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New guidance for commercial buildings can save time and money

November 18, 2019

Zurich Risk Engineering Services encourages customers to adhere to IBHS FORTIFIED Commercial™ building standards

A set of standards for protecting commercial buildings against wind and water damage is being recommended for use by Zurich Risk Engineering.

The FORTIFIED Commercial™ standards and compliance program, created by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), features three levels of guidance for new construction and existing buildings: FORTIFIED Roof™, FORTIFIED Silver™ and FORTIFIED Gold™.

FORTIFIED Commercial is a voluntary building resilience standard, compliance process and designation program created by IBHS to make new and existing commercial buildings stronger against severe weather, including hurricanes and high wind. It employs an incremental approach with three levels of designations available so design professionals can work with building owners to choose a level of protection that best suits their budgets and resilience goals.

Zurich has long applied its own standard when assessing exposures to customers’ buildings and new construction. The enhanced IBHS standards will supplant those, and Zurich Property Risk Engineering Services will administer the compliance program for its customers.

"Most local building codes are designed primarily for human safety—not to preserve buildings,” said Jim Breitkreitz, Head of Property Risk Engineering Services for Zurich North America. “FORTIFIED Commercial from IBHS goes further. Businesses that conform to these standards are less likely to have significant damage after a hurricane or high-wind event and, therefore, can resume operations more quickly.”

Nearly 40% of small businesses never reopen following a natural disaster, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and another 25% will fail within a year. A 2018 study by the National Institute of Building Science shows that for every spent on FORTIFIED Commercial construction, approximately is saved in disaster recovery expenses when compared to the 2015 International Building Code.

“As underwriters, we need to pay attention to the rising costs of materials needed to rebuild,” Breitkreitz said. “FORTIFIED standards may increase those costs by up to 5%, but the investment pays for itself fourfold.”

Zurich Risk Engineering visited Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and witnessed firsthand what can happen when buildings are not made to withstand strong winds. Many buildings were flattened by the storms, while others remained with heavy damage. “Something as simple as securing rooftop equipment made the difference between little to no damage and a major water loss,” Breitkreitz said.

Each level of FORTIFIED promises greater resilience to severe weather.

FORTIFIED Roof: Keep wind and water out and roof-mounted equipment on

  • Stronger roofing system designed to provide better protection against severe wind;
  • Gutters and downspouts designed and tested for outstanding performance;
  • Sealed roof deck required for steep-sloped roofs;
  • Superior skylights designed and tested to withstand water intrusion and large missile impact;
  • Roof-mounted equipment must be designed for increased wind pressures.

FORTIFIED Silver: Protect the envelope and reduce business operation’s downtime

  • In hurricane-prone regions, all windows and glazed openings must be impact-rated or protected to minimize water and wind/wind pressure intrusion;
  • Wall systems must be impact-rated;
  • Exterior doors must be impact-rated or protected;
  • Parapets and false fronts must be adequately braced and anchored;
  • Electrical and mechanical equipment must be protected from flood/water damage;
  • Electrical connections must be installed to easily connect backup power.

FORTIFIED Gold: Keep the building tied together and maintain business operations

  • Load path must be engineered and verified;
  • Canopies must be adequately anchored/supported;
  • Backup power must be provided.

More details about the FORTIFIED Commercial standards are available online.