Owning a vacation home can be a wonderful way to enjoy getaways with family and friends. However, these properties can be vulnerable to damage from storms, which requires preparation and planning to properly address. This article provides tips on handling storm damage in a vacation home.
Before the Storm – Prevention and Preparation
Taking preventative measures before storm season starts can minimize potential damage. Here are some tips:
- Inspect the roof, windows, doors, siding, and drainage systems. Make any needed repairs to strengthen weak spots susceptible to wind and water damage.
- Trim overhanging trees and bushes to reduce falling debris.
- Make sure gutters and downspouts are cleared of debris so that rain can flow freely.
- Install storm shutters or plywood over windows and glass doors.
- Remove loose items from the exterior like patio furniture, grills, and decorative features. Store them in a secure area like a garage or shed.
- Turn off propane tanks and other gas lines.
- Prepare an emergency kit with essential supplies like a battery-operated radio, flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, bottled water, non-perishable food, and critical medications.
Having an emergency plan in place can also minimize headaches if a storm strikes. Know how to safely evacuate the home and identify an alternate place to stay if needed. Make sure your insurance coverage is adequate and up to date.
Upon Arrival – Initial Damage Assessment
If a storm impacts your vacation home while you are away, carefully survey the property before entering. Look for:
- Downed power lines – never drive over or touch live wires. Contact the utility company.
- External damage like missing roof shingles/tiles, cracked windows, detached siding. Note obvious problem areas.
- Leaning or uprooted trees that may fall. Have a professional remove them.
- Flooding around the exterior and in the basement or crawl space if applicable. Don’t enter flooded areas.
Take photos and videos of all damage to share with your insurance company. Do not make permanent repairs yet or disturb affected areas.
Safety First – Entering a Damaged Home
Use extreme caution upon entering a damaged vacation home, as hazards may exist. Follow these safety tips:
- Wear sturdy shoes and work gloves to avoid injury from debris.
- Check for structural damage and refrain from entering if the building seems unstable.
- Watch for broken glass around windows and doors.
- Do not turn on the main electrical breaker if water damage is present; electrical wiring may be compromised.
- Avoid using open flames as gas lines may be disrupted.
- Discard perishable foods that may have spoiled after an extended power loss.
- Run a generator outdoors only after storm winds have died down. Ensure proper ventilation.
- Use a flashlight instead of candles.
Document all damage inside with photos/video prior to cleanup for insurance claims. Contact a qualified contractor if major repairs appear necessary.
Cleanup and Repairs
Once the vacation home is safe to access, focus on these cleanup steps:
- Remove all wet items and debris like broken branches and damaged furniture from the interior.
- If there is flooding, remove standing water with a pump or buckets then remove soaked carpeting, padding, baseboards and insulation.
- Open windows and doors to air out the home and prevent mold growth. Use dehumidifiers, fans, and air conditioning to remove lingering dampness.
- Take steps to prevent further water damage like covering broken windows. Place buckets under dripping ceilings or leaking pipes.
- Discard all perishable foods, cosmetics, and medicines that may have been compromised.
- Inspect utilities closely before turning anything back on:
- Have an electrician evaluate the electrical system and ensure no lines are submerged in water before restoring power.
- Check the gas lines leading to appliances like the water heater and stove. Contact the gas company if leaks are detected before resetting.
- Examine walls and floors around plumbing for moisture damage. Run faucets to check for pipe breaks.
Prioritize repairs starting with the roof and exterior to stop additional rain from entering. Be prepared to possibly replace water-damaged materials like drywall and insulation. Work with reputable local contractors if major repairs like roofing and siding work are beyond your skill level.
Contact your insurance agent as soon as possible after storm damage occurs. Provide documentation like:
- Photos and video of the damage
- List of damaged items
- Repair estimates
- Receipts for cleanup, repairs, or replacement purchases
Understand your vacation home insurance policy and what storm damage is covered. Reimbursement often depends on taking proper preventative measures like installing storm shutters. Your claim may be denied if the proper steps were not taken prior to the storm.
Most policies have a deductible amount you will pay out of pocket before coverage kicks in. Get multiple bids for big-ticket repairs, but do not start non-emergency work until approved as the insurance company may want to send an adjuster. Keep detailed records throughout the claims process.
Seek Legal Counsel if Needed
If your vacation home suffered extensive damage and your home insurance provider is refusing to pay out, consider contacting an attorney. For example, while most home insurance policies will cover damage caused by wind, you may find there are specific deductibles for hurricane damage. Flood damage is also not often included in a homeowner’s insurance policy though water damage can be as long as the wind is somehow linked to it.
Insurance policies are often designed to be ambiguous, and it can also be difficult for a homeowner to assess what caused the damage to their home, especially in the days following a hurricane or other tropical storm. Many homeowners end up paying for the restoration themselves due to not understanding what they can claim but this is not always the right decision.
Because of how confusing homeowner’s insurance policies can be, it could be worth seeking legal advice. An attorney can help you to understand the legalese included in your home insurance policy, which should help you with dealing with your policy provider and achieving a fair settlement amount for the damage caused.
If you think we can assist you, call into our office at 200 Lake Morton Drive, Suite 300, Lakeland, FL 33801.
Or call us for a free consultation on (833) 941-7867.