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Is it Possible to Build “Storm-proof” Houses along our Coasts? FEMA Approved Storm-Resistant Construction

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on February 11, 2013


Cindy Masiko

President at Insulation Corporation of America

Search ICA’s Blog

Many homeowners that were affected by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy are turning to Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs) for rebuilding their homes.

19 days ago

Tim Davis • Yes, it is a lost art. Reinforced masonry, with bond beams and pin locked stone (if being used) can withstand virtually any wind speed. Unfortunately, most builders on the coasts don’t use masons and elevated concrete designs in order to increase profits and shrink build times. Square footage costs for Coast construction have never been higher, though the quality of product is terrible. We are located in Pittsburgh, though we could design a simplified housing plan for you to demonstrate the structural and architectural advantages of reinforcement design. Email me for a more detailed explanation if you wish.

17 days ago• Like

Tim Davis • The problem with ICF’s are the cost. Same structural specs can be reached at a 25% discount with standard reinforced masonry.

17 days ago• Like1

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Robert Rininger • But you don’t get the insulating value of ICF construction w/ reinforced masonry.

16 days ago• Like

Greg WILLINGHAM • Consider your environment, just as the Indians were doing when we came to this country. Live with nature, the seasons, the elements in harmony, and pack it up and move if necessary. They didn’t fight it they flowed with it-so should the modern day building locations and selection of construction/materials. Placement of structures at locations that do not disturb the area but if anything enhance it. So, we don’t place it in a needed wetlands area. Selection of construction/materials: don’t build to fight against the wind and water (orientated towards shore and rectangular), shape to blend in/redirect. Reinforced concrete/ICF-but not using traditional construction methods.

16 days ago• Like2

Tim Davis • I do understand the insulating values. Though, the same values can be reached for a lot less money using foam. I have done both methods personally. ICF’s are over 25% more expensive per sq ft.

16 days ago• Like

Fred DeWitt • Let’s set some basics about Hurricane Sandy and coastal construction. Hurricane Sandy was a fluke. Perhaps it may be repeated, given the state of our global environmental changes. But “Free Will” is the motivation that governs the decision of the local residents to move, rebuild, or rebuild better. Eventually, the Code Enforcement Officials will “React” to repetitions in the cycle of storms and adjust the minimum building requirements including coastal set-backs, finish floor elevations, types of foundations, anchoring and fastening, and testing standards for certain materials. From my experiences, there is no such thing as “Storm-proof”. But preventative measures are often made mandatory to make structures “Hardened” against the occasional severe storm.

I’m reminded that our Native Americans, 500 years ago, lived in simple structures because theirs was a simple way of life: no doors or glass, no insulation or underlayment, no inside plumbing or storm drainage, and no refrigeration or oil lamps. They were migratory with the seasons. And clearly, the local economy had no impact on the environment.

ICF construction is but one method in improving the energy-efficiency of shell construction. It has been very slow to catch on, largely because the system requires certifiable training to be able to erect the shell walls, and advertise and market a specific brand. But still, it is the weather-worthiness of the doors and windows (impact resistance), roof sheathing fastening (the ability to resist negative pressures), and roofing materials (and their improved fastening requirements) that will determine “survivability” in a severe storm.

As a side note, if you want an improved product that any mason can lay, investigate the use of “Omniblock”. For a superior roofing underlayment, use “Ice & Water Shield” in lieu of Felts. And “Prosoco’s Cat-5 Air & Water Barrier” is an expensive, but far superior, vapor barrier product. I prefer to educate my clients, and give them better choices. And coincidentally, I believe it’s my job to do just that.

16 days ago• Like2

Michael Holbert • Hurricane Sandy was a fluke, is this a serious statement? Have you been watching the current world news? There is devastation around the globe, Australia and the Philippines to name a couple. Natural disasters are not flukes.

16 days ago• Like1

Tim Davis • The biggest problem with building to survive coastal winds is the failure of builders to implement the necessary items in the construction of the home. Too often, builders, a lot who are used car salesman, only sell stick built projects to the buyers. They do this because it is the easiest and most profitable for them. Further, after 1 year, almost all of them are structurally off the hook, so they do not actually care. If given the option of techniques on a Million dollar home, I am sure the homeowner would go with reinforced Concrete/masonry. Especially considering the actual costs are cheaper than wood framing.

16 days ago• Like

Fred DeWitt • First of all, I can appreciate that those under thirty years of age may not have experienced enough severe weather to understand the use of the word “fluke” in this context. Typhoons and Tsunamis are commonplace in the Western Pacific, not on the East coast of the United States. Those of us involved in disaster recovery understand well that natural disasters are growing in frequency based largely on our changing global climate, whether considered cyclic or not.

