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Hurricane Damage: Construction Lessons Learned From Decades of Florida Hurricanes

Florida has the most aggressive hurricane codes in the country, but some of the code requirements do not work as intended
October 25, 2023

Thank you all for having us. Hopefully, we can enlighten you on some of the things we experience when these hurricanes come our way. I hope you find that interesting and have some good takeaways.

My name is Joe Smallwood. I'm the CEO of BCB Homes. We're based in Naples, Florida. I am a native Floridian. I've been there all my life. I went to the University of Florida, and have a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, although I never practiced engineering. I went directly into the construction industry. So, throughout my life, in 37 years of building buildings in Southwest Florida, I think we know a little bit about hurricanes, and we'd like to pass that on to you.

Thanks, Joe. My name is Greg Brison. I'm the president at BCB Homes. I moved to Naples, Florida, in 1975. I wasn't born there; my family brought me there. My father is an architect, so I grew up in that business. I decided that I would go to school for architecture, got my degree, came back, worked and practiced in architecture for 10 years, put my pencils down, and came to the dark side 18 years ago. So, I am focusing on building these houses now with Joe.

Hurricane Ian: a devastating encounter

To establish context, I am going to speak to everybody about what we just experienced 10 months ago. Hurricane Ian came through South Florida, a pretty large storm, probably a 250-mile wind path, and was a pretty significant storm event. And for those of you who have not been through one of these storms or experienced it yourselves, just a little bit of 101. So, these storms are counterclockwise rotating. The winds in these storms are also blowing in the direction that the storm is rotating. So, being on the west coast of Florida, we are most concerned when these storms approach us directly out of the Gulf. And if you're on the south side of the eye, then you're going to have the opportunity to see a significant storm surge.

This is what it looked like. Ian was a 150-mile-an-hour storm, the fifth strongest on record in the U.S., tied for fourth highest in Florida. It came to us with 12 feet of storm surge recorded shortly after landfall. The storm surge was timed perfectly with a king tide. What is that? Well, storm surge is the relative height of the water above the tide elevation that it should be at that moment. So, this storm came on land and was on top of a king tide, which is a seasonally high tide. So, some of the areas that it impacted saw as much as 12 to 13 feet above normal at that time. Where we were in Naples, we saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 to 8, 7 to 9 feet of surge.

This image right here is an image of the Sanibel Causeway that brings people out to the barrier islands off of Fort Myers Beach. And this, of course, is after the storm. You can see the devastation. So, on top of the storm surge, this storm brought us 21 inches of rainfall in 36 hours. The highest ever recorded is about 27 inches. So, two feet of additional rainfall on top of 12 or 13 feet of storm surge is obviously a pretty significant water event. As the storm moves inland and pushes water onto the land up the rivers, up the creeks, and then dumps another two feet of rain on top of those communities, the water can't get out. So, the Caloosahatchee River, for example, was flooded way upriver, and areas that were 40 miles off of the coast had 10 to 12 feet of water in their communities. The water couldn't get back down the river.

Currently, the numbers sound something like 113 billion in damage and counting. They believe that Hurricane Ian will be around the third most costly storm in U.S. history, and of course, being on the coast, the damage is not just land and houses, but of course, the marine industry, etc.

Hurricane Ian: 30,000 homes damaged

So far, the count is around 30,000 homes that have been damaged and 5,000 homes that were completely lost. I suspect this number is also continuing to rise. Insurance claims continue to be filed. 358,000 vehicles were destroyed in this storm event. So, if you take that number and multiply that by, let's say, an average of thirty thousand dollars per vehicle, which I would say is probably pretty conservative, that's 11 billion right there, just in cars. And that vehicle on the upper right-hand portion of the image is a lot more than thirty thousand dollars. Yeah, that's the yellow McLaren that's all over the internet right now. Yes. 149 lives were lost in this storm. Um, deadliest storm to hit Florida in 90 years.

So, what was it like? Well, this is what it was like. This is a time-lapse video that we were able to share with you that goes from 10 a.m. on the 28th of September, to 6 p.m. the same day. So, enjoy.

What happened there? In the upper left-hand image, still images now 10:30 in the morning, the water has come up above its normal tide elevation. You can see it in the street. You can see it beginning to come up onto the lot there on the left-hand side. By 3 p.m., the fourth image in sequence there, by 3 p.m., it's peaked. But that was obviously five hours later. So, it took five hours for this water to come up to its peak, and then in approximately three more hours, it receded and was back out in the Gulf. That's important for something that we're going to look at later, but this did not look like a tsunami wave. This is a long duration, a lot of energy, a lot of turbulence, a lot of force, but there is no wall of water in these events.

