Living in paradise can have its drawbacks. When one of those drawbacks is hurricane season, it is worth factoring Mother Nature into your plans if you are designing or renovating a home.
A home can be the strongest in the neighbourhood, but if it does not have high enough elevation, it will still be trashed in the event of storm surge and flooding.
One way to elevate the home is to fill the building site until the ground level is above flood level. Another option is to build the home on a foundation that rises a few feet out of the ground.
However, many home owners are opting to create a sacrificial lower level, either elevating the home on pilings or creating a ground level storage area, which could be flooded without causing much damage to the house itself.
Although these methods can be expensive, elevation is the only option for home owners hoping to remain above the flood, unless the site is located on one of the very few elevated lots towards the eastern districts.
It is unlikely that a wall will ever be the weak point of a home during a storm, unless the wall is exposed to battering waves. Traditional block construction provides a wall that is more than strong enough to withstand the storm.
However, for those who want to improve their home’s stability even further, insulated concrete forms allow for the construction of an exceptionally strong building. This is due to the poured concrete that fills the concrete forms as well as the ample reinforcing rods that can be placed in the forms prior to pouring the concrete.
Once the roof of a home goes, there is little hope for the building, so it is essential to have a roof that has been built to survive high winds.
A large part of this relies on the construction of the roof trusses. A roof constructed on site is unlikely to have the same level of resistance to high winds as a fully engineered roof.
The former’s construction does not take place under the same controlled circumstances, nor does it involve the level of engineering, according to Larry Thompson of AL Thompson’s
“We’ve got two truss plants on the island, and each piece of that roof is engineered and it comes with an engineer’s seal on it with ratings up to whatever you tell them you want,” Larry says.
This will result in a roof that is likely to be much stronger than a roof constructed on site.
Standing seam metal roofs have grown in popularity since Hurricane Ivan, and are capable of withstanding dangerous winds. But this is not the only option for home owners. Even shingles, if nailed down properly with the suggested number of nails, can stand up to severe winds.
Hurricane strapping, which ties the roof trusses to the wall of the home, is a vital part of creating a hurricane-safe home.
The straps should be present in all homes, however, they can degrade over time, resulting in reduced efficiency. It is therefore worthwhile to check the state of your home’s hurricane straps occasionally to see whether the straps are still in good condition and whether all the nails needed to keep them in place are present.
“You should also do a visual inspection on your framing – if you see any broken boards you should get that repaired,” says Larry.
Although the straps should be included during construction, they can be replaced or retrofitted to older buildings as well.
Windows and doors
A home’s windows and doors are its weakest point, and once a window blows, there is a strong chance the roof will soon follow. The traditional, and still effective, solution is to fit shutters to the outside of the house. However, shutters are not always in place, so if you happen to be away from home when a storm hits, your house may not be protected.
Impact-rated windows and doors offer constant protection, based on an impact film that is sandwiched between two panes of glass.
“You don’t have to mess with them, it is not something on the outside of your home that doesn’t look good, it’s year-round protection, it’s safety, it really is peace of mind. You just feel safe when you’re in the home,” Larry says of impact-rated windows.
When it comes to doors, it is important to note that to be impact-rated they need to tick more boxes than just being fitted with impact-rated glass. A door has to open to the outside, otherwise the lock is effectively the only thing holding a door against the wind. Patio doors require a three-point locking mechanism to secure the door, with some newer designs offering a three-point locking mechanism built into the standard handle operation of the door.
It is also worth noting that the larger an opening, the tougher it is for the door to resist severe winds or water pressure. Therefore, sliding doors can be one of the weakest points on a home, as their system is inherently weaker than French doors would be in the same location.
However, regardless of the product you choose, it must be installed following the manufacturer’s instructions in order to provide proper protection.
“If a product is not properly installed, it is not going to do what it was intended to do,” says Larry.
Where to start:
- Check hurricane straps and replace if necessary
- Check state of roof trusses
- Install shutters or impact resistant windows