Hurricane house: surviving the storm

UF’s facility in Fort Lauderdale shows how to make a home more wind resistant.

The Fort Lauderdale Hurricane House features windows and entry doors made of impact glass systems as well as a variety of shutter styles. Photo courtesy of IFAS.

By Chuck Woods

The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1. At the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, the “hurricane house” stands to show that it’s possible to build a house that can survive and category 4 or 5 hurricane.

The 3,000 square-foot house — officially known as the Broward County Windstorm Damage Mitigation Training and Demonstration Center — is built to withstand winds of more than 140 mph. It shows how existing homes can be made more hurricane resistant, said Van Waddill, director of the Fort Lauderdale center, which is part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

He said the materials, products and construction methods, which meet or exceed new state building codes, can be used in new homes or to retrofit existing structures.

Waddill said new Florida building codes, which went into effect in July 2001, are stricter than the ones they replace, but not as strong as those enacted in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. He said the stricter standards should be required statewide because no area of the state is immune to hurricane damage over the long term.

The hurricane house in Fort Lauderdale is one of four demonstration facilities located at UF Extension Service offices around the state. Other hurricane houses are in Fort Pierce, Pensacola and St. Augustine. The Florida Department of Financial Services provided $2.3 million for the four houses, which cost about $600,000 each.

Bob Stroh, director of UF’s Shimberg Center for Affordable Housing who supervised design and construction of the homes, said homeowners and builders can visit the hurricane demonstration houses to see three types of window shutters and other features such as impact-resistant doors, a steel “safe room” and a garage door that will withstand winds of more than 150 mph.

He said visitors also can see exposed sections of interior walls that show alternative construction methods such as insulated concrete forms to build stronger and more energy-efficient homes. The insulated concrete form uses reinforcement bars and concrete sandwiched between plastic foam sheets.

Pierce Jones, director of the Florida Energy Extension Service at UF in Gainesville, said the method is more expensive than regular concrete block or wood-frame construction, but it is desirable in coastal areas where corrosion and storm-surge problems are more prevalent.

The new insulated concrete forms meet Florida building code requirements, but few builders know how to work with the materials, he said.

In the wake of devastating hurricanes during 2004 and 2005, the UF hurricane houses around the state became magnets to educate builders and residents about wind loss mitigation, energy efficiency and environmentally sensitive construction, Jones said.