|Disaster-proof your home cost-effectively
You can't avoid natural disasters.
They choose where to hit, and you don't have any say in the matter.
Almost the entire country is vulnerable to some type
of natural disaster -- tropical storms on the Atlantic and Gulf
coasts, wildfires and earthquakes on the West coast, hail and tornadoes
in a wide swath of the nation's middle, flooding in the lowlands
and landslides in the hills.
You can blunt the brunt of Mother Nature by securing
your property against her wrath. Some disaster-proofing projects
are cheap and easy; others are expensive and complex. Should you
tackle costly projects? Figuring out what's affordable and cost-effective
requires sleuthing, some math, and a dose of soul searching.
Questions to ask
Will my insurance premiums be reduced?
Will the upgrade increase the value of my home?
How much am I willing to pay for peace of mind
before a disaster, and for convenience afterward?
The financial stakes are high because homeowners generally have
to pay out of pocket, borrow from their homes' equity or turn to
credit cards to pay for safety improvements. Government aid, in
the rare places where it exists (chiefly, earthquake country) is
often indirect -- waived permit fees, rebates on property taxes.
When you're deciding whether to spend the money to retrofit your
home to weather a disaster, here are some questions to ask:
You can get a definite answer to the first question,
and you have to rely on estimates for the second and gut instincts
for the third.
Would hurricane shutters (or hail-resistant roof
shingles, or an earthquake retrofit, or wildfire-resistant landscaping)
reduce insurance bills? Ask your insurance company.
The answers might not be as straightforward as you
would hope. Take hurricane shutters, for example. In hurricane-prone
places, windstorm insurance is a separate policy, on top of the
regular homeowners insurance. (The same goes for insurance against
earthquakes and floods from rising water.) By installing hurricane
shutters, you might secure a discount on the windstorm policy, but
not on the regular homeowners insurance policy.
That's how it works in Florida, where four hurricanes
raked the state last year. The jaw-dropping series of windstorms
provoked a lot of inquiries with insurance companies from homeowners
who suddenly saw the benefit of having hurricane shutters.
Big insurance savings
"Some of the breaks can be fairly substantial in terms of discounts
on your windstorm premiums here in Florida," says Ryan Priest,
a spokesman for Allstate Floridian. The company offers discounts
of 5 percent to 42 percent off windstorm coverage, depending on
everything from what type of shutters are used, whether glass-block
windows and skylights are protected, which design code the house
was built under, and even what type of roof is on the house. (Hip
roofs are preferred over gable roofs.)
In other words, it's complicated, and when you talk
to the insurance agent and any contractors, you have to be thorough
and specific about the materials to be used and work that you want
done. Once the project is complete, you might have to show the insurance
agent receipts, a certificate of occupancy (to show whether it was
built under newer, stricter design codes), and photos. You might
have to hire an independent inspector to certify, for example, that
you have a metal roof deck.