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Fortified Home Design Pioneered on the Texas Gulf Coast

Across the U.S., and especially the Gulf Coast, developers are building a new generation of residences resilient to storm damage and hurricanes.

In Galveston, Texas, developer Crown Team Texas is constructing homes atop tall concrete stilts.

They are built to withstand hurricane winds as well as the most severe flooding, says Jim Hayes, the managing principal. Crown Team's Audubon Village and four other subdivisions are built on a peninsula 70 miles southeast of Houston. The land is at risk, as it rests below the flood point.

"I was inspired by Alys Beach, and we decided to build subdivisions based off those standards," Hayes said.

The insurance industry is a major force behind efforts to build super-strong houses. Fortified homes such as those at Alys Beach and Audubon Village are being constructed to new standards set by an insurer-backed nonprofit in Tampa, Fla.

That organization, the Institute for Business & Home Safety, started the "Fortified... for safer living" program in 2000. It combines strict building guidelines with a rigorous inspection process. It also provides home certifications that builders can advertise and home buyers can use to request insurance discounts.

Across 14 states, 2,500 built or planned homes follow the program, says manager Chuck Vance. What it entails depends on area risks.

Inspiration for better building has arisen from the devastating hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, Katrina included. These storms — the costliest in U.S. history — did billions of dollars damage and left hundreds of thousands homeless. The wreckage showed how poorly weaker structures fared and how choice of materials and construction methods made a difference.

"Evidently, the damage caused has people concerned about home safety in disaster-prone areas," said Gopal Ahluwalia, a vice president at the National Association of Home Builders. "The other big issue is owners cannot afford the cost to insure their homes in these areas."

In hurricane country, insurance costs skyrocketed and availability waned after the storms. But now a few insurers offer discounts on fortified homes in coastal areas.

Fortification could cut policy costs in half, says Insurance Information Institute Chief Economist Robert Hartwig. But just 2% of homes in at-risk areas are fortified.

Building fortified adds 3% to 10% to costs, Vance estimates.

"That's not much to pay for a little peace of mind," he said.

Some fortified homes carry luxury price tags — in Alys Beach they run to $5 million. But Hayes sells stilt homes for $130,000 to $288,000.

He starts with 10-foot holes he fills with concrete to form 14-by-14-inch columns. Reinforced with steel rods, these stand 20 feet in the air, above foreseeable floods.

The home's frame is built with extra-strong laminated wood and interlocking plank floors. The builder uses special nails that have to be cut to be removed. The home is bolted into the concrete columns.

Manufacturers are joining the fortification act, developing materials that protect against storm damage.

Such innovations are finding a market among seekers of sturdy homes. But the broadest construction changes across communities may come from building codes.

Fortified homes have a higher resale value, Hartwig says, adding that even older homes can be retrofitted to improve durability and thus increase their value.

"The return on investment by retrofitting or buying a fortified home will be more than investing in decorative home amenities.

Watch video on the storm proof home building process

Example Homes Built Using New Modular Fortified Design

Laguna Harbor: The community, located on the Intracoastal Waterway, features canals that are six to 10 feet deep and 100 to 334 feet wide. Each home site in Laguna Harbor has water frontage for a private boat dock that can accommodate vessels from 20 to 100 feet.

Laguna Harbor is for those who find refuge at home but escape to the sea. You'll discover numerous home site options incorporating a self-contained, new urbanism philosophy.
Audubon Village: All homes in Audubon Village will have striking panoramic views of pristine, undisturbed Texas coastal prairie, along with magnificent sunrises over the Gulf and beautiful sunsets over the Bay.

Inside the private park lies a lake and The Lagoon Pool, a nature inspired swimming pool with sloping sides and organic curves, all nestled within a natural green space. Relax and watch the waves roll in at our exclusive Beachside Cabana, easily accessible via our cart paths and private beach access.

See New York Times article on these Fortified Homes at http://www.texasgulfcoastonline.com/Portals/0/NYTimes_6-22-06.pdf

Fortified LogoCrown Team is building all its homes to the I.B.H.S Fortified Living Standards, which specifies construction, design and landscaping guidelines to increase a new home's resistance to natural disaster from the ground up. For information on I.B.H.S. and Fortified...for safer living® click here.

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