Start with a concrete foundation
Concrete is a popular method of construction in hurricane-prone areas, and for good reason. It withstands wind better than wood, doesn't retain moisture, and lasts practically forever. Precast concrete walls and foundations are a cut above traditional concrete block These come in many forms, but all are manufactured in a factory rather than constructed on site. This cuts costs and speeds construction, which means a more durable home built faster, for less.
Imagine the difference between the hurricane trying to lift the entire house-one solid structure-rather than just the roof. Hurricane straps, which tie the roof and walls to the foundation, provide this kind of protection. They are most effective when all of the framing is lined up, top to bottom, and must be installed on all exterior walls, as well as any interior walls that help support the weight of the roof or upper stories ("load-bearing walls").
Consider a moderately pitched hipped roof rather than a gable roof for added hurricane resistance. A hipped roof might cost a little more, but it'll look a whole lot better than a gable roof destroyed by a storm. If you have a gable roof, ask your builder to reinforce it. Many gable roofs fail because the end wall collapses, so reinforcing the gable end wall near the roof ridge helps and is fairly easy. Regardless of the roof type, the roof must be installed properly. For the roof to survive hurricane-force winds, your builder will need to use ring shank nails, which have little rings or spirals along the length of the nail to hold them in. The builder will need to consult the local code to determine how many nails are enough.
Builders suggest reinforcing roofs by securing roof sheathing to trusses.
For more on improving the strength of your roof, explore the Storm-Resistant Roofing Tech Set.
High-wind-resistant shingles also will go a long way toward keeping your roof in place. These shingles are more expensive than your typical asphalt variety, but they will pay for themselves many times over if they keep the roof on and the water out. Some major insurance companies even offer premium discounts when these shingles are used. When replacing shingles, consider reinforcing the connection between the sheathing to the rafters or trusses.
Another alternative is a peel-and-stick roof membrane , which covers the entire roof below the shingles. This will provide excellent protection from rain if the shingles blow off. Again, this membrane is more expensive than standard roofing felt, but much less than the cost of replacing the roof.
Select shutters for safety and convenience
Shutters that actually close over the windows will help keep windows intact and will keep hurricane-force winds and wind-driven rain out. Storm-resistant shutters are either permanent or removable. Removable shutters can be heavy and have sharp edges, so you may need assistance when putting them up or taking them down. The installation of shutters on second-story windows or on vacation homes could also be especially complicated.
Impact-resistant windows may prove a better alternative to shutters, but homeowners should weigh the pros and cons of each. Impact-resistant glass is best for windows that are hard to reach or not easily fitted with hurricane shutters. When struck, the laminated glass may crack or shatter, but the glass fragments tend to adhere to a plastic layer and stay in place. Strong enough to resist bullets, impact-resistant windows significantly reduce the risk of window failure, personal injury, or property loss during a hurricane.
Failure of the lock set, doorjamb or hinges frequently causes doors to blow in. If your local building code allows it, install your front door so it swings out instead of into the house. Out-swinging doors are more resistant to high winds, and do a better job of keeping water out of the house. The deadbolt should be at least one inch long and should penetrate into the stud framing, not just the doorjamb. To strengthen the hinge side, ask your builder to install at least three hinges with the hinge screws penetrating through the doorjamb into the studs. Installing slide locks (also called head and foot bolts) at the top and bottom of door will further strengthen the door. These are absolutely necessary for double doors. Locks must be mounted securely to the subfloor and door header, not just into the trim.
When we think of doors, garage doors don't always come to mind, but they are often the weakest point of a home. If your garage door fails, this becomes a huge entry point for wind and rain, and could help blow your roof off. Double garage doors are also much more likely to collapse from strong winds than single doors. A simple solution is to install new hurricane-resistant garage doors . Retrofit kits are also available. These kits include horizontal and vertical bracing to strengthen the door. However, the bracing increases the weight of the door, which may require you to also reinforce the hinges or opening mechanism.
Because sliding glass doors are larger than windows, they are more vulnerable to wind and flying debris. They, too, should be fitted with impact-resistant glass. If these doors cannot be replaced, then at the very least install hurricane shutters over them.
If your insulation gets wet, not only will it be far less effective at insulating your home, it may be a host for mold. Conventional fiberglass insulation is very difficult to dry, so it usually must be replaced if it gets wet. Non-moisture-absorbent insulation , such as sprayed-foam insulation, dries more readily, although it costs more.
While you'll have shelter in a safe room or shelter, you may not have power unless you plan ahead. Ask your builder to provide a natural-gas fired generator in case the lights go out and the fridge turns off. The generator will also allow you to use fans and dehumidifiers if the house floods, which will help prevent mold and rot . Because of the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, never use a generator inside a home or garage.
After the Storm
No matter how many hurricane-resistant features you invest in, it's wise to ask licensed contractors or a home inspector to assess the damage if you are hit by a major storm. They should look for electrical damage, inspect gas lines, remove uprooted trees, and check the plumbing. That's the ideal world. The reality may be different, since building pros are usually in great demand after a damaging storm, busily repairing everyone else's home. But if you work with your builder to prepare for that storm now, it's likely you'll be able to wait.
Content updated on 4/13/2007