In cooperation with FEMA’ s Building Science Branch, FLASH launched DisasterSmart—Leadership for a Resilient Future. The new education initiative is for leaders seeking to advance disaster resilience by fostering an environment with strong, well-built residential homes as the foundation for community resilience.
As the Alabama coast observes the quiet passage of another hurricane season, more homes are being built to better withstand the Next Big One.
At last count, 2,635 homes in Alabama now meet the standard of “fortified,” the designation of an Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety program that establishes storm-resistant construction standards. Alabama has by far the largest number of fortified homes in the country, making up 70 percent of the total. The top seven cities, led by Fairhope, are in Baldwin and Mobile counties.
Fairhope is No. 1 with 542 total fortified homes. Daphne ranks second with 401, followed by Mobile, Foley, Gulf Shores, Spanish Fort and Semmes.
“We must take precautions well in advance of mighty storms. And, believe it or not, the State of Alabama is on the forefront of home mitigation in America, as we lead the charge of home safety and illustrate to our nation how to build and strengthen homes when it comes to protecting them from powerful storms.”
Hurricane Matthew turned east just as the Category 4 Hurricane was about to wreck havoc along the Eastern Florida shoreline and bring about vast damage to homes and municipalities alike. The damage was avoided this time due to the grace of Mother Nature, but as a population we can not always depend on being saved by a low pressure system.
We must take precautions well in advance of mighty storms. And, believe it or not, the State of Alabama is on the forefront of home mitigation in America, as we lead the charge of home safety and illustrate to our nation how to build and strengthen homes when it comes to protecting them from powerful storms.
The IBHS (Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety) has been working on strengthening home safety for years, and a couple of years ago reached a general consensus: home destruction does not happen from the foundation up, but rather from the roof top down. Having a strong and storm resistant roof was paramount to protecting the home and structure, so the scientists at the institute went to work. They developed three different levels in which to certify the ways in which homes could now be mitigated against damage, and would now be considered “Fortified”: Bronze, Silver, and Gold.
The Bronze designation simply certifies that your home has met the minimum standards for the program. In order to earn that label, a structure must have a roof that has insulation and a sheath underneath the shingles, screw-like nails in place, and roof vents must have high wind-rated material, as well as a couple of other benchmarks. This designation allows you to save around 20% on your insurance, in addition to knowing your structure is more sound and safe in the event of natural storms.
The Silver level builds on top of the bronze label, so in order for you to obtain a silver label, the bronze criteria must first be met. Silver dictates that all openings must be constructed of impact resistant materials, such as glass windows and doors, along with end walls and attached structures (think carports/porches) having roof and foundation connections. This protects your structure in a more sound way than bronze, and allows for around 30% in insurance savings.
Gold is the final label that is offered by the Fortification Program, and it dictates that the structure must have a continuous load path from the roof to the wall, the wall to the floor, and the floor to the foundation, in addition to the levels of Bronze and Silver being met. Gold Fortification is not available when you “retrofit” your home, unlike Bronze and Silver, but D R Horton, Truland, and even a modular home builder, Gulf Coast Modular Homes, and other quality builders are building up to these new codes, strengthening their homes and providing home owners with tremendous savings on their home owners insurance. Sometimes upwards of 50%.
Alabama leads the nation in Fortified Homes being both built to Gold and retrofitted to Bronze or Silver, as this state has sought to face the challenges of catastrophic losses associated with natural disasters. There is a $5.5 million grant in place for 2016, and that grant will rise to $10 million in 2017 to retrofit your home to Bronze Fortification. It is based on your annual income and is only applicable in Baldwin and Mobile Counties. There will be a minimum of 1000 families selected in 2016, and that figure should double by next year.
The process for applying is pretty simple, as there is a registration website (https://strengthenalabamahomes.com/), where you confirm your email. Then, you create a profile and select an evaluator (every contractor must be Certified in Fortified Homes to become an evaluator). The evaluator comes to your home for an initial evaluation, then you get three bids, the bids are then submitted to the grant program, and you may qualify for the grant and the savings.
