Photos by Carla Gates Photography
After Hurricane Michael: Is Your Home up to
Hurricane Building Codes?
By Chris Burch
In 1992 Hurricane Andrew destroyed over 63,000 homes and caused an estimated $27 billion in damages. Following that event, more stringent building codes were adopted by the State of Florida in 2002. However, the newer statewide building codes, which included requirements for hurricane impact rated glass or shutters, were not enforced along the panhandle except for new structures within one mile of the coast. After Hurricane Ivan hit the panhandle in 2004 with wind speeds up to 130 mph, the State legislature reversed this panhandle exemption in 2007 and began enforcing the newer codes.
The current Florida building codes are not designed to make structures “hurricane-proof” but rather to make them “hurricane-resistant.” Hopefully, newer structures will better withstand sustained high winds and reduce loss of life among those people who opt not to evacuate. Hurricane-force winds affect structures differently based on their design, the materials used, location, amount of rainfall/flooding, and proximity to trees or nearby structures that may turn into airborne debris.
Photo Caption: As we watched the devastation that hurricane Michael brought to our neighbors to the east, many of us likely reflected on what might have happened to our own homes had the storm moved a few miles to the west.
It is advisable to evaluate your home’s critical components (particularly if constructed prior to 2007), such as the following:
• Gable ends
• Garage doors
You may want to consider retrofitting these elements to enhance survivability under hurricane force winds that can cause debris to penetrate the home’s envelope and create large openings for water intrusion. High winds can also result in extensive water intrusion even when there has been no structural failure to the home.
The roof is a primary piece of defense for your home. The recommendation for a more wind-resistant roof design is a hip style over a gable design. Many older homes and condo buildings built prior to 1993 used staples to attach the roof sheathing to the roof rafters or trusses. If you have an older home and replace the roof in the near future, that would be an ideal time to remove the existing roof covering and underlayment/felt and inspect the roof sheathing. Ensure all panels of roof sheathing are undamaged and are attached to the roof rafters with 8d (2 ½’’) ring shank nails every 6 inches (every 4 inches on the panel edges). Install an ice and water shield, which is a modified bitumen self-adhesive underlayment. Metal roofing (standing seam) provides better resistance to high winds than asphalt shingles or clay tile roofing. Soffit panels should be checked to make sure they are securely attached.
Additionally, any gable ends should be adequately braced. Roofs, overhangs, and porches catch wind and cause an “uplift force” that can pull the roof off of the structure. It is vital that hurricane straps (also known as roof tie downs) be utilized to connect the perimeter bearing walls to the roof framing members. An inspection of the attic can identify whether the roof tie downs are present and installed properly. If not, they should be added. However, just securely attaching the roof to the exterior walls is not sufficient. A continuous load path should be established from the roof all the way to the home’s foundation. This retrofit would be an expensive undertaking, however there are post-construction alternatives available. Periodically check all metal flashings around roof penetrations and vent pipes to verify they are properly sealed. Cover gable vents with storm panels prior to a hurricane.
All window and door openings should have impact glass or other means to protect against wind and wind-born debris. When a window or door fails in an older structure, there is an increased risk that the roof will be lifted or will fail. Older windows and doors are more likely to leak during high winds and driving rain, as they were not built or tested to withstand higher pressures. Improved installation and inspection methods in recent years have reduced the amount of water and air that leaks in around windows and doors.
AFTER HURRICANE MICHAEL
If you are planning to build or remodel in the future, it is very likely at some point the building codes will be updated again to ensure the structure is built to resist a higher minimum wind speed. By ensuring that your home has the items mentioned above in place, you lower the risk of sustaining significant damage during a hurricane.
Chris Burch, MBA, owns Grand Bay Construction, LLC, and has been building on the Emerald Coast since 2005. Grand Bay Construction seeks to not only set the standard in the Gulf Coast’s construction industry, but also to surpass customers’ expectations.