16 upgrades to make your home more climate-resistant

Prepare for hurricanes, fires, floods and extreme heat

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Susan Meyer

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Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

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Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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Table of contents:

Protecting your home in a changing world

Global climate change is a top concern for many Americans as the slow and persistent rise in temperature also creates more volatile weather conditions and flooding concerns. 

Here are some indicators of climate change:

  • In the U.S., nine of the top 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998. 
  • Summer heat waves are more frequent and longer – an average of 49 days longer than in the 1960s.
  • Some areas have seen greater wildfires and droughts due to a lack of precipitation, while others have seen flooding due to snowmelt or an excess of precipitation.[1] 

For all of these reasons, nearly a third of Americans are considering a move and citing climate change as a factor.[2] But if moving to a more climate-resistant city isn’t an option, what are some ways you can improve your home to make it more resistant to climate change factors?

Let's consider some of the upgrades you can make to your home to make it more resistant to floods, extreme heat, hurricanes and wildfires. 

Floods

As global warming increases sea level rise and extreme weather, flood-prone areas in the U.S. are expected to increase by nearly half within this century.[3] Floods already cause billions in property damage each year.[4] If you live in an area that is currently flood-prone or potentially about to become one, here are some things you can do.

  • sump pump
    1. Sump pump and flood vents

    Flood waters can cause serious damage to your home and its foundation. A sump pump can remove excess water that starts to pool around your house. It’s important to note that a sump pump can only work if it has power, so you may need to also invest in a standby generator if you live in an area that is prone to storms/power outages. In addition, flood vents prevent damage to your walls and foundations by preventing hydrostatic pressure buildup. The vents release the pressure avoiding damage.

  • crack
    2. Seal your home

    Think of your home as a ship at sea; you want no cracks for water to get through. Close any foundation cracks with mortar, masonry caulk or hydraulic cement. If you have a basement, you know that’s the first thing to flood. It’s a good idea to seal the walls of the basement with waterproofing compounds every few years. This makes it less likely that water from the ground around your house will seep through the walls during a flood.

  • flood
    3. Use flood-resistant materials

    You don’t necessarily need to overhaul your home, but as you do renovations over time, consider materials that will be more resistant to water. For example, replace wooden flooring with ceramic tile, vinyl or rubber. Use moveable rugs instead of carpets. Internal walls can be replaced with cement board, concrete or pressure-treated wood. Wooden doors and window frames can be replaced with metal.

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    4. Protect electrical and service equipment

    You want the height of your electric service panel and all outlets, switches and wiring to be at least one foot above the potential flood elevation. Additionally, if you’re making changes to your heating, ventilation or HVAC systems, consider moving them to a higher floor or the attic. Or if relocation isn’t happening any time soon, you can buy temporary flood barriers to put around them in the event of a flood.

  • iStock-1282259522
    5. Direct the water away

    Not all the improvements are inside the home. You can also help prevent flooding by improving the grading of your lot. Pay attention to where water pools and build up sunken areas, especially around the foundation. Maintain proper water runoff and drainage, making sure water is running away from the house. Reduce impervious surfaces (cement, concrete, asphalt) around your house so that water has a place to go. Install a rain barrel to collect runoff from the roof.

Extreme heat

Around 65 million Americans were impacted by extreme heat last year, and 35 states experienced one of the top 10 warmest years on record last year.[5] In addition to just being uncomfortable, the effects of extreme heat can also damage your home like warping floors, damaging siding and shifting foundations. Here are some ideas to make your home cooler and more efficient, despite rising temperatures.

  • iStock-1393586334
    7. Improve your insulation and siding

    Good insulation is incredibly important for keeping the cool air inside your home and not making your AC work as hard. Spray-foam insulation is your best bet for efficiency because it fills every crack and crevice to prevent cold air from escaping. On the other side of the insulation, the outside walls of your house also play their part in preventing cool air from escaping. Fiber cement is a good option, especially as vinyl siding can sometimes melt when exposed to high temperatures.

  • iStock-1456258117
    8. Upgrade your windows

    After your walls, the next line of defense for keeping cool air in and extreme heat out is your windows. If you have old, single-pane windows, consider replacing them with new, energy-efficient windows. The tight seal will help keep cool air from escaping, and also windows designed to block heat transfer and solar radiation will stop heat from entering in the first place. If replacing your windows isn’t in the cards right now, you can try applying a UV-blocking film to your current windows which can still help a bit.

