From hurricanes to flooding and wildfires, last year was the costliest year on record for natural disasters. Damages totaled at least $306 billion from 16 separate natural disasters, although other estimates are closer to $400 billion.
So, what can you do to protect yourself and your home from complete disaster if you live in the path of frequent tornados or live along the east coast where hurricanes are inevitable? We spoke with Susan Millerick, Director of Public Affairs with the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), to understand more about how homeowners in America can protect their homes from natural disasters.
IBHS is a small non-profit that’s fully funded by the property insurance industry. They receive funds to conduct extensive research against multiple weather hazards and are largely focused on wind and wind-driven events. “Our whole goal is to help American homes and communities stay strong and more resilient in the face of a natural disaster,” said Susan Millerick.
IBHS has a very large test facility in Richburg, SC where they test different structures using different materials by building full-scale homes and buildings. They’ve tested cinder block buildings, two-story homes, single-story homes, mobile homes, and even studied decking and roofing materials. In their facility they can create wind-driven events, emulate a wildfire, and can create a category 3 hurricane. All the research and testing has allowed IBHS to develop a set of standards called the FORTIFIED Standards.
Three Levels of FORTIFIED Standards
The FORTIFIED Standards were created in 2010 as a guide for contractors and homeowners on the best ways to strengthen a home. There are three designation levels and each level builds on the one before it.
Bronze: The Bronze Standard focuses on the most important part of a home; the roof. Homeowners can either improve their existing roof or install new roof covering. Both options will strengthen the anchorage of any outlookers that support a gable roof overhang, strengthen roof sheathing fastening, and reduce water intrusion. Habitat for Humanity, which is on a very tight budget, builds their structures with a FORTIFIED Bronze roof because the cost difference is pennies on the dollar.
Silver: To reach a FORTIFIED Silver designation, the building must already have a FORTIFIED roof. So, the Silver level focuses on the openings in your home, such as your windows and doors. FORTIFIED Silver resilience upgrades provide methods for protecting glazed openings, entry doors, and garage doors, bracing gable ends, and improving the anchorage of attached structures. “It looks at things like do your doors open in or out…are your windows high-grade, are they impact resistant…do you have hurricane shutters on your home, etc.,” she Millerick.
Gold: After the Bronze and Silver designations are accomplished, homeowners can then achieve a Gold standard. FORTIFIED Gold requires a continuous load path from roof to foundation, proper chimney anchoring, and all openings must meet wind design pressure requirements for their location. Millerick explained that reaching this standard is geared more towards new construction. “It’s a lot harder for an existing house to get a Gold Standard because you have to get into the wall structures, which would require you to rip off the siding to get into the walls.”
Millerick emphasized that these standards aren’t very expensive, but they are extremely effective and just need to be done right.
Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves
The most recent report on natural disaster mitigation was published in January by the National Institute of Building Sciences. The Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report highlights the benefits of two mitigation strategies and found that mitigation funding can save the nation $6 in future disaster costs for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation. The report also found that funding would prevent 600 deaths, 1 million nonfatal injuries and 4,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long term.
The choice to build FORTIFIED isn’t a market-level decision and instead something that each individual insurance company decides on whether to participate by offering incentives and discounts.
My Strong Home is an insurance company in Columbia, SC that claims they will buy you a new roof. Their website says, “Meet the insurance company that buys you a new roof. The right roof can lower your insurance premiums by up to 48%. The savings can pay for the newly Fortified roof.”
Smart Home America, a company in Alabama that promotes mitigation and resilient buildings by following the FORTIFIED standards. Building to their standards can save you money on homeowner’s insurance, reduce the risk of storm damage, and keep your family protected. Another company in Orangeburg, AL will refund your building permit fee and expedite your permit if you build to FORTIFIED standards, so there are many ways other companies are offering incentives and discount opportunities.
“It’s really hard to come up with (a proper cost) assessment because it has to do with the building codes and standards (of each state). It might be in the double digits or it might be 3% in another market.” For example, Florida already has very strict building codes and standards, so when considering the cost of building FORTIFIED Gold vs building a non-FORTIFIED home, with all other things being equal, the price difference is not going to be huge. However, if you’re building a Gold standard in Missouri where there’s a huge gap in the strength of the home and the building codes and standards, the price difference will be much more significant.
Tips for Building FORTIFIED
IBHS is a very small organization, so they don’t have FORTIFIED approved contractors and evaluators in every state. “We have about 6,500 designations for FORTIFIED, 223 trained evaluators and we are in 18 states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Washington State),” she said.
If you’re a homeowner interested in building a fortified home, simply visit their website to obtain a copy of their FORTIFIED standards and check to ensure your contractor is comfortable with and fully capable of meeting those standards. IBHS also offers training classes for builders and evaluators that are provided by a trained FORTIFIED evaluator. The information is out there and publicly available to anyone. “We are trying to build a psyche out there that people understand what happens if they don’t manage their risk,” said Millerick.
It’s also important to note that no matter how strong your home is, even if it’s built to the FORTIFIED Gold Standard, you should always listen to the warnings from emergency services and evacuate your home when advised.