Article No: 255

2009-04-02 11:35:11
Stronger than Hurricane Ike
By: John Fiske

Photography by Scot Stafford
Hurricane Ike unleashed a rage of wrath on the Texas Coast on September 12, 2008. When it came to Stephen Harrison’s ICF home in Sante Fe, Texas Hurricane Ike was at a loss; the house would not yield. According to Harrison, 44, the only damage to his home was about six feet of missing ridge cap.

When Harrison and his wife Tina, built the home in 2007, they sought a structure strong enough to resist hurricane winds. Santa Fe, about 20 miles from Galveston, Texas and about 23 feet above sea level, is in a hurricane zone.
“I wanted a home that could withstand a hurricane,” Harrison says, “but I didn’t think it would come so soon.” The home was completed in 2007.

Harrison acted as the general contractor. They hired architects and engineers for design and technical assistance.
The storm was expected, and there was a mandatory evacuation order in place. “The storm rolled in at 6 p.m. on Friday, with 30 to 40 mph winds,” recalls Harrison. Around 10:30 p.m. the power failed. Harrison’s whole-house generator kicked on. Around 11 p.m., Harrison went to bed.

“Why should I worry?’ he says. “My house is concrete.”

Local officials, mindful of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, issued mandatory evacuation orders. Winds were expected to exceed 110 mph, as a Category 4 storm raced toward the Texas Gulf Coast.

Although Ike weakened and came ashore as a Category 2 storm, there was considerable damage from Victoria, Texas to Louisiana. Some areas of Galveston Island, Bolivar, and areas along Trinity and Galveston Bay saw near total destruction. Most of the images of the debris had one thing in common: piles of lumber that were once peoples’ homes.
In Beach City, Texas, Mike Stephens, of Gems Custom Homes, warily eyed the coming storm. “I had kind of thought that the roof could have lifted off,” he says.
The waterfront home was only partially complete, explains Stephens. The ICF walls, roof decking, and an outdoor deck had been installed.

Fearing the worst when Ike hit, Stephens, the general contractor and builder, worried that the construction process would be delayed, or possibly he would even have to start all over.

“I was at my house about 30 miles inland when Ike came through,” Stephens relates. “The storm was pretty terrifying. We were boarded up. The walls were shaking and popping and slapping.”

At 4:00 a.m. (Saturday morning) Harrison, in Santa Fe, decided to look at the roof. He noted that the two-by-four trusses were swaying and bending. The eye had passed and the winds had exceeded 100 mph.

The trusses bent, but did not break or lift off the walls. Local code required that the roof be connected to the wall. In Harrison’s home, Simpson Strong-Tie straps for trusses were used.

Two days after the storm, Stephens recalls, “I visited the [Beach City] house, and it was unscathed. A stick-built house two doors over sustained significant, 50 percent damage.

“I would swear by ICF construction,” Stephens continues. “I’ve been in the building business more than 20 years, and I’ve seen a lot of things come and go. ICF is going to be around for a while.”

Both the house in Beach City and the Harrisons’ home, were constructed with an insulating concrete wall (ICF) system. The ICF walls, from Reward Wall Systems, Inc., are strong, energy efficient, and provide a safe and comfortable envelope.

In the Harrison’s home, the six-inch concrete walls are sandwiched between 2-1/2 inch Styrofoam forms. According to Matt Zeitlmeisl, the concrete contractor, the home required about 40 yards of 3000 mix concrete, using 3/8-inch rock. “It was a pretty standard mix,” Zeitlmeisel says.

In the end, Stephen and Tina Harrison chose to remain in their house, ignoring the evacuation order. A full-house generator powered the well and septic system. What is more, the house was fitted with storm- and impact-resistant windows. 

“I didn’t have to board up the windows,” Harrison glows. “I’m not getting any younger.”
The 1-1/2 story, 3,500-square-foot home is sided with stucco and stone over the concrete.

Storm surge waters came close to the Beach City home, but did not reach the foundation, which is set relatively high, 20 feet above sea level. “It would be interesting to see how an ICF house survives a flood, or storm surge,” Stephens comments. “But I wouldn’t wish for it!”

Stephens, who has built several tornado-proof ICF rooms as additions onto stick-framed houses, says, “ICF is an ideal construction method for tornado-proof buildings and rooms. Totally strong and secure.”

Scot Stafford, of Leading Edge Building, a Houston area distributor of ICFs and other “green” building products, consulted with the owners. Although Harrison had long since decided on an ICF home, he turned to Stafford, who recommended Reward Wall Systems for the forms. Stafford recommended Reward Wall Systems because it is easy to install and very strong. Blowouts are not a problem and the forms do not shift. The Beach City house is also built with Reward Wall Systems’ forms.

Stafford, with many years’ experience in various industrial professions, says that the future of the ICF industry is bright. “It’s still maturing as an industry,” he says. “To become mainstream we need to lose the misconception that we’re working out of the trunk of a car.”

While residential applications in Texas have been successful, Stafford explains that growth opportunities for ICF also in heavy commercial and industrial construction. Mid- and high-rise buildings, particularly with tilt-wall construction, chemical plants, power plants, and other facilities that require thermal, fire, sound, and explosion resistant properties are ideal for ICF technology. “ICF can deliver all of these resistant properties in one package at a lower price point,” Stafford says.

“In a post 9/11 world, the requirements of, say, instrument houses, or control rooms, have become more rigorous. ICF can meet them.”

The future in ICF construction likely includes self-reinforcing concrete, an emerging product that features steel strands included in the mix, and thus, in the pour. “It will reduce labor, and the schedule,” Stafford explains. “Reducing labor, and the schedule reduces costs, which means builders can get out from construction loans faster.”

Another key to the acceptance of the ICF industry will be the establishment of ICF installer certification. Stafford has started a dialogue with the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) to that end.

For more information on these homes, or Reward Wall Systems, contact Scot Stafford at Leading Edge Building Products, LLC by visiting the web site, or call (832) 474-7468. You may also contact the ICF installer directly, Matt Zetlmeisl of ICF Constructors, LLC. For more information, please visit