Some of the aftermath. Sanibel Causeway image here before on the left and after on the right. You can see the erosion and washout of the roadway. A portion of the bridge system in the causeway collapsed. It separated the Barrier Islands from Fort Myers for a number of weeks. There was no way to get a vehicle onto or off of Sanibel and Captiva for about a month.

This is the Fort Myers Pier. This is just barely north of the video that you just saw. So, just to the right of these images is where that video was taken. So this was just south of the eye, or right on the south side of the eye wall as the storm came on land. So the pier here is a concrete foundation and concrete frame structure with wood plank decking and wood structures above it, and of course, the 12 feet of surge took all of that off the concrete frame.

It's an image of a marina in Fort Myers. This was just barely in on the Bay Side of where that video was taken. Of course, these docks were not designed for 12 feet of additional water, so the water was in these buildings. The boats are all up on land, and, of course, part of the $113 billion worth of damage.

This image is also Fort Myers Beach, so residential structures before and after. You can see at the top of the screen right there there is a two-story building that is still standing. In the right-hand image, it gives you a sense of the scale. These images are almost absolutely identical in scale.

Florida building codes generally work very well

So there's the context. So what have we learned? This caption on this article reads, "Florida building code made a big difference in newer homes in Ian, reports show." Absolutely agree, 100 percent. Florida building code has been in existence since 2001. We're on the seventh edition of it now. The eighth edition is going to come out in 2023.

By '04, Florida had adopted the code, and it's gone through a lot of improvements, and iterations over the years, and it works. Absolutely would agree that it works. You can see this image. That house that's circled was permitted and built in 2020 following the current code, and lots of the other addresses around it, which now are not houses around it, with noted construction durations here or original construction dates from 1926 through around 1991.

So, I'm now going to speak to you about some of the things that we saw that we are challenging. We're not sure that, as you might imagine, all of the aspects of the code really work as intended. And I'm going to hit a few items here that we think may deserve some more evaluation. We're builders, I'm not an engineer, we're not saying that we're code writers, but we think it may deserve a little more evaluation: sliding glass doors, one of them; frangible slabs; I'll talk about flood vents and breakaway walls and flood remediation. When I refer to the code, I don't only mean the Florida building code. When we build, we are subject to rules that FEMA also has for us, and the State of Florida DEP also establishes for us when we are building on the beach in coastal zones. But I'll just refer to it as the code as I go further.

One aspect of the code that needs improvement: sliding glass doors

So first, sliding glass doors. We put hundreds, maybe more, of these units into the homes that we build, and our competitors do the same. And these are code-compliant products. Sliding glass doors are good products, and they are required to, like all windows and doors, meet the design pressures for the openings. And like all windows and doors, they are allowed to leak at 15% of the design pressure when water is pushed up against them.

You can see in the image on the lower right as water blows across the deck or approaches one of these sliding glass doors and overwhelms its track system and the weir behind it, the wind pressure continues to blow on that water, and it comes into the house. And this is not a product failure. They're allowed to do this. And for a home that might have design pressures that range from 30 psf to a negative 70 psf, these are going to leak at 4 to 10 psf. When they do, they come into the house, and the water shoots across the room.

This is a house on Captiva that was nearly finished on September 28th. Two of our guys were finally available or finally able to get to the house. So, no vehicular access for about a month to get to this property after the causeway was damaged. The water blew 15 to 18 feet into the room out of that sliding glass door. No power, no access, and nobody had been to the house yet. So, after a month, you all can imagine there are remediators in the room, I'm sure you guys can all imagine what the inside of the house smelled like and felt like. So, we think that perhaps it's worth reevaluating that aspect of the code.

Frangible Slabs may need to be a little less frangible

Another item that we are subject to, and this is also part of our State of Florida requirements, DEP requirements when we're building these homes in coastal zones on and near the beach, we're required to build a lot of the slab on grade structures and sometimes even garage floor structures as frangible slabs. The idea, concept, I believe, is that by building these slabs with limited or no reinforcing, saw cut to break into small pieces, they will not become waterborne projectiles and destroy the buildings adjacent to them. They fall to the ground; they collapse like you see here.

