Steve Mouzon from Original Green helps answer a question (from Frank Wiley) about what houses we should be building in areas that are prone to hurricanes or other extreme weather.
Interview with Steve Mouzon
Steve Mouzon from the Orignal Green blog is an architect by trade and has always had a passion for sustainability. In his early career he found that others weren't interested but over the last decade there's been a big shift. Steve now lives in Florida, which every so often finds itself in the path of a hurricane!
Few Houses Survive if Struck by a Tornado
America's most severe weather comes in the form of tornadoes and there may only be seconds in which to dive for cover. Unless you take refuge in a concrete bunker there is little a homeowner can do to protect against a strike.
Properly Designed Homes Can Resist Hurricanes
Although hurricanes are very, very strong winds there are often warnings two or three days before they strike, which allows a bit of time to prepare.
Steve says that houses can survive if designed properly. The roof slopes and the eave details are very important. Overhangs that are too big can catch the wind causing the roof deck to start to peel back.
When the roof deck – what structural engineers call the diaphragm – is lost then there's no support to the top of the wall and the building begins to cave in.
Building Houses with Shutters Can Prevent Window Damage
Steve tells the story of when Hurricane Irene crossed Schooner Bay in the Bahamas (with winds of between 125 – 135 mph) and the locals didn't lose a single pane of glass! This is because they embrace the old wisdom and can close the solid board shutters on their houses for protection.
Most Wisdom Comes From Examining Buildings that Survive
Long before hurricane experts came onto the scene, the older folks had learnt from experience which houses tend to weather the storms.
Steve gives an example of how, when it comes to roof pitch, there's a sweet spot of between 8 and 12, and 9 and 12. That's because it would not be so steep as to fail an overturning or so shallow as to fail an uplift.
Standards Often Don't Translate Well to Different Climates
America is so big that the climate varies hugely from one point to another, which means the solution that works in one location doesn't necessarily work elsewhere.
Steve says: “What is supremely sustainable on Cape Cod looks ridiculous in the Gulf and vice versa.”
Florida's Climate is Suited to Houses that are Open and Breathe
While increasing airtightness might be a very good solution for the northern two thirds of the US, Steve argues that on the Caribbean Rim the reverse is true – buildings need to open up and breathe.
One recent project at Studio Sky was creating a building with no insulation at all. Louvered walls and louvered windows and doors let the breeze blow through, and as the temperatures are pleasant all year round in Florida there would be next to no need for air conditioning, too.
Tidal Flooding is Now Common in South Beach
Steve feels there is evidence to suggest that the climate in Florida is shifting.
Almost every full moon or new moon there is water in the streets at South Beach (even when there's been no rain). So the sea level rise is definitely an issue.
Also, Steve believes that the US climatic belts – intended as a guide to what plants to plant in particular regions – have moved about one climatic zone northward in the last 30 years.
Market Forces Will Increase the Demand for Better Homes
Not only is building in a more resilient way responsible, but it is also a good marketing strategy!
Sooner or later customers/clients will not be satisfied with inferior homes and will demand more.
Steve's book Original Green (affiliate link)
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Our Question for the Comments Section
If you face extreme weather where you live, have you had to alter what you plan to build (or have built)?
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