LESLIE: Well, if there’s one thing that we’ve learned over the past couple of years, it’s that weather can impact our lives in ways that we just never imagined. And it’s even starting to impact the way we think about our homes.
TOM: That’s right. In fact, we saw that right here in our own backyard, at the Jersey Shore, when Hurricane Sandy struck. The homes that were built to withstand the elements did much better than those that were built decades ago. Kevin O’Connor is host of TV’s This Old House and got to see both the benefits of storm-resistant building materials and the utter destruction of homes built with less.
KEVIN: Hi guys. Thank you for having me.
TOM: Now, Kevin, you witnessed the rebuilding efforts after Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey. So what do you think we’ve learned about constructing homes that are weather-resistant?
KEVIN: Well, I actually think we learned a lot of the lessons that we employed when we rebuilt the houses after Sandy. I think we learned a lot of that stuff many years ago. The problem is is that a lot of houses were built before we had learned these things.
KEVIN: And we don’t often go back and retrofit houses before they’re damaged. So, some of the key lessons – if you’re going to be in a zone that you know you’re going to be impacted by weather and in particular by water – is to choose the right materials.
So, there is a very stringent building code in this country and it’s down in Miami-Dade, Florida. And it came – it was born of Hurricane Andrew, back in the early 90s. And they learned a lot from that damage and devastation and they put in a very stringent building code.
Now, not every jurisdiction in the United States is that stringent. But if you look to that code as you build your house, wherever you are, and abide by it, you’re probably building by the most stringent code and you’re going to be in a really good place.
TOM: That’s a good point. And I also noticed that certain building products, like windows and doors and so on, they will cite in their description that it’s approved for use in Miami-Dade County. And so if you see that as part of the description, you can be assured that that particular component is tough enough to stand up to the weather.
KEVIN: Yeah. I think within the builders’ circles, that is sort of the gold standard in terms of code and what you should be building and how you should be building.
KEVIN: In terms of materials – from experience, some of the things that we did down in New Jersey when we were working on our houses post-Sandy – there’s lots of great materials out there that can withstand water. Composite decking is one of them. There’s different types of composite decking out there. But generally speaking, these things can withstand really tough conditions, lots of water. Sometimes, there’s even composite decking out there that can stand to be submerged, which is quite impressive.
Then there are PVC materials. We’re used to those products for trim boards. We should be looking at using those. We built a deck and the stairs running down, from the deck to the ground, where we trimmed out those stairs with PVC, the risers, the skirt boards, and stuff like that. And we ended up with a deck and a set of stairs that really could hold up against any amount of water over any length of time. So they’re out there.
TOM: Good point. And another area to be concerned about – which is really a big, weak link in the exterior of a home – is that garage door, correct?
KEVIN: Yeah. And so, for us, we actually raised a bunch of these houses that we worked on up one story and we ended up putting garages underneath. And so we expect the water to rise around those houses.
You can actually go out and get a garage door that has no wood on it at all. It has composites, it has metals and such and it can be practically submerged in water. And because of its materials, it can withstand that submersion. And it’s a great choice if you know that you’re going to be in an area that has a potential to flood.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And I think it’s also important to know that certain building materials are being modified to make them even stronger. You know, there’s a concrete lumber that I think you guys found really useful during your renovations.
KEVIN: This is one of the coolest things. The guy who we were working with to do the composite decks is actually perfecting this technology.
Concrete lumber. So what does that mean? Think of all of your traditional, dimensional wood lumber right? The 2x8 that is really 1¾ by – what is that? –7½.
TOM: Right. Seven-and-a-half, yeah.
KEVIN: Yeah. All these (inaudible at 0:25:26). Well, he’s actually got concrete lumber that is the exact same dimensions as all the dimensional wood lumber. And why is that important? Well, because sometimes you are building and the drawings are specced for those dimensions. Well, now you can go and get concrete lumber that’s exactly the same size and build with it just as easily.
It’s reinforced but it also – because it’s concrete, it can be submerged. I mean this is rated. They use this stuff to build submerged docks and such. And so now you have an alternative where you can build the bottom half of the house – say, the foundation, the basement area, or the storage area – using concrete lumber. Get great strength, great spans. It’s the same dimension and it’s impervious to wet conditions.
TOM: That sounds like this is a question that you really need to ask yourself, no matter what kind of project you’re doing. Whether you are rebuilding an entire house, building a new home from scratch or maybe just replacing a window or a door or a roof, you ask yourself, “What is the weather resistance of the particular materials I’m working with?”
KEVIN: Yeah. You’d really need to know what’s the environment you’re in. And there are things that are sort of intuitive. Do we get lots of storms and such? And then there are things that are a little bit more scientific. What’s the likelihood of getting floodwaters? And if we do get floodwaters, how high will that go? There are FEMA maps out there that will help you with those types of questions. And that should help dictate how you actually rebuild or build new.
LESLIE: But we have to consider other types of storms, as well: perhaps ones that aren’t included with water and in different parts of the country, like tornadoes. We’ve seen such devastation with tornadoes in the past few years, so is there a building technique that just sort of keeps things better together when faced with that?
KEVIN: Well, certainly the way we actually make the connections of our houses – think about what we’re doing: we’re connecting 2x4s to sill plates and the top plates and roofs to walls, sheathing to those types of things. Those connections can be reinforced. They can withstand high winds if we use clips and fasteners.
But there’s also styles of houses. Roof design, for example. As it turns out, the hip roof is less susceptible to being pulled off the top of the house than the traditional A-frame, gabled roof, because there’s less of a chance of uplift and pulling that roof off.
So a smart builder will know those things. There’s technology out there that we can help build these houses so they can withstand all types of severe weather.
TOM: Great advice. Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit and teaching us, once again, how to make sure our homes can stand up to whatever Mother Nature deals out.
KEVIN: Always a pleasure to be here. Thank you, guys.
LESLIE: Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by The Home Depot. More saving, more doing.