The Armoured Car of Custom Homes
Fortifying your house now by rebuilding or renovating will greatly reduce the likelihood of having to think of what to tell your children when new weather patterns, a freak storm, or other natural disaster renders your house unbearable or critically damaged and leaves your family homeless.
Recent and near-future extreme weather and weather-related events affect your family's health and risk the safety of your house. Tens of thousands of homes are destroyed every year by wildfire, storms, or floods. After reading this article, you'll
have enough information to start formulating a plan of action to fortify your current home or build a new, stronger one.
Your current home is vulnerable to increasingly extreme weather events and weather-related natural disasters. Every year for the past decade, you've noticed this more clearly, but you're not sure what you can do about it. Building a new house won't solve the problem; it only pushes the problem down 15-20 years. Besides, the kids are maybe only a decade away from moving out
Your family looks up to you to keep them safe, and you also want to make your home as comfortable for them as possible. Chances are, your house is one of the 99.999% that were not designed for superior safety and comfort. The good news is that you can change that.
Five Insider Tips to Superior Safety and Comfort
#1 Don't use the building code as your design guide
First, the building code sets out the minimum standard of living to make sure we're not living in slums. It defines a minimum legally acceptable level of safety that takes into account the importance of a given building to the well-being of the community. A single-family house is not required to provide the same level of safety as a school or a hospital or to provide as healthy an indoor environment though.
Don't think of going beyond the legal minimum as "overdesigning" anything. Don't accept the personal devastation that the government has calculated as an acceptable loss in a sufficiently major disaster.
#2 Your house doesn't need to look like an armoured car to perform like one
When most people think of "armoured car", they think of an armoured personnel carrier like the LAV-25 or ASLAV armoured fighting vehicle shown above. You wouldn't immediately think that the car below would offer the same level of protection, but it's the US president's transport. The body panels and the windows are 8 inches thick and are rumoured to protect against rocket propelled grenades.
The thicker walls and roof of an UltraHome™ keep the heat where it belongs and keep noises out but depending on exactly which assemblies you choose you can also keep out fire and flying debris. Anyone looking at your luxurious home won't realize how much of a fortress it really is.
#3 Stone and steel skin, warm and woody within
Weather hazards from ferocious storms can and do destroy siding and roofing of people's houses regularly. Hail from a massive thunderstorm or driving rain in a vicious wind storm pelting your house will wear away and shatter weak siding materials such as vinyl siding or acrylic stucco. A wildfire near the house will ignite wood, vinyl, or stucco siding. On the other hand, noncombustible materials such as brick, metal siding, or concrete panels offer robust protection against hail, windblown debris, and ignition by wildfire. They also don't need to be painted every few years like wood siding does.
Embers from a wildfire can accumulate on a shingle roof and set a fire. The UltraHome™ typically has a standing seam metal roof - the same kind used on government buildings (e.g. schools and park buildings) because they last for several decades or more. This type of roof resists hail, sheds embers, doesn't easily retain snow or ice, and can be engineered not to fly away unless a tornado with a grudge takes a stab at it.
While you want cold, hard materials protecting the exterior, you want natural materials inside your home to make it a welcoming place. Obviously furnishings and décor made of woods, natural fibre textiles, and other organic-source materials are easy to find, but the finishes of the house themselves should shun synthetics.
Resinous, plastic composite, and binder-laden wood fibre materials offgas for years and are constantly shedding particles into the air. Exposed wood structures - including structural panels and planks - are psychologically more relaxing. Cork or hardwood flooring is warm and yielding. Porcelain tile, marble, stone, and tadelakt plaster are suitable natural finishes suitable for high moisture exposure.
#4 Rally car roll cage
The average contemporary car is designed using the "unibody" approach which is a lightweight cage consisting of the body panels joined together around a lightweight outer skeleton. This cage is sufficient for the forces of everyday driving and typical minor collisions but actually rather weak and designed to crumple. Rally cars and other race cars have a much stronger version called a "roll cage" that will keep the car intact even if rolled multiple times or flipped onto its roof.
