P!Nsider tips: Building Homes in a Storm Zone
Meet Robert Coleman, President of Category Five Homes, Inc., a Southeastern builder specializing in hurricane-safe homes. P!N’s Julia Dawson contacted Robert to learn more about what makes a structure storm-safe. Whether you live in an apartment or home, if you’re in a hurricane zone – this interview is a must-read. Let the questions here inspire you to investigate if builders and code departments where you live are storm-safe.
Q: Your presentation suggests that the technology you use, monolithic concrete roofs and walls with steel rebar reinforcement to form house frames, is not mandated by state building codes or Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “Shelters in Place” codes. Correct?
A: Correct. The technology … is often used in commercial construction projects. Residential builders (because of the myth that concrete is too expensive) use wood for the roof and wall framing. Such materials and methods are near obsolete, but are still allowed by state building codes [in most areas]. Even with straps, wooden roofs are still vulnerable to flying objects during hurricanes. Even if the house withstands the storm, if the roof is opened, the interior is exposed to wind and water. In just days, mold, moisture, and rot condemn any chance to repair damage to the house and its contents..
We need stronger federal and state building codes. Dade and Broward Counties (Miami area) have the highest building code requirements in the United States and are great models.
Q: Why do builders not use the safest storm technology to protect homes to withstand extreme weather?
A: Unfortunately, some builders see a home damaged by a storm as a chance for new work and expensive repairs. Most code departments, until recently, have had minimal regulations to protect coastal homes from hurricanes. Since 2004, new rules have appeared in the codebooks, and inspectors are enforcing these rules, lobbied by insurance companies.
Q: How do your homes compare in cost to consumers versus the average local market homes?
A: The difference in cost is minimal when you consider the lifetime of the home and savings in insurance, maintenance [and] energy efficiency. Take, for example, our poured-in-place concrete pitched roof. Builders today continue to use wood truss roofing systems, which are highly vulnerable to tornado-force winds. The likeliness of penetrating a concrete roof or wall is far less than [one] made with wood. Our window and door systems use glass and aluminum framing that is missile-impact resistant.
Research today estimates a wooden house will last 25-30 years with proper maintenance. A monolithic concrete constructed house can last for generations.
Q: How did you determine that your roofs, windows, and doors, withstand 300 mph winds? When you say your homes are 30-40 percent more energy-efficient, what does the percentage refer to – 30-40 percent less spent on heating and cooling per year?
A: Our products have been tested through several labs ,… including [at] Texas Tech University. One test involved a cannon that shoots an object at speeds of up to 100 mph into wall panels built with wood, brick, metal [or] solid concrete. Concrete was the only material to resist the object. In addition, we work very closely with the Green Coalition and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) environmental companies.
Concrete eliminates air infiltration through the roof and wall, which allows for greater control of interior air quality. There are no drafts or cold spots, greatly reducing [fuel costs] for heating and cooling. The homes consume an estimated 30-40 percent less energy and wear less on the systems equipment.
Q: Do you have plans to build disaster-proof communities as opposed to individual homes? Could you foresee being able to create affordable and high-end, storm-proof communities? What would you need to do this – government subsidies?
A: Category Five Homes in specific is not looking for government subsidies, but we welcome joint ventures. Our goal is to build affordable safe havens that withstand the test of time and nature’s ferociousness. We also hope to help enhance state building codes throughout the United States and the Caribbean, blending Green Coalition fundamentals with 21st-century construction technology.