EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks to SliceOK for thinking of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association when publishing a story about safe rooms and home building. Here is a portion of the interview with our own Jeff Click, immediate past president of OSHBA, as it appeared in the March issue of Slice.
For the full story, go to: www.sliceok.com/March-2014/Severe-Weather-Why-How-and-Wow/
By Sean Becker
Now we've scrapped the camping trip, stocked up on pantry staples and decided to play it safe by hunkering down in the house. But where? Although they are the best place to take shelter, basements are few and far between in metro housing stock. Short of a basement or storm shelter, "A small space in the center of the house that is fortified by surrounding walls is known to be the go-to place," says Jeff Click, owner of Jeff Click Homes and President of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association.
Pick that space wisely, though, cautions Click. "The garage is where the structural integrity of a home fails first in a significant storm," he warns. "A space just inside the house adjacent to the garage may not prove to be the safest." This is because the garage door is not rated with the same shear-resistance as typical framed and bricked walls. If a garage door caves in, it allows for wind intrusion on a large scale and can compromise the roof and walls of the garage.
However, as for locating a tornado shelter within the garage's footprint, it still makes a lot of sense. "Consider a typical house," Click says. "Where else can you afford floor space for an awkward opening into the ground? How would finish flooring (carpet, tile, wood) transition around it, assuming the lid is safe to walk on/across? Proper ventilation also is a factor, and that means there is some sort of hole in the floor. The garage seems like an opportune space for such an opening, since it's less valuable' functional floor space. Also, if properly placed where the entry/exit point of the shelter is exposed beyond the bumper of a car, the car can also serve as protection for the lid of the shelter should the structure above it fail and fall downward. If an in-ground shelter was located in an interior closet, all of that lumber and material would likely be on top of the lid without the protection that a heavy vehicle would have provided had it been in the garage."
The typical tornado shelter leaves much to be desired in terms of spaciousness but is certainly functional in its utility. For an extra measure of confidence as well as the flexibility to use the space as another living area, what about incorporating a full basement to an existing structure? "You can't go under the existing slab," says Mike Hancock, PE, President of Basement Contractors, Inc., "but you can add basement space." The most popular way to do this is to add a room onto your house and incorporate new basement space underneath. "It's kind of an investment for the homeowner then," explains Hancock. Under this scenario, the additional square footage at ground level pays off in the end.
Myth, misperception and the MLS (the real estate industry's Multiple Listing Service) make basements more hindrance than help in the local housing market. "MLS has no option for basement as a foundation type" in the Oklahoma City market, explains Hancock. Houses with basements are out there, but they are hard to find as a result. Homebuilders are reluctant to take on the added construction expense since it is unlikely to pay off in investment terms in the long run.
Fine - we'll build a new house with a basement and suffer the consequences of higher construction costs along with leaks, cracks, spiders and snakes. We won't ever need (or want) to go down there unless a storm is coming, right? Not at all. Obviously Hancock urges people to build basements - that is his business, after all - but the dreaded dungeon myth is simply no longer accurate.
"Most of these myths come from basements built in the 1940s and '50s," explains Hancock, a structural engineer by trade. Subsequent advances in technique and technology make modern metro basements safe, dry and enjoyable year-round. Is building a home with a basement more expensive? Yes. But keep in mind, Hancock says, "You can heat and cool a house with a basement for about half the cost of slab housing." Plus it's a great place for a ping-pong table. But I digress.
WHEN ALL HAIL BREAKS LOOSE
Great news! We planned ahead, cut our day a bit short and got ourselves safely stowed in our new basement game room well before the storm hit. The weather report says we dodged the worst of it - no twisters this time. That's the good news. The bad news? We have to poke our heads outside and see what happened to the rest of the house.
Major storm systems that produce high winds, heavy rains and hail can wreak havoc on a home's exterior. Roofs and siding naturally bear the brunt of the storm damage, but there are options on the market that may minimize your losses. Price and neighborhood covenant restrictions make composition the most popular roofing material in the area, but that doesn't mean you have to compromise. "There are varying degrees of impact resistance that can still be considered when choosing a composition roof," homebuilder Click says.
As for the exterior walls, brick or stone facings will obviously withstand considerable impact. If siding adorns your home, Click notes once again that there are many options on the market. In addition to the familiar vinyl and aluminum versions, siding made of wood and cementitious board is also available. "Cementitious board is becoming a popular choice for the area," Click shares, "due to its lifespan, rigidity and strength in withstanding impacts."
If we built or renovated with these durable materials, the outside of our house stands a better chance of avoiding major damage. We may have escaped all personal injury and major property damage until we realized that we left the car in the driveway, where it was pelted indiscriminately by intergalactic comet-sized hail. Whoops.