In addition to the multiple million dollar grants for the next two years, Alabama is leading the charge in other ways. Fortified new homes are being built at a nation-leading pace. Orange Beach is the only municipality in America where if you build your new structure to a Gold Fortified Certification, the city refunds the permit fees, which often run several thousand dollars, generally equaling out the small cost of fortification in the first place. Recently, the University of Alabama conducted an economic study of the monetary benefits of retrofitting homes to Bronze or Silver levels, and found that those homes had a resale value of more than 7% their counterparts, so the initial costs of retrofitting were more than offset with resale value and insurance savings. (http://aciir.culverhouse.ua.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/FORTIFIEDReport_V2-1.pdf)
Often times, we do not think about insurance, as we just add it up to another bill. But, being current and knowledgeable on this issue will not only save you money, but could save your home. For more information, please visithttp://www.smarthomeamerica.org/dont-goof
or contact your qualified insurance agent for applicable programs.
Members of Sea Grant, Smart Home America and Fortified Homes Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety discuss the benefits of fortified buildings in a resilient community. Fortifying homes can protect them from hurricanes and coastal storms. SEE THE VIDEO
After years of being battered by hurricanes, Alabama needed a new way forward to better withstand these punishing storms. Through the personal commitment of a group of individuals, the use of a proven construction standard, and a healthy dose of legislative resolve, the state is now well on its way toward creating a FORTIFIED future for its residents.
“If you’re in the construction industry, why would you not want to offer the option for your customers having a stronger home? It’s a no-brainer as far I’m concerned. For homeowners, the dollars are an investment, not an expense,” said Darius Grimes, president of Disaster Smart Consulting, Inc. and an IBHS-certified FORTIFIED evaluator.
It’s fair to say few people in Alabama had heard of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s (IBHS) FORTIFIED for Safer Living® program when Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina caused $3 billion in widespread wind damage in 2004 and 2005. Today, the FORTIFIED new construction standard and IBHS’ retrofit program, FORTIFIED for Existing Homes™, are written into legislation as qualifying standards for the state’s wind pool and private carrier insurance mitigation credits.
The FORTIFIED requirements focus on strengthening the roof system, exterior wall systems, openings, and the home’s structural connections, all of which have shown to be the most vulnerable to damage in severe weather. The FORTIFIED for Safer Living systems approach for new homes and the required inspections ensure homeowners are getting the improvements they are paying for and that the work is being done correctly. FORTIFIED for Existing Homes provides opportunities for an overall assessment of a house and outlines the steps needed to incrementally improve its strength, making it a more cost effective option for people who are not building a new house.
Alabama’s adoption of the program is a good case study in how grassroots efforts, combined with legislative will, can significantly improve the quality of residential building stock in a state. Progress in Alabama is ongoing and there is still more to do, including adoption and enforcement of a statewide building code. However, Alabama’s example is one that other states could follow to make the kind of changes that will result in more resilient communities. Effective loss mitigation pays off in many ways; for example, according to studies by the Multi-Hazard Mitigation Council of the National Institute of Building Sciences, every $1 spent on property loss prevention projects saves society $4 in reduced future losses.
Mother Nature played a key role in making the case for using FORTIFIED building standards in Alabama. While only the counties of Baldwin and Mobile have direct coastal exposure, the entire state faces threats from high winds, hail, tornadoes, flooding and wildfire.
As disaster-related property damage mounted, Alabama legislators faced difficult decisions about how to encourage residents to take action to protect their homes and reduce losses. Senator Ben Brooks (R-Mobile) was among the lawmakers who began looking at other state reforms in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia. While this discussion was taking shape, other actions were underway to study the benefits of FORTIFIED and to encourage its use.
