Hurricanes and tropical depressions in the Atlantic made last season one of the worst on record, thankfully the West Coast of Florida was spared over and over. In all last season there were 21 tropical depressions, storms and hurricanes during the official season from June 1 to November 30.
For a home to withstand the extreme winds of a tropical storm, the keys are structural integrity, shape and mass. Today, new construction usually boasts thick concrete walls and reinforced steel foundations with monolithic roof frames, tied together by straps set into the concrete. Wooden roofs are tied to the CBS (Cement Block with Stucco) walls by steel straps. Then the roofs are sheathed in a rubber membrane. Today's best windows are made from durable uPVC.
Roof materials that can withstand high winds--think steel, fiberglas or engineered tile--are generally available in popular colors and provide good choices for homeowners. Finally the best protected homes often have electric shutters–for convenience and even long-distance operation—say by computer from your office in a far off city. But most all also have a manual capability because utility companies may shut off power when a storm is on its way, and not return the power until the clean-up is nearly complete.
Old timers know that when you ride out a storm, you don’t usually “see” a hurricane but you sure feel the plummeting pressure in your cranial sinuses, people often recount suffering low-pressure headaches and of course you hear the screaming noise of the wind as it rattles the palms and burns the bark off trees. Many homeowners are retrofitting their houses with a "hardened" room, where they can be protected from the storms outside.
Most cities and regions in the hurricane-prone world have developed sophisticated building codes. These apply especially to waterfront properties likely to bear the full brunt of any storm. In Florida, numerous groups regularly campaign for ever-stricter building codes while floridadisaster.org lists approved contractors to retrofit storm resistant features to a home, as well as do-it-yourself tips.
The Hurricane Mitigation Promotion Act – now being debated, is designed to heighten storm preparations not just in Florida, but also in vulnerable states from the Gulf of Mexico to New England. Supporters are calling for an annual “tax exemption week” for householders who buy portable generators, emergency lighting, storm shutters and “tie down” systems for roofs.
Each dollar spent on mitigation returns $3 to $4 in benefits to families, businesses, communities and society, according to the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes. Their data indicates that in Florida the annual projected loss from hurricanes is $3.5 billion, this would far exceed the estimated $24 million in lost tax if the exemption week were introduced.
Meanwhile, local developers already adhere to new building regulations. In Florida we’re governed by strict federal, state and local codes. Builders must build above the relevant flood zones –depending on where the home is, from 11ft to 17ft above mean sea level. There’s a great deal of concrete and masonry, in each new home and sometimes pilings below ground. Most houses today are built with some or all of these techniques.
For those still unconvinced that preparedness is worthwhile, check the photo evidence; especially the before and after shots. Take a look at an aerial photograph of almost any row of houses after a hurricane. You can immediately tell which were built to code--they’re intact, while the other homes are damaged or destroyed.
A forecast from Colorado State University predicts above-average storm activity in the Atlantic this year. It warns of five major hurricanes, nine lesser ones and 17 other large storms likely to affect prominent holiday home islands and coastal regions.
Dane Hahn is a real estate professional with Tarpon Coast Realty in Boca Grande, Englewood and Sarasota. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the web at www.danesellsflorida.com