Going Green and Building Strong: Affordable Homes that are Sustainable and Durable
Communities that prepare for disasters are more resilient; their businesses reopen faster, houses suffer less damage so homeowners return to work faster. Also, less debris from damaged and destroyed buildings ends up in landfills, making communities with strong, durable buildings more sustainable, as well as more resilient. How do communities become resilient? It starts with strengthening the built environment of homes and businesses to make them more disaster-resistant.
When a tropical depression brought high winds, driving rain and flash flooding to Baldwin County, Ala., on April 30, 2014, Maureen Fitzgerald went outside to check on her property. As she stepped off her porch she could see the nearby Fish River had overtopped its banks. After a few minutes, she walked up the porch steps, knowing her home would be okay.
“When we decided to build a new home, my husband and I spent a lot of time researching before we broke ground,” Fitzgerald said. “This was our dream home and we wanted to build in the right place using the safest construction techniques. We knew that if an evacuation was ordered, we would need to leave, but we wanted a house that could stand up to severe weather and be here when we returned. That’s why we built a FORTIFIED home.”
The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s (IBHS) FORTIFIED Home™ program, is a set of building standards designed to strengthen homes and reduce damage from specific natural disasters. FORTIFIED grew out of research conducted by IBHS about how building materials, products, and practices perform during severe weather conditions. The program’s science-based engineering and building standards are being used to build stronger, safer houses in coastal hurricane-prone areas, as well as inland locations prone to tornadoes, high winds, and hailstorms.
FORTIFIED Home is affordable at every price point and uses a unique systems-based method that takes a holistic approach to building or retrofitting resilient homes. The program has three levels of designation: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Builders and contractors can work with homebuyers and homeowners to choose the level of protection that best suits their budgets and resilience goals.
Introduced in 2009, FORTIFIED Home—Hurricane houses are increasingly popular in areas prone to hurricanes, like the Gulf Coast, where Maureen Fitzgerald lives. Although the program was designed to make homes more hurricane-resistant, new, independent research shows that a FORTIFIED Home is also a good investment. This study of homes in two of Alabama’s coastal counties (Baldwin and Mobile) by the Alabama Center for Insurance Information and Research (ACIIR) at the University of Alabama found that using FORTIFIED Home—Hurricane construction standards not only makes homes more resistant to wind and water damage, it also increases the home’s value. The study found that switching from a conventional construction standard to a FORTIFIED designation increases the assessed value of a home by nearly 7%, holding all other variables constant. According to ACIIR, the cost of building or retrofitting to obtain a FORTIFIED Home designation is frequently less than 7%.
Fitzgerald estimates that incorporating the FORTIFIED requirements added 3 to 4% to the cost of construction for their home. That extra cost has been offset by lower insurance premiums and utility bills. “People think I’m embellishing when I say this, but we’ve been in this house for three years and have already saved 9 percent,” Fitzgerald said. Although she plans to stay in her home for a long time, Fitzgerald thinks the ACIIR study will be a unique selling point for others.
“In the short run it doesn’t cost much more to build FORTIFIED, and it increases your home’s value. In the long run, the peace of mind that comes from knowing your home is built to withstand high winds and storms, well, that’s priceless.”
Julie Rochman is President & Chief Executive Officer of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.
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