This is a house that we were actually renovating, and that slab had been engineered and poured as a frangible structure, and it collapsed. It fell as the erosion scoured the stormwater, scoured the soil out in front of the house, and it fell into pieces. The problem was that some of the pieces were small enough to be carried by the stormwater, and this was one of a couple that we found in the middle of the house. So again, I don't know that this code is really performing as it was intended.

Here’s a better image of the back of the house; the West face of this house is covered in very, very high-quality, high-performance mahogany doors built by a German manufacturer that we love to use when you're given the opportunity. And those pieces came into the house in those middle openings where you see the doors missing to the right and the left. Those doors are identical; they're the same. They withstood the storm surge; they didn't have pieces go through them. So, we're not sure if this end result would have been the same or not, but a clear observation.

So, I think about the sliding glass door example a lot. The doors are allowed to leak to lessen the pressure that otherwise might have overwhelmed them or destroyed the door. Not exactly. My understanding is that the 15% requirement for pressure resistance for leakage had more to do with what manufacturers were actually able to resist. Sliding glass doors don't have gaskets on the bottom of them. They have these nice little fuzzy pieces on the bottom that are strong enough to keep a rat out, but that's about it.

The water overwhelms those little gaskets, gets into the track, and then exists in the track. Homeowners watching these storm events, the tracks fill up with water, the wind keeps on pushing them, and it comes into the house. I can help you with me, can you hear me? There you go. The lower number for leakage was voted on by the voting members of the ASTM committee, who had windows that actually passed that requirement at the time of the vote. Don't laugh, okay? That's the way it works, right? So you have a design pressure of whatever, and then the water leakage pressure is usually 10% to 15% of the wind pressure simply because that's what the voting members of the committee were making at the time we did the vote.

Yes, sir, Jim. I'm not dimming the windows. There's a trade-off between the leakage pressure rates that you're dealing with there in operational Force. How many Gorillas do you want to assign to that door to move it? Hey Jim, hold on, we got some answers for it coming, we may, yeah, thanks, Joe, we actually have perhaps a solution to this one, we do have a solution to this problem, but it doesn't actually use that product, it's better, their people are building better products that can exceed this by a lot, all right, one last comment though is that people will say look, um, it's if you get wet and leaks you can drive, but you, if you die you only have one shot at that. Well, at least in my understanding, mine too, yes.

Flood vents and breakaway walls work against each other

The next topic is flood vents and breakaway walls. So, this is something that comes to us from FEMA, and we don't have any choice here. FEMA dictates that in any of the flood zones that we build in, we have to install flood vents, which are illustrated here in this image that FEMA provides at the bottom of the walls where we are near grade and the floor of the space inside and behind those walls is below the minimum floor elevation. So, understanding that that area may flood in a storm event, we have to have flood vents there that allow the water to enter easily and leave easily.

Then, on top of that, in coastal zones, we have to build breakaway walls on the ground floor that allow the storm surge to come through the structure, break the wall, and flow easily through the building. I believe the idea is to prevent the primary structure from being compromised in the storm event these frangible breakaway walls collapse, and the water flows through easily. I've also heard commentary about this preventing the deflection of water energy onto adjacent properties, but this is not a tsunami wave. It took five hours for the water to rise to its peak.

So FEMA also provides these diagrams for us. The concept of the Breakaway wall on the left shows that when this stormwater stacks up against the wall and has wave action against that wall and gets way up multiple courses multiple feet onto that wall, it collapses. But remember, we have to put flood vents in the walls as well. So, on the right-hand side of the image, when we put the flood vent in, the flood vent allows the water to fully equalize on both sides of the wall with no pressure. And it doesn't collapse. Another section of the code that we wonder about should be reevaluated;I don't know that it operates as intended.

This is a house that we almost finished on September 28th we were in punch. The storm came on land this is on the beach on the North End of Naples, and you can see circled a couple of the flood vents. If you look carefully, you can see more of them. Those openings allowed, of course, the water into the ground floor of this house, which is admittedly for garage and storage. It's not a living space. The wall that you see that has the stone pattern on it was engineered as a breakaway wall. This house had somewhere in the neighborhood of six or seven feet of water around it in the storm. I saw a video from the neighbor's camera that had captured the storm event coming through this space on the right-hand side between the two houses, so I know pretty accurately how deep it was. There was no failure in the breakaway walls; the water came into the interior, and it, of course, destroyed all the finishes on the interior of the ground floor.

