The Flintstones™ had it pretty good with their bedrock-era house. Sure, they had to vacuum with a woolly mammoth, but no weather could render them homeless. It might have been that kind of Stone Age fortification that made them great cartoon vitamins eons later.
But while we fortify our bodies, what’s happening to the structures we live and work in? Nearly a decade ago, prompted by its insurance company members like Erie Insurance, the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) addressed that question. In response, they launched a program called FORTIFIED for Safer Living®.
The program defines specific building standards that exceed business codes. Homes built in compliance with these tougher standards bear the designation “Fortified … for safer living.®”
More than that, these Fortified—with a capital F—homes are more likely to hold up against Mother Nature’s curveballs than traditionally constructed dwellings.
Fortified construction can also result in a financial benefit. More Fortified homes across the nation can help lower the amount of damage done by natural disasters, which in turn has the potential to lower insurance premiums across the board. (See how they held up to Hurricane Ike.)
“Insurers are the first responders in a disaster, financially speaking,” explains IBHS President and CEO Julie Rochman. “They saw the need to make families and their homes less vulnerable to what nature throws at them, so they were the ones who pushed to create a gold standard for disaster-resistant new construction.”
Beyond the standard for new construction, the IBHS program is preparing to offer resources and guidance for homeowners or businesses interested in strengthening their structures. The best part of the program: It’s accessible, affordable and applicable to where you live.
Vitamin A1 (Applicable)
Raleigh is rarely hit with winter weather, while Peoria’s not all that hail-prone. High winds in Waukesha? Pshaw. Earthquakes in Albany? Naw.
But switch the disasters and locations around—i.e., ice dams in Albany?—and you may have a problem.
As an insurer, ERIE recognizes that different parts of the country are susceptible to different natural disasters. So does Julie Rochman and IBHS.
With that in mind, IBHS created DisasterSafety.org—a Web site to help you prepare for, prevent and clean up after natural disasters. The site can tell you how to strengthen a new home you are building based on your location, so you can go for the ounce of prevention rather than the pound of peril.
“The more you know, the better questions you’ll be able to ask,” says Rochman. “This is your home—and in most cases, your home is your largest asset. We want to help people understand how to choose better products and make smarter choices.”
Not building new? You can still strengthen your structure.
Via the IBHS Web site, you can learn how to secure bookcases and shelves properly (so they won’t topple in an earthquake), strengthen soffits (to head off wind-driven rain), and reinforce entry doors (in case of tornado). It’s easy: plug in your ZIP code to reveal your biggest risks and how to reduce them.
Vitamin A2 (Affordable)
If new homes with extra features make your eyes bug out with dollar signs, here’s something to think about: Habitat for Humanity homes—homes that are always built on a budget—across 14 states have been built as Fortified homes.
“By being able to work with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, we’ve shown again and again that building to the Fortified standard is affordable,” says Rochman. “There are proven, known ways to make your home more resistant to natural disaster that don’t need to be cost-prohibitive.”
Recently, an Erie, Pa., Habitat home, sponsored by Erie Insurance, was built with a stronger roof that’s strapped to the walls and foundation of the house, creating a “continuous load path.” That means that all parts of the house—roof, walls, floors and foundation—are connected together as a unit and more likely to stay intact during high winds.
The house also has features like ring shank nails, high-wind rated shingles, a secondary moisture barrier, and heat sensors to help detect fires before they start. (See sidebar for how each of these features works.)
Ring shank nails are more like a screw than smooth nails. They get a better grip in the material, keep the roof deck secure and double the roof’s capacity to stay in place.
High wind rated shingles are designed to stand up to the elements and stay in place better.
A secondary moisture barrier covers the roof deck, so in the unlikely event that the shingles blow off, wind-driven rain won’t pour through the gaps where the wood panels meet. The barrier also protects against severe winter weather by preventing ice dams from pushing water into the roof and walls.
Heat sensors installed in the kitchen and laundry room give a pre-smoke alarm warning when things get overheated.
These code-plus Fortified upgrades, and others, can actually lead to additional savings in the future.
“Many of the things you do to make a home more wind- and winter weather-resistant also keep heated air in,” notes Rochman. “So when you seal up the windows and doors, you’re doing a lot of good in terms of keeping your house safe in wind or a winter storm. You’re also losing less good heated air to the outside. It’s a two-fer.”
And, if your house is well-maintained, Rochman points out, it may be easier to sell when you’re in the market to do so.
“You’ll want to be able to describe whatever you’ve done to improve your home,” she says. “And be sure to keep records. These things have value and make your house more desirable.”
You may be able to save on insurance costs, too. According to Terry McConnell, Personal Lines Underwriting manager at ERIE, a house earning the Fortified … for safer living® designation could help you feel safer in carrying a higher deductible. It’s a lot less susceptible to loss and damage due to weather.
Vitamin A3 (Accessible)
While the Fortified program was first created with an eye toward new construction, things have changed since 2000. In fact, annual new home sales declined a full 76 percent between 2005 and 2008, according to the U.S. Commerce Department—the slowest sales pace reported since January 1991.
But even if you’re not building, you can take advantage of Fortified elements in remodeling and home maintenance.
“There are home improvement and maintenance projects on our Web site that the weekend warrior can do without hiring a contractor, like strengthening a garage door or putting adhesives on the underside of a roof,” says Rochman.
If you do hire a contractor, do some homework before committing, Rochman says.
Who’s the boss?
If you’re the one who signs the paychecks, check out the IBHS resources for small- to mid-sized businesses at DisasterSafety.org. Open for Business® program can help business owners reduce the risk of loss through natural disaster.
The free downloadable toolkit can help you draft a disaster plan, prioritize critical business functions and organize information needed to continue operating.
IBHS also offers a free series of online training modules, business continuity forms, inventory forms and checklists.
“Make sure they’re reputable and have done this kind of work before. You can even have a professional inspector come in to make sure everything is being done right—for instance, that the nailing pattern on a new roof is correct—and that you’re getting what you paid for.”
She also urges homeowners to visit home improvement stores and ask about product options before they buy anything.
“These people are very knowledgeable and they’re happy to help,” Rochman says. “And when you’re talking to a contractor, you’ll be more educated.”
Accessible, affordable, applicable … anesthetic?
No one can promise you’ll sleep better in a Fortified home, but it might end up being an added benefit.
“Even though ERIE tries to make things as easy as possible for our Policyholders in claims situations, experiencing damage to your home can be very disruptive,” says Terry McConnell. “Building or modifying to higher standards improves your risk, which can provide peace of mind.”
So, next time you’re online, check out DisasterSafety.org, enter your ZIP code and see what it would take to make your house as Fortified for your life as your vitamins are for your body.