Living in Florida means maintaining an annual hurricane plan. By preparing your home’s exterior in advance, you greatly reduce the chances for damage should your area be the next target of Nature’s wrath. Here are 10 tips to make your home ready for the season.

1. Photograph Your Exterior, Yard and Outdoor Possessions

By keeping a photographic record of your house, landscaping and possessions, you’ll have proof of your home’s condition and your goods for insurance purposes. You can also keep a paper record, but photos offer visual evidence to back up any damage claims.

2. Install Permanent, Functional Window Shutters

If your home did not come with functional shutters, you certainly should install some. Although you can protect your windows with plywood in an emergency, shutters will always be present and ready to close on very short notice. Professionally installed, shutters won’t damage the exterior walls, as could happen when fixing and removing temporary plywood, and won’t take up storage space during the offseason.

3. Trim and Thin Trees and Shrubs

Stay on top of your landscaping maintenance. Keep dead branches from burdening your trees and shrubs. The healthier they are, the better they’ll be able to withstand high winds. Consider thinning the canopy of your large trees so the wind can pass through rather than blow them down. Also, mow the lawn if you know a storm is imminent. It will be easier to rake up debris afterwards.

4. Move Loose Furnishings and Decorations Inside

Patio furniture, decorations, children’s toys, play sets and any other moveable items should be brought inside the house or garage when a hurricane is on the way. Light items become projectiles. Keep a dolly to truck heavier things to the garage. Items that seem too heavy to be affected by the storm, such as planters, can still become rolling destruction in hurricane-force wind.

5. Anchor and Shroud Your AC Condenser

As a matter of course, your air conditioning condenser should be set on and well-anchored to concrete. Although heavy, these units can tumble in a hurricane. Cover them with a very thick, strong shroud to forestall wind-blown missiles from damaging it. Turn off the electricity to it, as well.

6. Prepare the Swimming Pool

Leave your swimming pool uncovered. You may have to clean it out later, but pool covers can easily yank out their anchors and become airborne in a hurricane. Leave the water in the pool to counteract any groundwater pressure as rain soaks in. Make sure you cut the electricity to your pool equipment at the breaker.

7. Secure the Roof with Straps or Clips

If you have an older home, it may not have roof straps or clips. These metal braces secure the rafters and trusswork to the exterior walls when otherwise gravity does the job. Retrofitting your roof is an economic way to keep it in place during a hurricane. When it’s time to replace your roof covering, consider installing stone-coated steel instead of vertical panel steel or shingles. Using screws, stone-coated steel horizontal panels attach firmly to the roof deck and each other, making it far more resistant to wind lift than any other steep-roof product.

8. Be Sure to Anchor Carports and Porch Supports in Concrete

If you have porch covers or carports, make sure they attach solidly to a concrete foundation. With no sidewalls, the wind can easily make sails out of these rigid “tents.” Make sure the structure itself has solid, wind-resistant connections at all the joints.

9. Refresh Seals Around Doors and Windows

Be sure to check all window and door caulking. If any has shrunk and can permit water penetration, replace the caulking or add more where needed. Also, go around the outside walls looking for any holes in the siding. Fill gaps left by old fixtures or animal damage. Wind-driven rain can penetrate and wreak damage inside your walls if given half a chance.

10. Brace Your Garage Doors

Heavy garage doors can seem flimsy to hurricanes, and if the wind breaks through, your home can suffer severe structural damage. Long before your area becomes the target of a storm, be sure to install a system with which to rapidly brace the door. Hardware stores carry kits for the DIY homeowner, or you can hire a professional garage door company to install them for you.

With advance preparation, you can save yourself and your insurance company a great deal of heartbreak. This year, make your home’s exterior ready to take on hurricane season.