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Hurricane-ready homes save on insurance
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New home construction adheres to building codes developed to help structures better survive high winds from a hurricane or tropical storm.
The cost of homeowners insurance is an important consideration when budgeting for the purchase of a new home or renovations to an existing one.

Many insurance providers offer discounts based on a home’s hurricane-readiness. Not all discounts are the same, so you should check with your agent for specific programs.

The age of the home counts big in terms of withstanding hurricane-force winds and the availability of insurance discounts. You may even hear comments about houses built before or after Hurricane Andrew – a storm that forever changed the way Floridians build their homes.

Andrew made landfall Aug. 24, 1992, as a Category 5 Hurricane in Elliott Key located just east of Homestead in Miami-Dade County. At the time, it was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

Andrew’s impact went way beyond cleanup and recovery as the state began focusing on the suitability of its existing building codes. Building standards were changed to make sure new homes were better able to withstand high winds and, by the late 1990s, Florida began to implement and enforce new statewide building codes. The first edition of the Florida Building code 2001 was adopted mid-year in 2002.

Due to improved standards, homes built after 2002 are better constructed to withstand hurricane-force winds and most likely qualify for one or more discounts on the wind portion of a homeowner’s policy. But that doesn’t mean houses built prior to 2002 can’t be strengthened to make them safer and eligible for many of the same discounts.

Improvements can be as simple as installing shutters for windows and doors. Installing roof straps and clips can save money on the insurance bill. Replacing your garage door with one that is wind-rated also can provide a savings. A new roof and installation of impact windows could reap even more discounts. Again, check with your agent for exact details.

The reason insurance companies offer discounts to homeowners who live in a more hurricane-ready home is the added protection against severe damage. Your roof, windows and garage door are vital to protecting your home’s “building envelope.” If even one of the three doesn’t stand up to the forces of nature, you could end up with major damage to the inside of your home. Homes with extensive damage to the inside may be declared unsafe. Homeowners are then forced to evacuate, which means increased costs to you and your insurance company.

Tom Iovino, Pinellas County Communications hurricane specialist, offered some tips for those looking to buy a new home and those looking to make their existing home better able to stand up to high winds.

The Iovino family began their search for their own home by consulting two maps – school zoning and the hurricane evacuation map. They picked a spot in a non-evacuation zone.

“It’s a trade off if you want to live on the beach,” he said. “It’s gorgeous, but that beauty comes with a risk, especially from storm surge, which is the No. 1 killer in a hurricane.”

Wind-driven seawater can take out foundations, causing them to crumble. Insurance rates also are higher in areas vulnerable to storm surge.

“I’m not saying, don’t live on the beach,” Iovino said. “I’m saying it is important to understand the risk.”

And if you decide to live on the beach or any flood zone, be prepared “to get out of Dodge,” if a hurricane comes knocking, he said.

All parts of Pinellas County are vulnerable to damage from high winds. Mobile and manufactured homes are especially at risk. Iovino said even the newer ones that were built “after Andrew” had problems with tie downs failing.

“They come off the foundation and roll over,” he said.

He said while age of the home was important, maintenance also is a big factor.

“A home of any age can survive well, if it is properly maintained,” he said.

“Rot will make the home weaker. You want a home in good repair with no missing pieces,” he said.

But, he also pointed out a misconception that a home built in the 1950s was OK because it had endured a lot of storms. A hurricane hasn’t hit Pinellas County since 1921.

Iovino stressed the importance of a home inspection or at least getting help from someone who knows what they are looking for and can judge the condition of a home.

“The first thing to ask is if there are clips or straps for the roof,” he said.

Clips and straps are used to tie the roof members to the house, giving it a better chance of staying in place during high winds. He explained that in the past, rafters were often just nailed in to keep them in place, but those nails aren’t enough to counteract the upsurge of wind.

Newer homes have roofs built to better survive high winds. An older home retrofitted with clips and straps or a new roof installation also has a better chance to make it through with little to no damage.

“You also want Miami-Dade certified windows,” he said, explaining that after Hurricane Andrew much testing went into designing windows that were most resistant to wind and impact – if they’re installed properly.

A properly installed hurricane-resistant garage door is on the top of Iovino’s list.

“In a FEMA report after Andrew, it showed on four of five homes, the garage door was the first to go,” he said.

Again, installation is crucial, as is the wind rating.

“It’s not just the construction of the door, but the installation and the strength of the tracks,” he said. “The garage door is the No. 1 thing to look for or improve.”

He said a good wind-rated garage door would cost between $1,000 and $2,000.

“Shop around for the best price,” he said.

He also encouraged residents who want to improve an existing home to shop around for all their needs – windows, new roof or roof retrofit.

When looking for a new home, check the caulking around outside openings. Homeowners looking to make improvements should inspect their caulk jobs as well.

“Wind-driven rain can come in through any opening, including areas of missing caulk and then you could have a mold problem,” he said. “All that could be prevented with a $5 tube of caulk.”

It’s all about structural integrity, Iovino said. New construction, homes built after 2001, fared best during Hurricane Charley, according to a study by the University of Florida. But, older homes that had been retrofitted, protected and well maintained also came out with less damage than those that had not been improved.

If your budget won’t allow a purchase of a completely hurricane-ready home, then you should plan to make improvements as you can. The same “do as you can” goes for homeowners working to hurricane harden an existing home.

“You don’t have to do everything at once if you can’t afford to,” Iovino said. “Budget to do as much as you can every year, and over time, you’ll get to the protection level you need and want.”

Again, he recommends starting with the garage door. If you can’t afford new windows, use shutters until you can. Shutters that are anchored property can do a good job.

Trees are another consideration. If you buy a home with trees, understand you have to maintain them on a regular basis to keep the branches trimmed. Pool cages, screen porches and soffits also need special consideration. If you plan to have outdoor furniture, make sure there is enough room inside the home or garage to bring it in when tropical weather threatens.

Iovino pointed out that most insurance policies only pay to have a home rebuilt to the code in place when it was built. So, if a home is destroyed, it could be very costly to replace it with new construction methods. He suggests considering additional insurance that would pay the difference.

“At least price it out and consider extra insurance in the budget. Then weigh the risk,” he said.

And don’t forget the flood insurance. Most standard homeowners insurance plans don’t include flood insurance. Areas prone to flooding and even those that are not could be threatened if a hurricane comes ashore.

There are a number of other discounts not related to hurricane protection that you should ask your insurance agent about, including multi-policy discounts, senior discounts, discounts for installing lightning rods, security systems, deadbolt locks, fire sprinkler systems, smoke detectors or other devices that help protect your home.

Your insurance company will probably require an inspection before writing your policy. After you complete improvements that could qualify for a discount, call your agent to see if another inspection is required.

Knowing your home is hurricane-ready provides peace of mind that you and your family will be as safe as possible when tropical weather threatens. And, it can save you money.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

Sources and resources

• Pinellas County Emergency Management, www.p­inell­ascou­nty.o­rg

• National Flood Insurance Program, www.F­loodS­mart.­gov

• Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, www.f­lash.­org

• National Association of Home Builders, www.n­ahb.o­rg

• Florida Realtors, www.f­lorid­areal­tors.­org

• Insurance Information Institute, www.i­ii.or­g

• Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, www.i­bhs.o­rg

• Hurricane Retrofit Guide, www.f­lorid­adisa­ster.­org/h­rg/in­dex.a­sp

• Video on shuttering your home, www.p­inell­ascou­nty.o­rg/tv­/wmv/­emerg­ency/­shutt­ering­yourh­ome.w­mv.

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