By Ruilong Li | July 30, 2015

While the name may conjure up images of moats and drawbridges, a FORTIFIED Home is actually a new or existing house strengthened against specific natural hazards. FORTIFIED Home is a national program designed by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) to improve the resilience of buildings and reduce insurance losses.

The program uses third-party verification to ensure the implementation of construction standards (which are often stronger than most state building codes) for new single-family detached homes, and equivalent retrofit standards for existing properties. The goal is to increase the home's resilience to a specific regional natural hazard (hurricane, tropical storm, hailstorm, and high winds and wind-driven rain associated with thunderstorms).

The program takes a holistic approach by addressing the systems that fail at the lowest intensity level of each natural hazard. Homes can be certified as bronze, silver, or gold, with each designation offering additional disaster protections than the one below. The bronze level focuses on roof construction, silver on window and door openings, and gold on creating a continuous load path tying the roof to the walls and the walls to the foundation.

For an existing home, the process begins with an inspection to identify the areas in need of strengthening to achieve each designation level. The contractor or owner determines which level they want to achieve. Another inspection is performed after work has been completed and the designation, once awarded, lasts for five calendar years. At the end of that period, re-inspection is required to maintain the home's designation level.

The benefits of the program include increased safety, as well as reduced financial risk, lower repair costs, and less disruption for the owners after an event. FORTIFIED programs are recognized and supported by public and private property insurers around the country and FORTIFIED Homes may be eligible for other economic benefits, including reduced property insurance premiums.

The IBHS also offers FORTIFIED for Safer Living®, a multi-hazard program specifying construction, design, and landscaping standards to increase a new single family home's resilience and deliver superior performance during all natural hazards threatening its location. Natural catastrophes addressed include water damage, extreme winds,
wind-driven rain, hail, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, and severe winter weather.

These IBHS programs were chosen as the sole construction criteria for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's pilot Resilience STAR initiative. Much as the Energy Star program assigns ratings to appliances, this program assigns rating stars to homes that meet specific resilience standards. Its goal is to encourage disaster-resilient communities in select areas at high risk for hurricanes. The pilot project was able to cover 12 homes, the first six of which-all on the Gulf Coast-were awarded their stars in October 2014. Five of those homes were new construction and the sixth was a retrofit; four of the homes achieved the gold level of the FORTIFIED Home program's hurricane standard.

Should a disaster strike, for every dollar invested in resilience beforehand, the National Institute of Building Sciences' Multi hazard Mitigation Council estimates that about four dollars will be saved afterwards in property destruction, damage, debris clean-up, and other costs. Making homes more resilient makes so much sense.

With the release of Touchstone® 3.0, the wind vulnerability component of the AIR Hurricane Model for the United States now accommodates homes that conform to the IBHS Fortified Home program,allowing more realistic assessment of risk to these resilient structures.

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