Hurricane Restoration and Planning for the Next One

Condominum complex damaged in hurricane argues for resilient design solutions to mitigate damage from storm winds.

Hurricane force winds are relentless and, as we’ve learned, they do not differentiate or discriminate. Any structure in the storm’s path may be at risk, and while no building is entirely safe, some are more resistant to damage than others due to resilient design and construction.

So, in the aftermath of a devastating storm, it behooves property owners to carefully assess damaged structures and consider restoration and repairs that will mitigate future storm damage. Whether the plan is to repair, restore or rebuild a storm-ravaged building, there are many solutions today that can help withstand high winds and water damage in the future. In many cases, a relatively small up-front investment can result in big future savings based on losses avoided.

The weather’s not getting better, but builders are getting smarter

Hurricane protection used to be limited to building on pillars to elevate a structure above the flood zones, using wind-resistant concrete block construction and putting up hurricane shutters. Well, we’re a long way from Kansas Toto, and the art of hurricane protection for the built environment has come a long way since then.

New high-performance materials and components and improved construction methods offer much greater resistance to the forces of nature that cause damage. Builders who adopt the best technology for resilient construction and restoration — before and after a hurricane — can help ensure that commercial structures better withstand nature’s fury

Today’s state-of-the-art building materials can help fortify structures against hurricane hazards: winds, flying debris, and flooding from rain or storm surges. Cost-effective, hurricane-resistant building materials and technology do exist and can help the built environment withstand these extreme weather events.

When windows burst from high winds, buildings can pressurize as wind rushes in, popping off the roof. New roof attachment methods can add strength, and spray-foam adhesives (which are applied on the inside of the house’s roof and double as insulation) are rated for higher wind speeds. To deal with flooding, hydrostatic vents can allow water into the home but stop floodwaters from accumulating, potentially degrading its walls and foundation.

A few basic structural upgrades can make for improved performance and help keep coastal structures safe including: properly designed footings, pilings and flow-through designs, a continuous load path to resist wind uplift; strong lateral bracing (or engineered shear walls) to resist the sideways pressure of wind; hardened or protected windows and doors to resist penetration by wind-borne debris. There are also exterior cladding options to protect against storm winds, water intrusion, and wind-borne debris — the leading causes of building envelope failure in hurricanes.

Most of these systems can be installed economically on a variety of construction types, including metal frame with gypsum sheathing, wood or steel frame with plywood sheathing, or concrete masonry. Improved watertight and water-shedding exterior insulation systems that resist rain penetration in storms are also available and come in a variety of decorative and protective wall finishes, offering aesthetics as well as protection against some of the most severe weather conditions in North America.

Lessons Learned – Invest Now for Future Savings

South Florida is the heart of hurricane country and the area where many wind-resistant structural solutions have been introduced, developed, and proven in the field. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Florida codes were the first in the nation to toughen up. And in the heavy hurricane years of 2004 and 2005, Florida’s tougher building practices paid off: newer structures in the state suffered less damage from storm winds than older buildings did. In the Miami-Dade County, Florida area, NOA has established stringent construction criteria for impact resistance, air and water infiltration, and wind load resistance

Building codes are the baseline defense against hurricane damage. Improved building codes in Florida (the most stringent in the nation) after Hurricane Andrew required installing impact windows, using stronger ties between roofs and walls, and securing roof shingles with nails instead of staples. And indeed, newer buildings built to code fared better during Hurricane Irma.

Strong, enforceable building codes play a huge role in prompting architects, engineers and contractors to embrace the concept of resilient design. Texas state officials, with the support of the local building community and regulatory agencies, announced a $61 billion plan to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey devastated the southeast area of the state with wind, rain and floodwaters, and resilient measures are part of the plan.

FEMA has actually proposed policies to incentivize states and municipalities to take a more proactive role in mitigating damage—which will also mitigate recovery and restoration costs. FEMA has also developed publications and guidance on coastal construction in hurricane prone areas published by FEMA’s Building Science Branch.

In addition, the U.S. Green Building Council has adopted a new resilient construction standard called RELi. The new certification system includes some LEED practices and gives property owners points for adaptive design features which mitigate the impact of extreme weather.

National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) study recently determined that for every federal grant dollar spent on disaster resiliency and mitigation, the U.S. can save an average of six dollars. These are impressive numbers to keep in mind.

Another plus: NIBS also projected that implementing resiliency measures and building to stricter codes could create 87,000 new long-term jobs and increase the use of American-made construction materials by 1%.


Focus on Resilient Design to Fortify Coastal Areas From Hurricanes

Architects are looking at resilient design concepts and materials to mitigate the flooding and wind damage caused by extreme weather events.

As Hurricane Lane hurdles its way toward Hawaii packing Category 4 winds, the second-part of our series on resilient design is quite timely.

Sea-level rise and catastrophic storms have clearly had serious consequences for our coastal areas and islands and will continue to do so. The cost estimates for hurricane damage in the U.S. continue to rise; they are now hovering at about $300 billion in the U.S. alone, based on last year’s three major storms. In addition to the many scientists, previously mentioned, who are focused on structural solutions to ensure more resilient design, many design professionals are also addressing these issues.