In 2008, the Alabama Insurance Underwriting Association (AIUA) began offering insurance discounts for homes in Baldwin and Mobile counties that meet the IBHS FORTIFIED for Safer Living standard. The same year, the first real-world test of the standard took place in neighboring Texas. When Hurricane Ike’s eye wall hit the Bolivar Peninsula, a group of 10 FORTIFIED homes survived, while the virtually all of the other 300 homes in the community were severely damaged or completely swept away. Almost immediately, more people were paying attention to this then little-known program and its superior construction standards.
“The AIUA fully embraced the FORTIFIED standards and saw the importance of trying to improve the building stock,” said AIUA Manager Bob Groves.
A year later, momentum surrounding FORTIFIED in Alabama intensified. The Alabama legislature passed a bill, which was signed into law, requiring insurers doing business in the state to provide discounts for coastal one- and two-family houses and manufactured houses that are built, rebuilt or retrofitted in accordance with specific standards, including FORTIFIED, to better withstand hurricanes and other catastrophic windstorm events.
“The standards in the FORTIFIED for Safer Living program are an integral part of the bill. We believe the statute is a very significant piece of legislation and we are proud of it,” said Sen. Brooks, who was the bill’s primary sponsor. “The bill is a vital part of the overall reform package we are pursuing.”
Beyond the capital, grassroots efforts surrounding FORTIFIED also were underway. The initiative was pushed forward by Carl Schneider, a prominent independent insurance agent in the Mobile area. Using his own financial resources and a grant from the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Schneider co-founded Smart Home Alabama in 2009. The organization is focused on educating individual homeowners and entire communities about vulnerability, resiliency, and sustainability, as well as facilitating conversations and collaboration through a variety of partnerships. Smart Home Alabama is modeled after other successful programs such as South Carolina SAFE HOME and Rebuild Northwest Florida, both of which have retrofitted thousands of homes for increased disaster resistance.
“We quickly saw that the vision Carl Schneider had for Smart Home Alabama had the potential to assist coastal states, counties and municipalities with identifying best practices for mitigating risks in the face of future storms,” said Dr. Tracie Sempier, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant’s coastal storms outreach coordinator. “The key to the success of Smart Home has been the partnerships formed among the organizations with similar goals and objectives working toward a common purpose of safer, sustainable, and affordable options for coastal residents.”
Today, Smart Home Alabama has secured additional partners, including the Coastal Alabama Leadership Council. Smart Home Alabama is now receiving numerous requests for information from builders, building code departments, engineers, homeowners, and the media. A grant from State Farm Fire and Casualty Company is helping to support their efforts, including paying for the retrofitting of several homes to the FORTIFIED for Existing Homes standard.
“The partnerships from the state level to the local level are what make Alabama a real model for the nation,” said Steve Simkins, State Farm’s counsel for Alabama and Mississippi. “We are all working together very hard to help homeowners understand there are things they can do to improve the sustainability of their homes.”
The grassroots efforts also have been bolstered by the “Roadmap to Resilience” report issued in 2010 by the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC) of Alabama, which was charged with making recommendations for ways in which Alabama can harden its coastal property against future threats. The report called for homeowners to strengthen their homes and for governments to adopt stronger standards for construction, among other things.
“The FORTIFIED concept makes sense because it is a holistic system and performance-based standard,” Schneider said. “FORTIFIED is the best solution we have – FORTIFIED is our ‘Roadmap to Resilience.’”
The key to gaining more widespread support for FORTIFIED construction has been the fact it can be an affordable option and that, in areas vulnerable to major natural disasters, the risk of property loss outweighs the marginal additional costs.
“Mitigation isn’t just for high value properties,” said Dave Treutel, Jr., chairman of Smart Home Alabama, and president and chief executive officer of Treutel Insurance Agency. “You can mitigate homes in the $60,000 to $100,000 range. The only solution to living and effectively insuring property in catastrophe-prone areas is to implement safer, stronger standards – and that is the FORTIFIED program. It’s imperative.”
The diversity of the groups supporting the FORTIFIED standards is also helping to spread the message in a tough economy. Builders are discovering that more people are seeking stronger, better built homes and see the value of utilizing the FORTIFIED program as a competitive advantage to differentiate themselves from “average builders,” said Dwayne Smith, a structural engineer with Waverly Custom Homes, which has four FORTIFIED for Safer Living homes in progress.
