Back in late April a strong tornado (EF-4) ripped through an Arkansas town and swept homes off their foundations. Guess what? Those homes were not built up to code due to cutting corners. Now each city/county may have different codes for the builder to follow. In this particular case, anchor bolts are cited as the failure point for why the homes were removed from their foundations by the tornado.
So what can you do? Well, I talked with a friend of mine Luke Carder from Carder and Sharpe Homes. Some storm related additions can be requested if not specifically mandated by law, but to know if everything is being done properly you would have to visually inspect the site up until the sheet-rock is installed. So have the builder define explicitly what they are going to do, then visually inspect to make sure it was done as promised. Not all inspector reports can be trusted for various reasons. You can even require an engineering report to verify things are being done correctly which is at an additional cost for the builder but also forces them to make sure their contractors are doing the work properly.
I asked Luke to answer 5 common questions:
- Can the builder install a tornado shelter for me?
There are several options for storm shelters that can be installed during, or shortly after, the construction of a new home. The overwhelming favorite is a below ground shelter that can be installed in a garage in a matter of only a few hours. We have also built above ground shelters which can be designed into a closet or a corner of a garage. We build them according to FEMA guidelines and they are constructed of concrete and steel and anchored to a footing below. They are a great option for those who may not be able to climb a ladder to access a below ground shelter. We have also had steel units installed above ground and there are models that have been tested with extreme wind speeds and debris. This is also an option for existing homes where access to below ground shelters is not an option.
- What types of storm additions can I request and do they work?
Cities are adopting new codes all the time, and these codes include extra precautions for high winds. Just in the past 10 years the requirements for anchor bolts have changed from every 8 feet to every 6 feet. Edmond had adopted a code that requires bracing on garage openings. The type we are using in all of our homes is a heavy duty strap that is installed into the actual concrete foundation and is nailed to the studs on each side of the garage opening with dozens of nails. I have a feeling there will be more precautions added as data is collected from the violent tornadoes we have seen over the past 15 years.
- How can I request an engineering report?
There are different kinds of engineering reports. We have a guy we trust who is a concrete specialist. Our lumber company has engineers who can verify the structural integrity that come into question on framing issues that may be out of the ordinary. The city requirements are based off of engineering info that comes from some source way out of our reach. Have them ask what codes their municipality has adopted that relate to high wind speeds and are there any special precautions that are being done to help in the event of extreme winds. Then the builder will know that it is a concern and should confirm with the concerned client that all spacing is correct on anchor bolts as well as the ensuring proper wind bracing and anchoring straps in the garage areas. These things should be done regardless of the codes that their municipalities have adopted. It is even more critical in areas where there are no city or county inspections. Many builders build outside of city limits so they can cut corners and not have to adhere to the current codes. This results in lower priced homes, which are attractive to a lot of uninformed buyers, while the builder makes huge profits from cutting corners and saving on critical items such as anchor bolts and wind bracing.
- How can I make sure the inspectors are doing their job correctly?
For the city of Edmond you can call 405-359-4780, otherwise contact your builder and speak to whoever is over the inspectors and you can get better info. If a buyer decides to build in an area that does not have city or county inspectors they should find a neutral third party inspector to inspect the home at all of the stages that would be required in areas that have inspections and permitting systems in place. In Edmond, OK, we have inspections prior to pouring our foundation, after frame, plumbing, electrical, mechanical and a final inspection prior to occupancy. All plumbing, mechanical and electrical work requires a permit as well and they are required to have a license to perform the work and their insurance is verified. Areas where inspections are not required could have a number of potential issues that go far beyond the anchor bolts and wind bracing. Unlicensed contractors performing work on any home are a potential hazard and should be a major red flag to potential buyers. This is why an outside inspector should be hired to approve all of the rough work before it is covered with sheetrock and hidden forever…or at least until there is a major problem.
- Studies show the weakest link in a properly built home to be the roof and garage door. What can be done (if anything) to strengthen both of these failure points?
As I mentioned, the wind bracing and anchor bolts are critical. Codes where we have extended the header beams over our garage door opening have also been adopted. New methods are constantly being tested for future applications on strengthening the connection between the roof and the rest of the home. (Editor’s note: ACE Garage Door, a sponsor on the ATsWeatherToGo app, does have new wind load door design that can withstand up to 135 mph winds as an option.)
Special thanks to Luke Carder for the great information for those of you looking to build your first home or need to re-build after a devastating storm. If you are interested in a Carder and Sharpe home, you can visit their website here: www.carderandsharpe.com.