Citizens insurance requirement drives storm business

Jan 26, 2009

Hurricane protection for high-end homes mandated

By Tim Engstrom

Southwest Florida News-Press--January 25, 2009

Demand for hurricane protection shutters, windows and doors is spiking in Southwest Florida as some Citizens Property Insurance customers scramble to keep their coverage.

Citizens, the state-run insurance provider, this month began notifying customers with homes with a replacement value of more than $750,000 that they must have “opening protections” that meet current building code requirements.

“On a daily basis, the calls are growing,” said Jim Spadorcia, a partner in Safezone, a locally based shutter company that manufactures many of its products at a plant off Daniels Parkway.

The law was effective Jan. 1, but Citizens is notifying customers six months in advance of their policy renewals, which means owners with policies up for renewal in June are being notified now.

The requirement is applied to Florida’s “wind-borne debris region” which includes most of Lee and Collier counties and western Charlotte County.

For most people, the requirement means hurricane shutters, replacement impact glass or other coverings that meet codes approved in 2004.

Statewide, the requirement will mean 8,143 homes will need new protection, including about 1,660 in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties, according to data from Citizens.

Spadorcia said the cost of hurricane protection can vary from $5 to $25 per square foot, depending on whether the customer chooses storm panels, impact glass or other options.

But it isn’t only shutter companies who are seeing a new demand for protection.

Bonita Springs-based Gulfshore Homes is anticipating such demand that it has launched a new division, Gulfshore Homes Improvement Solutions, said president Steve Watt. The division is dedicated to upgrading homes to meet hurricane protection requirements and preventing water intrusion and mold issues.

“Our core business is building custom homes and we expect there will be a continued slowdown in that business,” Watt said. “With people wanting to stay where they are, they are going to need to make improvements in order to keep their coverage.”

Private property insurance providers are beginning to follow Citizens lead to require window protection.

“I truly believe it will be like wearing seat belts within five or six years,” said Brian Trecek, a partner in Naples Shutter. “If you don’t have hurricane protection, you won’t have coverage.”

Trecek said sales of the company’s hurricane protection fabric, which it markets under the name AstroFlex, are up 250 percent over last year.

“You can cover large spans with it and the average person can put it up easily,” Trecek said.

Bonita Bay homeowner Steven Jess, 67, had an eye on more stringent protection requirements a few months ago when he hired Fort Myers-based Storm Smart Industries to install new protection on his windows and lanai.

“With the way insurance was getting difficult to get, I thought I should get protection for the whole house,” Jess said.

Jess was able to obtain a private policy after adding the protection.

“At least this way, we know if we ever resell, the new owners should be able to get coverage,” Jess said.

Additional Facts

– Brian Trecek, a partner in Naples Shutter.

“I truly believe it will be like wearing seat belts within five or six years. If you don’t have hurricane protection, you won’t have coverage.”