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"Fortified" homes protect against natural disasters

If you're building a new house and live in an area prone to hurricanes, floods, windstorms, wildfires, or tornadoes, disaster-resistant construction is of the utmost importance to protect your investment. The Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has loads of cost-effective ideas for you.

The IBHS is a national nonprofit organization based in Tampa seeking to reduce social and financial losses associated with natural disasters. It has developed sets of building codes known as "Fortified . . . for safer living" that supply disaster-protection for new construction. To be certified by the IBHS as Fortified, a building must be equipped with special features including wind- and fire-resistant roofing, hurricane straps and clips connecting the roof to the walls, impact and pressure resistant doors and windows, a securely anchored foundation, and landscaping techniques that reduce wildfire and flooding vulnerability. This is known in the industry as "Code Plus," meaning you're building above and beyond what local building codes require.

Features of a Hurricane Fortified Home

Building envelope protection

All entry doors, windows, skylights, patio doors, and garage doors are installed to meet impact resistance and pressure standards or have a protection system (storm shutter or screen) that meets the impact resistant standards from wind-borne debris.

Load path construction

The load path from the roof to the foundation of the home includes roof-to-wall straps, reinforced concrete block walls, wall anchors and connections for exterior structures such as carports and porches that attach to the main structure of a home.

Roof construction
The roof framing, sheathing, and covering are constructed to resist wind pressures by bracing gable ends, using thicker roof decking and more nails. Sealing all roof deck joints helps prevent moisture penetration if the shingles do fail.

Fortified home guidelines are also available for protection against floods and wildfires. Specifications are available at the IBHS Web site.

Source: IBHS

The first Fortified home was unveiled in Tampa in October 2000, and since then the program has expanded to 12 states. So far there are 100 finished houses, with 2,500 more in the construction or planning phase. In fact, there are entire communities in Florida, Texas and South Carolina that are being built for Fortified certification.

The codes are intended not just to save money on repairs and reconstruction after a disaster, but also to save the time and agony of relocations and displacements. IBHS spokesperson Wendy Rose points to the family agony we've all seen on TV recently after disasters. "It doesn't have to happen!" she says.

Building your Fort

To build a Fortified home, you'll need to work with a builder versed in IBHS' codes. By the end of 2007, the IBHS Web site will include lists of builders in your state who can build Fortified houses.

The cost of a Fortified house is generally 3 to 5 percent above conventional construction, depending on where you are in the country. For example, Florida already has stringent building codes, so building to Fortified standard adds about 3 to 5 percent to construction costs. In Louisiana and Mississippi, though, were building requirements are more lax to begin with, a Fortified construction could be 3 to 8 percent above conventional construction costs.

Rose notes that the codes are intended to be accessible and afforable for everyone, not just those building "McMansions." Rose says, "All of us deserve to have safety in our home." Fortified construction has already been implemented in Habitat for Humanity houses, for example.

The IBHS takes care not to price folks out of the market when it comes to disaster-resistance homes, and offers a variety of choices depending on your price range. For example, it offers guidelines for Florida impact-resistant glass for windows but also suggestions for less-expensive shutters, from plywood choices to top-of-the-line shutters, in its Shutter Selection Guide.

Fortifying your current house

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One cannot retrofit an existing house to achieve Fortified standards, but there are plenty of things you can do to strengthen what you do have.

Rose notes that the best time to retrofit is during reroofing. At that time, you can renail the underlying plywood, add a secondary moisture barrier (to keep water out should the roof shingles blow off in high winds), and choose a roof covering that's rated for high winds, wildfire and hail impact. Reroofing is not the time to select a roofer based on cost alone; it's the ideal time to upgrade your protection.

Details are avilable in IBHS' Hurricane Retrofit Guide.

The IBHS site offers many other tips for increasing safety and the physical strength of a current house. Even if you're not retrofitting, there are steps you can take that greatly increase safety for minimal cost, such as whole-house lightning protection and solid-core doors with deadbolts.

Insurance benefits

Your home insurance company may offer discounts for Fortified houses; South Carolina Farm Bureau and Travelers of Florida are examples. In addition, some state windstorm insurance pools, such as those in Mississippi and South Carolina, also offer discounts when you're insuring a Fortified house through them.

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