Safe rooms are great, but homeowners have other options to prepare for that perfect storm. Faced with extreme weather, responsible property owners protect both their premises and the people who live there. Safe rooms can protect lives, but what are some steps to take to protect your property? Whether your home is old or new, it may not be able to withstand the fierce winds of a hurricane or tornado. Falling debris can shatter windows and strong wind can cause any weak places in the home to give way - photos show us how an EF2 tornado can rip a board from an awning and impale it deep into an adjacent solid concrete wall.
Houses should be built, or rebuilt, to withstand natural hazards - wind, water, fire, and the shaking earth.
Some of the most durable homes built today are constructed of insulated concrete forms. These hollow foam blocks and panels are reinforced with concrete, making them especially resistant to wind and waves. But, even a house made from concrete can have points of weakness. To protect your home, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that you pay special attention to three key areas - the roof, the windows, and the doors, including the garage door, if you have one.
Focus on Storm-Proofing These Areas
1. The Roof
First determine what type of roof you have and what environmental dangers are likely to occur. Homes with gabled roofs are more likely to suffer damage from high winds. A gable roof can be strengthened by installing additional braces in the trusses and/or at the gable ends. A qualified builder can install galvanized metal hurricane straps and clips to help secure the roof to the walls. The idea is transfer wind loads by keeping the joints in your home all connected - roof to wall, floor to floor, and wall to foundation, as explained in this YouTube video by StrongHomes.
For new construction, consider different types of construction. The DAWG HAUS, or Disaster Avoidance With Good Home Attenuating Unionization System, is a bracket-system of construction being taught in many vocational schools. It will obviously increase construction costs, but the brackets and labor spent on installation will pay for itself after the first storm.
Firestorms are just as devastating as wind to the roof of your property. A ceramic tile roof is no match for flying embers compared with the neighbor's shake shingle roof. For homeowners in fire-prone areas, remove vegetation from around your home and protect your property from flying embers - windborne debris as dangerous as a steel beam.
2. The Windows
Most damage occurs when debris punctures a window and compromises the premises.The easiest and most effective way to protect windows and glass doors is to install storm shutters. Storm shutters are not decorative, but functional additions to mitigate damage - which is the original purpose of shutters. Building supply stores sell many kinds of storm shutters, from high-tech fabric to automated accordion. You can also make your own shutters out of plywood, or install permanent shutter frames that will hold units in place when needed. Shutters are in addition to what is called windborne debris-resistant glazing (glass), according to FEMA technical assistance.
3. The Doors
Most doors do not have bolts or pins strong enough to withstand storm-force winds. Garage doors can be strengthened by installing horizontal bracing in each panel. Bracing kits can often be purchased from garage door manufacturers. You may also need to add stronger supports and heavier hinges for your garage doors.
These projects cannot guarantee the safety of your home, but, if done correctly, they may be able to minimize storm damage. Also consult with building professionals in your area, and be sure to check your local building code requirements.
Retrofitting and Mitigating
"Retrofitting is making changes to an existing building to protect it from flooding or other hazards, such as high winds and earthquakes," states FEMA. "Construction technologies, including both methods and materials, continue to improve, as does our knowledge of hazards and their effects on buildings."
Hazard mitigation is sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from hazards such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires. - FEMA P-312
FEMA encourages homeowners in hurricane and tornado prone regions to construct safe rooms. A safe room is a structurally-sound space strong enough to provide protection from any number of hazards. Even people who live in brick homes, once considered the safest of all construction, are at risk from the rising tide of earthquakes - unreinforced masonry buildings or URMs have brick walls without steel reinforcing bars embedded within them. Retrofitting URMs is addressed in FEMA publication P-774, Unreinforced Masonry Buildings and Earthquakes.
Determining risk and retrofitting your property to mitigate risk are profound responsibilities for any property owner - especially in an era of extreme weather and induced seismicity.
- FEMA 247, Against the Wind: Protecting your Home from Hurricane and Wind Damage, December 1993, PDF at www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1505-20490-3483/agstwnd.pdf
- Safe Rooms, FEMA
- Protection of Openings - Shutters and Glazing, Technical Fact Sheet No. 6.2, FEMA, 2010, PDF at www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1537-20490-6588/fema499_6_2.pdf
- FEMA P-312, Homeowner's Guide to Retrofitting 3rd Edition, 2014, PDF at www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1404148604102-f210b5e43aba0fb393443fe7ae9cd953/FEMA_P-312.pdf
- FEMA P-774, Unreinforced Masonry Buildings and Earthquakes: Developing Successful Risk Reduction Programs, October 2009, PDF at www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1728-25045-2959/femap774.pdf
Websites accessed August 18, 2017.