This idea of a core structural cage is roughly found in commercial buildings framed in structural steel and is most readily apparent in areas where earthquakes are common. Whereas typical wood-framed buildings try to distribute forces throughout the structure, there is no special internal core frame. Like the trunk of a mature tree, a core of mass timber "shearwalls" act together and resist the earthquake. This core structure is one of the defining yet less visible features of the UltraHome™.
#5 Bunkers are for Bombs Not Birthdays
Some people advocate building your house out of concrete to protect against hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfire.
Will it work? Yes of course (assuming it's engineered adequately).
Will it cost an arm and a leg? It might. If you use insulated concrete forms (ICF), you will spend less money than forming concrete conventionally.
However, foam itself does shrink over time, creating cracks where heat escapes in the winter or enters in summer. Concrete also develops fine cracks over time, and this can let in rain or let out warm air. In a fire, that foamed plastic insulation on the exterior side of the concrete wall will burn easily and give off toxic gases if it's ignited in a wildfire.
Since concrete structures are heavier, the foundations will also be larger (more expensive). Depending on your local soil conditions, special foundation design and costly preparation may be required to support the additional weight.
If you've been following talk of embodied carbon, you'll know how much carbon dioxide is involved in the production of concrete and how much it gives off while curing. For those who are concerned about their carbon footprint, reducing unnecessary use of concrete is critical.
Your Home's Upgrade Plan
I specialize in climate-resilient ultra high-performance homes. I've spent the past several years focusing on the economics of high performance projects that were built for about the same cost as typical buildings. - listening to teams of developers, consultants, and builders who successfully navigated cost control for high-performance buildings of different types.
By optimizing the architectural and structural design of your house, I can reduce the overall cost of construction from what it would otherwise be. The cost savings can then be used for upgrades of other aspects of the home. My SAPPHR Strategy™, includes a review, analysis, and simplification of the basic structural scheme and architectural form to achieve this optimized configuration.
I also incorporate industrial grade systems and materials in residential designs to increase their durability and performance. The Deep Blue Design phase of my SAPPHR Strategy™ considers a variety of approaches traditionally used in various building types to level-up your home.
Your Two Futures
You and your family can enjoy your evening in peace while a storm with 120 km/h winds and 2 cm hail rages outside. It's warm and well-lit; the battering of the exterior registers only as a faint hum as the rain and hail are deflected. Alternatively, if you've been ordered to evacuate due to an approaching wildfire, you're calmly packing some things for a few days' leave - confident that your house and its surroundings have been designed to withstand being engulfed in flame without catching fire.
On the other hand, if you continue to live like your neighbours in a consumer-grade house that was not designed for extreme events, every major storm rattles your windows hard enough that you're worried they might blow out. You routinely go out the morning after to check how many shingles were torn away in the wind. Even big enough raindrops smash so hard it sounds like a freight train rolling over the roof or pounding the glass so hard you're worried about it cracking. Any serious threat of wildfire raises your anxiety level because you know the fire will level your house if it comes through. A decent earthquake rattles the house like a bag of popsicle sticks.
How Do You Build A Legend?
It would be nice to hand down the house to the kids at some point wouldn't it? They're not going to have much use for a bag of burned-up popsicle sticks, so how are you going to protect your asset for the future? What's your plan to protect your family's health and comfort now?
I'll let you in on a little secret. As experts relied upon by the public, we architects tend to stick to architecture and steer clear of anything that resembles giving financial advice - which we're not qualified to provide. That leaves you though to guess at what the best option might be. As a Certified Passive House Designer, I am trained to evaluate cost-effective ways of designing a healthy and efficient home. My years of detailing multifamily buildings and commercial buildings has taught me how to design industrial-grade construction. I can help get you an UltraHome™ that allows you and your family to live well while you and your house age strong.
During a free 30-minute Diagnostic Session, I will explain the first steps you need to take to begin planning productively for your new or renovated house. Click the button below to book an appointment with me.
If you need more time to mull over taking action on upgrading your family's defenses, my Project Planning Pack will sort out the basic pieces of information of your potential project. Click on the link below for the free download.
Don't wait too long to get your fortification set up, because Mother Nature won't hold back with the punches forever.