“As with anything, competition is the best controller of cost,” said Smith, who now serves on the Smart Home Board of Directors. “The goals are to ensure your home is still there after a hurricane, help on insurance costs and keep more insurance carriers in the area.” Smith said the cost differential for building to the FORTIFIED for Safer Living standard can be as little as two percent of construction costs.
Comparing the shift to the FORTIFIED for Safer Living and FORTIFIED for Existing Homes standards with the shift from typewriters to computers, Smith says, “Twenty years from today FORTIFIED will be the standard. We’re trying to help people get there.”
The affordability message was reinforced through construction of a series of FORTIFIED Habitat for Humanity homes in Mobile. The efforts were financed in part through grants from Safeco Insurance and the Travelers Foundation.
“We know homes built to meet these stringent standards are better able to withstand severe weather, and we want to encourage and raise awareness of these smarter building practices,” said Eric M. Nelson, vice president of personal insurance at Travelers and a member of the IBHS Board of Directors.
By working with Habitat, insurers are providing peace of mind to low-income families, who often are among those who are least able to recover after a disaster.
“The FORTIFIED for Safer Living program helps by providing families with a stronger, safer home. The minimal upfront investment will definitely pay off in the long-term,” said Alex Cary, Habitat’s construction manager in Baldwin County. “If Habitat for Humanity can build FORTIFIED at an affordable housing level, then other builders and homeowners should certainly be able to as well.”
This is exactly what the Coastal Recovery Commission had in mind, said Commission Chairman Ricky Mathews, publisher of The Mobile Press-Register. “Bring smart people together and they’ll find a solution. The solution is a multi-faceted process bringing together leaders like builders, realtors, bankers, legislators, and homeowners,” he said. “There is no solution that doesn’t involve the insurance industry. Anything we can do to reduce risk can only be a good thing. We have to pass building codes which are much more stringent.”
The next steps in Alabama’s march toward truly resilient communities involves additional legislation and geting more builders and homeowners to recognize the value of building and retrofitting to the FORTIFIED standards.
A new law passed in 2011, allows Alabama homeowners statewide to qualify for a $3,000 state income tax deduction if they retrofit or upgrade their homes to resist damages associated with hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or windstorms.
Another bill currently pending in the Alabama Legislature would, if enacted, enable homeowners to establish a catastrophe savings account to cover insurance deductibles and other portions of uninsured losses for homes damaged by a catastrophic windstorm. Taxpayers could claim a credit against their state income tax for deposits made into the account.
Proving the value of stronger construction will be aided by the work being done at the IBHS Research Center in South Carolina. A windstorm demonstration conducted in fall 2010 pitted a conventionally constructed house against a FORTIFIED home. Dramatic video footage of the conventional home completely collapsing after being battered by high winds with gusts up to 96 mph, while the FORTIFIED home remained standing with relatively minor damage, has helped vividly illustrate the FORTIFIED message. The video has helped buttressed Schneider’s pitch to sometimes skeptical audiences.
“Which house do you want to own? Which house do you want to build, or be in during a storm?” he asks his audiences as they view the video footage. When he explains the cost difference was about 2 percent to 4 percent of the total hard costs to build the test home, many in the audience become believers. Next on Schneider’s list of partnerships are Realtors, appraisers and bankers, whom he hopes to convince of the benefits of using Smart Home Alabama and the FORTIFIED program to impact the re-sale value of homes. It’s a message many insurers already embrace.
“PURE has long been a believer in mitigation. A visit to the IBHS Research Center only strengthened our views. The marginal cost of building a home to the FORTIFIED standards reinforces our belief that quality can cost less,” said Ross Buchmueller, president and chief executive officer of Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange (PURE).
While there is clear and convincing evidence regarding the value of FORTIFIED, it will still take a concerted effort at all levels to continue moving Alabama toward widespread adoption of building and retrofitting to the FORTIFIED standards. Luckily, there are plenty of advocates who are up to the task.
