What residents need to know about the Fortified Roof Program

Published 10:32 am Wednesday, August 9, 2023

LAPLACE — As the aftermath of Hurricane Ida exasperated Louisiana’s insurance woes, members of the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans focused on ways to change the insurance landscape while providing more resilient housing and roofing.

HBAGNO CEO Dan Mills spoke to L’OBSERVATEUR about what residents need to know in light of new legislative updates to building codes and Fortified roofing.

After Hurricane Ida, legislators successfully advocated for a new set of resilient building codes to be passed into law. The updated code was adopted statewide, effective January 1, 2023, and is currently maintained in a public database. Now that the code is in place, HBAGNO is prioritizing permitting and inspections for roofing to attract additional insurers into the area, which would in turn decrease insurance costs.

“In Louisiana, we have no inspections in the vast majority of municipal regions throughout the state for re-roofing. By some counts, we replaced 40,000 or up to 60,000 roofs since Ida; however, there is no municipal code inspection that documents when these roofs were replaced, under what standard they were replaced, and no affirmation by local authorities that they were installed in accordance with the codes that were in place at the time it happened,” Mills said. “There’s a disconnect there. We have to build a data set for these insurers to come back into our community.”

Mills supports using geo-tagged photographs to speed up the permitting process. As the roofer takes photographs to document the job, they would be digitally sent to the code authority for permit approval and become part of the permanent public record. Jefferson Parish became the first to adopt this process on August 5, 2023. Other parishes including Orleans and St. Bernard have indicated that they plan to follow suit.

During a membership meeting last week, St. John Parish President Jaclyn Hotard and St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne shared their interest in adopting an ordinance for digital inspections. A timeline has not been given for passing the ordinance, which would need to go before the Parish Council in both parishes. Inspections would likely be completed by South Central Planning.

Fortified homes and roofs were another major focus in the recent Legislative session. Mills said Fortified homes have proven to withstand major hurricanes, but they are also very costly to construct and outside of the reach of the average homebuyer.

The less costly Fortified Roof program consists of two parts, one being for new construction. The roofing requirements of the newly approved 2021 residential building codes, according to Mills, are almost identical to Fortified standards outlined through the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. One notable distinction is the use of ring shank nails with ridges in the Fortified program, designed to make it more difficult to pull nails out of the roof.

“When we looked at Ida and all of the damage, we had very few roofs that came off. It was shingles that came off,” Mills said.

Missing shingles led to widespread water damages, filling attics with rainwater and bringing down ceilings in homes across the region. The new code and the Fortified program both include a double waterproofing layer that seals the roof deck before the shingles do down.

A select group of homes will qualify for a roofing retrofit certification to seal seams with a waterproof barrier. The cost would generally run between $3,000 to $5,000, and the roof must be accessible.

The Louisiana Department of Insurance is setting aside money for homeowners to pursue a retrofit to the Fortified or 2021 building code standards, or to have their roof completely rebuilt to higher standards.

Mills said not all homes will qualify for a Fortified roof.

“A certified Fortified evaluator has to come out and look at the home to say if it will qualify,” Mills said. “While Fortified can’t be applied to every structure, there is definitely a solution for every structure within the 2021 building code.”

Mills said replacing a roof to meet the 2021 building code would generally cost less than replacing a roof to meet the Fortified standards.

Funds can be applied for in the form of grants up to $10,000 for roof replacement or retrofitting. The Louisiana Department of Insurance has not released all of the details on this program, which has a targeted start date of October 1.

Mills also wants homeowners to be aware of the wind mitigation surveyor process, which can lead to significant savings on insurance policies. More information is available on the resources page at hbagno.org.