“Mayberry on the Gulf.” This is the term Paul Jackson and his family use to describe Mexico Beach—the quaint, coastal community they stumbled upon nearly around 2010 while returning home from a spring break vacation in Panama City.
Although the land Jackson purchased was in a low-risk zone on the community’s current flood maps, he understood the risk of living in a coastal area. With a mitigation mindset, he decided to build a resilient home and purchased a flood insurance policy to protect his investment.
The commercial airline pilot, husband, and father of five girls, is partial to this safe, seaside community where most people know you by name, and the rhythm of life is like slow waves washing against the shore.
“Prior to Hurricane Michael there were four restaurants within a five-minute walk,” said Jackson. “We’d usually get up and go fishing, come back, and clean the fish. Then we’d change into a bathing suit and go take a dip in the ocean, catch a few rays, cook the fish, eat a little early and watch the sun set on the beach, then call it a night. It gets no better than that.”
Using mitigation methods of Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) Fortified Home™ program, the elegant two-story home with board and batten siding took in 37 inches of water during Hurricane Michael but remained structurally sound. IBHS is a nonprofit organization that promotes hurricane, tornado and flood mitigation primarily focused on continuous load path construction. This building method holds houses together from the roof to the foundation and strengthens homes, protecting them from hurricane force winds in coastal areas.
“Initially, I looked at [IBHS building standards, because I was told by some of the insurance companies that if you built to this standard you’d get an insurance break, and I got quite a break.” said Jackson. “It’s a 2,000 square foot home with three bedrooms, 2.5 baths. The lowest quote I got was $811 per year and the high quote was about $1,000 a year.” The Fortified Home™ program has three levels: bronze, silver, and gold. “We chose the gold standard, which includes the whole house,” Jackson said.
To provide continuous loading to the walls, “you start in the foundation and the footing,” Jackson said, “and you run steel vertically and horizontally up through the walls and the steel continues all the way up to the roof line, then back down to the ground, and then you have steel straps embedded in the concrete. That makes it an overall twelve-inch wall. Six inches of it is concrete, 5 inches is foam and a 1-inch exterior of whatever you want to put on it. The sheet rock gives you a finished twelve-inch wall.” This ties the roof, walls, and foundation together with continuous load paths, which significantly strengthens a building’s resistance to wind pressure.
While information for the Fortified Home™ program is free and comes with a checklist for builders to follow, the cost of building is the owner’s responsibility. The Jacksons feel they got their money’s worth as they benefit from reductions in homeowner’s insurance premium savings, and a substantial reduction in monthly utility bills over time due to the additional insulation in the thicker walls. “We keep our house 67 degrees year-round. It’s $30 a month in electric bills,” Jackson said. “Saving $100 a month on electricity, that’s $1,200 per year, and I’m saving $2,000 per year on [homeowners] insurance. “
These types of mitigation measures are proof of effective methods to save money as well as lives.