Hurricanes and flooding or storm surge are a fact of life in Florida. But there are some proactive choices you can make now.
Pinellas County contains 233,888 single-family houses *, including Clearwater and St Petersburg. Of those, about 13,397 were built using the Florida Building Code, which went into effect March 15, 2002, and is updated every 3 years. That means only 6% of homes were built to meet hurricane wind standards (minimum 145 mph now). Let alone codes for Special Flood Hazard Areas (“flood zones”). And only about 42% of older homes were built in today’s Non-Evacuation Zones. So there is plenty of upgrading or mitigating that the rest of us can do to our older homes.
If you are building new, building an addition, or doing extensive remodeling, you should consider upgrading the resiliency of your home, too. Remember, the Code is minimum. Talk to your Architect or Contractor about your options.
What flood zone are you in? Find out at FEMA’s Map Service Center.
Where to start? If your home is in an Evacuation Zone or Special Flood Hazard Area, and you plan on living in it for a long time, consider raising up your house. If you cannot afford to do that, be sure to use materials that are flood-damage resistant – they will withstand storm surges or flooding and will clean up easily afterward. You can replace these all at once, or keep these in mind as you update your home. Here is a simple list of common materials – you can refer to FEMA’s Technical Bulletin 2 for more information.
- Ceramic and porcelain tile
- Concrete tile
- Glass and glass blocks
- Metal cabinetry
- Metal and fiberglass doors
- Spray foam insulation
Notice these common materials are missing from this list – wood and particleboard cabinetry, carpeting, wood doors, engineered flooring, and drywall/sheetrock/gypsum board. Some of these need to be removed after a flood because they cannot be cleaned (pollutants in the water) or because they cover a wall or floor that needs to be dried out.
Waiting for the water to recede after a flood.
Next, upgrade your home for hurricane winds, too. The building code actually provides some specific instructions. Chapter 17 of the 7th Edition of the Florida Building Code, Existing, talks about Retrofitting a typical gable roof. This is fairly simple, using lumber and nails to add strength to the triangular part of the attic wall.
It’s so important to keep the wind out of the house, as a broken window or door will increase the chance that your roof and ceilings will be ripped off. Replace older windows with impact-glazed (“hurricane resistant”) windows. These will also make your home more energy-efficient, get rid of those windows that don’t open and close easily and provide security from breaking and entering. However, if new windows are not in your budget, there are plenty of hurricane shutters available – ballistic fabric covers, accordion or roll-down styles, metal and plastic panels, etc. Plywood panels should be your very last resort.
These ballistic fabric hurricane shutters were custom-ordered from measurements taken of each window. Fasteners are permanently attached to the building, as shown on the left. They are lightweight compared to plywood and don’t let in natural light.
Double-walled clear polycarbonate hurricane panels allow natural light inside the house. Ideal when the power is out. They are cut to fit each window. Fasteners are permanently mounted.
Don’t forget your outside doors! You should have at least one door that is impact-rated if the others will be covered with hurricane shutters. Whether your doors swing in or swing out doesn’t matter, as long as they have Florida Product Approval, which means they have been tested for wind. And your Garage Door can be “braced”, shuttered or replaced, too.
More upgrades for wind protection include adding a secondary underlayment when you re-roof. Instead of the black tar paper many of us recognize, use one of the many self-adhesive membranes that stick directly to the plywood sheathing without nails. When the shingles or other roof finish is attached, the membrane seals around the nails, too.
Termites ate the wood-framed walls, so replacing them meant adding hurricane straps to the walls, too.
Another option, more invasive, is to add hurricane straps (“metal clips or connectors”) to hold down your roof. This usually involves removing the soffit in order to access the top of your outside wall where the trusses or rafters sit on it. You may already have some type of straps up there, but they may not be sized or fastened correctly. If you have wood frame walls instead of concrete block, you could also add straps the rest of the way down to the foundation. But that typically involves removing the siding on the outside, or the drywall on the inside.
Health, Safety, and Welfare
Building, fire, life safety, and zoning codes were put into place to protect lives, based on the history of disasters. Architects, engineers, and contractors are licensed for the same reasons. To protect lives and uphold the standards and codes.
For additional information on resiliency upgrades for your home, check out the guides from FloridaDisaster.org and DisasterSafety.org and FLASH.org.
* Figures come from data on the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s Office website