When a tropical depression brought high winds, driving rain and flash flooding to Baldwin County, Alabama, 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 and went inside, knowing her home would be okay.
“When we decided to build a new home, my husband and I spent a lot of time researching building practices before we broke ground,” Fitzgerald said. “This was our dream home and we wanted to build in the right place using the strongest 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 FORTIFIED Home™ program is a set of building standards designed to strengthen homes and reduce damage from 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, like the Gulf Coast, as well as inland locations prone to tornadoes, high winds and hailstorms.
Although the program was designed to make homes more wind resistant, research shows that a FORTIFIED home is also a good investment.
An independent 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 wind-driven rain damage, it also increases the home’s value. The study found that switching from a conventional construction standard to a FORTIFIED designation increases the value of a home by nearly 7 percent, 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 percent.
Fitzgerald estimates that incorporating the FORTIFIED requirements added 3–4 percent to the cost of construction for their home, but that 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 term, it doesn’t cost much more to build FORTIFIED, and it increases your home’s value. In the long term, the peace of mind that comes from knowing your home is built to withstand high winds and storms, well, that’s priceless.”