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DIY: How to Build a Tornado Resistant or Hurricane Proof House

Home hit by a severe storm

Home hit by a severe storm

Is the house you live in storm-proof? 

Doubtful that your home would survive a major storm, like a hurricane or tornado, unless you know it was built to a higher code to resist such pressures and winds. Most buildings cannot be truly storm-PROOF, but they can be made thoroughly storm-resistant! There are multiple ways to ensure that your home can resist even some of the greatest storms. There are three secrets to this–three traits of homes that survive severe storms (tornadoes, which are the most severe of all types of storms), which I will cover soon.

The reason that you need to do this for the safety of your family and home are because weather is changing worldwide, and with temperature rises comes fewer storms, but greater storms. Storms that knock out power. Storms that tear roofs off houses and collapse walls. There are simple things you can do to your current house and if you build a new house, or even a storm-proof room (above-ground root cellar type of pantry) that you can put into your home that will protect it (and your family) from destruction.

Weather is changing

Weather patterns are changing at the global level (that it’s anthropogenically caused is a given). Physics (dew point and relative humidity) tells that that for every one degree C (Celsius, which equals two degrees F (Fahrenheit)) that temperatures rise, the air gains about 7% in moisture holding capacity. That’s a tremendous amount of water!

Where does this global air moisture come from? It steals it from the seas, evaporation and transpiration in the earth itself, sublimation of ice (why historical pictures of glaciers compared to today show tremendous melt levels), and so on. This also means that our groundwater levels are dropping, not just because of human use, but because of the rise in temperatures, which literally rob it straight out of the ground and deposit this moisture into the air. The air moisture feeds storms.

At my hometown of El Paso, Texas, the summer highs (1970’s) were considered “really hot” if it ever reached 99-100 degrees F (37  C). By the 1990’s it was hitting 102 F (39 C) regularly. By the 2000’s it was 105-106 (40-41 C) every summer. Today in the late teens of this century it is hitting 113 F (45 C) regularly, and earlier, and the storms that do come during monsoon season can be drastic (to be honest, they were always strong and filled the arroyos to their brims). It is predicted only to get worse. This doesn’t even include much larger storms than thunderstorms and increased lightning strikes, or even winter storms with heavier snow loads… we’re talking regional events too, such as more numerous and severe tornadoes and stronger hurricanes (also known as typhoons or cyclones in some areas), in particular.

A good example is category 5 hurricane Maria (top wind speed 175 mph / 282 kph) that hit Dominica on Sept 16 – Oct 2, 2017 and also wiped out the electricity island-wide in Puerto Rico. As of this writing (eight months later) some areas are still without water or power, and blackouts keep occurring in areas where power has been restored. My own sister-in-law (who is from PR originally) is on the island now working through the university on programs with citizens to restore the island’s problems.

Are you ready if the power goes out (from natural disaster, or human-caused issues)? Are you prepared for any potentially long-term outages? Would your house even survive, or would you have to evacuate?

Hurricanes also bring flooding

Hurricanes also bring flooding

Hurricanes and tornadoes

Hurricanes have winds of up to 120 mph (193 kph) or more!  Tornadoes, however, can whip through the countryside or even in cities with forces of 150–300 miles per hour (241-482 kph).  They usually come suddenly and without much warning.  For those who live in the southern U.S., where basements or adequate shelter from such storms are not common (flooding can be an issue), the damage to people and buildings can be devastating.  Even in areas such as the Midwest such as Nebraska, Kansas, and elsewhere, tornadoes seek out and destroy homes and public buildings every year despite precautions taken by their owners/builders.

The real question remains, what can YOU do, either as a homeowner, an owner-builder, or a contractor/developer to remedy this problem before it happens to you or someone you know or love?  What can you do to make people safe?  Keep your family safe?

Severe storms such as tornadoes, monsoons, winter storms, and hurricanes are felt and witnessed all over the country and the world.  It seems that in most cases no one is exempt from the chance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Where people can move, or drive elsewhere, or even go on vacation and run into a storm that is not in their own hometown, severe storms pose a problem that appears unfixable.  However, that is not the case.  There ARE indeed solutions, and not only are they simple, but they are effective as well as inexpensive to implement.

Making your home storm-resistant is not that expensive

For only a few hundred dollars you can make your home tornado-resistant or hurricane-resistant.  The techniques shown in this book are not only sound, but they are time-proven and have been witnessed to work time and time again.  This information was shared by a college instructor to me, and now I share it with you.

