Is There Such a Thing as a Hurricane-Proof House?

When it comes to the fierceness and unpredictability of nature, it's safe to say that there's no such thing as a hurricane-proof house. Mark Buskuhl, founder and CEO of Ninebird Properties in Dallas, Texas, agrees...

When it comes to the fierceness and unpredictability of nature, it's safe to say that there's no such thing as a hurricane-proof house. Mark Buskuhl, founder and CEO of Ninebird Properties in Dallas, Texas, agrees with this sentiment, and most builders would too. However, Buskuhl states that there are measures that can be taken to make a home more resistant to hurricanes and other natural disasters. So instead of aiming for a "hurricane-proof" house, it's more realistic to focus on creating a "hurricane-resistant" or "hurricane-resilient" home.

While hurricanes are most common along the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf Coast, intense weather conditions can occur elsewhere as well. Tornadoes flatten buildings in the Great Plains during the summer, and even in California, atmospheric rivers can bring hurricane-force gusts. Climate change poses a threat of making storms more severe everywhere. However, the greatest danger from hurricanes still exists in the Southeast, particularly Florida, where hurricane-resistant building practices are prevalent.

During a Category 5 hurricane, the winds can cause severe damage to a home. Roofs can be blown off, windows shattered, and the entire structure can be lifted off its foundation or completely destroyed. Flooding from storm surges and heavy rainfall also contribute to the destruction, sometimes even surpassing the damage caused by the winds.

Fortunately, various building companies have designed structures that can resist high winds and flooding. For example, Ninebird and North Carolina-based Deltec Homes have developed guidelines for hurricane-resistant building. Three Deltec-built homes in the Bahamas withstood Hurricane Dorian in 2019 when most other structures were devastated.

What Is a Hurricane-Resistant House?

A hurricane-resistant house is one that can withstand high winds and heavy flooding. However, it's important to note that even the sturdiest home won't last if it's built in the wrong location. According to Buskuhl, the location of a home plays a crucial role in safeguarding it against hurricanes. Houses built in low-lying areas or flood-prone zones are at a higher risk of damage. Therefore, choosing a safe and elevated location for your home is crucial.

The design and construction of the house itself also contribute to its overall significance and impact. Building codes have become more stringent in terms of hurricane resistance, but there are still ways to further improve a home's structural integrity. For instance, hurricane straps or tie-downs can secure the roof to the walls. Deltec takes it a step further by modifying the shape of the building, selecting specific construction materials, and even considering the pitch of the roof.

Features of a Hurricane-Resistant House

If you already own a house in a hurricane zone, there are steps you can take to reinforce its resilience. Start by reinforcing the roof with hurricane ties, installing hurricane-resistant windows and shutters, upgrading the garage door, and sealing gaps where air can enter. These measures will make the structure more resistant to high winds. Additionally, it's important to ensure that gutters and drains are clear to handle large amounts of rain runoff.

When designing a new home, adhering to Florida's building codes, which are the most stringent in the country, will go a long way towards hurricane resistance. Contractors like Deltec place particular focus on the following aspects:

  • Shape of the home: Circular or octagonal shapes deflect wind more efficiently than square or rectangular ones.
  • Roof: A roof pitch of 6/12 is ideal for deflecting wind and preventing lift. Multiple rooflines are preferred as they direct the wind over the roof. It's also essential to keep roof overhangs short to reduce wind lift.
  • Foundation: An elevated foundation raises the ground floor above the flood level for the area. Securing the roof trusses to the foundation with continuous metal strapping reinforces the entire structure.

What Are Hurricane-Resistant Houses Made Of?

People stand near a home under construction at southwest Florida's Babcock Ranch, which is being built with an engineered wood and Styrofoam material that builders say is more resistant to hurricanes than cinderblock Caption: People stand near a home under construction at southwest Florida's Babcock Ranch, which is being built with an engineered wood and Styrofoam material that builders say is more resistant to hurricanes than cinderblock.

Heavy wall materials like steel or poured concrete offer better wind resistance compared to plywood. However, innovative and sustainable alternatives are also available. For instance, composite blocks and timbers made from recycled plastic bottles, which Nova Scotia company JD Composites claims to be even more wind-resistant. If you choose to build a stick structure with wood sheathing, Deltec recommends using five-ply 5/8-inch plywood instead of oriented strand board (OSB) for the sheathing and 2,400 psi framing lumber for the trusses and walls. Hurricane windows with impact-resistant glass are also recommended to prevent shattering and keep the wind out.

How Much Does a Hurricane-Resistant House Cost?

If you're considering purchasing a modular hurricane-resistant home, the cost can range from $180,000 to $360,000, depending on the size and floor plan. The average cost hovers around $270,000. Modular homes are factory-built in a controlled environment, ensuring greater security and the ability to withstand winds of up to 185 mph. Optional additions like hurricane windows and shutters can further enhance their resistance, but they do come at an additional cost.

Alternatively, if you opt for a custom home built by a company such as Deltec, the price is likely to range from $175 to $250 per square foot. This is more than double the cost of building a conventional home. However, the investment in a hurricane-resistant home can provide peace of mind and protection during severe weather events.

In summary, while there may not be a hurricane-proof house, there are certainly ways to construct or reinforce a home to make it more resistant to hurricanes and other natural disasters. By considering factors such as location, design, materials, and adherence to building codes, homeowners can create a safer and more resilient living environment for themselves and their families.

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