Often-Overlooked Improvements That Can Hurricane-Proof Your Home

Florida storm approaching

May 24, 2017

It's never too soon to prepare your home for hurricane season. Although the strongest (Category 5) hurricanes are not a yearly occurrence, the winds from weaker hurricanes or tropical storms can still cause sizeable damage.

Homeowners in hurricane-prone areas, therefore, are inclined to benefit from wind-proofing efforts. The most common anti-hurricane measures include installing storm shutters or upgrading to impact-resistant windows and doors, designed to improve a home’s odds of surviving hurricane season unscathed. However, many lesser-known projects can bring just as much benefit, if not more.

These under-the-radar improvements can further tip the odds of withstanding hurricane season. Obviously, every property owner seeks protection from catastrophic damage. The following upgrades can all help with that, but they can also reduce the need to perform minor (but costly) repairs following a storm. Regions that experience other types of severe weather, such as tornados, may also benefit from this additional reinforcement.

Gable-End Bracing

Gabled roofs might be attractive, but they are also susceptible to wind damage – especially in older homes, which lack sufficient support. According to FEMA, gabled roofs without proper support are often to blame for roof failure during hurricanes or other high winds. Luckily, a roof can be retrofit with special braces to better support the gables, strengthening them overall.

FEMA suggests undergoing a building inspection if you are unsure about your roof’s level of reinforcement. The inspector can verify whether the roof is up to code and suggest improvements if necessary. This upgrade usually involves reinforcing or otherwise strengthening the gable-end wall studs and placing extra braces on the top and bottom of the gable end. The braces are then attached to the roof frame or ceiling joists for extra support.

Roof Tie-Down Systems

During a hurricane or tornado, strong winds can lift the entire roof off the home. This misfortune happens when the roof is not adequately connected to the other parts of the home’s frame. On new constructions, it may be possible to install a special cable system that connects the roof to the foundation. The cables will provide the necessary resistance to keep the roof from blowing off. Since this project involves connecting the cables to the foundation, it is only possible with homes that are still in the building phase.

A more accessible option for most homeowners involves reinforcing the connection between the roof and the home’s main frame with special steel clips. Basically, the clips are fastened on the top plate and then connected to the rafters or trusses. This protects against something called “uplift,” or the phenomenon that causes the roof to detach from the main frame in high winds. Homes located near the coastline and in tornado-prone areas are advised to use the maximum number of clips (one on every truss, for example) for utmost protection.

Continuous Load Path

Roof tie-down systems are one example of a concept called the “continuous load path.” The goal of the continuous load path is to unify all parts of the house equally so that they can share the load during periods of high winds. The roof is certainly the most vulnerable part of a house, but if any section is weak, then the entire structure becomes more vulnerable. The University of Florida explains that two different methods can help to create a continuous load path equipped to handle high winds. First, hurricane straps or the aforementioned steel clips can be used to:

  • Fasten the roof to the walls
  • Fasten the walls and frame of the second floor to the walls and frame of the first floor

Connecting the different floors may be necessary for extra strength in a multi-story building. Next, the university recommends that the final wall-to-foundation connection relies on anchor bolts. This setup will help each section of the home share the wind load no matter which direction the gusts are blowing.

Especially in older homes, the sill plate (or sole plate), which is the bottom-most part of the frame, is often inadequately fastened to the home’s foundation. Because of this, the final wall-to-foundation connection, which is perhaps better described as a “sill-plate-to-foundation” connection, is very important. Ideally, bolts connecting these two areas are placed every two to three feet along the foundation. This is not always possible in already-constructed homes, though unfinished basements may provide enough space for a contractor to complete the job.

Basics First

The University of Florida also offers some basic advice about hurricane preparations. Subpar workmanship on the shingles or siding of a home can cause problems. To correct this, 10-pennyweight ring shank nails, which have threaded rings around the shafts to provide greater hold, can help reinforce shingles. This may not affect the structure directly, but if the siding or shingles are blown off, the home could suffer costly water damage, or the materials could become dangerous projectiles if the wind speed is great enough.

The roof deck, or “sheathing,” is even more important during inclement weather. This layer below the shingles is essential for keeping the elements out of the interior of your home. Improperly fastened roof decks may lift right off the frame, even if hurricane straps or other features are in place to keep the frame itself intact. If this happens, the wind and rain will have direct contact with the frame and, worse, with the interior of your house.

The heavy-duty ring shank nails, if they penetrate both the decking and the roof frame, can help provide a stronger anchor. Homeowners can create an extra layer of protection against water damage by placing flashing tape or modified polymer bitumen strips (often sold as “peel and seal” or something similar) around the roof deck’s joints. The joints are where water may seep in if the roofing materials above are damaged.

How Can I Afford to These Upgrades Before a Storm?

Major wind-resistant improvements often qualify for a special type of financing called PACE, which stands for property assessed clean energy. These programs enable property owners to pay for energy-saving and impact-resistant retrofits for no up-front cost, by leveraging the equity in their homes. Once the home is prepared to brace hurricane-force winds, homeowners can begin paying for their improvements over the long-term—as a line item on their annual property tax bill. Ideally, the improvements will lower (and perhaps even eliminate) the cost of post-storm repairs, so the storm-proofing features that you install with PACE financing could pay for themselves throughout the years.

Then, of course, there is the priceless peace of mind that comes from being fully prepared for some of Mother Nature’s worst conditions.

Find out if your storm preparedness or energy efficiency project is eligible for PACE financing – contact Ygrene at (855) 901-3999; info@ygreneworks.com.