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Why Aren’t all Homes Built to Withstand Tornadoes?

Recently I read a new article about Impact-Resistant Wall System for tornado and Hurricane Zones.   It was on Builder Online and written by Dan Morrison.  The article discussed the reasons why all homes aren’t built to resist strong winds where mother nature throws things like tornadoes and hurricanes at homes.  It’s very easy to look at the devastation after a tornado and say “This should not happen.  We should change our building codes so it can’t happen again.”

Silo HomeThose that build impact resistant structures are at the front of the line calling for stronger construction codes but then they have a vested interest in the having the building codes help stifle their competition.  The fact is, there are some designs that have been built as demonstration projects that do help protect against high winds.  After the Kansas tornadoes of 2009  Silo Homes were developed.  These structures use the physical properties of the cylinder to distribute the wind load and minimize wind resistance.  They don’t look like the home you grew up in but they are very strong.  They are also quite expensive.  Market acceptance and high cost are the reasons you don’t commonly see them on the market today.

Sure the states in Tornado Alley could change their building code and mandate that all new construction be able to withstand 200 mph winds and flying debris up to a specified weight.  But it would drive the cost of a home up exponentially.  It’s hard enough for a young couple starting out to afford a home now.  Try raising the cost of entry three, four, maybe ten times.  It all depends on how high you set the standard.  If that happens only the very rich will be building and everybody else will be remodeling existing inventory which will still be subject to devastation when the next tornado comes along.

Maronda Homes building with block in Florida since 1972So how do you make homes stronger?  Here is where Maronda Homes and the state of Florida can provide some answers.  The building code in Florida is a state wide performance based code that has slowly increased the designed wind loads depending on the area’s history.  Granted there is likely more scientific historical data about hurricanes and their relative wind speed in a state like Florida that sees hurricanes hit land regularly but the point is you don’t go from zero wind speed design to 200 mph design speeds overnight.  By incrementally increasing the necessary hardening it gives the market a chance to innovate and develop new cost effective methodologies.  The typical home in Florida is built with Steel Reinforced Concrete Block Walls, high wind resistant trusses and is extensively strapped down so it holds together in high winds.  Yet a Florida home is very affordable when compared with many parts of the country.   Not everybody wants to live in a Silo Home or a Geodesic Dome.  And they need a new home that is competitive in price with the existing homes in the area.  Should the building codes be improved to address common natural disasters, yes, but not at the rate that prices most buyers out of the market.

When in Florida, visit a Maronda Home and tour a model.  You will see how affordable a wind hardened home can be.

About Tom Greenawalt

Tom is a Licensed Builder in the State of Florida. He has been in the construction industry for 35 years building new homes in Pittsburgh, Washington DC, and Chicago before moving to Central Florida. The majority of Tom's career has on detached housing for entry level and first time move up buyers. He was with Maronda Homes for over 15 years.

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