We all know the fable about the three little pigs and their houses of straw, sticks and bricks. When the big bad wolf came, only the house of bricks remained standing. The lesson of the fable is one that Floridians can take literally. Instead of a big bad wolf we’ve got hurricanes – which are frankly more terrifying than any ill-tempered wolf. The fact is certain building materials do stand up better to high winds than others.
So, which building materials are best when our big bad wolf comes knocking?
When compared with traditional wood framing, steel framed buildings offer more protection against hurricane-force winds. Florida home builders know this, but steel has still never really caught on, mostly due to its higher cost and lower insulation value.
In addition to being better able to weather storms, steel frames are also immune to termites, which can be a serious issue in many Florida areas, and they’re much more fire resistant than wood.
Steel isn’t just a more expensive building material to buy, it also makes homes more expensive to insulate and can leave homeowners with higher utility costs in the long run.
Framing in walls will always reduce the effectiveness of the thermal barrier created by insulation. Every 16 to 24 inches in a wall will be a stud in the wall frame. That stud creates a gap in the insulating material in the wall, effectively putting a hole in the thermal barrier. The insulation value of that stud is going to dictate how compromised the thermal barrier is as a whole.
Builders have spent a lot of time studying this. If a home has batt fiberglass insulation in the walls with an R-19 rating, having steel studs every 16 inches will effectively reduce the wall’s insulation value to R-7.1. If wood studs are used in the same scenario the R value only drops by 3 to R-16.
The difference in heating and cooling energy costs and comfort between R-7.1 and R-16 can be pretty dramatic.
Not all Florida homes are completely wood framed. Masonry blocks are still quite popular for exterior walls and offer benefits similar to steel but also fall short of wood when it comes to insulation value. A 2×6 wood framed house with spray foam insulation could have an R value of 19 but the same wall with 8-inch concrete masonry block would only be about R-7 – similar to steel.
That being said, concrete blocks are flood resistant, termite resistant, fire resistant and are much sturdier in a storm compared to wood. Concrete block homes are usually cheaper to construct than wood, but the cost can vary based on local material prices. There was a time in Florida where steel was actually cheaper than lumber, which resulted in a temporary switch to steel framing for some builders.
While steel and concrete are both going to be more wind resistant than wood, all builders in Florida are required to construct homes that can withstand 140 mph winds. Even if your home was framed with wood, it should have been built with the necessary straps and fasteners to bolster its structural integrity.
When it comes to siding, a lot of its durability and wind resistance is related to the quality of its installation. Fiber cement siding may be the most reliable, impact-resistant option when it’s properly installed, but wood or vinyl may outperform it in a scenario where the siding was shoddily attached to a home.
Fiber cement siding is composed of cement and sand rather than wood or vinyl, making it somewhat fireproof and even waterproof. Some fiber cement sidings are rated for winds of up to 200 mph, which should be able to weather just about every hurricane that makes landfall in Florida.
It should be noted that the extra protection comes with added cost – high-end fiber cement siding is one of the more expensive siding options.
There’s some debate in the roofing realm about which roofing materials actually performs best in hurricane conditions. Specially designed wind-resistant asphalt shingles installed according to strict building code and manufacturer guidelines can boast hurricane-wind resistance in the 140-mph range, but many of the experts still crown metal roofing as the king of wind resistance.
Clay is another strong contender, potentially being able to weather 125 mph winds when installed properly.
Regardless of which roofing material a home possesses, the method of installation will have just as much or more to do with wind resistance as the material itself. Proper floor plans, which ultimately affect the layout of a roof, can either promote structural integrity or hinder it.
The roof’s underlayment and decking need to be properly installed if the roofing material is going to be applied correctly. If the deck of a roof does suffer water damage that section needs to be replaced. Your home could have the most wind resistant roofing material available but if the deck is rotted it won’t do much good.
Proper nails or fasteners need to be used with manufacturer recommended spacing to promote wind resistance. Roofing staples aren’t even allowed in Florida due to their unreliability.
Even if your home isn’t composed of the most hurricane-resistant materials, you as the owner can still do a lot to reinforce your home. Make sure you’re boarding up windows, putting down tarps and sandbags over doors vulnerable to flooding, trimming trees away from electrical wires and taking any other preparatory steps when a storm is on the way.
Also make sure to take pictures of your home prior to a hurricane’s arrival. Those pictures could come in handy if you must negotiate a claim payment after the storm and the insurance company tries to argue about the source of your damage.
If you’re ever being treated unfairly by your insurance carrier, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional like an independent claims adjuster or hurricane damage attorney who can analyze the damage and negotiate on your behalf.