With regard to construction techniques, I’m currently building a $2.4 million luxury ocean-front home for one of my clients, and only the first floor is of masonry construction. Every aspect of its design has been engineered, and reviewed by both local and state jurisdictional authorities, to comply with flood plane restrictions, wind pressures, and coastal set-backs — to name a few. Admittedly, these are not the activities of a typical Spec Homebuilder trying to cover their profit margin. But the fact remains that no building permit is issued without first complying with the local code requirements and restrictions. Additionally, you should investigate the phrase, “Implied Warranty of Habitability”. In some designs, the warranties extend to seven years.

Human nature being what it is, the focus of my interest in Hurricane Sandy will be the reaction of the local Building Code Officials to strengthen or tighten certain construction guidelines as they might be applied to future construction in certain coastal zones and other areas exposed to large bodies of water. As is always the case, the cost of construction will rise from the pricing of available materials set by manufacturing businesses, and newly implemented guidelines authored by local bureaucrats and passed into law by the State Legislators. The local Homebuilders will have no control over that.

16 days ago• Like3

Tim Davis • Mr. DeWitt, I agree in part. Some weather can be considered a “fluke”. Though, even if a home does in fact pas local codes, you are well aware that this may not be the safest avenue to take. If given an option between a Yugo and Mercedes, yes both are cars, but what is a better car. And for the money, nothing is more weather resistant than reinforced masonry/concrete.
As far as the local homebuilder, their particular labor force determines most of what they push or rely on, not the manufacturer. I am sure in the New York area, all items are available for delivery. The homebuilder only needs to offer these items, of which they have not done yet.

16 days ago• Like

Michael Holbert • Yes, Fred. I did not read that correctly. We are on the same page.

16 days ago• Like1

steven rowe • what little i read here most you have never been in real Hurricane or mostal deal with recover of those places .well i have been in about 10+ hurricanes some very wrost in last 35 years ,,Let tell you NOT even reinforced concrete to joist hangers to hurricane chips doesn;t work,,, doesn’t help AT ALL not even “” Cindy””Insulated Concrete Forms,,you can test anything you like in a lab,,LOL take my word go see after a storm,,POINT is if you like living on the coast it need to be YOUR problem and not the rest of the countrys,,,NOW about Sandy with all the money their asking in N.Y and N.J you tell us they had NO – homeowners –business–town–city insurance ?? i seen way to many people make out as if they hit Meg buck in this storms

15 days ago• Like1

Tim Davis • Yes, reinforced concrete does work. It has worked for 2000 years. Look up mass walls and coast line abutments.

15 days ago• Like

Tim Davis •
here is a FEMA report about this thread. Should end any questions about design and what should be used in Major Storm areas.

15 days ago• Like1

Cindy Masiko •

This is a pretty compelling article by FEMA with some real life hurricanes…

15 days ago• Like1

steven rowe • LOL and I been at those storm and see first hand what happens 35 years in business i have exp,,But with out saying on your materical for FEMA doesn’t shock me,,pretty much the way LEED’s became part building codes,,must be fun to be just book smart try some real life exp,

15 days ago• Like

Tim Davis • Steve, you are an estimator…really. I am a journeyman bricklayer out of Local 9 Pittsburgh. Been a member since 1998. I also have years of Industrial/Heavy experience with reinforced concrete out of Local 1058, since 1994. Next time you judge someone, do your research. The FEMA thread is correct. Not sure why some are so against this. The facts are what they are. Cindy just posted a simple question, and this is a simple answer. It is available, it is efficient, and it solves the problem.

If there is another solution, please Steve, post it. This is not about Idaho, this is about coastal construction in the future and if there exists a specific design that could be employed to be storm resistant.

15 days ago• Like

steven rowe • have Lic in most 7ve trades divison along with Lic’s in 5 East coast states before i became lic cost engineer,, and you dam Union..PLEASE step a side try give some clowns the facts of real exp ,,so step a side son

15 days ago• Like

Tim Davis • I thought this was a professional discussion. Not sure about the “son” thing, as far as what will work, like before, please post another solution. In my opinion, backed by facts, there is nothing else that compares structurally and economically as reinforced concrete/masonry for a solution set to this particular problem.
Who are the “clowns”? What real exp are you talking about?

15 days ago• Like1

Kenneth Hill • It is not possible to construct “storm proof” structures, but it is possible to construct structures that are more storm resistant. Of course implementing more rigorous engineering techniques will result in an increased upfront cost, but that may be cheaper than having to completely rebuild in the event of a disaster. The building codes only require that designs conform to minimum standards based on historical data and common industry prctices. Consult industry professionals who are experiened in the design of such structures (architects/engineers).

