Real Estate News

New program aims to help owners make houses stronger against hurricanes

MyStrongHome is doing some roofing work on a home in the Murrells Inlet area on Tuesday, June 23, 2015. The pilot program offers cost-effective approaches to consumers. The home is located off Hummingbird Drive in Woodlake Village.
MyStrongHome is doing some roofing work on a home in the Murrells Inlet area on Tuesday, June 23, 2015. The pilot program offers cost-effective approaches to consumers. The home is located off Hummingbird Drive in Woodlake Village.

A pilot program funded with seed money from the Rockefeller Foundation and Prudential Financial is strengthening 30 homes in three states, including 10 in Horry County, against hurricane windstorm damage through free construction upgrades.

The mitigation initiative, MyStrongHome, was established following the savage destruction left by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. While homeowners have since 2007 been able to apply for grant assistance to strengthen their homes against windstorm damage through the South

Carolina Safe Home Program funded through the S.C. Department of Insurance, MyStrongHome initiative is not grant funded.

Explaining how the MyStrongHome pilot works, Eleanor Kitzman said, “The Department of Insurance always gets more applications than it can fund. The pilot is a research and development project, a model designed to be self-sustaining and reach more consumers than government-funded grant programs can serve.”

In a coastal region where hurricane force winds and hail can render severe damage to homes, retrofitting existing properties with reinforced roofs, windows, and even garage doors can help alleviate intensity of windstorm damage. The pilot project aims to further the S.C. Safe Home goal of making homes more resistant and more resilient to hurricanes, as well as to provide homeowners with savings on their insurance premiums.

Compass Designs’ contractor Brad Stone has been working with S.C. Safe Home since 2007. Because of his knowledge of that program, he was recruited six months ago to help with the new initiative. His company was contracted to work on the homes in Horry County, which includes one multi-unit building. Other homes in the pilot project are in Alabama and Louisiana.

“From a contractor’s standpoint,” Stone said, “anything you can do to make your home stronger for storms the better. Every home has room for improvement. We know a bad storm is coming, it’s just when. So anything we can do now to keep homeowners in their homes after a storm the better.”

Through MyStrongHome, homeowners can bring their properties up to a “fortified” standard, gaining IBHS Fortified Certification through the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. Kitzman said there is a lot of scientific testing that has gone into development of the three levels—bronze, silver and gold—of IBHS fortification. Each home that goes through the mitigation process will receive inspection throughout the process to ensure construction meets the standards.

The home of Bill and Wanda Duncan in Woodlake Village in Murrells Inlet was selected for the program. Stone approached the Duncans about participating in the project. He had worked on their home in the past replacing windows, adding hurricane shutters and reinforcing the garage door through a grant from S.C. Safe Home.

The earlier project at the Duncan home did not include a reinforced roof so Stone’s company this week added gable embracing and structural sheeting to help to reinforce the roof. Additionally, an ice and water barrier was placed over the entire roof.

“This barrier acts like a whole other roof,” Stone said. “If shingles come off, it should stay in place keeping water out of the home.”

Re-nailing the roof with 8-penny ring shank nails every six inches will help prevent the roof from lifting, should a window break and the house become pressurized during hurricane force winds, Stone added. The cost of the project at the Duncan home, if they had to pay for it, is estimated at between $9,000 and $12,000.

Bill Duncan said as a former member of the Woodlake Village board of directors, he and the board had encouraged homeowners to take advantage of the S.C. Safe Home grants, and several have qualified for the assistance through the years. As for the MyStrongHome project, the couple was thrilled their 1987 home was selected for participation.

“Quite frankly, it is the type of program that we certainly were enthusiastic about,” Bill Duncan said. “We believe the fact that we are using a well-known contractor is a big plus. It gives us comfort that the work that is being done is top quality, which is very important.”

As the MyStrongHome program moves out of the pilot phase and seeks funding from “socially responsible, mission-driven investors,” it will offer turnkey solutions to high quality construction upgrades through approved contracting companies like Compass Designs. Kitzman said there would be no upfront costs to the homeowners and through insurance companies that provide substantial discounts for reduced risk of loss of homes, homeowners would repay construction costs over time through their insurance savings.

However, Kitzman admits there are currently few insurance agencies providing strong discounts for the fortified certification.

“We are working with an insurance partner that we will bring to the table that will give a significant discount,” Kitzman said. “It could be several hundred dollars a year to over $1,000 a year.

“Our goal with this is if the self-financing model can be successful, then more people can do it and it will have the potential to strengthen the entire community,” Kitzman said. “I think over time and as it becomes more widespread, it has the potential to change the insurance market as well.”

Stone and Kitzman agree that contractors in general are still not doing all the things they could to mitigate homes against windstorm.

“The longer it has been since a storm, the more people get complacent,” Kitzman said.

Stone said he finds it encouraging that some homeowners are being educated about the damage wind and hail can have and are willing to spend the extra money on new construction or for mitigation.

“Our goal,” Kitzman said, “is to get to the point we are doing this on a communitywide basis. Every home that is safer is good, but you need the entire community to be safer. Another benefit is that if there is damage after a storm, it should be less and there will be preferred arrangements with trusted contractors who can get the repairs done quickly.”

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