The earliest known record of a hurricane giving Virginia a beat-down was on August 24, 1635. Since then, we’ve had quite a history of hurricanes and significant tropical storms.
In 2005, Hurricanes Rita and Katrina passed through most of the U.S. Southeast. While the state wasn’t hit directly, their impact was nonetheless so severe that then-Governor Mark Warner declared a state of emergency. The very next year, Hurricane Ernesto plowed through Virginia and left $118 million in damages and a total of 609 homes damaged or destroyed.
Given the fact that Virginia is one of the 18 most hurricane-prone states in the U.S., it makes sense that we would devote a lot of time and resources into developing building codes for hurricane-proof structures.
And these efforts didn’t go to waste. An assessment done by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) put Virginia—in a dead tie with Florida—on top of the list of states that implement the best building codes.
So what exactly are the best practices for building hurricane-resistant structures? Here are a few pointers from civil and structural engineer Rima Taher of New Jersey Institute of Technology:
- Use multiple-slope roof designs (e.g. a four-sloped hip roof) on structures with square, hexagonal, or octagonal floor plans. Roofs with multiple slopes perform better in high wind conditions compared to, say, gable roofs, which have only two slopes. Research has shown that a roof slope of 30 degrees works best.
- Do not depend solely on hurricane clips. To reduce or eliminate the risk of wind uplift and blow-off, roofs need to be secured to walls with nails, not hurricane clips and staples.
- Do not install tile roofs. While tile roofs are strong, they may not be the best choice in hurricane-prone regions. Even tiles that have been secured properly may come loose and cause damage to other structures as wind-borne debris.
- Make roof overhangs as small as possible. The bigger the roof overhang, the greater the risk of wind uplift and roof failure. To keep a structure hurricane-resistant, limit roof overhang length to around 20 inches.
- The lower edges of a roof should feature a system that would reduce local wind stresses. Examples include notched friezes or horizontal grids installed along the perimeter of a home at the same level as the gutters.
- Whenever possible build an elevated structure on an open foundation. This will reduce the risk of damage from storm-driven waters and flooding.
- Strengthen foundation piles with Make sure the foundation is secured deep enough in the ground to lower the chances of scour, which is what happens when swiftly moving water scoops out soil around a driven pile.
Having a passing knowledge of how building codes can protect you and your home from the effects of a hurricane is half the battle. Make sure you work with a reputable contractor who conscientiously follows local building codes and can offer practical insights into the hows and whys of these best practices.
Good luck on your next project!
Cara Theiss does administrative work at The Roofing and Remodeling Company . A huge part of her job is interacting with clients and contractors, giving her a full view of the home improvement industry. She takes the stories she’s seen or heard on the field into her blog.