The Impact of FORTIFIED Building Standards

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) is an organization made up of insurers and reinsurers conducting business in the United States.  Its mission is to perform research and promote actions that protect homes and businesses from loss resulting from natural disasters.

In recent years, the insurance industry and the general public have experienced significant losses from hurricanes and tornados.  According to the Insurance Information Institute, of the 14 most costly U.S. disasters, 12 are hurricanes or tornadoes:

 Costly Disasters

IBHS has developed programs for new (FORTIFIED for Safer Living) and existing (FORTIFIED for Existing Homes) homes which specify standards for building and retrofitting homes to better withstand these natural disasters:

  • FORTIFIED for Safer Living is a package of code-plus construction requirements that strengthen a home’s roof and wall systems, openings (e.g., windows and doors), and foundation.  Currently about 200 homes meet the Fortified for Safer Living requirements.
  • FORTIFIED for Existing Homes was launched in 2010, and provides standards for strengthening existing homes through retrofit techniques at the bronze, silver and gold levels:

The bronze level addresses improving the roof system and attic ventilation system.

The silver level addresses improving exterior opening protection, in addition to meeting bronze requirements.

The gold level addresses, in addition to meeting bronze and silver requirements, the design and installation of a continuous load path, which is a method of construction similar to a chain that ties the house together from the roof to the foundation

FORTIFIED construction has been tested in real life.  Prior to Hurricane Ike, IBHS designated 17 FORTIFIED for Safer Living homes in Galveston, TX.  Of these 17 homes, 14 survived Hurricane Ike.  The three homes that did not survive were damaged by neighboring houses that did not meet FORTIFIED requirements.  These neighboring homes were washed off their foundations and slammed in to the FORTIFIED homes.


Before Hurricane Ike


After Hurricane Ike

In addition to these real-life tests, which we hope are few and far between, IBHS has a Research Center, which was inaugurated in 2010.  The Center is designed to allow researchers to test various construction materials and systems for the purpose of building homes that can better resist nature’s perils.  In one test at the Center, two homes, one FORTIFIED and one not, are subjected to simulated category 3 hurricane winds.  The FORTIFIED home survived with minor damage while the other home was destroyed.

Of course, the protection of FORTIFIED construction comes at an additional cost.  It is currently estimated that FORTIFIED construction adds 5% to 10% to building costs.  In an effort to demonstrate that FORTIFIED construction is within reach of the average home buyer, Habitat for Humanity has built a home in Alabama which received the FORTIFIED designation.  It was estimated that meeting the FORTIFIED requirements cost Habitat a total of $1,000 to $1,500 more than a home built to the standard code.  In return, however, homeowners receive discounts on insurance premiums, and most of all, peace of mind.   Is FORTIFIED construction worth the additional cost?  What do you think?