At a recent A+AIA-Architect forum, a group of award-winning architects shared insights into mitigating risk at waterfront properties and strategies for designing for a resilient future. Wanda Lau, editor of tech, practice, and products for ARCHITECT conducted the panel session with Lance J. Brown, co-chair of AIANY’s Design for Risk and Reconstruction committee; Jeremy Alain Siegel, associate and senior designer at BIG; Eric Fang, AIA, principal at Perkins Eastman; and Claire Weisz, FAIA, principal-in-charge at WXY Studio.

Treacherous coastal storm waters, flooding and water damage are as serious as the impact of wind in an extreme storm. To help us better understand the nuances of designing and constructing flood-resistant buildings and infrastructure, the New York Times offered this handy guide and glossary of terms.

We have little control over the increasing pattern of extreme weather events, but clearly professionals in our industry can make a difference by utilizing resilient design concepts and materials in new construction as well as restoration.

 


Building with Resilient Design Is a Worthwhile Investment

As yet another hurricane season begins, MIT scientists are calculating the long-term value of investing in resilient design.

With hurricane season upon us, an expert at MIT offers insights into the value of investing in what he calls hazard-resistant construction or resilient design. In an interview with U.S. News & World Report, Jeremy Gregory, a research scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, looks at the benefits of building structures that can better weather a major storm and concludes that, “While it may be pricier upfront, it can pay off in the long run.”

Gregory, who is also executive director of MIT’s Concrete Sustainability Hub believes that being proactive about hazard mitigation and building structures for the long term that are resilient to extreme weather events is not only critical for saving lives but is also a cost-effective investment.

Waves crash over a seawall from Biscayne Bay as Hurricane Irma passes by, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

As communities continue to rebuild from the devastating damage wrought by hurricanes in recent years, there is more focus on resilient building materials and designs that can mitigate future damage. It is estimated that a record $309.5 billion in disaster costs were incurred by the U.S. last year due to hurricane’s Harvey, Irma and Maria. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recently announced that 2018 doesn’t promise to be much better hurricane-wise. They believe the 2018 season “has a 75 percent chance of being near- or above-normal, and that one to four major hurricanes may develop”.

At MIT, scientists are evaluating the cost of resilient building using a life-cycle approach that includes the costs of doing initial construction, maintenance throughout the life of the building, energy consumption, and an estimate of hazard repairs (i.e. costs that might be sustained due to hurricanes).  This is important, Gregory says, in calculating what the payback is on hazard-resistant construction.  “Most often, this kind of construction costs more upfront, but there are paybacks for it over the long run,” he says.

As major natural disasters become more frequent, safety and public health experts say civic leaders should treat these severe weather events as the new “norm” and prioritize disaster resilience in community planning and rebuilding. According to the National Institute of Building Sciences,  every pre-emptive dollar spent on mitigation can save approximately $6 in future disaster losses.

A destroyed apartment complex in Rockport, Texas after Hurricane Harvey passed through in 2017.

Because there aren’t always incentives for developers to take life-cycle costs into perspective, government needs to play a role in encouraging these practices. To help, MIT has developed an online tool called the BEMP (Break-Even Mitigation Percent) which calculates how much can building owners can invest in mitigation and still break even over the lifetime of the building. “The whole idea is to give people a ballpark figure of how much additional costs are associated with mitigation,” says Gregory.


Using Design to Address Sea-Level Rise

The architectural, engineering and construction industries are looking at ways to mitigate sea level rise and climate change in coastal communities.

People love being near the water — beach front homes, offices on the Bayfront, cultural and entertainment centers on an ocean or lakeside. The water’s edge is always alluring. In fact, 40% of today’s U.S. population lives on or near the water

Unfortunately, as recent climate-change experts point out, nature seems to have other ideas. What is now perched on the water in many areas, will likely be under water in the foreseeable future.

Even if carbon emission targets and other benchmarks set at the historic Paris Agreement in 2015 are met, sea levels will likely rise 20 inches by 2100. If we continue emitting greenhouse gases, it is more likely to be a 29-inch rise. And, according to a January, 2017 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, some US coastal areas, will experience as much as a 6-foot rise in sea levels by 2100.

If unaddressed, this phenomenon poses an unprecedented human and economic threat. Already, current sea level rise has contributed to more damage in extreme weather events such as Superstorm Sandy, causing massive flooding and infrastructure damage.

Mitigating the Effects of Sea Level Rise

While government and community agencies are now addressing sea level rise issues in coastal areas with plans for levies and sea walls and other means of circumventing water rise, the architectural and engineering community has begun to seriously develop strategies and tactics as well.

Fighting sea level rise from a design perspective boils down to either keeping the water out or designing around it.  Preserving views and water access and maintaining aesthetically pleasing design however can be challenging under the circumstances.

For new and/or existing buildings, resilient design is critical. Using materials that protect buildings from wind and water damage, even elevating buildings above water are certainly valid strategies for addressing sea level rise, but what about entire streets or neighborhoods that are submerged?

As Construction Dive points out, architects, engineers and contractors need to understand the issues and be on the forefront of advocating for design that anticipates and counters potential rising waters on our coasts.