Preparing your home for storms
Jill Sorensen's basement flooded after a winter storm knocked out her power, then again in 2011 during Hurricane Irene.

What stopped another encore performance during last year's derecho? She'd installed a sump pump that uses her home's water pressure to kick in when the power conks out. Knock on wood, she hasn't had a flood since. That purchase — about $800 — is one of several moves she's made to prepare her home for bad weather.

"We've taken the inevitability of storms more seriously," said Sorensen, who lives in North Baltimore.

So have an increasing number of Americans, after the last few years of hurricanes, tornadoes and other damaging weather events cutting a wide swath across the country.

Weather disasters causing at least $1 billion in damages hit the United States nearly 30 times in the last three years, more than in the entire decade of the 1980s and at a much faster pace than in the following two decades, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency adjusted costs for inflation to compare apples to apples.

With bad weather has come more extended power outages — among other problems. Companies that sell generators and backup sump pumps say they've seen sales soar. Some in the construction industry, meanwhile, are hoping that concerns about storm severity will eventually revolutionize homebuilding.

"Without politicizing the conversation, moving forward, I think most people accept that the environment is changing," said Joseph Rogge, marketing director for ForeverHome, a new joint venture selling all-concrete homes. "Storms like we just saw with Hurricane Sandy are not typical, and these cycles are getting more and more frequent. It's going to force people to think of different ways to build their homes. I think that the paradigm has to shift."

ForeverHome, based in Wisconsin, intends to manufacture homes from precast concrete and work with builders to erect them. The company's prototype is in Florida, hurricane central, but it's trying to get into all coastal markets. Two builders are interested in working with the company in Maryland and elsewhere on the East Coast, Rogge said.

A 1,200-square-foot home would go for about $170,000, not including land, he said. The models can hold up against a 200-mile-per-hour wind burst, would be much less expensive to insure and cost about 70 percent less to heat and cool, Rogge said. And they don't look like the grim fortresses that the word "concrete" might bring to mind, he added.

The Maryland Ready Mix Concrete Association is (not surprisingly) all in favor of more concrete in homes. But Tom Evans, executive director of the group, says the idea has yet to truly catch on — probably thanks to un-homey connotations and because people assume concrete would cost more than wood.

He estimated that between 40 and 50 homes are built in Maryland each year with "insulated concrete wall systems" aboveground.

Maryland has had its share of weather woes, with Sandy in October, the intense derecho windstorm in June, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and the back-to-back massive snowstorms in 2010, to name a few.

But communities hit harder by storms are more active in the push to build and rebuild with materials that wind and water can't so easily damage. Take Greensburg, a Kansas town that was almost completely leveled by a 2007 tornado.

Daniel Wallach, executive director of Greensburg GreenTown, said half of the 300 homes rebuilt in town were erected to be more storm-resilient, more energy-efficient or both. Greensburg has a demonstration home made of concrete and another under way using a "wood block" system that's stronger than traditional building methods because the wood interlocks like Legos, he said.

He doesn't think anyone in the country should count themselves safe from storms.

"Basically, any environment at this point is subject to more intense weather than in the past," he said. "You adapt or you die. That's just kind of a rule of nature."

The common adaptations locally are generators and backup sump pumps. Paul M. Burke, plumbing manager at Ambassador Services, a mechanical contracting company in Owings Mills, said his company's generator installations rose 14 percent last year. Backup sump-pump installations? Up 20 percent.

"The storms are doing it for us," Burke said.

Arnold Friedlander, owner of Winn Electric Contracting in Timonium, said his company is giving generator estimates almost every day and installing several a week. The derecho plus Sandy "made a lot more people decide to do something," he said.