Severe weather forecast: How to make your home storm-proof


Get your house ready before severe weather hits. Photos: dpa

A lot of damage to homes caused by thunderstorms can be prevented or, at least, reduced. In many cases, a few simple steps can help avoid unnecessary storm damage.

Close windows, roller blinds and shutters

It makes sense to close the roller shutters during a storm. However, they must either be completely closed – or left completely open, advises Professor Norbert Gebbeken, a structural engineer and president of the Bavarian Chamber of Civil Engineers.

Leaving it open or closed halfway is not an option. “Otherwise the wind would get in between the half-closed shutters and the window, and push the roller shutter out of the roller tube.”

The expert also advises closing all windows and doors, even in the basement.

If it’s lying around, put it away

It’s often not deep-rooted trees that fall over in a storm and cause damage. It’s loose objects that are lying around and can end up being thrown through the air in a storm.

Even an empty flower pot on the balcony railing or a small garden shovel that’s lying around can take off and hit buildings with great force and smash windows. Therefore, before a storm, the North Rhine-Westphalia Consumer Advice Center recommends tidying away small items, even if it seems silly.

Also, secure your rubbish bin and park your car somewhere else if needed. It shouldn’t be parked under tall trees or near houses. Falling branches or roof tiles could damage the car.

Fasten whatever is loose to the house

Gusts of wind, for example, can cause loose canopies, gutters, shutters, balcony railings and awnings to break away if they’re not adequately fastened or have become loose over the years.

Of course, you can’t dismantle all of these parts before every storm, says the North Rhine-Westphalia Consumer Advice Centre in Germany. But you can make sure they are secure. For example, window shutters can be secured by anchoring the hinges. It’s a good idea to check everything before the next storm is forecast and, if necessary, head to your local DIY store.

Fix your home’s old weak spots

One risk factor is previous storm damage that hasn’t yet been repaired. Strong winds can cause already loose roof tiles, shingles or cladding to fall off.

But not everything can be secured in a hurry. What you can do, however: Clear a gutter clogged with leaves and debris from the last storm, as this will overflow during heavy rain and damage the facade of the building.

Loose tiles on the roof can be sent flying in the event of a storm with very strong winds.Loose tiles on the roof can be sent flying in the event of a storm with very strong winds.

Check for backflow risks

During a thunderstorm, large amounts of rain can fall in a short amount of time. Soils and sewers have problems absorbing heavy rain, which can lead to water pushing its way into the home through the drains.

A backflow prevention device, which is mandatory in some places, closes the pipes from below. The German Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) advises checking their operative readiness in the event of a severe weather warning.

Remove problematic substances from the basement

Even if you understandably want to concentrate on objects that have sentimental value, such as saving your beloved photo albums, the first thing you should do in the event of a possible heavy rain warning is to take care of potential dangers in the home.

So it’s a good idea to clear out as much stuff as is possible in particularly high-risk rooms or areas. According to the BBK, this applies in particular to hazardous substances and chemicals such as petrol and oil, pesticides, but also paints. If these end up getting into the water, the fire brigade will have to come to dispose of it.

This also means that the heating oil tank needs to be secured so it doesn’t fall over or float away. You can anchor it to the wall or weigh it down with ballast.

Another tip is to rearrange the basement: Many objects can survive a few centimetres of water, but they should not be placed on the floor, but on shelves higher up. This also applies to electrical appliances, which can be placed on a platform.

Turn off the power supply

In the rooms most likely to be flooded in heavy rain, electrical appliances as well as the heating should be disconnected from the power supply. If worse comes to worst, you should flip the fuse switch for the entire house.

This is because a short circuit in the water is a deadly danger later on when cleaning up. It also prevents you from being able to react quickly as before the flooded rooms can be entered and at least a few things can be saved, the fire brigade or the energy supplier must first be called. This costs valuable time.

Most importantly, you should know that even fuses that normally protect against electric shocks are usually no longer effective after they have come into contact with water. – dpa/Simone Andrea Mayer

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