A Little Planning Equals Big Savings: Hardening the Building Exterior Improves Insurability

cbeecherBuilding Envelope, Hurricanes, Quality Control, Windows

Hurricane season is a reminder about the importance of planning when constructing a building.  Storm hardening, or building-in protection against high-wind damage, has become an increasing priority for many owners of commercial buildings, developers and project teams.

But before building in a high-risk area, a first step should include hiring a team who understands the importance of storm hardening by utilizing proper building codes and storm protection upgrades, which can save owners large expenses on the back end and increase their likelihood of having an insurable property.

Our team of building consultants has studied what works and what doesn’t in hurricane protection for the past two decades.  GCI can pinpoint what needs to be done from windows, doors and wall systems to roofing and waterproofing.  This is of special significance when insuring the building.

Obtaining insurance for commercial property in coastal areas is getting increasingly more difficult and expensive, but not if a building is properly protected.  We’ve worked with Zurich, a leading property and casualty insurance provider globally and in North America on many projects, including the BB&T building (see story in this issue).  Zurich has created a highly protected risk (HPR) wind standard, which serves as a blueprint to help customers mitigate losses due to hurricanes and windstorms.  Zurich’s HPR wind standards consider the location, design, construction, and protection measures of buildings. They look at factors such as how well building “envelope” integrity can be maintained during hurricanes, the likelihood that water won’t enter the building  (due to wind-driven rain, rain accumulation, flood, or storm surges) and measures that avoid potentially catastrophic foundation damage.

Some key criteria in their guide includes the use of the large-missile impact glazing for high wind coastal locations; reinforced or poured in place concrete walls to endure winds and flying debris and roofs designed to withstand uplift from high winds. Air conditioner units and other equipment on a roof must also be strapped down with steel wire cables or other building code approved securing techniques.

“If a building does not meet high performance criteria like Zurich’s, an owner may be stuck with expensive coverage from companies like Lloyds of London,” says Paul Beers, CEO and managing member of GCI Consultants. “These policies have extremely high deductibles and offer insufficient coverage.  The investment to improve a building or build it right in the first place could pay off significantly in reduced insurance premiums, not to mention business interruption and repair costs if your building is hit by a severe storm.”

Whether new construction or renovation, we can help building owners and developers achieve HPR or similar types of credentials.  Insurers want to meet current or exceed building codes, especially with regard to wind-loading standards.  “It is a good practice to keep detailed records of improvements to receive appropriate insurance credits,” notes Beers.

“Without the proper documentation, it would be difficult to evaluate certain properties,” says Dale Seemans, senior engineering consultant at Zurich. “GCI brings value to us in many ways.  They can help us do ‘forensics’ on a building to assess whether glazing and other systems will stand up to a hurricane.  They literally have dismantled windows from buildings to determine the original manufacturer.  They also routinely recommend glazing systems that lower energy costs and reduce noise.”  GCI and Zurich have collaborated on more than 15 projects in Florida and the Caribbean.

“As a result of good planning and proper documentation, the building owner or developer may be able to obtain better insurance coverage with lower deductibles,” says Seemans.  “As a benefit to tenants, an intact building envelope will allow them to get back to business immediately following a storm.”

With improved product technology, regular field-testing, and a team of experts working together, even a multi-storied, glass façade building set near the coastline in a hurricane-prone region can achieve lower insurance premiums. The how is in the planning — whether it’s new construction or a renovation.