Speaking with a local structural engineer that we like to work with a lot in this area, I asked Jim what he thought of these situations; he said
“Well, Greg, you realize that as the structural engineer, I have to certify that these breakaway walls are going to withstand the wind pressure certified that at some point before the water pressure gets to that level where this study says that it's going to get to it's going to collapse.”

He said, “I know how to design to minimum requirements. I can do that all day long, but I'm not exactly sure how to design the maximum requirements and guarantee that things are going to fall apart. But that's what he's asked to do, and that's what he has to certify to and his clients then come back to him and say, “Well, why did my walls fall down and my neighbors didn't? And he says I have no idea, no clue.”

Post-Storm Remediation: A Steep Learning Curve

So, in the last part, I'm going to touch on what happens after all of this. We weren't prepared for a flood. 48 years in Naples, and I had heard on the Weather Channel and on NBC 2 news that we were going to get storm surge with about every storm that approached us in 48 years. None of them had surge—until Ian. And when it did, we had no idea what we were in for. We know how to build buildings that hold up to the wind pretty well. They perform well. We had no idea what we were in for here.

So I couldn't spell ICRC on September 27th, but I became familiar with it when we had to figure out what remediation of all these buildings meant.

I still can't tell you what it stands for, but I know what the requirement is, the definition of category three black water, and how to remediate it. Just to paraphrase, “Category 3 water is grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxogenic, or other harmful agents,” and so on and so forth. Examples of category three water can include, but are not limited to, sewage waste line backflows that originate from beyond any trap, regardless of visible content or color, and all forms of flooding from seawater, okay? So we had to remediate Category 3 water.

The image that I want you to focus on here is a satellite image of the Southern or Southwest portion of Florida, where we live and work. The image on the left is what it typically looks like, and the image on the right was taken a couple of days after the storm had passed by Florida. All of that light-colored water that is out there in the Gulf of Mexico, well, think of it like a blender. So as the storm came on land with winds of 150 miles an hour, came on land, everything that water and storm surge touched it pulled up off the ground. It takes everything out of the septic systems, it takes everything out of the sewer systems, it takes everything up out of the bay bottoms, estuaries, river bottoms, etc. Giant blender, and it spreads it across the land and then back out into the Gulf. Thus, the Category 3 exposure.

Garage flooding and remediation

This last image that I'm going to share with you shows some of that impact. Most of the houses that we build have floor elevation. I should back up. All of the houses that we build have floor elevations that are above the flood minimum, so we had few to no houses that actually had water on the interior of them in living space, but pretty much every garage that we had built recently in 20 plus years had water in it. The upper image on the left shows a garage that was on the beach in North Naples. You can see the flood vent on the left and the sediment inside that space. So that garage had feet of water in it. The image on the lower left shows us starting to remediate the wall construction in a storage area or garage.

FEMA requires that we build everything below the flood line in materials that will not deteriorate after 48 hours of exposure to a flood. This makes total sense, except that the IICRC says that everything that bacteria-infested water comes in contact with has to be either removed or cleaned. And if there's any cavity space behind it, you've got to keep taking it out. So even if we built with cement board, polystyrene foam, and metal frame, which you see in the images here, those things aren't going to deteriorate after 48 hours. We have to tear them all out anyway because of the water contamination.

So one of the first things that we're shifting is how we build walls in garages. The two images on the right show that the metal framing and cavity space is going to stop above the flood line, and everything below that is going to be cementitious, and those block walls will get a stucco finish with paint or epoxy coat, and we will literally be able to clean them out with a fire hose. Some of the stuff that we think doesn't work as intended probably deserves a little more attention. I'm going to hand this over now to Joe, and he's going to tell all of us about some of the things that we are doing that do work really well.

Yeah, so Greg showed you what we feel doesn't work and what could be changed. I'm going to show you what does work and what we've been doing prior to the storm that we are really proud of that works, in our opinion.

Time-tested hurricane details that work

So I'll tell you a little bit about where we build because I think that'll help. So this is the 150-mile coastline that we build homes. These numbers are the number of these spots. We pretty much just superimposed Ian's landfall on top of where we build. So we just had one gigantic test event from water to wind and everything in between. You know, if you take our projects up here, no water but sustained 150 miles an-hour wind. These projects are wind and water.

