Buying a Home in a Tornado Zone
An average of 1,224 tornadoes per year touch down across the United States. That may not sound like much until you consider the amount of damage just one tornado can cause. For instance, it was just one tornado, but the EF5 tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2013, destroyed more than 13,000 homes, killed 25 people, and caused more than $2 billion in damage.
Because tornadoes can happen anywhere, any time of the year it’s difficult to buy a home that’s tornado proof. However, you can look for features, areas and home construction that’s more likely to weather anything but a direct hit. This includes looking for a home that’s able to become a shelter in case of a tornado. If you know what to look for you can buy a home in a tornado zone and feel safe about doing so.
Top Ten States for Tornados
Ideally, if you have a choice about where to live, you can avoid states in “Tornado Alley,” the nickname for the Midwest and South Central portions of the US and Canada that see more tornadoes per year than the rest of North America. According to USTornados.com, the top 10 states for tornadoes as of the most recent (1991-2015) average are as follows, in order from high to low: Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Nebraska, Illinois, Colorado, Iowa, Alabama, Missouri, and Mississippi.
Home features to look for when buying in a tornado zone
When you’re living in an unusual area, a tornado zone, you should consider unusual alternatives to a safe home option – like:
- Homes built into the earth, either wholly or partially.
- Dome homes made of concrete and designed to shed high winds.
- Concrete exterior homes. These homes can shed category 5 winds (up to 500 mph winds).
- Most homes in tornado zones don’t have basements because the areas tend to be in areas where there is bedrock (which requires expensive blasting to carve out a hole for a basement, and high water tables which would create mold and mildew problems.
- Construction details. Look for homes that meet or exceed the 2912 International Residential Code. Most tornadoes never exceed EF-2, so buildings meeting these stricter codes make a huge difference. A recent cost study revealed that using an average of $0.50 per square foot or $1,000 in metal connectors installed from a home’s roof to its foundation could upgrade a home’s ability to withstand wind uplift from an EF-0 to an EF-2 tornado.
- Is there a safe room – either a concrete and/or steel reinforced tornado shelter above ground, a basement, or a safe room built inside the home? According to the Federal Alliance for safe homes, “It is entirely possible to harden and stiffen a room to withstand extreme winds, i.e. a small room, steel or concrete, or timber box equipped with a door that has been tested for pressure resistance and debris impact resistance. The National Storm Shelter Association/ICC 500 standard and FEMA guidelines provide details on how to fabricate shelters or construct safe rooms that provide near absolute life protection, even in an EF-4 or EF-5. “
Chances are you can find some great buys in a tornado zone, particularly one where a home has been damaged in a recent storm. But some of the things you’ll also want to consider are:
Will your insurance cover tornado damage? Review your homeowner’s policy and speak with a knowledgeable agent in the area who can tell you what’s covered and what’s not.
Getting a mortgage for any home is often challenging, but a mortgage for a home in a tornado zone may be even harder. Wind and hail damage are typically covered by a standard homeowner’s policy. However, you may have higher mortgage costs for things like meeting building code requirements or paying a higher amount on insurance premiums. Because of the risk of hail damage, tornadoes and flooding are greater in tornado zones, your mortgage, insurance, and other costs will typically be higher as well – making getting a mortgage more difficult if you’re on a tight budget.
Can you rebuild after a tornado, or will your mortgage company force you to pay off your mortgage? According to mortgagecalculator.com “…some mortgage services withhold insurance checks to try and force the homeowners to use the money to pay their mortgage off, instead of rebuilding.” Many homeowners don’t realize insurance checks are made out to both their mortgage company and themselves. To actually use the money both parties need to endorse the check. Get in writing what your company will do in the event of a claim.
How much insurance is enough? Most homeowners carry enough insurance to cover the total loss of their home but fail to include the total loss of all their possessions. Take time to review your homeowner’s policy to see exactly what is and is not covered. You’ll need to create an inventory of your possessions and file it somewhere where it won’t be lost if your home is. Store it in a secure location online, in the cloud, or in a safe deposit bank. This inventory should include photographs of each item, serial numbers, etc. for electronics – computers, tablets, televisions, etc.
Community preparedness. If you’re home when you get the warning a tornado is imminent, that’s one thing. But are the schools, shopping centers, stores, malls and community in general also prepared to shelter people in an emergency? It makes sense to think that schools are constructed to withstand tornadoes, but not all are. Also be aware of the extent and availability of emergency services, hospitals, fire departments and agencies that can respond in the case of an emergency. If you’re 20 miles outside town chances of immediate help are less than if you’re in a suburb.
Chances are your family won’t be a casualty in a tornado, but it’s better to prepare for that eventuality.
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