Disaster Preparedness Month 2019 - Preparing with Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) Construction Part 1 - Wind Powered Disasters
September is the month of the year designated as Disaster Preparedness to prompt us as individuals and communities to focus on this topic, and the elements that may be particularly relevant to where we live. As a real estate related website, we won't start at a high level on the need for preparations, as there are several excellent information sources for that, and links for some of them will be provided below in a Resources section.
That said, there are a few natural causes for disasters that our region can and should prepare for: Wind Storms; Earthquakes and Fire; which we'll cover in a brief series. Using ICF in the construction of homes and businesses buildings is an outstanding option in all of these scenarios.
Since Hurricane Dorian hit the news early this month, and our area had a rare Tornado Watch the night of September 8, 2019, let's start the first episode with covering Wind Storms - Hurricanes and Tornadoes. In Clark County our "Big" hurricane-like storm was the 1962 Columbus Day storm, which initially hit the Northern California and Southern Oregon Coast as an estimated Category 3 Hurricane. In Portland the wind speed was clocked gusting up to 116 mph! As a youth at the time, the intensity of the storm, along with the darkness owing to the power going out was quite alarming. Our house was pelted with flying branches and roof-shingles from the nearby neighbors. One of our windows was broken, and my Dad and older brother braved the elements to place a board over the damaged window to keep the wind from doing more damage inside.
When the Columbus Day Storm was over, more than a Million people were without electricity for days (like us); and many for weeks before power was restored. Between 11 billion and 17 billion board-feet of timber were blown down in large swaths that were hard to imagine. The damage to homes, commercial buildings and other property was tough on our area.
Like any other part of the United States the Flying Debris causes much damage to structures. However, in the Pacific Northwest we also have very large Douglas Fir trees in many urban and suburban neighborhoods that tend to get blown down in strong, moisture-laden storms. When those big trees hit a house - especially a wood-framed structure - major damage is a certainty!
Below I've assembled a few videos showing Real World Examples, and Laboratory Tests of the Survivability of ICF (and reinforced-concrete) walls (and homes) to Hurricanes:
Several Videos Showing the Hurricane Survivability of Homes Constructed with ICF
The story from Hurricane Sandy was quite telling for me, with both the new ICF home and the older bungalow next to each other and right at the edge of the ocean - which meant there should be very little flying debris, and just high wind and pounding water to do the damage. The ICF home was missing a piece of lap-siding, and the garage doors (typically weak in most homes) had damage - while the older but storm-veteran bungalow was nowhere to be seen except its foundation!
Another powerful wind storm common in other parts of the nation is the Tornado. Our area just experienced an F-0 tornado that traveled 800'. However, since 1950 they've recorded less than 90 tornadoes in the Vancouver / Portland area, with the strongest one being estimated at F-3 in 1972. Thus, the tornado is a somewhat lower-risk type of wind event for us here.
That said, it is still worth exploring briefly how well ICF constructed homes - at least the exterior walls; will do when faced with some of the world's most powerful windstorms.
The first video in the playlist below shows an ICF home after an EF 5 tornado came calling. While the neighbor's homes were scattered bits of debris, the walls of this home survived to be rebuilt, and the Safe Room saved lives. The second video initially shows some comparison tests, with a real-world example at the end of the clip:
Several Videos Showing the Tornado Resistance of Homes Constructed with ICF
Although homes that were directly hit by the big tornadoes lost their entire roof system, the ICF walls remained structurally sound and were used in the rebuilding of the home.
Also, the roof systems on these homes were the traditional wood-truss systems. It is also possible, and perhaps very much recommended to also build the roof system using ICF. The ICF strength and mass will fare far better against powerful tornado and hurricane winds than a wood-truss roof system will.
OK - so we may not have hurricanes come through our area more than once every half-century, and our tornado count is quite low; however, we do have strong enough wet-wind storms that regularly come through and blow down large shallow-rooted Douglas Firs or, lay-low the big Old but diseased Elms, Oaks and Maple trees found in many nice neighborhoods. Clearly when the home's wall-system is ICF (reinforced concrete) the home's occupants and contents will be far safer than with a traditional 2x4(or6) framed home!
ICF construction is not new technology - it is mature, and is going to hit the market in a big way in the coming months and years. Please stay tuned for more tales if ICF survivability to natural disasters we may face in our area.
Please contact me with your comments questions, AND if you'd like to get started with anICF constructed home!