With Tropical Storm Gustav making its way through the Caribbean, I've got hurricanes on the mind. When I lived in New Orleans, to prepare for a storm, I'd basically move my bed to the center of the room away from the windows, and move things off the floor onto my mattress: pretty amateur and useless preparations. I lived in a rental then, so I guess I didn't really care about protecting the property.
If that weren't the case, the most important precaution I'd take to reduce damage would be to protect the areas where wind can enter. According to recent wind technology research, you should strengthen the exterior of your house so wind and debris don't tear large openings in it. There are five critical areas of your home to protect and reinforce. To hear about them, and the steps you should take,
Here is a summary of tips from the National Hurricane Center.
Retrofit your roof.
If you have a gabled roof, you'll want to strengthen the gabled end walls, as they can take a tremendous beating during a storm. To do so, "fasten eight-foot-long braces to the bottom chord of the gable truss and the adjacent trusses with sixteen-penny (16d) nails." Make sure they are perpendicular to the truss, spaced four feet apart on center, max. "Tie back the gable truss with at least one eight-foot-long brace, along the ridge of the roof, to several of the interior trusses."
Shingles also aren't made or installed to be wind resistant, and furthermore, sometimes their adhesives haven't adhered properly. Have a professional check to see if this is the case. If so, "use a quick-setting asphalt cement to bond them together." To do so, "place two spots of quick-setting asphalt cement about the size of a quarter under each tab with a putty knife or caulking gun," and press the shingle's tab into the adhesive.
Install hurricane straps.
You should also install metal hurricane straps to ensure that your roof and walls are properly connected. To do so, "remove the roof sheathing around the perimeter of the roof to reveal the top of the wall [ and . . . ] the soffit and exterior cladding to reveal the top 12 to 18 inches of the wall." And, "If your roof has trusses, make sure you tie them to the wall by either anchoring to the top plate and then the top plate to the wall stud, or strapping the truss directly to the wall stud."
Install impact-resistant shutters.
To protect doors and windows from wind-borne objects, and reduce sudden pressure changes when a window or door is broken, you should install impact-resistant shutters to your windows and doors. A simple plywood panel will do, and manufactured shutters (or those already on your house) may work as well, but you should lean against it and see if it yields; this will tell you if it can resist the impact of debris. In either case, you must make sure the shutters are adequately fastened, or they'll just fly off. You can also invest in impact-resistant windows and doors, which won't require temporary shutters during a storm.
Secure entry doors.
Your home's entry doors can probably resist wind pressure and debris, but there are a few precautions you can take. "Install head and foot bolts on the inactive door of double-entry doors." Ensure you door has "at least three hinges and a deadbolt security lock, which has a minimum one-inch bolt throw length." And on a double entry door, check the connections at the header trim or threshold, making sure "the surface bolt extends into the door header and through the threshold into the subfloor."
Brace garage doors.
Double-wide garage doors are particularly susceptible to wind damage because of their width, and they can be forced out of their roller tracks. Your local building supplier or garage-door retailer may actually sell a retrofit kit to withstand hurricane winds, which will secure it. Otherwise, you should reinforce it at its weakest points, "installing horizontal and/or vertical bracing onto each panel, using wood or light gauge metal girds bolted to the door mullions, [using] heavier hinges and stronger end and vertical supports for your door."