Weathering the Storm
By: Joseph E. Lyman
After nearly a decade of perfect weather, the normally serene state of Florida experienced four significant hurricanes in less than a few weeks this past fall, leaving the Sunshine State strapped for disaster relief and many of its citizens scrambling to find temporary shelter.
Risk Management Solutions, a catastrophe-modeling firm, puts costs attributable to Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne at more than $10 billion and rising, with thousands of families displaced from their homes. Collectively, this series of storms accounts for some of the worst damage Florida has seen since Hurricane Andrew ripped through southern Florida in 1992, demolishing thousands of homes.
Some believe the latest series of storms should bode well for the residential concrete industry. However, many contractors and Florida residents are again ignoring the obvious and instead asking how stick-framed homes and structures can be beefed up to withstand major hurricane-force winds.
Jim Niehoff, residential manager for the Portland Cement Association, has been actively involved over the past several years in the study of wind-driven debris and the effect it has on homes.
"Research has clearly shown that concrete wall systems have the necessary strength and mass to resist hurricane-force winds and the debris that is carried by such storms," says Niehoff. "Although there has been major growth in the concrete homebuilding industry, too many people still think of wood 2-by-4 construction when it comes to building homes. The public needs to understand that concrete wall systems, such as insulating concrete forms (ICFs), are a viable choice in new home construction. It's a matter of education."
To help with the educational process, the Insulating Concrete Form Association (ICFA) and some of its members, including Dietrich Metal Framing, have initiated an ambitious plan to help rebuild several critical public facilities in Florida with ICF exterior walls and interior steel framing and roof trusses. The ICFA is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) and the Federal Alliance for Safe Housing (FLASH) to ensure that the resulting structures will be state-of-the-art when it comes to hurricane resistance and durability.
Paul Camozzi, ICFA's chairman of the board, said he believes that severe weather will continue to threaten American businesses and homes, creating a need to use better building technologies that will withstand hurricane force winds.
"The Insulating Concrete Form Association and its affiliated industry partners are excited about offering the state of Florida assistance in rebuilding public facilities," Camozzi said. "It is our sincere hope that these buildings will indeed provide residents of Florida 'shelter from the storm,' as well as educate them on better building practices."
Although storm resistance is an obvious reason for building with ICFs in coastal and tornado-prone areas, an added benefit is the superior energy efficiency of an ICF structure. Laboratory research and information from owners of ICF homes and buildings indicates that an ICF wall system can often reduce heating and cooling costs by more than 40 percent.
There is no question that ICF construction is becoming a mainstream building technique. According to market research figures from the Portland Cement Association, in 2003 more than 4 percent of all single-family homes built in the United States featured ICF exterior walls, which represents approximately 52,000 homes and a nearly 100 percent increase in market share since the year 2000. It is now becoming commonplace to see entire subdivisions of ICF homes in certain areas of the country. With the increase in natural disasters and a steady climb in energy prices, the future looks very bright indeed for the ICF industry.
Visit the ICFA Web site at www.forms.org to find out more about ICF construction and to view a listing of members.
Joseph E. Lyman is executive director of the Insulating Concrete Forms Association. He can be contacted by e-mail at noSpam("jlyman", "forms.org"); email@example.com at forms.org.