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Program's building standards can protect homes in hurricanes

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Last year I wrote about the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) and its FORTIFIED program. The program is designed to help assess the condition of a home and its resistance to wind, hail and storm damage.

Through the FORTIFIED program,  homeowners can strengthen their residences through an evaluation, inspection, and retrofitting process tailored to meet the unique challenges of eastern North Carolina and its especially high windstorm risk.

With hurricanes and tropical storms accounting for more than 42 percent of insured losses since 1990, this is a real issue for coastal North Carolinians. We all know we are very susceptible to wind and hail damage. Builders in this area, as well as home buyers, should always be striving for the most wind- and water-resistant structures available.

IBHS has a laboratory in Richburg, S.C., where they build houses and commercial buildings and then subject them to hurricane-force winds, rain, and even hail. The goal is to find out which building techniques create the most resilient structures. I have visited that laboratory several times, and I’ve even gotten to witness some of their tests. It’s pretty fascinating that they can generate 150 mph wind speeds and realistic hail stones.

The recommendations made in the FORTIFIED program are based on actual safety research conducted by IBHS. The results offer proven techniques for strengthening a home or commercial building that are both practical and affordable.

For example, a roof that meets the program’s standards has a sealed roof deck, which is a relatively small additional cost for those who are currently in the process of construction or if they are installing a new roof on an existing structure. The sealed roof deck resists water, which in turn reduces storm damage to the interior of a home.

There may be financial incentives for homeowners if they comply with the FORTIFIED building standards on a new home or on an existing home that they retrofit. The fastest and easiest way to get information about the program is to visit the IBHS website at disastersafety.org/fortified/.

Even if homeowners do not qualify for the financial incentives, the building standards usually are affordable and worth the investment. They may cost as little as 2-3 percent of the total building cost while providing extra damage resistance. These construction standards are even being used by Habitat for Humanity.

I sincerely feel that this program is a significant improvement in construction and I hope North Carolinians will embrace it. Wouldn’t it be better to not suffer wind damage when the next hurricane comes our way?

Those who are in the process of building a new home, or remodeling an existing home, can contact IBHS to learn more about the program, or feel free to contact me with any questions they have. People who are are part of an organization or civic group that is interested in learning more about the program, can contact me at wellsbr@ecu.edu. I would be happy to visit with you to share more information.

Brenda Wells is the Robert F. Bird Distinguished Professor of Risk and Insurance at East Carolina University’s College of Business Administration. 

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