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Consumers Eye Hurricane-Resistant Homes

If you haven't lived through a hurricane, you might not appreciate the value of a hurricane-proof home.

Sparked by interest from the insurance industry, builders are creating cutting-edge technology homes designed to survive the worst Mother Nature can dish out in a hurricane. Not exactly hurricane-proof, these homes nonetheless bear the punishment better and provide more safety and security. But will consumers bear the freight when it comes to paying an extra $15,000 to $35,000 for anti-hurricane options?

Builders in Pinellas County, Florida recently unveiled the fortified houses in a project sponsored by the Institute of Business and Home Safety, a nonprofit organization set up by the insurance industry. It's a pilot project designed to whet consumers' appetite and get model homes built with the best hurricane-resistant measures, including robust construction techniques and beefier building components. But it's not a case of "build it, and they will come." The builders are quick to point out that they're not trying to ram these features down consumers' throats. And they don't want building codes to make these features mandatory, either.

Labor costs aren't any higher, and construction time is basically the same as a regular construction home. The extra cost of hurricane-resistant homes varies according to the design and materials used. Certain big-ticket items add up quickly, especially impact-resistant windows and heavy-duty doors. Impact-resistant windows consist of a sheet of heavy-duty, transparent plastic laminated between two sheets of glass. In one model, these special windows were four times more expensive than usual, about $10,000. Add on $2,020 for a reinforced steel garage door with beefy hardware that's able to withstand winds up to 180 mph.

Another model has a safe room off the master bedroom with steel-plated door and ceiling, and concrete between the wall studs for about $4,000. The wisdom of such an investment might become clear when the wind starts to howl and you retreat to your mini-bunker to wait out the storm. It's also a place to lock away larger valuables securely in an evacuation.

You might assume these hefty homes look like bunkers or fortresses but they don't. The builders boast they sacrifice nothing aesthetically in using hurricane-resistant construction. We're not talking steel bars over the windows or tiny portholes to peer out of. One home has bay windows with mitered glass, and even a stained glass window you wouldn't know is reinforced.

But the real test will be on the bottom line of contracts. Will consumers take these options when the money could be saved, or spent on other options like a bigger master bath with Jacuzzi or a kitchen upgrade? Will the insurance industry reward them with lower premiums? If you haven't lived through a hurricane, you might not appreciate the value of a hurricane-proof home. Perhaps that's the ultimate irony. You don't know you need one until it's too late.

Sources used to create this article include Judy Stark and the St. Petersburg Times.