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If the wind picks up, is your home protected in a hurricane?

Designed to offer protection for homes, building codes vary from state to state. And with hurricane threats swirling several months each year, residents in coastal areas may be wondering just where their state stands when it comes to building codes, home safety and hurricane protection.

Florida and Virginia scored highest in a state-by-state assessment of building codes and enforcement policies carried out by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, while Mississippi fared the worst. The evaluation covered 18 hurricane-prone states along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast.

To assess the building codes in each state, the institute used a list of 47 questions. These questions covered three main areas:

• Building codes and their enforcement.

• Training and certification for people who enforce the codes.

• Licensing requirements for construction workers.

Each question was given a set value, and the sum of all of the values equaled 100 points. hurricane-building-codes

In the assessment, Florida and Virginia each scored 95 points. New Jersey followed close behind, at 93 points. Massachusetts had 87 points, and South Carolina placed fifth with 84 points.

At the bottom end of the scale were New Hampshire with 49 points, Alabama and Texas with 18 points each, Delaware with 17 points and Mississippi with four points.

While the point difference between states such as Florida and Mississippi is substantial, the report was not meant to be critical, says Julie Rochman, president and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. The group’s aim was to provide information and show states where improvements could be made.

For homeowners applying for homeowner’s insurance in hurricane-prone areas, the region’s building code requirements often must be met in order to obtain coverage. For each application, an insurance company will send an in-house or third-party inspector to assess the risk, says Matthew Avellino, president and CEO of AC Risk Management, a property and casualty insurer in New York that also offers financial planning services. “If you don’t have it up to code, you run the risk of not getting the insurance,” he says.

A call for codes

Hurricane Andrew hit Florida on Aug. 24, 1992. At the time, Florida's building codes were considered good, Rochman says. Unfortunately, at the time the state had few officials who could enforce the codes. Insurance claims payouts for Hurricane Andrew damage totaled $15.5 billion, which would be more than $26 billion today, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Hurricane Andrew served as an example of the need to establish and enforce building codes. For homeowners, “if a building code is enforced, you will know you are getting better construction,” Rochman says. Homes that meet strong building codes are less likely to suffer extensive damage during hurricanes.

Building codes and homeowner’s insurance

Whether you’re building a new home or just want to make sure your current house is up to code, taking preventive steps now can save time, energy and money. Here are four things you should know about homes in hurricane-prone regions, building codes and homeowner’s insurance.

1. A qualified contractor is key.

Hiring an unlicensed, uninsured contractor can carry serious consequences, says Kia Ricchi, a licensed building contractor and author of “Avoiding the Con in Construction.” Faulty construction could cause a fire, a flood or even a structural collapse. What’s more, “if an uninsured worker is injured, he or she may take legal action against the homeowner,” she says. To make sure you’re hiring a qualified contractor, search your state government’s licensing website.

2. Monitor building permits.

“Obtaining a permit helps ensure the work is code-compliant and being performed by qualified contractors,” Ricchi says.

If a contractor asks you to get the permit, however, beware. It could mean the contractor isn't qualified to get the permit. If you obtain the permit on your own, you could assume liability for the job.

3. Take protective measures.

Windows and doors that offer hurricane protection usually are "impact safe," meaning they won’t shatter when struck, says Robert McNally, president of Palm Coast Development, a construction company in Florida. Heavy rain, however, still could leak in. To protect your home from potential water damage, add shutters to prevent rain from seeping in, McNally says.

For further protection, IBHS offers the Fortified program, which can help you strengthen your home against hazards. In hurricane-prone states, “a growing number of insurance companies are offering discounts for Fortified,” Rochman says. More information on Fortified is available at http://disastersafety.org.

4. Know your hurricane deductible.

Most homeowner’s insurance policies charge a separate deductible for damage caused by hurricane wind, Avellino says.This can be anywhere from 2 percent to 5 percent of the coverage. Say your dwelling coverage is $500,000 and you have a 5 percent deductible. If hurricane winds result in a claim, you would have to pay the first $25,000 in damages; after that, your policy would cover the remainder.

In some states, homeowners may have the option of paying a higher premium in return for a traditional dollar deductible, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In high-risk coastal areas, however, insurance companies may not offer this option; in this case, the percentage deductible would be the only option.

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