Such design solutions will probably contain less wood framing and more reinforced, solid-filled concret masonry units or reinforced reinforced poured-in-place concrete, more steel and fewer openings that incorporate glazing systems specially designed to resist high-impacts and high-wind velocities. The roofsystem will probably fail due to uplift, but it can be replaced with minimal cost.

14 days ago• Like2

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Dan Rus • Kenneth I agree with you 100% (Here is a solution for the roof, Concrete, flat Roof with properly install Firestone rubber roof EPDM )

14 days ago• Like3

Kenneth Hill • I have a few issues with a completly flat roofs on residential structures:

1) Aesthetics – sloped roofs are traditional and I don’t think homeowners would be as pleased with the look. I also don’t think coastal communities would go for that look.

2) Flat roofs are not as good at sheding water and there is a potential for increased snow load.

3) I believe EPDM membrane roofs would cost more and require more maintenance on the homeowners part. I’m concerned with the potential of the membrane to be punctured.

14 days ago• Like

Tim Davis • If a reinforced wall system was used, a flat roof is not necessary. One can slope flexicore and use epdm, which is very tear resistant. We put a slight gable on flexicore roofing systems here, it produces enough water run off and reduces snow loads. The lack of usage is the ability of the exterior walls to support the weight, though it is a lot cheaper than rebuilding. I doubt it would be more expensive though, the standard sq ft cost for High Rise construction is $178. Home construction is at $154 (High End). With a significant reduction in insurance premiums this would almost be net even.

14 days ago• Like1

Kenneth Hill • I think that is too expensive and it really has to look nice in a residential area.

14 days ago• Like1

Tim Davis • It could look like anything you want. The Roof could accept a standard Truss anchored to the flexicore. Beach Luxury housing costs can approach $200+ per sq ft. The only issue for home builders is that Commercial Builders would then be in the ring for the contracts. This would actually put downward pressure on costs while increasing the potential for structural advances in home construction. It may be a windfall for the consumer.

14 days ago• Like

Fred DeWitt • For the sake of discussion, allow me to provide you with some data. In 2012, I built a custom-designed 1,786 ACSF 3-Bdrm 2-Ba w/ oversized garage and 160 SF covered patio, single-story dwelling 3/4 mile from the ocean, 2×6 x 9′ frame construction w/ 5 in 12 pitched hip trusses, R-19 walls & R-40 roof, full-ht threaded rod anchors, 40-yr architectural shingles on IWS on 5/8″ CDX, siding combo of B&B and Hardi-lap, vinyl low-E impact resistant windows, and a circular driveway w/ brick sidewalks & stoops. The total contract price was $217,500 on the Owner’s 1/3rd acre lot.

Also, allow me to share a bit of my experience with you. In 1976, we [Engineering R&D at HDW Houdaille], among our other duties, were experimenting with placing the steel strands in the neutral-axis of Hollow-core (Flexicore) plank so that the meter-width plank could be mounted on-edge to create a wall system utilizing fluted precast corner columns. The concept was directed at providing pre-cut components for cost-efficient housing in 3rd-world markets. About a dozen or so custom homes were built in Central Florida to study the product’s appeal in the United States. in each case, cambered plank was used for the roof framing.

Flexicore (Hollow-core) plank has inherent camber based upon the span and loading. A light-weight structural topping is added when used for floor framing. The camber is sufficient for a roof slope, when using a mod bit roofing material over rigid insulation. The camber presents a problem if you want to go to the trouble of mounting trusses, because the bearing plates must be high enough at the eaves for the bottom cord of the trusses to clear the camber. Adding trusses is an unnecessary additional expense. If using packaged AC units, you can surface apply an acoustic texture to the underside of the plank, or pay to furr-down the ceilings for AC duct and lighting. Again, this is an additional expense that you were supposedly trying to avoid by using the Flexicore in the first place. My conclusion is that Flexicore has its place for use in low-cost multi-family developments, and some commercial and industrial applications.

Both EPDM and Modified Bitumen systems have short warranty periods (7 to 10 years) compared to other roofing materials, having a 3 to 5 times longer life expectancy. In Florida, EPDM systems have experienced higher maintenance expenses because of extremes in expansion and contraction due to temperature swings during daylight. If you want to compare the life-cycle cost of roofing material, for my money, give me a 24 gauge standing seam metal roof every time.

As for luxury ocean-front housing, I believe a commercial contractor would be more efficient and knowledgeable in handling the idiosyncrasies of this specialty construction. The subcontractors used for the trades are not those employed in production-oriented home building. The payment terms and insurance requirements are different, and the administration of the activities involves additional consultants, as is reflected in the $270 per Sq Ft budget, which does not include the improvements to the grounds.

