.

“It’s much easier to protect the window and put them up,” Tillman said. “They’re not as heavy or cumbersome, and some of them stay up all the time.”

Some of the most popular options include:

“A cents Fabric shield panels – The tarp-like material attaches to the window frame with grommets that are attached with wingnuts or with a roll-up system.

“A cents Hurricane panels – Either aluminum or clear Lexan panels that are custom fit to the windows of the home.

“A cents Accordions – The collapsing panels stay up on the outside of the windows, and you pull them to and lock them in the middle, which can be done from outside or inside the home.

“A cents Roll-ups – Panels that roll-up into a box that is permanently affixed to the window. They can be manual or motorized.

“A cents Bahamas – Decorative shutters that can be solid or louvered and are permanently installed on windows for shade and protection.

“A cents Hinged colonials – Shutters on the side of the windows which fold to the middle and lock in place.

“We really started getting calls in April,” Tillman said. “But we’re still getting calls and still installing.”

Landscaping

The next big concern on a homeowner’s hurricane prep list? The trees.

The biggest issue for an existing landscape is the trees, said Justin Scher, general manager at Pinelands Nursery in Milton.

“The smaller shrubs are not going to be anything to worry about – they may have some defoliation from the wind, but as far as being able to prep those you have to take it as it comes,” Scher said. “What you have to look at is low-lying branches, dead branches, weak branches – they need to come out.”

Some trees are still holding dead branches and larger limbs from previous storms, which could become dislodged and dangerous in high winds.

“They could become airborne or fall,” Scher said. “Get them cleaned up.”

Falling branches and toppled trunks can not only tear down power lines, they can cause considerable damage to a home.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services (IFAS) recommends reducing the length of branches that have weak attachments to the trunk and reducing the number of branches that had a diameter that is less than half that of the trunk. Create a balanced canopy, but avoid cutting interior branches that will leave the weight and drag concentrated at the ends of the limbs.

Trees that are leaning toward the home or have rot or damage to their main trunk may have to be removed for safety.

Not surprisingly, native trees fare better in the storms than non-native species. Trees with deep root systems and lower centers of gravity are better able to handle the winds. They may grow more slowly, but they won’t blow down as quickly. Trees planted in groups are less likely to suffer damage, and those planted with adequate space for root systems will be less likely to topple in the storm.

The fan palms that are popular in our area, such as the Chinese fan palms and the Washingtonians are also susceptible to damage.

“The fronds catch a lot of wind,” Scher said. It’s like having a sail at the top of a pole, so “trim up the bottom of your palm. It helps the stability of the palm and it will catch less wind and it helps to keep the tree from getting as beat up in the wind.”

Homeowners in coastal areas and on the beach also have to consider that their landscaping may be exposed to salt water during flooding. Oleander and perennials such as lantana and blue daze are good choices for these areas, as are native, salt tolerant ornamental grasses.

People have become more conscious and cautious about what they plant and where they plant it following the last few busy storm seasons, Scher said.

“A lot of people who had extensive damage from trees are leery of planting trees that get big,” Scher said. “They think because their pine trees came down that pines are junky trees. But those trees are native, they are made for that environment, there’s not anything that you can plant that is not going to be susceptible to winds over 100 miles per hour like we have had.”

Pensacola News Journal