Posted on 15 Dec 2009
Hurricane season may have ended, but property insurers, such as Travelers, are still working on ways to upgrade coastal homes to make them insurable at a price homeowners can pay.
More frequent and severe tropical storms in recent years, coupled with dense development along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast, have made insurers more selective about which homes they cover — leading to crises in which states must step in and fill the insurance void.
Among the ideas being floated are a national building code, public grants to update older homes, and improved designs that can make homes more weather-resistant.
Those were among the recommendations at a summit meeting held by Travelers last week at the company's Windsor, Connecticut claims training facility.
Eric Nelson, vice president of risk management for Travelers Personal Insurance, favors a national building code for coastal houses. The hodgepodge of state and local rules is too disjointed, he said.
For example, Nelson said, " Connecticut has one of the worst records of enforcing."
The key issue is how to establish building standards that are realistic and politically acceptable.
For example, South Carolina has a new grant program to retrofit older homes to satisfy more modern building standards for hurricane resistance. About three-fourths of the grant recipients in that state decided to redo their roofs to make them less likely to blow apart in a storm.
New technology can keep winds from prying open roofs, the part of the house that suffers the most damage from tropical storms. Adding an aerodynamic lip to a roof, something that looks like bumper-car trim along the roof's edges, is one way to help keep peripheral shingles from flying off, said Dail Rowe, a scientist with WeatherPredict Consulting Inc., which analyzes the risks of exposure to hurricanes.
And protecting the outer shingles increases the likelihood of preserving the rest of the roof.
Experts who assess risk for insurance companies talked about the general need to retrofit older homes. Travelers' historical data show that older buildings have more, and more severe, claims. Every dollar spent making homes storm-resistant saves $4 in property losses, according to the Federal Emergency Management Association.
"When homes are built or retrofitted to make them more durable, we are protecting property, saving lives and helping reduce the costs to consumers and insurers," said Julie Rochman, president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Business & Home Safety.