So, you've probably heard of Sanibel, Captiva, and Fort Myers Beach. These areas are just devastated. However, I'll show you what worked. This area was primarily a flood event. Very little wind. I mean, it was windy, you know, but it wasn't blowing 150 miles an hour. Wind was not the people's concern. It was the water. So very, very different along the path of the storm. And then some areas in the middle of this whole mess were much less affected.

So one of our partners, Scott Weidel, which some of you know in this room, he's sitting on his porch drinking an ice-cold beer, watching this whole thing come by and had wind but no big deal, no flood, and just watched it go by where these poor folks up here on Sanibel and Captiva lost everything two miles away. So very unpredictable.

The storm moved from southwest to northeast while rotating clockwise. The people at the bottom of the rotation were primarily hit with water. The people at the top of the rotation were primarily hit by wind.

At high tide, the wind aligned with the axis of the river and the bay; it just pushed that water upriver, and when the water started hitting the sides of the land, it overflowed. It's moving, but it's moving pretty slow; it's going like, you know, 12 miles an hour.

This is where the 150-mile-an-hour winds were. This is kind of the in-betweener. You got a little bit of everything.

So what do we do to make our buildings withstand something like this? This is our typical Coastal exterior construction method. So, the frame is concrete. It's CMU and poured concrete component. And then what we do is a wood-engineered wood trust Roof System.

So this is how it's done. This is the concrete beam. I don't know how well you all can see this. The wood trusses, these steel straps are embedded in the concrete tied to the rebar wrapped around the trusses. The girders would have even more substantial pieces of galvanized red Iron with bolts coming through. You know, that shit's really put on there good. It's not going to go anywhere.

Then, for the sheathing portion of the roof, this is good. This is, uh, we don't do this, but this is the code minimum.

  • Good: ⅝-inch Advantech Sheathing fastened with ring shank nails.
    Better: ¾-inch Advantech sheathing fastened with glue and screws to the trusses.
    Best: ¾-inch Advantech sheathing fastened with ring shank nails and 2 lb. closed cell spray foam sprayed to the underside.

I would say the code, from what Greg and I've seen, basically got it right. I have not seen a lot of structural failures on new construction at the code minimum, but there are some. When you see a house brand new probably withstood the storm and the one 100 feet away lost its garage roof, so did they do it wrong, or did the code get it wrong? I don't know. You guys guess.

However, I can tell you what we do, and it works. So our minimum on the coastal conditions would be a three-quarter inch engineered sheathing, uh, fastened of the trusses with screws and glue so it just locks everything together the straps lock it to the tie beam. That works. We've had zero failures with that as of recent times.

We're trying to do a little belt-and-suspenders, as you've heard Dr. Joe say a million times. So this method, we use the same three-quarter inch sheathing, but we basically glue the whole damn thing together with two-pound foam so it's glued to the tie beam, it's glued to itself, it doesn't rack much in the storm. And then the two-pound foam also provides a good amount of impact resistance because you know if a tree falls through your roofing but it's a six-foot hole in there, you have a problem, but the foam gives you even more resistance to that sort of thing. So this this works, this really works, this mostly works.

Another thing, and I'm sure all of you have seen these, you know, back in like hurricane Irma, Charlie, I mean you could just drive around the West Coast of Florida just be roof tiles everywhere. Mechanically fastened roof tiles, in my opinion, do not work. Foam-adhered tiles in a major storm, I think they work great.

I mean, my house is 13 years old. I've been through multiple hurricanes I've lost four roof tiles. And that was with the old foam. I mean, the only tiles we really lose are when somebody else's roof tile breaks a tile.

My house is also 14 years old. It was built by a track home builder, and I am about to replace my roof. The existing was two mechanical fasteners not glued down, not foamed down. It's gone.

Cost-wise, on a house we build, it's maybe five to ten percent more to foam the roof down. But this almost 100% works. In my neighborhood, most of the roofs were mechanically fastened. During Irma, I think I'm the only roof in the whole place that didn't have tiles laying in the driveway, so this really works. This is one of those “it's a no-brainer,” but not everybody has a brain.

This is a little complicated, so this is my this is our first building science party with Joe Lstiburek. So when we first met Dr. Joe, we were kind of wondering why perfectly good windows installed as directed still leaked. It's like, “What are we doing wrong? We're buying these really expensive windows we're putting them in, and they leak.”

