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Vol 5 No. 27- March 23, 2005

Building techniques limit hurricane damage

By Louise Bolger

During the past six months I’ve heard people ask, "How can you live in Florida with the threat of all those hurricanes?” or "I think I’m going to have to move, I’m too worried about hurricanes." The truth is it doesn’t really matter if you live on Anna Maria or in Santa Barbara, eventually you’re going to have to face some pretty horrific weather. The best you can do is prepare for it by making your home coastal ready when it’s built.

The first line of defense when building on the coast and the most important part of the job is the foundation. The current code requires anything being built on Anna Maria to be elevated on pilings. In addition, most designers are reinforcing walls with rods going from the foundation up through the framing to help the interior walls resist twisting when hit with high winds. Architects also reinforce weak points, such as large windows and door openings.

Probably the most important addition to new construction is the hardware used to literally tie the building together. This hardware includes clips and connectors refined through years of storm experience. Connectors fortify vulnerable points that link floors, walls, rafters and especially roofs. Installing connectors is not something that can be easily retrofitted after construction, to be effective they must be installed correctly during construction. It’s been reported that during Hurricane Charley the roofs on homes built with connectors were able to survive the 140 and 150 mph winds.

There are some construction methods which will give you extra protection against coastal storms, a few of which are outlined below.

Metal roofs, popular in Florida because of their attractive look, are also fire-resistant and energy saving, as well as resistant to hurricane force winds. Composite decking is low maintenance and performs well in high winds and drenching rains since it doesn’t soak up water and splinter.

Impact-resistant glass on windows and doors have a layer of shatterproof glass protecting interiors from flying debris. They are now the code for new construction and renovations in our area. But even if they weren’t, you should stretch the budget by the 50 to 100 percent increase in cost to install them in your home.

Fiber cement composite siding is being looked at by many coastal residents. It promises not to rot or crack in extreme weather and is fire-resistant and less susceptible to wind damage. Home generators are becoming the latest must have option in new homes, some even large enough to run central AC systems.

The best place to research any of the new codes, materials and tap into the experience of engineers is the Miami-Dade County web site:

You can’t fool Mother Nature, so cutting corners in construction shouldn’t be a choice. If you want the privilege of living near a large body of water, you also have to assume the responsibility. I suppose Kansas is an option if you happen to have a pair of ruby red shoes and your name is Judy.


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