October 17, 2017
First, Hurricane Harvey brought record-breaking rain throughout the Texas coastal region. Then, Hurricane Irma and Maria’s winds toppled structures like twigs, eradicating swathes of homes and businesses from Barbuda to Florida. Estimates for the combined storms range from $115 billion to $290 billion in total losses—damage to dwellings, businesses, machinery, boats, vehicles, roadways, bridges, power lines and so forth.
While these events captured the world’s attention, catastrophes occur throughout the year with severe thunderstorms causing billions of dollars in losses every year. The good news is that while property and insurance casualty losses have increased, weather fatalities, excluding floods and riptides, have decreased over the past 30 years.
Improved construction materials, building codes and design standards have helped mitigate the loss of life from a hurricane. Whether rebuilding a home after a storm, remodeling an existing structure or purchasing new construction in a hurricane-prone region, you may want to build the following tips into the plan.
Doors and windows
Door and window manufacturers continue to develop specialized products to meet an area's specific needs. Purchase and install doors that meet or exceed coding requirements for your area. Ask whether the model under consideration has been performance tested, and look for a label on the product that indicates the door or window was tested to AAMA/WDMA/CSA 101/I.S.2/A440. For coastal areas, or areas that are prone to extreme wind events, ask for information that indicates the product has been tested for wind-borne debris, if applicable.
Structurally a roof is one of the most important parts of a home. “If a roof is compromised, the rest of the house is compromised too,” explains David Stammen, Principal Engineer for UL’s Building Envelope Performance group in Northbrook, Ill. Roof overhangs should be limited to 20 inches and connected to the walls to help abate the wind. For existing homes, replace with products that have demonstrated wind resistance as required per local codes. Additionally, consider replacing the roof with impact rated roofing products.
A home’s shape can also contribute to its overall hurricane resistance. Rima Taher, Ph.D., a civil engineer and special lecturer in the New Jersey School of Architecture, reviewed residential design and material data from research centers around the world. She discovered that square, octagonal or hexagonal floor plans with a multiple panel roof of four or more panels fared better during a storm than a two-panel roof or a rectangle floor plan.
An elevated pile and girder foundation lifts a home above most floods and storm surge. With this type of foundation, the walls are supported by a column of reinforced concrete or steel, drilled into the ground. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) explains several different options in its document, Elevating Your House.
Purchase reliable products and materials from established sources as some people may try to take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners. Look out for the red flags that a product may be counterfeit: abnormally generic packaging, missing labels and product markings, misspelled words, improper use of terminology, vast quantities at an extremely low price, missing instructions or warranty cards.
Remember, if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.
Natural disasters are costly, both financially and emotionally, but also represent an opportunity to build strength and resiliency into the future. Through the careful selection of materials and consideration of the final design, a home can be better than it was before the storm.