State home-hardening grant program clarifies eligibility rules for roof, impact window reimbursements – Sun Sentinel

Yes to reimbursements for roof replacements. No money for impact windows if your home already has hurricane shutters.

Those two answers to frequently asked questions about what improvements will qualify for state home-hardening grants of up to $10,000 should finally provide clarity for applicants confused by their inspection reports and information on the My Safe Florida Home program website.

The $150 million program, authorized by state lawmakers during a special legislative session last May, offers $2 for every $1 spent by homeowners on wind-mitigation improvements that helps to lower their home insurance costs.

That means that applicants approved for grants can receive up to $10,000 from the state if they spend $5,000 or more on qualifying improvements.

The program began accepting applications through its website in late November. Since then, more than 22,000 homeowners have signed up for free wind-mitigation inspections and nearly 10,000 inspections have been completed.

But as of last week, only 1,301 grant applications had been submitted and 792 grant applications had been approved. The program has enough funding to provide full $10,000 grants to 11,500 homeowners.

In an interview last week, Department of Financial Services officials overseeing the program provided answers to two frequently asked questions:

Will the program provide grant funding based on the entire cost of a roof replacement if inspection reports recommend installing a Secondary Water Barrier under their roof covering and/or strengthening their roof-to-wall connections or roof-to-deck attachments?

And will the program provide grant funding for homeowners who have hurricane shutters but want to upgrade to impact glass?

Regarding the roof question, applicants are in luck.

Homeowners approved for grants can get reimbursed for the entire cost of a roof replacement if their windstorm mitigation report states that they can get an insurance discount for installing a water barrier or strengthening their roof attachments, the officials affirmed.

The program will not limit the reimbursement to the cost of installing the connections or the water barrier and force the homeowner to pay the balance of the roof replacement cost.

The confusion resulted from homeowners’ inspection reports stating that their roof coverings complied with Florida’s current building code while there was no evidence of a secondary water barrier or roof attachments that meet current windstorm codes.

Stephen Fielder, chief business officer for the state’s Department of Financial Services, which is administering the program, said in an interview that it wouldn’t be realistic for the state to only pay a portion of the roof replacement cost.

“It’s physically impossible to strengthen roof to deck attachments or replace Secondary Water Barriers without replacing the roof,” Fielder said. “We can’t say we’re only paying to replace the barrier or add the attachments because that would be useless.”

Applicants who decide to replace their roofs and seek the $10,000 reimbursement grant should ensure that they can prove that the qualifying improvements have been made.

Proof could be established by asking the roofing contractor to photograph the water barrier or strengthened attachments before the roof covering is installed, he said.

Regarding questions about whether the state will pay for impact windows if homes already have hurricane shutters, Fielder acknowledged that some applicants will not be happy with the response.

If an applicant’s inspection report shows that the home has aluminum shutters that can be installed before a hurricane or mechanical shutters that can be closed over windows, that applicant will not qualify to be reimbursed for the cost of upgrading to impact windows, he said.

The reason is that the insurance premium discount would be the same for installation of any of those opening protections. Upgrading from shutters to impact windows will not provide any additional insurance discount.

Under the state laws authorizing the program, only improvements that reduce insurance costs qualify for the matching grant, he said.

“We’re sympathetic to the issue, but how do I tell other homeowners [with wind-mitigation needs]’Sorry, we ran out of money.’”

However, homeowners who don’t have shutters when their inspection takes place can get reimbursed for getting impact windows because that would improve the homes wind-protection status and thus qualify them for an insurance discount they couldn’t get with no shutters, Fielder said .

Another upgrade that applicants have asked about involves garage doors and doors that provide access to the outside. Florida Building Code requires that replacements for garage doors and exterior doors must meet impact resistance codes enforced only in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Until last week, the program planned to only reimburse replacement costs for impact-rated garage and exterior doors to applicants approved for grants in those two counties.

But since then, program officials decided to extend grant eligibility for those improvements to almost any home eligible to participate in the program — meaning those in the state’s “wind borne debris region” that covers all of southern Florida, the Panhandle and much of the remaining coastlines.

However, outside of Broward and Miami-Dade, the reimbursement is only available if the garage door or exterior doors being replaced have glass windows, confirmed Devin Galetta, communications director for the Department of Financial Services.

To reach the My Safe Florida Home program, call 1-866-513-6734. Ron Hurtibise covers business and consumer issues for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached by phone at 954-356-4071, on Twitter @ronhurtibise or by email at [email protected].

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