Vol 6 No. 47 -August 16, 2006

Program helps fortify homes against storms

By Louise Bolger

It's August. Do you know where your batteries are? We're well into the official Florida hurricane season and hopefully you're fully prepared in the event of a major storm. You have your hurricane routes memorized, Home Depot has begged you to buy more batteries than hopefully you will ever need, your supply of bottled water is taking up an entire closet and your mother in Kansas sent you a can opener, but is your home ready?

The Florida Legislature has created a new statute as part of the 2006 regular legislative session. The statute #215.5586 is titled the Florida Comprehensive Hurricane Damage Mitigation Program.

The purpose is to help Floridians identify how they can strengthen their homes against hurricanes and to reduce hurricane damage exposure. The program will offer free home inspections by qualified home inspectors and grants up to $5,000 to eligible homeowners.

Homeowners whose primary residence is a single family, site-built home, who have a valid homestead exemption and whose home has an insured value of less than $500,000 are qualified. In addition, homeowners whose primary residence is a unit in a residential building with a maximum of four units, who have a valid homestead exemption and whose unit has an insured value of less than $500,000 are also qualified.

There are, however, a few catches. All unit owners in a residential building must agree to participate in the program, and since the buildings can only be a maximum of four units, most condominium associations will not be eligible for the program. Also, meeting the $500,000 maximum insured value will eliminate quite a few properties on the island and surrounding waterfront areas. Mobile or manufactured homes, second homes, rental properties, apartments and businesses are not eligible for the program.

Information and applications for free inspections will be available this month. At that time there will be an on-line application available as well as a toll-free consumer helpline.

After your application has been approved, you will be advised who will do the inspection. The Department of Financial Services will assemble a group of qualified inspectors with specialized training to perform the inspections.

The inspection report will outline what eligible improvements may be made to your home, provide a range of how much each improvement will cost, explain possible insurance discounts, and offer a hurricane resistance rating scale outlining the home's current and future ability to withstand hurricanes. Having an inspection does not obligate you to make the recommended improvements.

Having an inspection, however, does not automatically qualify you for matching grants to make improvements. You still need to make an application. Decisions are made by the state and prioritized based on the best areas to reduce hurricane exposure.

If you're approved for a grant, you will receive a matching dollar for every dollar spent up to a maximum of $5,000. For example if the recommended improvements cost $3,000, you would pay $1,500 and the program would pay the other $1,500.

The grant funds are available only for wind-resistance improvements. Some of the qualifying improvements are: improving the strength of a roof deck, creating a secondary water

barrier to prevent water intrusion, improving the survivability of roof covering, bracing gable-ends in the roof framing, reinforcing roof-to-wall connections, upgrading exterior wall opening protections and upgrading exterior doors.

Home improvements must be done by contractors approved by the Department of Financial Services. The program will not reimburse you for home improvements already done.

Just like all government programs, this one has restrictions and ambiguous instructions. It may not work for every homeowner, but for those who are interested and qualify you can make improvements and save some money. It's too late for this hurricane season, but there's always next year, one more thing to add to your "hurricane to do list," at least you've got the batteries.

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