07/09/2014 03:02 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2014

Hurricane Season Is Here: Is Your Home Ready?

Hurricane Arthur was an early reminder that storm season is indeed underway. It also put homeowners on notice: now is the time to prepare. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a mild hurricane season this year, it's important to remember that it only takes one storm to wreak havoc on your home. Natural disasters are notoriously unpredictable, and homeowners who fail to take proper precautions now may find that by the time a hurricane is knocking on their doors, it is too late. Following a few simple steps now can ensure the safety of your family and your home.

When it comes to hurricanes, wind and water are the main causes of damage. Regularly inspecting your home, securing insurance coverage and mitigating sources of damage are the best ways to avoid major expenses and anguish down the road. Here are five important tips that can help you prepare this season:

  1. Buy Flood Insurance. Only a flood insurance policy can protect you from the flooding that a hurricane may cause, and standard homeowner policies do not cover flood damage. Coverage is available through the federal government and some private insurers, but it is important to know there is a 30-day waiting period before coverage begins, so by the time you know your home is in the path of a storm, it will be too late to secure coverage.
  2. Inspect Your Roof.
    Damage to your roof is the greatest risk your home faces in a major storm. When inspecting your roof and overhang, look for warning signs such as wear on your shingles, gaps, missing sealant or leaks, and make any necessary repairs. Remember to check your roof both prior to and after inclement weather to decrease the impact of flying pieces and blocked drains that can cause water backup, leading to roof damage or even collapse from the weight of the water.
  3. Install a Sump Pump.
    The most important tool a homeowner needs in a basement is a sump pump. To be effective in keeping water out of your basement, the sump pump should be placed away from the walls and have positive drainage away from the building. Maintaining your sump pump is just as important as installing one -- the last thing you need is a pump that fails to work when you need it most. Inspect your sump pump and drains at least once a year (or more often if heavy rain is prevalent in your area) to ensure it is operating properly, and check your pump for any blockage after heavy rain or flooding occurs. The best time to do this is in early spring prior to the wet season. Ideally, your sump pump should have a battery backup, so make sure the batteries are working and replaced when necessary.
  4. Trim Your Trees.
    Property damage is often the result of falling trees and flying landscape debris. Assess your property to ensure landscaping and trees do not become hazardous in strong winds, and remove any damaged or low-hanging limbs from trees, as well as limbs that are close to your house. This will help keep them from blowing around during a storm and striking anything nearby. High winds and heavy rain can also cause trees to uproot, so be sure to keep your trees properly trimmed and pruned, and consult an arborist for detailed instruction if you have questions.
  5. Prevent Leaks. Prevent water leakage and intrusion by regularly inspecting elements in your home for gaps that may have formed over time. Check the entry points to your home for water pipes, gas, air conditioning units and television cables; behind electrical outlets, junction boxes and circuit breaker boxes, under window sills; and around windows and doors (peeling paint can be a sign of water getting into the wood). Apply the appropriate caulking to necessary areas, sealing any cracks and holes. Be sure to also protect your windows and doors by installing hurricane shutters.

Due to the intense level of destruction that a hurricane can bring, emergency organizations and experts stress the importance of being prepared and knowing what to do before a threatening storm strikes. Your family's safety and security is the primary goal, so it is important that you are well-prepared for the unexpected. A bit of work now can save you an enormous amount of work later. Preparing your home and maintaining the components that are most vulnerable to damage in a hurricane is the first step to ensure your safety -- so plan ahead and be hurricane ready.