Published: Sunday, April 03, 2011, 3:00 PM Updated: Monday, April 04, 2011, 10:07 AM

By Kathy Jumper, Press-RegisterBeth Lawrence works on her house in Silverhill after a tornado ripped the roof off last month. Baldwin County Habitat for Humanity and Smart Home Alabama are helping her rebuild her house to be stronger and safer. (Press-Register/Jon Hauge)

SILVERHILL, Ala. - When a tornado ripped the roof off Beth Lawrence's home in Silverhill on March 9, her first reaction was, "What am I going to do?" "I had let my wind coverage expire," Lawrence explained. Fast forward to a sunny April 1, when 15 sorority sisters from the University of Missouri and a crew from Habitat for Humanity of Baldwin County were in Silverhill, busily installing hurricane straps and anchors to the foundation of Lawrence's three-bedroom home.

Baldwin Habitat is tackling its first rehab project, and Smart Home Alabama is donating the materials to retrofit the house to qualify as a "fortified for safe living" structure. The fortified certification is offered by theInstitute for Business & Home Safety, a nonprofit sponsored by insurance companies to encourage stronger construction practices.

25 percent insurance discount With a fortified house, Lawrence will qualify for a 25 percent discount on insurance, according to Carl Schneider of Schneider Insurance Agency in Mobile and founder of the nonprofit Smart Home, which seeks to educate people about fortified construction and develop partnerships to improve the insurance marketplace. Schneider said that he plans to help Lawrence find replacement wind insurance that she can afford. Lawrence, 47, has lived her entire life in the three-bedroom, one-bath brick house her parents built in 1974. She had just put in new windows and shutters and had planned to add new flooring, she said, but was laid off from her school custodian job due to budget cuts. She dropped wind insurance, she said, after her policy cost doubled to $1,200 a year. Besides, she reasoned, the house had survived a number of hurricanes, including Hurricane Frederic in 1979. Habitat stepped in to help Lawrence a week after the tornado hit, according to Alex Cary, construction manager for Habitat in Baldwin County.

"The irony is that Beth's sister-in-law had just moved into Habitat's first wood-fortified house, and Beth had helped build it." Cary estimated the cost to repair the house, minus the donated materials, will be about $17,000. Habitat's Apostle Fund, which receives donations from a number of area churches, has donated $10,000 and several organizations have helped with money and materials, she said. They hope to get help to pay for a central heat and air conditioning system. Smart Home is paying for materials such as hurricane window protection, hurricane straps and rods, and a secondary water protection system for the roof. Insurance companies are more willing to come into Alabama and write policies if the homes meet fortified standards, Schneider said. With donations down due to the economy, Habitat International has promoted the repair of existing houses as well as building new homes, according to Cary. "Our future," she said, "is in helping families."