That's when we learned the whole thing about the fact that they only have to, you know, the window manufacturers don't advertise that they only leak 15% of the water. I mean, you can find it, but it's not like you know they're not promoting that. So, we learned that very early in our relationship with Joe. So, for the last, this is a 20-year culmination of working with Joe to produce something that doesn't leak in a major hurricane. This means that the window is probably five to ten times what the windows are designed to meet in water resistance in a major hurricane.

So, no shit, they all leak. Ours don't leak. Well, they do leak; they just don't leak into the house. So, this is kind of what Joe taught us. So, the first thing we learned then this is kind of the secret sauce to this design. So, this is the back of the window.

Air Seal for Pressure Relief

So, the back of the window has an air seal, which is this picture here, and you notice that's fairly meticulously done. I mean, it's really well done, and we test it. So, this essentially turns the back of the window almost into water going in the back of a cup. It relieves the pressure of the water when it piles in there because the window is gonna leak, no question.

This is a secret sauce, and then we have a channel below the window, so that's the buck. Notice how it's sloped and notice there's a channel all the way down here for water. So, once that water pressure gets relieved and gravity gets a hold of it, it just drips out the bottom.

So, you can see this is kind of that... that you put this particular one has a stone sill with, you know, with a with mortar, but it's a dab, so there's plenty of air space for the water to get out. And this is the latest iteration of 20 years. But however, even the old iterations back, like in Hurricane Charlie and Wilma, it's those windows were way overwhelmed, and it worked. We had zero water coming to the house through the windows.

And then, on the flip side, we have another company that fixes other people's problems. They were making a living after those hurricanes, fixing other people's windows that leaked in the house. I mean, we had one house that was a brand new house. A builder built it, but the windows leaked so much that the dining table warped like a banana. That's how much water came in from the upstairs windows.

But this works. We got a ton of testing on this. When you think about it, I mean average window; we have summer times thunderstorm conditions that exceed the design parameters of the window for water.

So, this is how we do it. And then, you know, another little secret sauce: notice how this bottom flange is not sealed. So that allows another avenue for water that gets in the window system to get out. It doesn't really matter if it gets in; it's going to dry as long as it can get out. But I can't tell you how many fights over other independent window consultants we've had over that one, but it works. And then we test it when we're all done. Every single opening of the house gets a water test that we've created ourselves that we find works. And if we do all that, it works. And then when you go to the outside of the house, you can't tell it's architecturally just as like you did exist.

Innovative drainable deck design

So, this is our newest iteration of improving the storm resistance of homes that we build. People that we build for in Florida, they come down for the climate in the winter time; they like to be outside, you know because it's pretty nice outside of Florida in the winter. Um, so we have these huge decks, and of course, they want lots of doors to go on the decks. So, how the hell do you keep the water out of the house? Because doors leak, as Greg showed you, sliding glass doors and aluminum sliders just leak, there's not much you can do about it.

So we're scratching our heads like this is a huge problem. Um, so, we kind of came up with this. It's a kind of an evolution of the window design that Dr. Joe taught us. This is a deck getting ready to be built, but it's it's recessed. It has a big reservoir like a gigantic shower pan. These things here are curbs with drainage channels that we're going to put gigantic stone pavers on top of that. So that's just like a gigantic, as Greg called it, sideways rainscreen laid on top of the deck.

So this picture has a lot of information. So, this is a partially constructed piece of it. All that reservoir put a ton of freaking water in there. It slopes rapidly to big gigantic drains, and then a little key here—notice there's no grout in these joints, and there never will be. So you know that water has to cross 20 feet of deck, and most falls in that Reservoir before it even reaches the sliding glass doors.

But back to the belt-and-suspenders of how we like to live, right? We're not going to use the sliding glass doors that Greg showed you that are, you know if it does get to the door, it's probably coming in. So we use a different type of door, it's called a lift-and-slide. So, let's look at this really closely. So, for the other doors, I think Greg described a little rat brush quite eloquently. These doors work much differently. They call a lifted slide because when you, you lock them by dropping them down to the floor, and then each of these little things right here is actually a gasket that compresses when the door is lowered, so you got like a three or four hundred pound door smashing down onto these two gaskets.