There is nothing that homeowners or contractors or even our government can do about “acts of God” that wipe out entire communities or cities.  Why wait for the convenience of hindsight?  Many times it takes a tragedy before alterations in our planning, and our thinking, are finally implemented.

Will a tragedy have to occur in OUR local area before we step up to the plate and insert better QUALITY into our homes?  By then, it might be too late.  By the time a contractor is sued for shoddy building practices (even “to code” homes such as those in Homestead, Texas), it is too late.  There are other disasters and problematic areas that are to be considered besides hurricanes.

Here are but a few:

Tornadoes (across the Nation, especially the Midwest)

Earthquakes (such as in L.A., CA but tremors occur all over the U.S.)

Volcanoes and lahars (example: Mount St. Helens & Mount Rainier, WA)

Floods from Rain/Tidal Waves/Rivers/Oceans (can occur almost anywhere)

Severe Winter Storms (can occur anywhere in the continental U.S. / Canada, etc.)

Freak Thunderstorms/Lightning Storms (e.g. Monsoons, microbursts, etc., anywhere)

Excess Winds (anywhere)

The Famous 50-year/100-year/500-year/1,000-year Storms, etc. (rare, but they happen)

Nuclear Disaster/Terrorism in the U.S. (precautions we should think about and prepare for)

Fires and mudslides and other cataclysms cannot be ignored, too.

When I first wrote this book it was in printed form, and contained the information about hurricane Andrew.  But due to the severe hurricane season of 2004, and the devastation that ensued from tropical storms/hurricanes that hit the U.S. I was prompted to add this information here.

I personally had friends who lost their home to hurricane Charley, a friend of a friend who had a tree land on her mobile home from hurricane Frances, and my uncle, aunt, and many cousins who sustained structural damage to their homes from trees and high winds in Pensacola and northern FL/southern AL due to hurricane Ivan (nicknamed “Ivan the Terrible”) plus lost phone and electricity for about a month.

Click on image to view

Click on image to view

 

See the SAFFIR-SIMPSON HURRICANE SCALE

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshs.shtml

CUMULATIVE HURRICANE TRACK CHART

Picture source: http://wxteacher.com/images/allstorms.gif

 

3 Secret Traits of Homes That Survive Severe Storms

Jim Ballard, an instructor at El Paso Community College, conducted a survey over a period of years when he lived in Nebraska (tornado country).  During this process he took note that although most of the homes in the path of the tornado were destroyed (smashed to smithereens, with no roof or windows or even walls left, etc.), there was always one or two left completely intact.

These homes that were left “whole” (minus a few shingles or some glass that broke from the air pressure differences of inside vs. outside the house) were hit equally hard by the same tornado that destroyed the surrounding houses.

Why did these few houses remain standing?

What was it about these rare but surviving homes that stood the test of the 150-300 mph (241-482 kph) winds and destructive forces of the tornadoes?

In Mr. Ballard’s interviews of both homeowners whose homes were not standing in the aftermath, and those whose homes had gone through the tornadoes practically unscathed, he found THREE COMMON TRAITS to be true for ALL the homes that survived.

Three traits of homes that SURVIVED tornadoes in Nebraska:

  • All the homes that survived the tornadoes were OWNER-BUILT
  • All the homes that survived the tornadoes were built ABOVE CODE.
  • All the homes that survived the tornadoes were built to hold the roof DOWN instead of UP

It is also important to note the traits of homes that did NOT survive the tornadoes:

  • All of the homes that did not survive the tornadoes were BUILT BY CONTRACTORS
  • All of the homes that did not survive the tornadoes were built TO CODE
  • All of the homes that did not survive the tornadoes were built to hold the roof UP instead of DOWN

The fact of the matter is that most people who build their own homes put a lot more TLC (tender loving care) into them.  Owner-builders tend to over-build.  Because a lot of their own sweat equity is invested into the home they are usually more structurally sound.

Where owner-builders tend to build for themselves and put a lot more into it, contractors tend to build for others and must think of the practicalities and financial benefits of building many houses, quickly.  Getting houses built quickly, under time constraints and contracts is a must.

What is often missed that a house built TO CODE simply means that the house is built to the MINIMUM STANDARD.

One cannot build a house less than “to code” and not go below the minimum requirements.

