When people look for a home to buy they often have a wish list of desired features, but may not be aware that particular ones can make a house more resistant to storm damage and qualify for hurricane insurance discounts.

In South Carolina's coastal counties, wind and hail insurance — hurricane insurance — is one of the largest annual expenses that homeowners face after mortgage payments. The discounts specific home features can bring really add up over years of ownership.

Insurance companies are required by state law to provide discounts for storm mitigation measures. The discounts vary from one company to another, but some features can reduce hurricane insurance premiums by 10 percent or more.

Buy a house with the right kind of roof, or storm shutters, or impact-rated window glass — or all three — and you'll not only worry less the next time a hurricane threatens the coast, but you'll save money year after year. Different types of construction, or improvements made to strengthen a home, can also cut the insurance bills.

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Ronnie Simmons, with Harper Finucan Construction, secures traditional hurricane shutters on a Charleston home in advance of Hurricane Irma in 2017. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Real estate agent Kimberly Lease, with Century 21 Properties in Mount Pleasant, said she often has clients who are concerned about potential flooding as they look for a home, but few are focused on homes built to withstand wind.

"The only one (feature) that seems to stick out is impact glass windows or hurricane-rated windows," she said.

Newer homes typically get insurance discounts because they were built to more modern code requirements, but older homes could be retrofitted with stronger roofs, windows, garage doors and more.

“If you have done things to your house, like putting in new windows, you absolutely should tell your agent," said Russ Dubisky, executive director of the S.C. Insurance Association.

And people who put their homes up for sale should make a point of mentioning home-strengthening improvements that may be hard to spot, such as bracing the roof connections in an attic, or installing a secondary water barrier while replacing a roof.

“One thing I always mention to buyers, that they are usually not aware of, is that they can get an insurance discount if the house qualifies for wind-mitigation discounts," said Suzy Torres, with Carolina One Real Estate's Lowcountry Elite Group in Summerville.

“Yesterday, for the first time, I had a buyer who wants a house with hurricane shutters," she said. “People who haven’t lived here seem to have a lot more concern (about hurricanes) than people who have lived here."

Here are some key wind-mitigation measures to look for:

Roofs

A hip roof is more wind-resistant than a gable roof. Insurers typically charge less to insure homes with hip roofs, which look somewhat like a pyramid, with four sloping sides.

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This rendering from Homeplans.com shows what a hip roof looks like. Provided

If a house has a more common gable roof, then appropriate bracing of the gable ends and tie-down straps for the roof can improve storm resistance and prompt insurance discounts. Straps and bracing more firmly attach the roof structure to the house.

A roof that meets South Carolina's Safe Home standards would have features including extra-tough attachment of the roof sheathing to the home, a secondary water barrier, gable bracing, and wind-rated shingles.

Windows

Every opening in a home, including entry doors and garage doors, provides a place where tropical storm winds and wind-borne debris can enter. Permanent window protection makes that less likely and typically qualifies for insurance discounts.

Permanent ways to protect window openings include hurricane-rated impact glass windows, affixed shutters, or brackets to mount fitted storm panels. The Federal Emergency Management Agency considers impact-resistant windows "the most effective solution" — partly because they require "no human action or involvement after installation" to prepare for a storm — followed by shutters, screens and panel systems.

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John "J.D." Cooper, owner and president of Lowcountry Hurricane Protection & Shutters Inc., talks to prospective customer Bill Lavery after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. File/Staff

“Most people, if given the option between paying for impact-rated glass or installing plywood if a named storm is approaching the coast, would decide the cost (of impact glass) is worth knowing their home would be protected," said Chris Brace, of Brace Builders. “I would say that it’s our responsibility as construction professionals to help provide education to our clients."

Modern construction

Homes built in 2006 or later can qualify for insurance discounts because they meet modern building code standards. Those built earlier can also qualify for discounts, but may require an affidavit from an inspector regarding wind-mitigation measures.

Homes that meet S.C. Safe Home or Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety standards also qualify for discounts. Homes that meet IBHS "fortified" standards can cost 20 percent less to insure against wind and hail, but according to Fortune magazine, fewer than 8,200 homes nationwide have been certified "fortified" since the designation was created in 2008.

South Carolina offers grant funding and tax credits to help owners of single-family homes in coastal areas with the cost of some improvements that reduce potential hurricane damage, through the S.C. Safe Home program. In 2017 the state doled out $535,292 in tax credits for fortification measures, according to the S.C. Department of Insurance.

For home shoppers, knowing about wind-mitigation features and the financial and safety benefits they provide can help determine when one potential home is superior to another. 

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com