UF “Hurricane House” Promotes Stronger Construction Methods

Serya Yesilcay

George Rogers (850) 475-5230
Bob Stroh (352) 392-7697

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PENSACOLA — Designed to withstand winds of more than 120 mph, a new University of Florida “hurricane house” will show builders and homeowners how to minimize storm damage and increase survivability along the Gulf Coast.

Incorporating its design features also could save homeowners up to 70 percent on their insurance premiums.

“The house will help demonstrate how new and existing homes can be made more wind resistant at a time when hurricane experts are predicting increased storm activity,” said George Rogers, an Escambia County extension agent with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“Materials, products and construction methods in this house can be used in new homes or to retrofit existing structures,” Rogers said. “We want to show people how they can protect their homes and themselves during high-wind storms.”

The 3,100-square-foot house, officially known as the Escambia County Windstorm Mitigation Center, is located next to the county extension office in Cantonment. It is the second hurricane house in Florida and complies with new state building codes that go into effect July 1, 2001.

The Florida Department of Insurance provided $400,000 for construction, and the UF Energy Extension Service is developing training programs for builders and homeowners. A similar house opened last year in Fort Pierce, and UF has plans for two more in the St. Augustine and Miami areas. The Escambia County house will open on June 1, the official beginning of hurricane season.

Experts are forecasting a busy hurricane season, following a pattern of increasing storm activity since 1995, said Christopher Landsea, research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hurricane research division in Miami.

Hurricanes seem to have a cyclic nature, with years of strong storm activity following years of calmer periods, Landsea said.

“We are still gathering evidence, but it looks like we are in for an active hurricane season, both this year and for the next 20 years or so,” he said.

Coastal homeowners can take precautions to minimize storm loss and lower insurance rates, said Ron Natherson, public affairs manager with the Florida Windstorm Underwriting Association, set up by the Legislature as a last-resort insurer for homeowners who may not be able to get hurricane and windstorm coverage from other agencies.

Insurance premium increases for coastal homes sought by the company were approved recently by a Florida arbitration panel and will go into effect July 1, Natherson said.

“But homeowners can save up to 70 percent on those premiums, if they use measures we suggest to protect their homes,” he said. Reinforcing the roof could bring a 5 to 10 percent discount, while reinforced window shutters could save as much as 18 percent on insurance, Natherson said.

Future workshops will show people how to add these and other features to their homes, Rogers said.

Homeowners and builders can visit the center to see features such as three types of window shutters, impact-resistant doors, a steel “safe room” and a garage door that will withstand winds of more than 150-mph, he said.

Visitors also can view exposed sections of interior walls that show alternative construction methods such as concrete, wood-frame, or walls with an insulated concrete form, all used to build stronger and more energy-efficient homes.

The insulated concrete form, for example, uses reinforcement bars and concrete sandwiched between plastic foam sheets. The method is easy to lay and makes a substantially stronger wall, Rogers said.

“This method, used in the northern areas of the U.S. and in Europe, is a little more expensive,” he said. “But on a beach where there is corrosion and storm surge, it would be worth the cost.”

Although insulated concrete forms meet Florida building code requirements, not all craftsmen know how to work with the material, said Bob Stroh, director of UF’s Shimberg Center for Affordable Housing, who is overseeing hurricane house construction in the state.

“This and other hurricane houses around Florida will become magnets to educate the construction industry and the public on wind loss mitigation, energy efficiency and environmentally sensitive construction,” he said.

To find out more about the Escambia Hurricane House call (850) 475-5230 or visit the Web site http://escambia.ifas.ufl.edu.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Escambia County Windstorm Mitigation Training Center will be dedicated June 1, the opening day of the 2000 hurricane season.Michael Martin, University of Florida vice president for agriculture and natural resources, and Dean for Extension Christine Waddill will participate in dedication ceremonies at the Escambia County Extension office in Cantonment (3740 Stefani Road). Extension District One Director Peter Vergot and other officials also will attend. Dedication ceremonies begin at 11 a.m.

Summer 2000 events at the center include:

May 30 Hurricane Preparedness for Small Businesses June 1 Dedication and Open House June 16 Hurricane Preparedness for Hotels, Motels, Condominiums and Apartments June 23 Hurricane Awareness for Youth (with Florida 4-H) June 27 Hurricane Preparedness for Small Businesses July 18-19 Build Green and Profit Seminar for Contractors July 25 Hurricane Preparedness for Small Businesses



Posted: May 12, 2000

Category: UF/IFAS

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