Tom Nordlie (352) 392-1773 x 277
Pierce Jones (352) 392-8074
Perry Green (352) 392-0760
Craig Miller (352) 392-8074
MELBOURNE, Fla. — In an effort to protect Florida residents from hurricane devastation, the University of Florida has joined federal agencies and private businesses to develop affordable wind-resistant homes.
The two-year project is part of a federal initiative to aid windstorm mitigation efforts in several states, said Pierce Jones, an energy extension specialist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Jones helps coordinate efforts by UF, an architect, a builder, a mortgage lender, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Hurricane Andrew in 1992 caused Florida’s housing industry to re-evaluate not only construction methods but also strategies for insuring and financing homes,” Jones said. “The Florida National Quality Demonstration Project is a comprehensive approach to these challenges.”
One long-range goal of the project is to persuade builders statewide to adopt new construction methods in hurricane-prone coastal areas, said Perry Green, an assistant professor with UF’s civil and coastal engineering department.
“Builders are convinced by results,” Green said. “We’ll need to prove our ideas work, that they’re cost effective and marketable. Ultimately, UF will develop educational programs to teach builders to use these ideas.”
He said the project currently focuses on designing homes that can withstand peak wind gusts of at least 140 mph, equivalent to Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, which ranks storms based on wind speed. Category 3 is the third-most severe ranking, with peak gusts of 141 to 165 mph.
The current Florida building code dictates wind-resistance requirements for new homes based on their location, said Craig Miller, a UF energy extension specialist in Gainesville.
“Beginning Jan. 1, 2002, more stringent wind-loading requirements will take effect in coastal and inland areas,” Miller said. “Some one- and two-family dwellings will have to withstand peak gusts of 130 to 150 mph. So this project should be of interest to builders.”
Bill Zoeller, a senior architect with Steven Winter Associates, a Connecticut-based building systems research and design firm, is designing a prototype home with poured-in-place concrete exterior walls and light-gauge steel interior framing.
“We’re still developing some components, like impact-resistant windows, reinforced garage doors and roof attachments,” he said. “These homes should be affordable and sell for about the same as typical Central Florida construction.”
Designs for the prototype should be completed by next spring, said Kirk Malone, regional vice president of construction for Mercedes Homes in Melbourne.
“If all goes well, we hope to build a prototype soon afterward,” Malone said. “Eventually we’d like to develop several models, all incorporating the same wind-resistant features, and put them on the market commercially.”
He said Mercedes Homes already is using several of the features expected to be incorporated into the wind-resistant homes, such as poured-in-place exterior concrete walls.
David Thomas, FEMA intergovernmental affairs coordinator in Washington, D.C., said that in some coastal areas, the Florida Windstorm Underwriters’ Association, or FWUA, offers insurance discounts for homes with wind-resistant features. The association is made up of private carriers that offer windstorm insurance in hurricane-threatened areas.
“We would like private carriers to offer similar discounts to homes in areas not served by FWUA,” Thomas said. “When our project is further along and production costs for these wind-resistant homes are known, insurance carriers will be in a better position to consider the exact discounts they might offer.”
Insurance discounts could result in more attractive mortgage terms, said Judith Kovisars, director of Fannie Mae’s Central Florida partnership office in Orlando. Fannie Mae is the nation’s largest source of financing for home mortgages.
The Florida effort is part of the federal National Quality Demonstration Project, created to address ongoing concerns about hurricane damage to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, said Dave Weldon, U.S. representative for Florida’s 15th district. Weldon has supported the project in Congress.
“The feedback we’re getting indicates that Floridians support this project,” he said.
Funding for the project was provided by grants from FEMA and HUD, Weldon said. Florida has about 100,000 housing starts per year, 12 percent of the nation’s total.