  • iStock-1499392908
    9. Help out your AC

    If your current air conditioning system isn’t up to the challenge of extreme heat waves, you may need to eventually upgrade. However, knowing that’s a major expense, there are some things you can do to help in the meantime. Duct booster fans are a relatively inexpensive way to add a little muscle to your AC unit and help push cool air through your ducts. Or if ventilation is an issue, consider adding an energy recovery ventilator or fresh air exchange system to your home to improve airflow.

  • summer house
    10. Increase shade

    One of the biggest things to help keep your home cool is shade. Consider planting some faster-growing trees and shrubs to provide shade to your home. Choose native plants where possible so they are more likely to survive in extreme heat. Also, if you have existing trees providing shade, make sure to take care of them during heat waves. Water in a drip line around the edges of the canopy, as that’s where the roots extend.

Hurricanes

Warmer air and ocean temperatures also increase the frequency and severity of storms like hurricanes. In 2023, hurricanes were a big part of the 28 weather and climate disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion. The combined total cost of these 2023 disasters is $93.1 billion.[6] Here’s how you can prepare to help mitigate the damage in your own home.

  • iStock-1262021643
    11. Upgrade your roof

    If you’re planning to get a new roof and you live in a hurricane-prone area, metal roofing (usually aluminum, zinc or copper) is a great option. They’re designed to withstand winds up to 160 mph and they are impact resistant. Many asphalt shingles are not approved for hurricane protection.

  • iStock-491775556
    12. Storm shutters

    Storm shutters can close over windows and glass doors to prevent damage from flying objects in the event of a hurricane. There are a number of different options to choose from. Storm panel shutters can be attached to your home only when you need them and stored elsewhere when not in use. You can also opt for automatic roll-down shutters or accordion shutters which are permanently attached to your home and can quickly be rolled down when needed.

  • iStock-1286628562
    13. Create a safe room

    If you don’t have a basement, your best choice for a safe room during a storm is usually a windowless interior room, which is often a bathroom. However, depending on your family size, holing up in a bathroom for the duration of a hurricane isn’t ideal. Consider converting an interior bedroom into a safe room. You can do this by replacing the walls with concrete and replacing the door with a steel one.

Fires

Another product of climate change and warmer, drier weather: wildfires. A new study estimates that  human-caused climate change contributed to a 172% increase in burned areas from 1971 to 2021.[7] One source finds that wildfires will put an estimated $11 billion in U.S. property at risk by 2050.[8] If your home is one of those potentially in the line of fire, here are some upgrades to consider.

  • gutter
    14. Create an outside safe zone

    The first step to protecting your home is creating a safe zone around your property. That means eliminating things that could be fuel for a fire. Remove wood piles, dead or dying trees or shrubs and anything flammable for a safe distance from your home. Aim for at least a 50-foot safe zone (or 100 feet in California). Additionally, don’t let any wooden fencing touch your house. Consider using a fireproof fencing option. Keep your gutters clean.

  • swimming pool
    15. Install a pool or cistern

    Okay, you might not want to install a swimming pool unless you actually want to swim in one, but installing a cistern or rain barrel can have the same effect. It provides you with a water source on your property. Firefighters using a gas-powered hose can use that water to help fight a fire burning your house.

  • wildfire fullsize
    16. Use fireproof materials

    Upgrading your roof to use fire-resistant shingles, choosing non-wood siding options (or fire-resistant hardwoods like Ipe) and installing heavy-duty windows to reduce radiant exposure are all ways you can help your house from going up in flames. The more non-combustible materials you can leverage both inside and outside the home, the less property damage you will likely incur in the event of a fire.

Wrapping up

Many of the above home upgrades are not cheap, but many will save you significantly in the end if you live in an area prone to any of the above disasters. And as climate change research shows, the areas prone to these disasters are only expanding. 

Regardless of what disasters are most impacting your area, it’s important to confirm your home insurance coverage is adequate. Because while you can mitigate and prevent some damage with home upgrades, you can’t eliminate the threats. Make sure you understand your coverage and buy additional coverage for things that are excluded (such as with floods).

Ultimate in our rapidly changing world, keeping your home safe can mean some adapting is needed.

Sources
  1. Climate change indicators: Weather and climate. [EPA]

  2. 30% of Americans cite climate change as a reason for moving. [Forbes]

  3. Flooding and climate change. [NRDC]

  4. Economic damage caused by floods in the United States. [Statista]

  5. Extreme heat. [CISA]

  6. Hurricane costs. [NOAA]

  7. Study finds climate change responsible for California wildfires. [Drought.gov]

  8. Wildfires put $11 billion of U.S. property at risk every year by 2050. [Time.com]