So you got a pretty good seal. I mean, it probably could hold back some water for a while with very little leakage, but they're going to leak eventually. Then these, the vertical things here, these are the door tracks, but they have a whole channel down the middle of them, so if the water gets through that, it hits this, and it drops down into this reservoir. So these doors, instead of having a threshold, have a big hollow reservoir underneath them.
So if the water gets to that one, dips down if it gets a little more, so it's got to get all the way through that thing before it gets in the house. So, could it happen? Sure, but I mean, it has to be really awful. And then it falls down in this reservoir, and then it then we slope it, and it goes back into this reservoir here and then goes to the drains.

A robust storm protection system

It's a pretty cool system. And this is the finished product. There are the tracks that really are not very visible. You can get them with or without the drainage channel in them. Of course, I think we know what we all would pick. But really nice looking setup. The other thing about this is notice this floor is flush with the exterior lanai. Which house would you rather have, the one you got to go step over step or one you can just walk outside? And you're giving up nothing because all the steps are built underneath that whole assembly.

This is relatively new to our repertoire, but we've got a lot of houses coming up. We're doing it, and we've done it on houses already.
And then another thing back to Jim's comment, so these doors obviously, when they're lowered down, they're not moving. But the roller system on these, when you raise the doors up, rolls much better than a conventional sliding glass door. It's a pretty innovative product.

Another little thing we do to cheat in the storm is more belt-and-suspenders. Most of our homes have storm shutters around the lanai, so you roll those down, you don't have to move the furniture, don't have to take the flowers off the table. Um, I mean, they're not watertight, so water could get through them eventually, but it's so we're getting also suspenders. We've got a super high-end rain screen protecting that, plus all the other backup.

And then this is a picture of that home, this, this is all buttoned up, ready for the next storm to come give it a test. Shutters down, everything's you know, and uh, you know, I'm sure there's a hurricane that could put a dent in this thing, but it'd be tough. I mean, the wind doesn't blow down the structures; the wind doesn't blow out the windows anymore. What's the line you told me when I first met you? I asked you why these windows leak so bad; he said, “Well, on the hurricane Andrew, when I'm sitting there, and there's no roof or no windows in the building, no one asks if they leak. So, the windows aren't going to blow out, the roof's not going to come off, the structure is not going to blow down, but the water is the enemy, and that's the one that's really difficult to handle.


Can you describe what happens for the benefit of everyone in the jams of those windows where the corners and pack are turning up your waterproofing? I'm sure you're turning up your waterproofing.

So we put a barrier system on three sides of the window installation so the bucks are fully waterproofed on all sides. The window goes into that hole, and typically, these are flanged windows, so the flange on the jams and the head or the side jams, and the head is sealed from the outside. So we do create a barrier system there, but we leave the bottom open.

The problem if you seal all four sides, then you create what we call the aquarium installation. The water gets in, but it never gets out.

Yeah, well, no, it's when the water is going to get in. You just have to give it somewhere to go. Even if it gets in a little bit, the window's gonna rot because it never out, it never dries. You know, in our town, it's just rampant; I mean, five-year-old homes all over the place getting the windows replaced.

I think these fundamentals were figured out in the 1950s. It's called a two-stage joint. And you have pressure equalization, but pressure equalization can only happen in a small volume, so you can't have pressure equalization in a panelized system.

This was figured out in the 1950s, and this is a classic two-stage joint pressure equalized drain

Joe, I heard a couple of people ask while you were presenting, and I heard Joe call it “almost a Ferrari.” what price range in terms of per square foot cost does it cost to build something with that much function and performance in our Florida Market?

Is everyone sitting down? North of a thousand dollars a foot. But it sure it stays there after the hurricane. Yeah, you don't have to build it twice. You only build it once—one time.

Here's the takeaway: we're learning the fundamentals and principles that we can then adapt for everybody's houses, all right? It's more important to experiment on rich people than on normal people.

There's been an awful lot of advances in dealing with floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes in the last two decades. I mean, Hurricane Andrew was the wake-up call. We had Katrina, we had the Houston floods, and there's an awful lot of nice work done out of LSU—I know they have a crappy football team, but is Claudette here? She has led the charge on affordable floodproofing for, you know, low-income and affordable houses. Where are the Houstonians? You know, that last flood event taught us all how to handle, you know— it was kind of dumb to build Houston in Houston. You know, the answer is you design to deal with the floods, and we've learned an extraordinary amount.

And the key is to now get that information out. Where's the Department of Energy? Where's Eric? You guys have been doing a spectacular job and the Building America Solution Center and delivering all of this information to normal people, not like the people in this room.

More on hurricane and flood resistance

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