I hope this information is useful.

14 days ago• Like1

Kenneth Hill • Thank you for the information. How have the structures performed in hurricanes?

14 days ago• Like1

Paul Cataldo NCARB LEED AP BD+C • ICF and SIP construction I prefer OceanSafe SIP’s

13 days ago• Like

Andy Constantzos • Check the 3-D Panel System. Houses built with this system survived Andrews storm in FL while all other buildings around them were totally destroyed. There are factories producing these panels all over the world. E.V.G. of RAABA, AUSTRIA holds the patent. The system has been endorsed by several US agencies including USAID and USCE. Hadrian Tridi-System in Vista, CA, is the only US panel producer I could find. Andy Constantzos

13 days ago• Like

Tim Davis • What are the cost parameters of the panels? What are the cost comparisons for a 8″ CIP wall and the Panels?

13 days ago• Like

Eric Price • These buildings are a bit more expensive to build.

I was starting to sell the idea of a “Hurricane House” before Katrina. The Website is still up but I have not done much with it. ( I had looked towards when I designed my Hurricane home to 150 MPH. Hardened Structures used to build the buildings to a 250 MPH wind load. They focus on underground buildings and super structures.

Anyone can retrofit a home using FoamSeal for a few insurance discounts like wind upload and secondary water intrusion discount.

Also By installing 3″ to 3.5″ of a 1.8lb (245Fa) Closed Cell foam you can also get the same discounts through your insurance. This 1.8lb method is roughly 161lbs of uplift while the FoamSeal is a 2.75lb foam (at 2 inches) performs at around 242lbs of uplift protection.

This was one of the first Hurricane Homes to take a direct hit.

13 days ago• Like

Andy Constantzos • Response to Tim Davis: You’re raising an important question. You may pursue the answer by contacting Ttidipanel ( The phone # on their website is  760-643-2303. The panel consist of a 4″ insulation board (or thicker) and metal meshes on each side that are connected with diagonals metal ties welded to the meshes. Then shotcrete is use to apply a concrete layer on each side. The result is that the floor the walls and the roof are tied together to form a concrete like box that is difficult to destruct. Andy

13 days ago• Like1

William Sablich • Strong Winds and Storm Surge: ICFs stand up to hurricane force winds easily, thanks to the mass of concrete in the exterior walls. A typical 16”x48” ICF, when filled with concrete, weighs about 400 pounds (6” core), or 75 pounds per square foot of wall. That’s heavy enough to withstand even the strongest winds. Concrete walls are also a superior choice for withstanding storm surge; breakwaters and sea walls around the world are made from the material
ICF structures have another advantage: They are integrally tied to the footing or foundation slab with structural reinforcing steel. While frame walls use hurricane ties and/or anchor bolts to meet code minimums, ICF wall-footing connections are stronger by a factor of ten. Sometimes, the walls are poured monolithically with the footing, eliminating even the cold joint

13 days ago• Like2

William Sablich • If anyone would like to have more information on ICF walls and their benefits let me know, We have many hyears of experience in building ICF’s.

13 days ago• Like

Tim Davis • In Pittsburgh, wall comparison per square ft, 6″ icf- $13, 8″ cmu solid grout $9.76 plus 2″ spray insulation @$1.12 in = $12, 8″ cip wall $12 per sqft. ICF’s are great, just expensive.

13 days ago• Like

Paul Cataldo NCARB LEED AP BD+C • any ICF or SIP contractors on Long Island???

13 days ago• Like

Paul Cataldo NCARB LEED AP BD+C • Tim, balance that against the costs that Long Islanders and New Jersey coast people are paying now. First cost needs to be put in its place.

13 days ago• Like

Tim Davis • Not sure of the costs in the NY metro, you are right. I like ICF’s. I have built with them. They are fast and energy efficient. I was just weighing cost benefits compared to other methods. We can’t get the square footage costs of some other areas. Structurally, ICF’s fall between Studs and Reinforced solid grout masonry. Cost wise though, at least here, they are the second most expensive method, behind CIP’s, though the CIP comparison is with an 8″ wall. I would love to expand into the coastal area.

Valentin Filipovici • Hello friends. what I know is a remarcable type of structure against anything that nature can and is, in some places, bringing as a threat, it is the IGLU type of structure, common for Eskimos. This “sort of house with stormproof” is one of the most complex in advantages and most simple in theoretycal and practical build, even with concrete and the interior has a very wide variety of options of how to be addressed as design. I hope someone finds interesting this idea and takes advantage of it for the benefit of those in need. I wish you the best. Take care. 🙂

13 days ago• Like

Butch Mervar • For enuf money, you can build anything….LOL



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