Can You Build A Hurricane-Proof House?

Hurricane season stretches from June 1 to Nov. 30, but the financial pain and long-term recovery from a hurricane can last for years to come.

This is why, now more than ever, it’s important to consider hurricanes as you make choices concerning your current and future homes, if you live in an hurricane-prone area.

Are Hurricanes Getting Worse?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center, the overall number of hurricanes have been increasing since the 1960s, though major hurricanes have decreased or stayed the same. It’s easy to assume that if your home has outlived plenty of past hurricane seasons, it’ll be just fine now, but the truth is that hurricanes are changing in dramatic ways.

“Scientists are focused on and investigating several trends for potential linkage to climate change,” says Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president and CEO of the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes in Tallahassee, Florida. “One trend is rapid intensification like that in hurricanes Michael and Dorian, wherein a storm strengthens faster than typically expected. Another is inundation when storms stall and rainfall amounts exceed average expected levels, causing extreme flooding, as in Hurricane Harvey.”

When planning to make your home safer, keeping these two items in mind is vital. Hurricanes aren’t necessarily worse, but they are changing in ways that homes may not be prepared for, under past building codes. Staying ahead of the weather may be what it takes to stay in your neighborhood.

“As long as hurricane strengths increase and expand their footprint beyond their typical path, finding ways to make your home or property hurricane-resistant will continue to be more common,” says Dan Freed, architect, principal and business unit director-U.S. East at Arcadis in Miami.

Freed suggests the proper terminology for a home’s improved ability to withstand a hurricane should be “hurricane resistance,” since “proof” implies a guarantee that can’t possibly be given.

What Are The Most Common Types of Hurricane Damage?

Although hurricanes are changing, the damage that most homeowners encounter isn’t different. A hurricane is still a hurricane, with all the elements that make them. You can expect to experience wind, rain and water.

“The most common types of hurricane damage I encounter are roof damage, wind damage and water damage,” says Troy Robillard, real estate agent at Premiere Plus Realty Co., in Fort Myers, Florida. “Roof damage is caused by wind and flying debris, and it can be very costly to repair. Wind damage can cause walls to collapse and windows to shatter. Water damage can occur when floodwaters rise and enter the home.”

Chapman-Henderson has seen a lot of hurricane damage, each causing its own particular type of destruction:

  • The pressure from high winds causes “progressive damage throughout the building connections” as one area after the next fails.
  • Pressurization happens when debris breaks glass, allowing wind inside the structure, eventually over-pressurizing the house.  “Roofs that appear blown up from the inside out are a sign of a building failure caused by pressurization,” she says.
  • Wind-driven water is another huge problem during a hurricane. “Once the rain breaches a soffit, it enters the attic and collects on top of the ceiling,” she explains. If the storm lasts long enough, the ceiling may collapse. Rain can also enter the attic during these events.
  • Unpredictable deluges can cause unexpected flooding events. “Rising water can seep into a home’s foundation and into the home,” says Chapman-Henderson.

Building, Buying Or Remodeling A Hurricane-Resistant Home

Whether you’re building, buying or renovating, it’s important to consider hurricane resistance throughout your process. While it can be harder to turn an existing home into a home that’s ready to take a hurricane straight on, plenty of available upgrades can make your house tougher.

“There are ways to increase the strength of your current home such as adding bracing on gable ends of your roof, changing older windows to impact windows, and when reroofing use a peel and stick underlayment, seal the seams of the roof sheathing, or use a double layer of felt,” says Jennifer Languell, president and owner of Trifecta Construction in Babcock Ranch, Florida, who has a doctorate in civil engineering and sustainable construction. “Paying close attention to the details when installing a new roof is paramount, she explains, as well as choosing a garage door that’s rated for hurricane zones.”

With an existing home, you can make a lot of changes to the home itself, but its location cannot be changed, which meansflooding problems maydevelop over time. There’s only so much you can do to engineer water away when it’s coming faster than the surrounding areas can handle it. However, with new construction, knowing where the floodplains are relative to your house can help you avoid these situations entirely.

Flood maps are one tool that communities and homeowers use to know which areas have the highest risk of flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maintains and updates data through flood maps and risk assessments.

“The largest risk to human life in a hurricane is flooding,” says Freed. “So building above the FEMA floodplain is critical. Those metrics have been changing in recent years due to climate change.”

He explains that it’s vital to build the occupied space in structures above the floodplain or the highest storm surge elevation estimates, meaning that the main part of your home might be on a second story if you were close to a floodplain, with the garage and potential storage areas on the first level. This gives your new home extra height it may need if flooding occurs, limiting damage.

What materials are used to build your home are not as important as how well it is designed. This can be difficult to see once it’s all put together. You may be able to learn which building code your home fell under when it was constructed, which can help but won’t ensure hurricane resistance. For the best planned hurricane resistance, start with a builder who can create a home from the ground up that will stand the test of time.

“Every home, whether it is wood frame, concrete masonry units, structurally insulated panels, insulated concrete forms or any of the other construction types available can be engineered to handle a designed wind load,” says Languell. “I happen to be a fan of insulated concrete forms – these are like styrofoam Legos stacked together, poured solid in the middle with concrete. They have great sound transmission rating, insulation and strength.”

Preparing Your Home For The Next Hurricane

With hurricanes changing year after year, your best bet is to exceed building standards as much as is reasonable, with an eye to the future.

“The interesting thing about hurricanes is the fact they all have different characteristics,” says Robillard. “Hurricane Andrew was a very dry hurricane and also very small in diameter. Because it was so dry, it had 61 tornadoes within the small diameter. However, Hurricane Ian was wetter and wider, approximately four times wider than Andrew. Because all hurricanes are different, there is no one size fits all when it comes to preventing damage.”

Source: U.S. News & World Report