December 21 may be the official first day of winter this year, but the season has already struck with a vengeance in some parts of the country. Even drought-stricken California just experienced its largest storm in years. So if you aren’t already prepared to face severe weather, now’s the time.

In previous blog posts, we’ve offered tips for winterizing your home and car, preparing for a winter power outage, and protecting your home against high winds. But severe storms can create other hazards too, like flooding.

Dos when preparing for severe storms

The following dos should be done well in advance of storm season and require hiring a professional (unless you’re very handy yourself):

Do flood-proof your heating and electrical systems

If you live in a flood-prone area, it’s a good idea to elevate your utility systems (furnace, fuse box, electrical panel, etc.) at least one foot above the highest-known local flood level. Appliances like washers, dryers, and water heaters should also be raised up on water-resistant bases or moved to a higher floor of your home.

Do protect your home against sewage backups

During floods, sewage can back up through your home’s drainpipes (a situation that’s potentially damaging to your home, hazardous to your health, and just plain icky). Installing a backflow valve in your sewer line can prevent this.

If you haven’t done any permanent flood-proofing yet and there’s advance notice that a storm’s approaching, there are still ways to minimize or avoid damage:

Do consider a battery-powered sump pump

If you have a basement that’s prone to dampness, you probably have a sump pump to drain out excess water. But if the power goes out, so will your sump pump. A portable backup pump can help remove excess water from rain or melted snow before it causes damage.

Do stock up on sandbags

Sandbag materials are available at home supply stores. Local authorities may also supply them if a major storm’s coming. Place sandbags against ground-level exterior doors, window wells, drainage holes, and other points of entry. They won’t create a watertight seal, but they can help divert water around your building. Sandbags are heavy and difficult to handle, so enlist the help of others when filling and carrying them.

Related link: Tips for Before, During, and After a Winter Power Outage

Do protect with plywood

Check out:  You Don’t Have to Be a Billionaire to Buy Homeowners Insurance in Illinois

Sheets of low-grade plywood placed over windows, vents, and doors can help keep water out and protect against tree branches or other flying objects. Make sure the sheets overlap the openings by several inches, and use at least 4 nails or screws to secure them.

Do clear debris from your rain gutters, storm drains, and sidewalks

Leaves, pinecones, sticks, and other debris can clog drains and pipes and cause flooding.

Related link: How to Flood-Proof Your House

Do close your window drapes or blinds

If you don’t have shutters or other window coverings, this precaution can help keep broken glass from flying into your house.

Related link: Heat Your Home for Less: Tips to Save on Your Energy Bill

Do elevate your valuables

Move items to upper shelves (or ideally, higher floors) to protect them from floodwater.

Do fill up your car(s)

If the power goes out, gas station pumps may not be operating.

Don’ts when preparing for severe storms

Don’t try to create a fortress of sandbags around your house

This can trap water between the bags and the building and cause structural damage.

Don’t drain your swimming pool

It might seem like a good idea to empty the pool so it won’t get contaminated or overflow. However, storms often cause underground water tables to rise, which can force your pool out of the ground if it isn’t weighted down.

Don’t go into a flooded basement

Electrical wiring below the water level creates a risk of electrocution, so have your energy company turn off the power before heading downstairs.

Related link: What to Put In Your Emergency Flood Kit

Don’t assume you’re covered

Keep in mind that most standard homeowners insurance policies will cover water damage from incidents like burst pipes, but flood coverage usually requires a separate policy. If you’re a renter, remember that your landlord’s insurance policy covers the building only, not your belongings.

We’ve got many months of winter ahead, but with these tips, you’ll be ready to weather the storms.

Related links

Your home’s not the only valuable potentially affected by storms. Here’s how to drive safely during a flood (and avoid buying a flood-damaged car).

Stranded on the road in the middle of winter? Create a winter car kit with these 11 must-haves.

Safe and smart | Homeowners 101

about Ellen

Ellen has spent many years as a professional wordsmith, helping to shed light on such topics as world travel, cargo pants, and the porosity of bath tiles. As a freelance copywriter for Esurance, she brings her boundless curiosity to the world of insurance. Outside work, she can be found cheering on the San Francisco Giants, hiking in the Oakland hills, and (barely) resisting smuggling penguins home from Antarctica.