“If you’re in the construction industry, why would you not want to offer the option for your customers having a stronger home? It’s a no-brainer as far I’m concerned. For homeowners, the dollars are an investment, not an expense,” said Darius Grimes, president of Disaster Smart Consulting, Inc. and an IBHS-certified FORTIFIED evaluator.
For additional information about IBHS’ FORTIFIED programs, visit www.DisasterSafety.org.
Habitat for Humanity Southwest Alabama will be hosting an open house in Mobile, Alabama, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 16, to showcase construction features that make a home stronger against storms. The house, located at 575 E. Felhorn Road in the Hillsdale subdivision, was built to FORTIFIED Gold standards.
As a FORTIFIED home, the house offers increased safety, less financial risk and less disruption should a storm threaten. FORTIFIED homes also are eligible for lower insurance rates.
Several professionals familiar with the FORTIFIED program will be on hand at the open house to share information and answer questions:
- Darius Grimes, Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) Certified Inspector for FORTIFIED Homes
- Brenda Lawless, Habitat for Humanity Southwest Alabama (HFHSWA) President and CEO
- Josh Shedeck, HFHSWA Construction Director
- Alex Cary, Smart Home America Executive Director
By: Melissa Schneider / Published: Dec 16, 2013
View flier here.
Disaster Smart provides the FORTIFIED Evaluation Services for the My Strong Home program in Alabama, South Carolina, and Louisiana.
By Russel Abad
MURRELLS INLET (WMBF) – Ten homes in the Grand Strand are receiving weatherproofing renovations – and it’s not costing the homeowners a penny. It’s part of a larger project being tested in The Grand Strand.
MyStrongHome is a company which makes houses more wind resistant. They come to your house, inspect your roof and attic, then find out what needs to be done to get your home “fortified” as defined by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. The new company is in the pilot phase and absorbing all costs of renovations for the customers for company research and development purposes.
MyStrongHome plans to move to a self-financing model where insurance savings from homeowners will pay back the costs of construction. The company will figure out what needs to be done as well as supervise and pay a contractor to completely refurbish your roof and windows to be storm resistant. Because the insurance company will be less likely to get a claim, the hope is that your homeowner’s insurance premium will be much lower and that you’ll have a home to brave the elements.
Bill Duncan has lived in his Murrells Inlet home for 8 years. He has wanted to fix up and weatherproof the home for just as long. Duncan applied for a grant under South Carolina’s Safe Home Project which allocates money from the legislature for upgrading homes, but was not accepted.
MyStrongHome sought the Department of Insurance to find applicants like Duncan who were not accepted into the South Carolina Safe Home Project. The ten lucky homeowners became part of a pilot project in the Grand Strand to receive renovations from MyStrongHome without having to pay for it.
When upgrades on his roof and gables are complete, Bill Duncan’s house should be certified silver under the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s fortified home standards. However, Duncan is most excited to have a safe house and family during the hurricane season.
Copyright 2015 WMBF News. All rights reserved. http://www.wmbfnews.com/story/29391571/grand-strand-homes-receive-upgrades-for-hurricane-season#
According to new research by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, stronger building codes and standards, along with more stringent requirements for inspections, building permits, and contractor licensing, all have contributed to safer, stronger roofs in coastal Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, since Katrina tore into the region 10 years ago.
“IBHS has excellent news to report about the coastal areas in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi in our new study, Katrina 10 Years Later: Improving the Resilience of Roofing in the Gulf States,” said Julie A. Rochman, IBHS president and CEO.
Many things have changed along the Gulf Coast since Katrina, includingenactment of stronger building codes, standards and requirements in a number of areas. IBHS examined changes specific to roofing requirements by evaluating and analyzing several key aspects of roofing regulations, including codes, contractor licensing, permits and inspections.
A key finding in the study is that building codes in these areas have substantially improved, with 100 percent of surveyed jurisdictions currently enforcing either the 2012 or 2009 edition of the International Residential Code. Prior to Katrina, only about one-third (36 percent) of coastal communities surveyed were known to enforce the IRC.
