Weather the Storm with These Home Building Practices

In light of recent hurricanes, floods and more, builders are increasingly looking for ways to build strong homes that can better withstand the forces of nature. While building storm-resistant homes might cost a bit more, it is an investment that pays big dividends. The Wall Street Journal, citing a study released in 2017 by the National Institute of Building Sciences, reported that for every $1 of federal grant money spent on mitigating the risks of natural hazards, $6 in losses were avoided.

Whether you’re building homes to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, hail or thunderstorms, the best place to start is at the top. “Keeping the roof on your home will help provide greater stability in the event of high winds,” according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IIBHS). It advises using galvanized-steel hurricane clips on the roof.

In addition, IIBHS advises that garage doors are often an overlooked area of stability in home construction. It states the National Storm Shelter Association indicates garage doors can be the weakest link during a storm, and encourages installing a bracing system to provide extra stability. The braces can be stored in the garage and put up in less than three minutes if a tornado warning goes into effect.

IIBHS has a set of construction standards designed specifically to help homeowners better protect their dwelling from high wind, hail, tornados and severe thunderstorms. The standards, known as the Fortified Home Program, are broken into three designation levels: bronze, silver and gold. Those standards can also serve as an excellent guide for buildings to withstand, no matter the weather.

Here is a brief primer on a few other factors that can make the most difference in storm resistance, based on the weather that is prominent where you’re building.

Hurricane resistance

Build high: Pointing to coastal regions such as the Florida panhandle, the Building Science Corp. (BSC) says the obvious first step to keep a home from flooding during hurricanes is to build up – “as high as possible and practical.” It pointed to first levels in new construction being typically used for parking, storage and building access, and stressed that utilities, services and equipment are also elevated.

Farther inland, BSC advises that elevated crawlspaces and pier foundations can make a home more flood-resistant, and warned that slabs (unless raised) should be avoided in construction.

The right materials: Water-resistant materials also make construction more likely to weather the storm. BSC points to most commercial buildings in Florida being constructed from masonry and concrete. For homes, it points to “rustication residential buildings” constructed from masonry on the first level and wood frame on the second level.

Water-sensitive materials to be avoided, according to BSC, include paper-faced gypsum board and fiberglass cavity insulation. Instead, choose non-paper-faced gypsum board for the inside of assemblies and the exterior of non-combustible assemblies. For exterior insulation, choose semi-rigid fiberglass, foam plastic boards or rock wool. For exterior trim, avoid wood and wood-based materials and instead opt for ribercement and plastic composite materials.

The right cavities: Design cavities to be ventilated and allow for airflow that are “sealed and compartmentalized” for fire protection and to allow opening when needed to facilitate drying, BSC advises.

Wind and hail resistance

Think ICF: Instead of conventional wood framing, Wise Home Design advises using insulated concrete forms (ICF), which has been shown to stand up to 250 mph winds. ICF features solid concrete walls with steel reinforcements.

Back to the roof: In addition to ICF construction, Wise Home Design says a roof secured to the walls by metal strapping (tie-downs or tornado straps) embedded into the concrete provide significant wind protection.

Windows: Windows are also a critical piece of tornado resistance, and impact-resistant windows are recommended in areas prone to twisters.

Hail resistance

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IIBHS) reports that there are approximately 3,000 hailstorms annually in the United States, resulting in average insured losses of $1.6 billion. Protecting your home, again, starts at the top.

Choosing the right roofing material can be a home’s best defense in a hail storm. IIBHS advises using:

  • Asphalt shingles: Lightweight, low-cost and easy to install. Class 3 and 4 impact resistance is available and should be used in hail-prone regions.
  • Metal roofs: Long lasting and lightweight metal roofs with Class 4 impact resistance ratings are not punctured by hailstorms.
  • Slate: Also rated to Class 3 and 4 impact resistance, slate can outlast other roofing materials.
  •  Tile: long-lasting and impact-resistant, tile can be porous and material beneath it must be well-sealed to keep water out.

Roof slope is also a factor in hail resistance. IIBHS, citing the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, states a “steeply-sloped roof can reduce overall hail damage in two ways. First, if the hail falls in a relatively straight path, a steep roof can limit damage as it is usually direct – and not glancing – impacts from hailstones that cause roof damage in hail storms (steep roofs limit direct hits and increase glancing or ricocheted of hailstones). Second, if the hail falls on an angle, while the part of the roof facing the wind will likely experience damage, the wind-shaded side may get less or no damage, depending on the angle of impact and steepness of the roof.”

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