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Community Resilience: A Tale of Two Homes

Community Resilience: A Tale of Two Homes

Programs helps make coastal residences in Rhode Island more FORTIFIED against storm damage

By Keegan Glennon, Rhode Island Sea Grant


While many home buyers are drawn to living in coastal areas, that choice comes with certain risks. For many Rhode Island home and business owners, the issue of protecting their buildings from the elements is something that must be taken into consideration as a fact of coastal life. The FORTIFIEDTM program and associated standards is one option that coastal planning agencies in Rhode Island are exploring to increase the resilience of buildings along the coast. When storm damage caused Pam Rubinoff, extension specialist with the Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant, both at the University of Rhode Island (URI) Graduate School of Oceanography, to need her roof replaced, she saw a perfect opportunity to try out the FORTIFIED system for herself. 

Strong winds brought down these trees onto the roof of Pamela Rubinoff, CRC and Sea Grant extension specialist. Image: Pam Rubinoff, Rhode Island Sea Grant.

The FORTIFIED program has been used frequently in other areas of the United States where destructive storms are common, particularly the Gulf Coast, but is new in New England. Rubinoff works with staff from the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, which was looking for projects to pilot the program when an early August storm blew two trees onto the roof of Rubinoff’s South Kingstown home. Suddenly, her work on coastal resilience became personal.


“Every time it rains now it’s like, oh my gosh, what’s happening?” she says, recounting the event. “Storms are getting more intense. And when I felt my house shake from 84-mile per hour winds, you really have to ask yourself what else is going to blow away.”


She realized that she had the unique opportunity to try out FORTIFIED for herself. “I don’t know what I would have done if I was just a regular homeowner, but I had enough information now from my work experience at URI to realize that there was a way that I could improve my roof to reduce my chances of impact from wind.” 

Jeff Rhodin measures the distance between nails in Rubinoff’s roof. Image: Pam Rubinoff, Rhode Island Sea Grant.

Despite Rubinoff’s roof replacement being a Bronze-level FORTIFIED certification, the most basic level, FORTIFIED inspector Jeff Rhodin says that this upgrade can have a significant impact on protecting a home from storm damage. “Most of the damage done in these storms is because the roofs fail, water gets in and then the water does all the damage. So if you keep the roof in place, then the water doesn’t get in and people don’t have as much damage,” he says. In addition, he says, the Bronze certification is relatively inexpensive if a roof needs to be replaced anyway. He explains that there are minimal costs for additional building materials, and the additional labor is only a few hours.


Meanwhile, builder Dave Caldwell is working on a new high-end home in South Kingstown that is built to FORTIFIED standards—also the first of its kind in New England. In addition to the Bronze level’s focus on the roof, the house Caldwell is building will have all required FORTIFIED upgrades up to the most advanced Gold level, which includes the roof upgrades of Bronze and the features added by the Silver level, which mainly ensures that all the openings to a building are built to a higher standard.


Rubinoff says that her new roof and Caldwell’s house have provided a valuable test-run for the FORTIFIED program in Rhode Island. Rhodin considers these first projects important learning experiences. He wants to see the program expand and continue to become more user friendly, saying that one of his main goals is to continue to streamline the process for his clients. He aims to better lay out exactly what builders and homeowners can expect during the certification process, and try to minimize costs by limiting the number of inspection visits required.

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