The study also found more than half the jurisdictions surveyed (23) now require some type of licensing or registration for roofers, which is critical to prevent work being performed by people not qualified to do so. In addition, 38 percent of jurisdictions surveyed were known to require permits for re-roofing projects prior to Katrina; today, this number has nearly doubled to 70 percent.
“The roof is a building’s first line of defense against high winds,” Rochman said. “Yet, sadly, it is also often the most vulnerable building system. Even if a home or commercial structure has excellent window and other opening protection, if the roof suffers damage from a hurricane or severe thunderstorm, that building easily can be transformed into a big bucket, allowing punishing wind and water inside,” Rochman explained. “Unfortunately, many homes and businesses during Hurricane Katrina suffered roof damage that cascaded into truly devastating losses.”
The storm’s devastation was so horrific the name “Katrina” has been retired and will never be used again by the National Weather Service. Rochman noted that “the people and communities impacted by Katrina will always refer to life as ‘before the storm’ and ‘after the storm’. That last weekend in August 2005 was a defining moment for Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, which taught us many lessons. We not only must learn them, but also teach them to others who are similarly vulnerable, so they can take action to protect themselves before another storm strikes. That is the very least we owe to those who lost their lives, their loved ones, their homes, and their businesses.”
“There are practical steps all jurisdictions in hurricane-prone areas can take to improve the ability of residential roof systems to protect against high winds and wind-driven water intrusion,” Rochman said. “Based on many years of pre- and post-disaster field investigation, as well as unique, rigorous building science conducted at the IBHS Research Center, our scientists and engineers have provided a number of specific recommendations in the new post-Katrina study for any coastal community exposed to hurricane risk.”
In addition to enactment and enforcement of the latest building codes, IBHS recommendations for hurricane-exposed communities include adoption of IBHS FORTIFIED Home–Hurricane superior roofing construction standards, which provide increased resilience through stronger construction techniques, and are specifically developed for these locations. In addition to enactment and enforcement of the latest building codes, IBHS recommendations for hurricane-exposed communities include adoption of IBHS FORTIFIED Home–Hurricane superior roofing construction standards, which provide increased resilience through stronger construction techniques, and are specifically developed for these locations.
“While hurricanes will continue to threaten coastal areas year after year, there is no reason to allow homes and businesses to remain vulnerable to damage from even relatively low-level storms. We must break this cycle of destruction, and we have the scientific knowledge to build and retrofit safer, stronger homes that are more hurricane-resistant. Now all we need is the determination to make this happen,” Rochman concluded.
Disaster Smart was a featured speaker at this year’s Zerion Power User Summit. Watch Darius speak about stronger, safer homes and how Disaster Smart leverages technology to educate consumers and provide practical long term solutions to loss of life and property damage resulting from poor construction practices, weak building code enforcement, and a mass migration to coastal regions of the US. Disaster Smart has developed a unique solution working with iFormbuilder that allows them to rapidly deploy new inspection platforms increasing accuracy while automating reports and data flows using cloud based technologies.
“The advancements in business enterprise solutions that are available today are simply amazing. One no longer needs to be dependent on paper and pencil, slow and expensive software development teams, or internet connections to be able to complete field inspections and refine data into high quality deliverables. Working closely with iFormbuilder we have taken a process from what normally took months or years to develop test and implement and reduce it to weeks, or even days.”
As a native of Mobile, Alabama, Jerryln London has lived through her share of hurricanes, including some memorable ones: Camille in ’65, Frederick in ’79 and Katrina in ’05.
“I refer to life before and after Katrina,” she says. “[After], the cost of living on the coast became so expensive.”
In its wake, the cost of homeowner’s insurance in hurricane-prone locales climbed. In some places, hurricane coverage can now be as much as three-quarters the cost of an entire policy. In 2014, London paid $1,258 a year for wind damage coverage alone.
