By George Dismukes
We have a tendency to forget the power of nature until she gets restless, raises her head and deals us a blow like Harvey who has left in its path devastation of historical if not biblical proportions, with costs estimated easily to be in the trillions of dollars. There has never been a storm like it to hit the Texas coast… EVER in the annals of recorded history. It will be spoken of for decades and used as the model when people study storms and how to respond to them.
The magnitude of the storm was enormous. The world knows by now that Houston got swatted like a fly, even though the eye of the storm hit almost 200 miles south of Houston, at Rockport. Some structures that existed before the storm have simply disappeared. Others were flattened or torn asunder and can only be razed, never repaired. FEMA estimates they will be on site for years to come trying to make sense of it all.
Then, there are some structures, some homes that, against all odds, withstood the Category 4 onslaught. Why? Could it have been luck? Hardly. When you’re dealing with a storm of this magnitude, luck hardly fits into the equation. So, precisely what is the difference between a house that has to be picked up in pieces, and the one still standing?
The Gulf Coast Mariner needed to know. After all, a large part of our readers live within a storm zone, and vulnerable to attack by the next fury of nature.
We asked two of our Mariner advertiser/builders to help us out by revealing the most vital things to do when building a house to maximize the odds that house would remain standing after a hurricane. Below are their responses. We recommend you take notes. What they have to say could save you thousands of dollars and untold heartache.
THINGS YOU SHOULD DO
All good homes begin with a sound design. Your architect/designer doesn’t just draw pleasing pictures, they are trained to know what materials must be used in vital places to make your structure strong. In addition, they are familiar with local building codes and will design your home so that it meets or exceeds those codes, thereby assuring that your home will pass inspection. If a home does not meet the local building codes, you cannot get an inspection certificate and without a certificate, you cannot get insurance.
If your home is to be built on a concrete foundation (slab), be sure the cap is no less than 4” thick and your beams are 1’ X 2’, minimum. If the house is to be constructed on pilings, contract for a reputable piling installer, like Palm Coast Pilings, who is capable of precise piling positioning and will advise you on the correct size of piling, correct spacing and depth to sink your pilings in order to keep your home level, safe and secure.
Application of steel strapping below and above (from below bottom plate to stud.) Hurricane straps from the top of the stud to the rafter; and not on alternating studs, but affixed to every stud without exception.
Things such as the kind of nails employed in your structure are far more important than most people think. Ring shank or screw shank nails used in basic framing make for a stronger structure.
Some builders use 7/16” composite wood for roof decking. Use plywood only, and in most cases, 5/8” thickness.
Before siding can be installed, you must first scab your house with plywood or pressed wood sheathing. This must be firmly nailed in frequent spacing. It will keep your house plumb and square in high winds. Without it, your home is nothing but a playhouse, vulnerable and destined for disaster.
THINGS TO NOT DO
DO NOT HIRE STORM CHASERS. Storm chasers are people who gravitate to a disaster area following a storm or other tragedy and go door to door offering repairs at discount prices. They almost always want a hefty deposit in advance, frequently do not show up at all to effect repairs and if they do, generally perform inferior “band-aid” work which is unacceptable in every sense and do not meet local building codes. They purchase the cheapest materials they can find that do not meet the minimum specifications for the type of repair being performed; they do shoddy work. Even if you have to wait a while, contract a local firm that has a reputation to live up to, and a history of work within your community. It isn’t just the best way to go. It is the only way to go. To this end, Putnam Builders will check out any builder you are considering at no cost and let you know what rating they have.
DO NOT SKIMP ON BUILDING MATERIALS. If you make a deal with your contractor, which involves you purchasing the materials and him doing the labor, that’s fine. But do not buy things such as cheap nails. Here’s an example: If you are using treated wood, to fasten that wood, you must use ‘hot dipped galvanized’ nails. If you skimp and purchase electro galvanized nails, you will regret it because electro galvanized nails cannot stand up to the corrosiveness of treated lumber. They will rust away within a few years and your project (say for instance a deck) will literally fall apart before your eyes.
The bottom line is, you do stand a chance against the biggest, most powerful storm. But it’s not a lucky shot, it is the result of good planning and a well constructed building; a structure that was built with hurricanes in mind.
There simply are no guarantees, but you can improve the odds of being one of those lucky people who still have a house after the storm. The key: Take nothing for granted.