Most residents in the nation's hurricane prone regions believe the roof or windows are the home's first structural components to go in a hurricane.
They also believe masking tape will help prevent windows from shattering.
And they think opening a window on the sheltered side of a house lessens the potential for wind damage.
In all three cases, they are wrong -- perhaps dead wrong. Acting on misguided notions about how to prepare your home for a hurricane leaves it open to substantial damage and puts your family's health and safety at great risk.
"Adults who live in states that front the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico lack a significant level of knowledge about hurricanes and how to best prepare for them," according to a Mason-Dixon poll, the "Coastal State Residents Fail Hurricane Safety Test".
People most prone to the ravages of hurricanes failed the test with an average score of 41.75 out of a possible 100 point score.
Of particular concern were glaring errors about how to prepare homes for hurricane force winds and rains.
- More than half, 54 percent, thought that masking tape -- masking tape -- will prevent windows from shattering. It won't and unprotected windows offer easy access to hurricane winds, which can turn broken pieces into dangerous projectiles.
Double- or triple-glazed windows not only provide a stronger wind barrier, but add energy-efficient insulation, greater fire protection and noise abatement qualities to your home. However, even triple-glazed windows that aren't protected can offer easier access to wind-borne missiles. Protect your windows with permanent storm shutters (not the cosmetic variety) or temporary, less expensive plywood covers. Don't nail or staple gun the plywood over the windows, as frantic homeowners are often shown doing during televised news broadcasts of approaching storms. Wind and wind- forced water can easily loosen nails and staples. Fasten plywood covers with screws or lag bolts long enough to penetrate the wall studs around the window, not just the siding or wall covering.
Protected windows also reduce the risk of roof damage caused by high winds that manage to penetrate the building.
- In the Mason-Dixon poll, more than a third, 38 percent believe opening a window on the sheltered side of house lessens the potential for wind damage. Opening any window during a hurricane will provide a real crash course in what not to do in a hurricane. Once hurricane force winds are inside your home, they'll want to equalize pressure with the air outside. In the process, strong winds will blow off roofs and take down walls.
- Also in the poll, most, 96 percent, did not know that the garage door is the structural element most likely to fail first in a hurricane. An unreinforced garage door is most susceptible to gale force winds because it offers a broad, weak surface for winds to batter. The necessary reinforcement work can be a do-it-yourself job -- adding girts across the back of the door and strengthening the glider wheel tracks. You should also replace old or damaged garage doors with a stronger model and reinforce it too. Single-car garage doors and windowless doors are safer.
Likewise, double-sided entry doors or French doors are more susceptible to damage than a single door.
"Many people we know spent half the storm (Hurricane Charley) trying to keep their double doors closed against the wind," said "Katie" in comments posted on the "Tips From The Trenches" electronic bulletin board on the new MyHurricaneCenter.com website.
Experts say add a heavy-duty dead bolt or replace the existing dead bolt with a stronger one. Add sturdy slide bolts at the top and bottom of the inactive door and replace all existing hinge screws with longer screws that extend further into the doors and frame. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends replacing old, or damaged, doors with new, stronger models.
Plywood adds an extra layer of protection over sliding glass doors, French doors and other double doors. Just be sure the door you cover with plywood is not the home's only entrance or exit.
Elsewhere in your home, "The trick to making a wood-framed structure extremely wind resistant, is to create a continuous connection path from the roof rafters or trusses all the way down to the foundation," says Cincinnati's Tim Carter of AskTheBuilder.com.
FEMA says roof failures also are a common cause of major damage to homes and their contents in high winds. Hurricane force winds slam full force against the broad, flat surface of the home below gable-end roofing. If the framing -- rafters or trusses -- isn't braced, winds could blow off the roof and then rip down the walls.
A professional inspection can indicate if your roof needs bracing. A licensed, specialized contractor should do the work -- installing 2x4's between the roof rafters or trusses at each end of the house, as well as anchoring accessible roof rafters and trusses to the wall system.
"There are numerous easy-to-install metal connectors that allow you to quickly bolt floors and walls to the foundation and then connect every other major wall, floor, or roof section to the components below to provide a continuous metal connection path from the roof down to the foundation," Carter says.
You may have to strengthen interior walls and that could mean removing surface coverings to get at the framing -- likely another professional job rather than a do-it-yourself task.
Don't forget to pick up and clean up before a storm, to remove objects that can become wind-borne missiles. Trees should be far enough away from your house that they can't fall on it. Anchor storage sheds and other outbuildings to a permanent foundation or with straps and ground anchors.