|On this 2,100 sq. ft. 2-story home built in Omaha, NE in September, 2002, switching to a class 4 shingle from a non-rated shingle added $875 to the cost of the home (about $5/month in a 30 year mortgage). The homeowner's insurance rate reduction was more than $100/year, so the shingle upgrade more than paid for itself in lower insurance costs.|
People expect their new home is a strong, safe, well-built structure. After all, isn’t that what building codes are for? Well, the answer is YES...and NO. Building codes do establish some minimum performance criteria. But codes vary from location to location; they vary in their interpretation, inspection and enforcement; and the most likely perils vary geographically as well. As homeowner insurance premiums rise to cover ever-increasing claims, paying attention to stronger and safer construction details can pay off in reduced insurance premiums as well as peace of mind. Many of the decisions to be made in this area are realistic only when the home is being built, but some (i.e. roof shingles, water leak detectors, etc.) are worthy of strong consideration by all homeowners. The types of perils we are most likely to encounter are grouped below into three main areas: natural disasters; fire and water damage; and personal security.
HANDLING HIGH WINDS It doesn’t have to be a tornado or hurricane. Every year, high winds cause billions of dollars in damage to homes across the country. Now, highly cost-effective steps can be taken when building which can greatly increase your home’s odds of weathering the storm.
Essentially, when wind strikes against your home, several unfortunate things can happen. Your home can be lifted up and be slid off its foundation. Wind forced up under the eaves of your roof may tear the roof off. Wind can also cause the house to rack (lean) or cause an upper floor to shift where it is connected to the main floor.
The solution is to create a strong structure by providing what is called a “continuous load path”. This means making sure the roof is strongly attached to the walls; the first and second-stories (of a 2-story home) are reinforced where they connect; and that the connections for the home to its foundation are strong and secure. When this is accomplished, the “loads” (weight of the building materials and pressure being exerted upon them by Mother Nature) can be transferred to the foundation and into the ground. Certain types of building systems, such as concrete wall systems and Structurally Insulated Panels, are inherently stronger than conventional “stick-framing”. Yet, attention must still be paid to properly attaching the roof (and how SIP wall panels are attached to the foundation.) The Simpson Strong Tie Company, manufacturer of metal connectors used in home building, has developed a prescriptive method for building homes to withstand varying levels of high winds. Visit www.wellconnectedhouse.com for more information. Simpson Strong Tie Well Connected House construction details are provided free of charge with every Better Living Home blueprint ordered from Design Basics.
ROOF COVERINGS As the Institute For Business and Home Safety (IBHS) points out, “Hail can occur in any strong thunderstorm, which means almost every city and state is at risk...the right roofing materials are your best defense.” Underwriters Laboratories and FM Global Research have developed testing procedures (U.L. 2218 and FM 4473) to evaluate both flexible and rigid roofing material’s ability to withstand hail impact. Impact ratings range from Class 1 to Class 4 (best).
Generally, impact rated shingles are among the best shingles offered by a manufacturer. This means they will likely also have excellent wind and fire ratings, and typically are backed by a much longer warranty than standard shingles. They will also cost a little more than their non-impact rated counterparts. Some insurers offer discounts on their homeowner insurance policies for using an impact-rated roofing product (varies by state and by insurer). The percentage of discount can be very significant, and provides an excellent hedge against future insurance premium increases.
And, as many real estate agents will tell you, homes with 40 and 50-year warranty roofs command higher resale values. Insurance industry and academy tests also indicate that the type of roof sheathing material and even the type of nails used determine a roof’s ability to survive high winds. The IBHS’ Fortified...for safer living program is an excellent informational resource on building homes to better withstand natural disasters. The Better Living Homes initiative calls for Class 4 impact rated shingles!
CONCRETE BUILDING SYSTEMS In 2003, approximately 15% of all homes built in the United States used concrete exterior (above grade) walls (concrete block, poured concrete walls with removable forms, insulated concrete forms, and concrete/foam sandwich wall panels.) Such homes typically incur much less damage from hurricanes, tornados, etc.
WOOD BUILDING SYSTEMS Siding and Sheathing In strong winds, debris, tree branches, etc. can be turned into dangerous projectiles. The insurance industry has shot 2” x 4” wood studs out of a cannon at 80 mph at common exterior wall structures. Masonry siding materials have fared well, but they’re typically more expensive and may only be used on the front of the house, if at all. The 2” x 4”s more easily penetrated other siding materials. There are a wide variety of siding materials available today, the most popular of which include vinyl, hardboard, fiber-cement and engineered wood. Fiber cement and engineered wood tend to better survive severe weather, and various levels of wind and impact resistance can be found in each category. As with roof coverings, high wind and impact rated siding may qualify for homeowner insurance discounts. Talk to your insurance agent.
The exterior wall sheathing (the material attached to the outside of the framing studs) is your next line of defense after the siding. Insulating rigid foam sheathing, while beneficial for energy efficiency, provides little protection against airborne projectiles. Engineered wood (plywood or OSB) are better choices. And, in the face of strong winds or seismic disturbances, properly nailed engineered wood sheathing also adds structural rigidity to the walls.
Windows Also consider window protection. If extreme pressures from high winds cause a window to fail or airborne debris shatters the glass, the damage, particularly from water, can be extensive. Especially in coastal areas or those along ‘tornado alley’, windows with high design pressures or windows with impact-rated glass can be a wise choice.
Functional storm shutters are another solution for window protection. Permanently affixed shutters are probably easiest, but removable shutters are adequate when the peril (i.e., hurricane) can be predicted far enough in advance to hang the shutters. Still another option is storm screens. Attractive and functional, these heavy-duty screens are built to withstand Mother Nature’s fury and some models are also designed to reduce heat gains through the windows they protect.