Program reinforces older houses to withstand weather and cut insurance costs _lowres

Advocate staff photo by A.J. SISCO -- Stephanie Martin poses in front of her home in New Orleans, Monday, August 3, 2015. The house was reinforced to be storm-resistant under Ramsey Green's "Strong Homes" program. Most of the reinforcements are structural, so they are not obvious to the casual observer.

When Stephanie Martin found out she had been chosen for a pilot project by My Strong Home, she could hardly believe her good fortune.

“I got a new roof, and now I’m going to pay less for my homeowner’s insurance? Sounded too good to be true,” Martin said.

But the program was for real, and now Martin’s roof has been refitted to better stand up to wind and rain.

My Strong Home is a program that uses the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s FORTIFIED certification as an incentive for homeowners to fortify their homes, so that the structures fare well in serious wind events, like a hurricane.

Homeowners who retrofit according to the FORTIFIED scale will cost insurers less over time, making it possible for them charge lower insurance premiums.

“The whole idea is to reduce the risk to the homeowner and the insurer,” said Ramsey Green, a real estate developer, who is partnering with project manager Frank Burkhardt and Green Coast Enterprises on the pilot project in the New Orleans area.

“We worked with local churches to identify five homes that could benefit from retrofitting in order to achieve bronze, silver or gold FORTIFIED status and went from there.”

Martin’s home on St. Ann Street in Faubourg St. John is one of that five, which also includes homes in the Irish Channel, New Orleans East, Chalmette and Algiers. At Martin’s home, the team aimed for meeting the bronze standard by replacing her leaky roof.

“The difference is that we didn’t replace it using traditional roofing practices,” said Burkhardt. “The idea of a FORTIFIED roof is that it is installed in such a way that water won’t enter the home, even if the shingles tear and are blown off.”

The installation began with removing shingles and roofing felt from the plywood decking at Martin’s home.

“The decking turned out to be fine everywhere except in a few places where we replaced it. It was also the right thickness — at least 7/16 of an inch,” Burkhardt said. “To meet the certification requirements for a FORTIFIED roof, we renailed all of the plywood at four to six inch intervals using 3-inch long ring shank nails, which make sure the plywood won’t detach from the roof joists. Then, instead of the usual tar paper or felt, which can tear in high winds, we installed an ice and water shield. It’s an impermeable product that sticks to the plywood and forms a continuous layer that water can’t penetrate,” Burckhardt said. The “peel and stick” product was then overlain with architectural shingles.

The beauty of the program, according to Green, is that once the pilot project is complete, My Strong Home recoups its costs out of reduction in the homeowner’s insurance premiums, rather than homeowners paying upfront. The initiative has undertaken pilot projects in South Carolina, where it is based, and in coastal Alabama.

Margot Brandenburg at My Strong Home headquarters said a regional insurance carrier has signed on to work with the initiative.

“The reason we chose this approach was partly because it was the only retrofitting initiative I could find that doesn’t rely on government funds or grants,” said Green. “Those grants are limited but this initiative has the potential to be self-sustaining. We invited My Strong Home to work with us because we felt their approach will save homeowners money and give them the confidence that their homes can resist winds of 155 mph.”

The reworked roof on Martin’s home should earn it a FORTIFIED Bronze rating. To step up to Silver rating, additional work would be necessary, specifically the fabrication of coverings that can be easily installed over openings in the event of high winds or a hurricane.

“We have chosen to go with aluminum panels that are cut to the size of the openings and anchored to the openings with bolts. The bolts stay in place, but the panels are removed when they aren’t necessary,” Burkhardt explained.

To graduate to the Gold standard, a home must add bracing to the roof retrofitting and the opening coverings.

“For instance, chimneys can be a problem if they are not properly flashed and structurally sound,” said Burkhardt. “There is strapping that is now routine in new construction that older homes don’t have but can be added to ensure a house literally does not blow off of its foundation. Bracketing of overhangs is another mitigation procedure.”

In a few weeks, Green and Burkhardt will host an inspector from South Carolina who will visit each of the homes and ensure that the retrofits meet the specifications for FORTIFIED status. If all goes as planned, the five homeowners in the pilot project will soon be reaping financial benefits, as well as the peace of mind that comes from having a stronger, more wind-resistant home. For more information, go to mystronghome.net.

R. Stephanie Bruno writes about homes and gardens. Contact her at rstephaniebruno@gmail.com.