Building a Hurricane-Resistant Home

The Southern Belle Water View

I  encourage you to read the messages and letters I received from clients after Hurricane Matthew (scroll down). It’s easy to see how grateful homeowners are for having taken steps during the building process to create a hurricane-resistant home.

Protecting this most important investment comes with a cost. Yet not protecting it can be more costly. Extra steps can be taken to protect your home. These are important measures that will help ensure that your investment withstands even the harshest tests of Mother Nature.

When building a home within a hurricane-prone region, builders use engineered home designs that meet a specific building code requirement for the zone and neighborhood.These codes are developed considering many factors. While most factors have basis in engineering sciences, in statistical analysis, using actuarial tables, wind studies and the like, financial feasibility is another consideration.

The insurance industry has an interest in pressuring the board to build to the highest standard. Building the strongest of structures can be very expensive. At the same time, Code Development Board members are subject to pressures from special interest groups that see demographic statistics and wish to promote the idea that the American dream of home ownership is not only available to the wealthy. In Florida, the highly respected Construction Industry Licensing and Board, which also oversees code requirement development, is charged with making sure that these codes are not too highly constrictive and expensive to implement.

This balancing act yields codes developed based on a minimum (common sense) standard as applied to wind storm mitigation. Most restrictive coastal zones use the highest standard. However, since these zones are often waterfront properties, only the wealthy can afford building there. Yet techniques used in the most restrictive zones can be applied to homes located in less restrictive ones.

It is practical to look at everything available regardless of the zone a structure is built in. Since a hurricane has no brain, it can and will often negatively affect inland structures as well as those built on the coast. A storm knows no boundaries and it cares not at all about statistics.

The dynamics of engineering design will  depend upon the elevation of the property, the proximity to a potential storm surge event, and other relevant factors. Using practical applications, we can include above-code features that aren’t the most expensive. We can consider which ones offer the most “bang for the buck” as they pertain to strength vs. cost. The homeowner can can choose to exceed minimum code requirements to create a hurricane-resistant home without breaking the bank. Sometimes an extra 5 percent can save the remaining 95 percent. This is money well spent.

In posts to follow, I will offer suggestions that, in my experience, have value for wind-borne mitigated construction practices. Having lived and worked in the Florida Keys and many other Florida coastal and inland cities, building homes for over 40 years, I employ products and practices that constitute my own “minimum code standard”. This often exceeds the Florida Building Code requirements. Client testimonials show that these measures have yielded, over time, a much higher value than the cost of the initial investment.

Each step of the process offers opportunities enhance the integral system of the home’s structure, making it more hurricane-resistant. A systemic approach is used. Throughout the process, we are mindful to weigh cost vs. benefit.

There are several suggestions that can be made across the board. These include features and practices that affect a home’s foundation, its exterior envelope (walls, roof construction, finished roofing, aperture devices — windows and doors — and other exterior finishes). Regardless of the level of interior finish, monies spent on these most important features will ensure that a home can become a family heirloom that firmly holds up to the harshest weather conditions.

My next post will address property preparation and foundation design in creating a hurricane-resistant home.