Not anymore. In Spring 2015, her home was retrofitted through MyStrongHome, a program that helps homeowners affordably stormproof their houses to better withstand extreme weather. Instead of paying for construction up front, homeowners pay back retrofitting costs with the money they save on insurance after the house is less risky to insure.
The program’s director and founder, Margot Brandenburg, got the idea when she worked at the Rockefeller Foundation and staffed a commission on increasing New York State’s resiliency after Hurricane Sandy. She felt too few investment opportunities existed for the private sector to contribute to disaster resilience. (MyStrongHome is currently a nonprofit, but will become a private company.)
A friend who had worked with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority advised her: “You need long nails.”
“There are fairly low-tech things you can do to a home that will make it dramatically more capable to withstand a hurricane,” says Brandenburg. “If you’re pricing your insurance correctly, you should get enough savings on your insurance bill to pay for the installation.”
Brandenburg cites home solar company Solar City as another example of MyStrongHome’s approach. Despite the promise of long-term savings and environmental benefits of solar panels, installing a system can be a pain, and upfront costs dissuade homeowners. Both MyStrongHome and Solar City seek to offer end-to-end solutions that allow homeowners to pay back installation costs over time using savings.
Last spring, MyStrongHome retrofitted 30 homes in Louisiana, South Carolina and Alabama — including London’s — as part of a pilot program. Official launch is set for early 2016. Homeowners in vulnerable coastal areas, with houses in good condition for renovation, are eligible to apply.
If they meet qualifications, MyStrongHome will take the process from there: scheduling a home inspection, hiring the contractors, and working with their insurance partner, SageSure, to secure insurance credits based on the expected reduction in hurricane losses. The program is targeting homes that could see 50 to 75 percent reductions in modeled losses from wind and hurricanes after renovation.
Homes are retrofitted to the standards of Fortified, a three-tiered certification programdeveloped by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. At the bronze tier of certification, roofs are strengthened and often replaced altogether.
“People with old roofs are paying the most [for insurance] on average, and have the greatest potential to save,” says Brandenburg.
The program, however, won’t be able to help homeowners achieve the highest level of certification. During the pilot, MyStrongHome experimented with retrofitting homes to higher levels — which include stormproofing windows, doors and more — but found it wasn’t cost effective.
“As a public policy goal you’d like everyone to be as protected as they can be,” says Brandenburg, “but we’re constrained by the universe of measures that can pay for themselves over time.”
After retrofitting, homeowners send a monthly check to MyStrongHome, which passes on a new, lower payment to the insurance company and keeps the difference to pay down the construction bill. After that’s paid off, homeowners pocket the savings.
“MyStrongHome is one of a kind,” writes SageSure CEO Terrence McLean in an email. “We have not seen anyone attempt to combine all aspects of the mitigation process into a seamless solution.”
Right now, says Brandenburg, home stormproofing isn’t well reflected in insurance premiums. She’d like to see pricing more adequately take into account actual risks to homes and what people have done to fortify them, in the same way that adding a locked gate to an outdoor pool reduces insurance premiums. “That creates the right incentives for people to make those investments,” she says.
After working with MyStrongHome, Jerryln London’s insurance premium went from $1,258 per year to $827. And the cost of her new roof, which earned her a bronze certification, was a little over $4,000.
“In my opinion it’s a no-brainer,” she says. “Because you get your house repaired, you’re going to spend the same amount of money you were paying before, and after it’s paid off then you will see the reduction. And it also gives you peace of mind because you know your house can sustain a certain amount of wind.”
Ultimately, resilience and sustainability goals aside, that peace of mind is an important element of MyStrongHome.
Brandenburg says she was surprised when a marketing test with people in the program’s target audience revealed that “resilience had a negative connotation.”
“People heard ‘resilience’ and basically heard policymakers telling them to suck it up,” she says.
But a new roof?
“Something I had underappreciated from the beginning was how much variability and distrust there is … in home upgrade,” says Brandenburg. “Having a really high-quality roofer come in and do the work quickly and professionally and on time, it was really valued by people.”