First Certified Disaster-Resistant Home Built In New England Nearly Complete

Dec 13, 2015

A new house in Matunuck will sustain winds of more than 130 miles per hour. It’s the first home under construction in New England built to disaster certification standards known as FORTIFIED.

After a string of severe storms in recent years, the state hopes to shift to a more rigorous building code so that homes can sustain high winds and water damage.

Scientists expect Rhode Island to see more frequent and intense storms that bring strong winds and flooding as a result of climate change. 

Pam Rubinoff, senior coastal manager at the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center, said state officials with the Coastal Resources Management Council and the Building Code Commission in partnership with the university, initiated bringing the FORTIFIED program to Rhode Island.

“As so we’re taking this as a comprehensive approach [to adapting to climate change],” said Rubinoff. “We’ve trained many of the building officials in the state of Rhode Island on the FORTIFIED standard, so that they understand what they are.”

Rubinoff has started working with insurance companies to urge them to offer discounts to homeowners with FORTIFIED homes.

Last winter, insurance companies paid out more than $2 billion in claims for water damage from ice dams, according to Jeff Rhodin, who runs Lexington-based Sustainable Energy Analytics, the third-party company verifying that the disaster-resistant waterfront home in South Kingstown is being built according to FORTIFIED standards.

“The FORTIFIED Homes certification program is prevalent mostly in Florida and the Gulf [of Mexico] states,” explains Rhodin. “And it is essentially the insurance industry’s response to helping homeowners to cope with some of the catastrophic storms.”

Rhodin and David Caldwell, president of Caldwell & Johnson, the company building the Matunuck waterfront home, expect the program to pick up traction in New England, as it’s considered a high wind zone.

“In the past 12 months, you’ve probably seen the variability of the climate here is a little more extreme than it has been in the past,” noted Caldwell. “So our houses here in New England are being heavily stressed from one end of the spectrum to the other.”

Caldwell said the FORTIFIED standard is a relatively simple upgrade for builders who already use high standard building programs, such as LEED and Energy Star Partner.

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