Replacing a roof is among the largest one-time expenses anyone who owns a house can expect to face, but did you know that most South Carolina residents can get a state grant for up to $5,000 toward the cost?

Don't need a new roof? The grants also can be used for upgrading exterior doors, installing hurricane-rated shutters, reinforcing roof framing and reinforcing roof-to-wall connections.

The state program, SC Safe Home, is meant to encourage people to retrofit their homes to make them more resistant to hurricane damage. Created in 2007 in a package of insurance-related reforms, it's funded by 1 percent of the money the state collects each year from a tax on insurance premiums, plus the tax on Wind Pool policies, which together add up to about $2 million annually.

The grants can't be used for new construction or repairs, but replacing a worn-out roof counts as a retrofit job, so long as the new roof meets standards for hurricane-resistance.

At this point, you may wonder, what's the catch?

There isn't one that I can find - in fact, this gets even better when paired with existing state tax credits, and a likely reduction in homeowner's insurance premiums as well. There are, however, some rules.

The grants are for owner-occupied single-family homes with a taxable value of $300,000 or less. If you think your home is worth too much to qualify, check it out. The $300,000 cap is for the building only, not counting the land, and the value is the market value used to calculate your property taxes, which is probably lower than what you think the home is worth.

The home must be adequately insured.

The home must be located in Horry, Georgetown, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Beaufort, Jasper, Dorchester, Williamsburg, or certain portions of Florence and Marion counties.

To get a grant, you first have to hire a certified wind inspector, and pay them up to $150 to complete a report on your house. The state has a list of inspectors in different areas at scsafehome.com, and that's the website with all the details about these grants.

Next, you file the paperwork completed by the inspector and apply, and you wait. Due to processing time and limited funding, the current wait for grant approval is eight to 10 months.

Once approved, you'll have six months to complete the work. The state will send the grant to the contractor and you'll pay the rest.

Grants can either be a one-to-one matching grant, up to $5,000, or an outright grant for people with homes worth less than $150,000, who earn less than 80 percent of the median income for their county. For example, a family of three earning $44,150 or less in Berkeley, Charleston or Dorchester County would qualify for a nonmatching grant if their home is worth $150,000 or less.

For those who qualify, this is a pretty great incentive. I know several people who received grants that paid half the cost of replacing their roofs (and making their homes more hurricane-resistant), and I filed my application this past week.

The grants are a big incentive, but tax credits make this even better - and the tax credits are available to people regardless of what their homes are worth.

South Carolina has two tax credits that are claimed on the same state income tax form, the Residential Retrofit Credit (form TC-43). Those credits will essentially rebate up to $1,000 of your expense for retrofitting your house, and rebate the sale tax paid for materials.

The retrofit work must be work that would qualify as a Safe Home project, even if you don't get a Safe Home grant. For example, a new roof would have hurricane-resistant shingles, a water barrier, and the decking would likely be renailed. Details are on the Safe Home website.

So let's break it down.

If you own a modest, one-story home and don't make too much money, the state grant might cover the entire cost of replacing your roof.

If you're in the matching grant category, the Safe Home grant plus the retrofit tax credits could reduce the cost of a $10,000 roof job to less than $4,000. That's a $5,000 grant, a $1,000 tax credit, plus about $300 in rebated sales tax.

I've focused on roofs in my examples because everyone who owns a house will have to replace a roof at some point. The grants also can be used for upgrading windows and doors, but only if you're upgrading all of them (because the goal is to improve hurricane resistance). Windows must be impact-resistant, or protected by hurricane shutters, in order to qualify for grant funding.

The grants can also be used to pay for tie-downs for a manufactured home, but the grants won't pay for roofs, windows or doors on a manufactured (mobile) home.

For more information visit scsafehome.com or contact the SC Department of Insurance at 803-737-6087, or by email at scsafehome@doi.sc.gov.