Because of the fierceness and unpredictability of nature, there’s no such thing as a hurricane-proof house. That’s according to Mark Buskuhl, founder and CEO of Ninebird Properties in Dallas, Texas. Most builders would agree with this sentiment.

However, Buskuhl says, “there are certainly measures that can be taken to make a home more resistant to hurricanes and other natural disasters.” Most builders would agree with that, too.

So instead of “hurricane-proof,” a more realistic goal when building or reinforcing a house may be making it “hurricane-resistant” or “hurricane-resilient.”

Hurricanes happen most frequently along the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf Coast, but that doesn’t mean that intense weather conditions don’t occur elsewhere. Tornadoes regularly flatten buildings in the Great Plains during the summer. Out in California where I live, atmospheric rivers pack high winds that occasionally achieve hurricane-force gusts.

Climate change threatens to make storms more severe everywhere. But the greatest danger from hurricanes still exists in the Southeast, particularly Florida, the hub of hurricane-resistant building.

The winds from a Category 5 hurricane can blow the roof off a home, shatter windows, lift the structure off its foundation and/or destroy it completely. Flooding from storm surges and heavy rainfall also take their toll, sometimes causing even more damage than the winds.

Various building companies, including Ninebird and North Carolina-based Deltec Homes, have designed structures that can resist high winds and high waters. Three Deltec-built homes were the only ones still standing in Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian devastated the island in 2019. The company is known for its extensive guidelines in hurricane-resistant building.

What Is a Hurricane-Resistant House?

A hurricane-resistant house is one that can withstand high winds and heavy flooding. But even the sturdiest home won’t last if it’s built in the wrong place.

“The location of a home is a crucial element in safeguarding it against hurricanes,” says Buskuhl. “Houses built on low-lying areas or in flood-prone zones are at a higher risk of damage from hurricanes. Therefore, choosing a safe and elevated location for your home is crucial.”

Buskuhl also says “the design and construction of the house itself also play a crucial role in determining its overall significance and impact. Building codes have become more stringent when it comes to hurricane resistance, but there are still ways to further improve a home’s structural integrity.”

Those ways, Buskuhl says, include hurricane straps or tie-downs to secure the roof to the walls. Deltec’s design modifications go even farther, involving the shape of the building, the materials used in construction, and even the pitch of the roof.

Features of a Hurricane-Resistant House

If you own an existing house in a hurricane zone, reinforce the roof with hurricane ties, install hurricane-resistant windows and shutters, upgrade the garage door and seal gaps where air can enter. All will make the structure more resistant to high winds. It’s also important to keep gutters and drains clear so they can handle large amounts of rain runoff.

When designing a new home, conforming to Florida’s building codes — the most stringent in the country — goes a long way toward hurricane resistance. A contractor like Deltec would focus on these particulars:

Shape of the home: Circular or octagonal deflects wind more efficiently than square or rectangular.
Roof: The ideal roof pitch for deflecting wind and preventing lift is 6/12. Multiple rooflines are better than a single one because they direct the wind over the roof. It’s important to keep roof overhangs short to lessen wind lift.
Foundation: An elevated foundation puts the ground floor above the flood level for the area. Securing the roof trusses to the foundation with continuous metal strapping reinforces the entire structure.

What Are Hurricane-Resistant Houses Made Of?

Heavy wall materials like steel or poured concrete resist wind better than plywood. As an innovative and sustainable alternative, build with composite blocks and timbers made from recycled plastic bottles, which Nova Scotia company JD Composites claims are even more wind-resistant.

If you choose to build a stick structure with wood sheathing, Deltec recommends five-ply 5/8-inch plywood rather than oriented strand board (OSB) for the sheathing and 2,400 psi framing lumber for the trusses and walls. Hurricane windows made impact-resistant glass won’t shatter, keeping wind out of the structure.

How Much Does a Hurricane-Resistant House Cost?

You can purchase a modular hurricane-resistant home, installed on site, for $180,000 to $360,000, depending on size and floor plan. The average cost is around $270,000.

Modular homes are factory built in a controlled environment, so they’re put together far more securely than possible on site. They’re designed to withstand winds of up to 185 mph. Hurricane windows and shutters are optional but recommended, adding to the cost.

If you hire a company like Deltec to build a custom home, the price is likely to fall between $175 and $250 per square foot. That’s more than twice the cost to build a conventional home.

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