Just what improvements qualify for Florida’s $10,000 home-hardening grant?
South Florida Sun Sentinel (FL)
As early applicants to a state-funded home improvement program analyze their wind-mitigation inspection reports, some say they are confused about what home-hardening improvements will be eligible for up to $10,000 in $2-to-$1 matching grant funds.
Under the My Safe Florida Home program, will an entire roof replacement be eligible for reimbursement if their inspection report says that their roof covering complies with current wind codes but there’s no evidence that they have a Secondary Water Resistance barrier — which would require installing a new roof to obtain?
Can they get reimbursed for installing impact windows if they already receive an insurance discount for aluminum shutters?
Some applicants report limited success in securing answers from the program to questions about those two commonly sought home-hardening improvements.
There’s still ample opportunity to apply by going to mysafeflhome.com or calling 1-866-513-6734.
As of Thursday, 22,252 homeowners have registered for the program and 8,125 inspections have been completed, according to program data. Of applicants with completed inspections, 1,301 have applied for grant eligibility, and 792 have been approved.
The $150 million program was approved by lawmakers last May to help homeowners reduce their insurance premiums. Eligible improvements are limited to windstorm-mitigation features that require insurers to provide premium discounts. The program is only open to owners of homesteaded site-built single-family homes with insurance coverage and replaceable value of $500,000 or less.
According to a news release announcing the opening of the program in November, the department expects completing 140,000 to 145,000 free windstorm mitigation inspections to help homeowners identify what they can do to qualify for insurance discounts.
It expects to provide 11,000 to 12,000 grants from the $115 million earmarked for reimbursements. Homeowners who spend up to $5,000 on eligible upgrades will be eligible for up to $10,000. If all grants are awarded for the $10,000 maximum, 11,500 applicants would get money.
Informational materials offered by the program do not discuss grant eligibility for specific improvements. Instead, they focus on which wind-mitigation features will qualify applicants for discounts off their insurance costs.
Because the program requires homeowners to pay contractors up front for the entire cost of planned improvements before seeking reimbursement, some say they’re worried about funding improvements that the program might later deem ineligible.
“I can’t afford to spend $10,000 if I don’t know that I’m going to get it back,” said John McKenica, a Plantation resident who would like to get impact windows. His inspection report states that he’s already receiving an insurance discount for protection provided by his aluminum shutters.
Despite reading through his inspection report and materials offered on the program’s website, McKenica said, “I’m not able to find the answer anywhere.”
Devin Galetta, communications director for the Florida Department of Financial Services, which is overseeing the program, said that applicants confused about what may or may not be eligible for reimbursement will have to contact the program through its customer service line — 1-866-513-6734 — and ask for help. “Every situation is different,” he said.
Although inspection reports identify improvements eligible for insurance discounts, vendors contracted to conduct inspections can’t advise how homeowners should proceed.
Emails with download links to inspection reports by InterNACHI, one of the inspection providers, instructs applicants to contact the My Safe Florida Home program for answers to questions “about the grant process, finding approved contractors, obtaining bids on home hardening improvements, etc.”
Applicants who call the program’s customer service line may or may not get help. One applicant reported being told that no case manager could help her interpret her inspection report. Another was told he’d get an email with instructions on how to reach a case manager. That email never arrived, the applicant said.
“Caseworkers are able to tell homeowners what the statute/program will allow,” Galetta said in an email, “but in terms of a homeowner deciding between ‘Should I do this or that?’ if both are part of the recommendations, that isn’t something the caseworker could help them with.”
The program’s registered contractors are providing written estimates for improvements, but Luke Amoresano, owner of Fort Lauderdale-based Luke Skybuilder, says he has not been trained to help applicants decipher their inspection reports or figure out which improvements are reimbursable.
Applicants who receive preapprovals for grant eligibility are provided a link to a webpage that lists contractors that have registered to participate in the program. They must use one of those contractors to qualify for reimbursement.
Amoresano says he can only provide limited advice until he sees evidence of which improvements actually get funded.
Clear-cut information of what improvements will be reimbursable under what circumstances might not be forthcoming, Galetta said.
“The program is not going to be able to make financial decisions on behalf of homeowners,” he said. “They’re going to have to make decisions of what investments they are willing to make.”
Recently, the program added a two-page Authorized Improvements Guide to its website that lists six improvement categories, but provides only examples of the types of improvements applicants can make.
The document states, “Please read this guide carefully because no other improvements are authorized under program and keep in mind that only improvements recommended in your inspection report will be authorized for reimbursement.”
The six improvements, along with listed examples, are:
1. Reinforcing roof-to-wall connections: For example, installing metal tie-down clips that attach roof rafters to walls to decrease chances that all or a portion of your roof will simply lift off your house during a hurricane.
2. Improving the strength of your roof deck attachment: For example, if your roof consists of shingles nailed to plywood sheets, the inspection may reveal that the plywood sheets are not adequately nailed to your roof trusses, and that additional nails or longer nails need to be added to reduce the possibility of the plywood from being blown off in a hurricane.
3. Improving the survivability of your roof covering: For example, upgrading to stronger hurricane-resistant roof shingles, attached with properly sized and properly applied roofing nails, to reduce the susceptibility of your roof shingles blowing off in a hurricane.
4. Creating a secondary water barrier to prevent water intrusion: For example, using strips of “peel and stick-on” material to cover the joints between plywood sheets on your roof to reduce water leakage in your roof.
5. Opening protection (windows): (No examples provided).
6. Opening protection exterior doors (including garage doors): For example, installing hurricane-rated window shutters or replacing a standard garage door with a hurricane-rated garage door.
Then the guide states that “Improvement 6 is only allowed in Broward and Dade counties as there is a discount provided by insurance in these counties. Other counties will not be provided a discount, so it is only allowed in the aforementioned counties.”
That’s because Broward and Miami-Dade are the only counties in the state with building codes requiring exterior doors and garage doors to be impact-rated, said Dulce Suarez-Resnick, vice president of Miami-based agency Acentria Insurance in Miami.
Finally, the guide describes three levels of opening protection under Improvement 6:
The final sentence would suggest that upgrading from removable shutters to impact windows would be reimbursable by the program as an improvement. But is it? Galetta said Friday afternoon that he would ask program coordinators.
On inspection reports, roof coverings might be marked as compliant with 2001 or newer Florida Building Codes. This is the material that covers roofs, including asphalt or fiberglass shingles, concrete or clay tile, and metal. But the category Secondary Water Resistance Barrier might be marked as not present or “unknown.”
On a “Home Upgrades” page created by the My Safe Florida Home program, an option is offered for homes with compliant roof coverings but no evidence of a Secondary Water Resistance Barrier.
The option is headlined “Replace Roof and Add a Secondary Water-Resistant (SWR) Barrier.” Directly under that headline is the phrase, “This report is not a recommendation to replace your roof.”
However, a Secondary Water Resistance Barrier — described as a underlayment or “peel-and-stick” sheet that covers every seam and piece of roof decking — cannot be added without replacing an entire roof.
That raises the question of whether the program will only pay the portion of a roof replacement job that’s associated with installing the Secondary Water Resistance Barrier, or will it reimburse based on the full roof replacement cost?
According to Galetta, the reimbursement by the program will be based on the cost of the full roof replacement.
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].