In other words…. Are you ready for the worst slap-in-the-face a builder (especially a professional contractor) can hear?

Homes built to code (hurricane Charley)

Homes built to code (hurricane Charley)

BREAKING THE BUILDING MYTH:

Do Not Build a House To-Code!

If a contractor admits he/she is building a “to code” house then it is the same as saying:  I build a house that cannot gain one inch in between studs, or lose one number in insulation R-value, or have one less truss support, etc. without being under the lowest standard for housing allowed by the authorities!

We’ve covered the aspect of owner-builders showing more TLC in the construction of their homes.  It stands to reason that if you own a business as a contractor/developer it makes sense to take extra precautions and add some small changes that make the homes of a better quality than your competition (who will still be pumping out minimalist to-code houses).  Then you will already be a step ahead.

TIP: A simple tip is to use $50 of wood glue on all your joints and seams of every piece of lumber in the house you build. This will make it 30% stronger right off the top. A good investment for very little effort and cost.

Making a Tornado-Resistant House

Ok, number three mentioned above for the homes that survived the tornadoes is really key in producing a home that is tornado resistant.  The roof must be designed to hold the roof DOWN instead of UP!  How is this done?

Simply, with only a few hundred dollars investment.  Had the contractors in Homestead, Florida used this technique there may have not been so many homes in utter destruction there.

TIP: There are ways, however, to deal with the lateral pressure of the winds from hurricanes, and it has not as much to do with the roof, but of how the walls are shaped… Round!

First of all, most homes have the walls with the roof trusses lying on top of them.  This design is made to hold the roof UP (on top of the wall system).  The problem is that when winds of terrific speeds such as 150-300 mph  (241-482 kph) or more come crashing into a square house the walls want to bow and bend and it causes stresses on the joints.

The upward draw of the tornado itself starts pulling UP on the roof.  This weakens the walls and roof simultaneously so that a rocking begins to occur.  With the walls and roof swaying the wind then literally lifts the roof off, and the walls come crashing down because walls in a square shaped building are not stable unless there is something else binding them together.  They simply cannot stand against winds and forces of nature to this degree of ferocity.  The house is doomed to collapse.

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To learn more about how to hold the roof DOWN instead of UP please see this book: Passive Solar Energy House Projects (there are 5 other solar and home topics covered in it).

House Design for Hurricanes

Remember that in hurricanes, the force is lateral (sideways) instead of being a spinning AND an upward draw (such as in tornadoes).  The technique shown above is specifically used for tornado resistance in a home (do realize that hundreds of small tornadoes can be spurred during hurricanes, which is the cause of many fatalities/damage).

For lateral wind resistance it is recommended to use the above technique AND some type of rounded walls (the house itself – dome homes are EXCELLENT for this – or tall exterior garden walls that are rounded, courtyard walls, side walls or fences, etc. which are curved and at least the height of the regular walls of the house).

Here’s a simple experiment you can try at home to show why circles are best:

Take a cereal box and place it on a table between you and a burning candle.

Act as if you were the wind and try to blow the candle out by blowing against the box.  Understand that the box is representative of your house, you will most likely blow the box (house) over before you will ever blow that candle out due to the flat side of the box causing wind resistance.

Now remove the box and place a round coffee can between you and the candle.  Now try to blow the candle out by blowing against the side of the can in direct line with the candle.  Did it work?

Of course!  Winds whip smoothly and effortlessly around circular walls whereas they SLAM into broad, flat walls causing more damage, wall stress, and heat robbing.

square vs round house wind test

 

Hurricane-strength winds often take with them the mobile homes and houses which are not built as sturdily as they could (should) be.

TIP: If you have a mobile home, be SURE to tie down every single hurricane strap on it, and use spiral anchors rather than the straight-pin style.

If you are stuck with a house or trailer that’s already been built and need to secure the roof, there is an external way of tying it down, which can be released after the storm, the ties and nets folded up and put away for next time. You can see that idea here (not very sightly, but then a house that’s torn apart is probably a worse sight): http://www.ebtx.com/mech/hurrican.htm

For the rest who live in trailers and such it is advised that they evacuate and go to higher ground, a storm shelter, or to a place outside of the area that is to be hit by these storms.

Now you know the basics of how to storm-proof a house. You can learn the exact details how to to design this and hold the roof down (instead of up) from the book.

 


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Book cover

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