(Editor's note: On Aug. 30 the Department of Insurance said the Safe Home program would resume taking applications Sept. 4)
Putting a new roofing on a house is a major expense that homeowners dread, but if you're one of the lucky 500 or more who will secure an S.C. Safe Home grant this year, you could save up to $5,000 up-front and that new roof could potentially pay for itself.
I know, because I used Safe Home to replace my roof in 2014, and have been spreading awareness about this S.C. Department of Insurance program for years.
Safe Home stopped taking applications early this year, having exhausted its annual funding, but following the start of the state's new budget year July 1, the program expects to reopen for new applications in a month or so. The statement that appeared on the DOI's website as of Friday — "We anticipate the online system will be open to accepting applications by late July" — was incorrect, and hopefully will be updated by the time you read this.
To find out when the program starts accepting applications, go online to www.doi.sc.gov and the "safe home" link, and sign up to be notified by email when applications re-open. There are more than 1,100 people on the notification list already, but that doesn't mean they will all apply and get a grant.
Safe Home was created in 2007 as part of an insurance reform act, and gets about $2 million in annual funding. The South Carolina grant program helps pay for certain home-strengthening improvements including new, stronger roofs. The grants can also be used for windows, doors, and window protection systems, but generally a homeowner would have to replace or protect all of the windows and doors to qualify.
The rules allow anyone who owns and occupies a single-family home — excluding mobile homes —in certain counties near the coast to get a grant. The eligible counties are: Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Horry, Jasper, Marion and Williamsburg.
With changes approved last year, there are no limits on an applicant's income, or the value of their home. Those with moderate to low incomes could get a grant of up $5,000. Those with higher incomes could get dollar-for-dollar matching funds, up to $4,000 (for example, a grant could cover half the cost of an $8,000 job).
In addition, a project that makes someone's legal residence more hurricane-resistant — Safe Home projects qualify, as does any work that qualifies — triggers two South Carolina income tax credits, and discounts on "wind and hail" hurricane insurance policies. The tax credits are worth:
- Up to $1,000, representing 25 percent of the qualifying retrofit expenses.
- Up to $1,500, representing the state 6 percent sales tax paid on materials.
Look for "State Income Tax Credit for Fortification Measures" on the Department of Insurance website for more details. Meanwhile, consider the math. If a new, stronger roof costs, say, $10,000, a Safe Home grant recipient could get more than half that amount back in grants and tax credits, and then enjoy an insurance premium discount for years to come.
So, how does one get a grant?
The first step is to apply, once the application period opens, and then have a "wind inspection" completed by a state-approved contractor — they are listed, with contact information, on DOI's website, and an inspection costs $150. Be ready to apply by looking at the information that's required, and the list of contractors in your area.
It's not a rapid process. There are still about 300 Safe Home jobs in progress, from the last grant-funding cycle. But if you're in one of the qualifying counties, your roof is due for replacement, and you're not in a big hurry, a Safe Home grant is a great way to save thousands of dollars.