Coast Guard

Thankfully, through a combination of scientific research, hands-on experience and the harsh lessons of Katrina and her ilk, the industry is learning to do a better job of building in such places. Smart design is a big component.

July 01, 2007

As the hurricanes of the past three years taught us all too well, living on the coast isn't always paradise. Besides the threat of hurricanes, tropical storms, tidal surges and flooding, coastal homes wage an ongoing battle with rain, intense sunlight, high humidity and salt air.

Thankfully, through a combination of scientific research, hands-on experience and the harsh lessons of Katrina and her ilk, the industry is learning to do a better job of building in such places. Smart design is a big component, as noted in Matt Power's story "The Water's Edge" (page 26).

Design considerations are sometimes practical and sometimes a matter of aesthetics. For instance, a hip roof holds up better than any other roof type in a storm. And an elevation shouldn't be so complicated it detracts from the view. Construction, too, has taken a giant step forward as techniques for elevating, stabilizing and waterproofing houses evolve.

Louisiana House (LaHouse for short), a demonstration house in Baton Rouge, offers a smorgasbord of ideas for coastal builders, including three different raised foundation systems; mold-resistant framing; a variety of connectors, plates and straps to hold the structure together; and a safe room. LaHouse survived Katrina even though it was only half-finished when the storm hit. If you happen to be in the area, stop by; the house is open every Friday except holidays (www.louisianahouse.org).

Another research project sure to yield valuable information is the Natural Exposure Test facility. There are currently two such facilities: one in Puyallup, Wash., the other in Hollywood, S.C. Wall panels with a variety of exterior and interior finishes, insulation and moisture barriers are rigged with sensors that monitor their performance under extreme coastal conditions.

It all comes down to a willingness to try something different — even if it costs a little more — because when the next big storm hits, clients will thank you for protecting their biggest investment.

Perhaps an all-concrete, modular house isn't viable in your market, but concrete walls will make it more durable without compromising the uniqueness of the design. And while hurricane-rated roof shingles may not look as upscale as roof tiles, high winds won't turn them into projectiles.

Remember, too, that homeowners need to do their part with regular exterior maintenance. When he turns over the keys to a newly completed home, Sarasota, Fla., builder Mike Walker also gives the owners a written maintenance regimen, saying, "We've just built you a very fine motor yacht — it's just parked on land. And everything you have to do with your boat — washing off the salt, polishing the teak and so forth — you have to do with this house."

It's gotten Walker out of trouble more than once when a client comes back to him two or three years later with a complaint — and it could save you some headaches and unwarranted criticism, too.

630/288-8194, susan.bady@reedbusiness.com


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