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Build to Weather the Storm

Hurricane season often increases awareness about the importance of weather-resistant building tactics — especially in coastal regions where storms are deadliest.

Consider the $81.2 billion in damages caused by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which also displaced more than 1 million people. Despite Katrina’s devastating damage, it was 1992’s Hurricane Andrew that had one of the biggest impacts on home building, especially in coastal areas and high wind regions, says David Spetrino, president of Plantation Building Corp. in Wilmington, N.C.

Connect the Dots
After Hurricane Andrew, roof construction became a focal point of new building standards. To prevent storm damage, builders started anchoring roofs to their respective foundations.

“We create a network of wood and metal connections that extend from the footer of the home up to the rafters,” Spetrino explains. “This is done by fastening a series of structural components with a nailing pattern that literally connects the dots from the footer of the home to the roof.”

He recommends using a hurricane tie, also called a Simpson tie, to connect the rafter to the top of the wall. Typically, this involves driving 10 nails into the tie; five into the rafter and five into the top plate of the wall. The bottom portion of the wall will connect directly to the foundation’s footer with threaded rods, resulting in total connectivity and optimal protection from wind and water damage.

Seal the Envelope
Almost as important as anchoring the roof is repelling moisture from wind-driven rains, says Bernie Smith, CEO of Masterworks, a home builder based in Atlanta.

“When you get the house frame up, you want to make sure you seal the envelope,” he advises. Barrier technology, such as a synthetic house wrap, will create a waterproof membrane that deflects rain and forces it to the ground rather than letting it seep through the walls of a home.

“In a coastal area, many homes don’t have basements; however as with all landscape considerations, be sure your yard slopes away from your foundation,” Smith says.

Wrap It Up
Windows and their surrounding frames also respond well to synthetic house wraps, Spetrino says, which are durable and keep moisture out. For optimal protection, he recommends fully wrapping a house frame, then taping an extra layer around the window areas, using all materials in addition to standard caulk and glue.

“One thing we stopped doing is installing twin windows,” Spetrino explains. If a client wants a twin or triple window, Spetrino buys single windows and installs them as three separate frames, each installed on all four sides. “This translates into a perfectly sealed window field,” he says.

Go the Extra Step
Properly sealing doors is a bit trickier than windows, Spetrino says. On houses that are more susceptible to storm damage, he recommends installing a three- or five-point locking system, which seals the perimeter of a door tightly into the jam and prevents high winds from creating openings where water can enter.

In addition, consider installing doors at a higher plane than the patio or porch. “Give yourself the width of a two-by-four when stepping down to your patio or deck,” he says. “This will keep ground water from blowing against the door and getting in at the threshold.”

When working on coastal homes with sliding glass doors, install hurricane impact-rated glass for optimal weather-proofing and make sure the material lining the edges of the windows is corrosive resistant, Smith says. And instead of using metal, pick a man-made, PVC-based material, which is slightly more expensive than wood but costs less in the long run.

Weigh the Costs and Benefits
Spetrino and Smith agree that weather-proofing a home will significantly increase the overall construction cost. For example, using asphalt roof shingles instead of storm-resistant synthetic ones ups the price from $75 to $200 per square foot to $300 to $1,000 per square foot, respectively.

But for the ultimate severe weather protection, Spetrino recommends implementing a building method called insulated concrete form (ICF) construction. This durable wall construction uses large modular blocks that lock together and are filled with concrete. Though ICF can be costly (roughly $20,000 to $24,000 more than a wood frame for a 3,000-square-foot house), it has myriad benefits.  

“In addition to sound proofing a home and providing energy savings, as well as reduced home insurance premiums, it’s a solid, rigid construction that doesn’t flex or shift with the wind,” he says, “and that’s ideal, especially during hurricane season.”


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