A case for making your new home a Fortified Gold Level Home.
When building a new home, we all have a wish list of important features to improve the quality of life compared to our current situation. This usually includes more space, newer things, amenities, fixtures, kitchens, attest developments and home technology, lower maintenance, planning for how we really live, sometimes to be in a better location etc. However, we often over look the most important basic function of our homes, to provide shelter.
We assume that a new home, built to the most current code will be inherently safe from common external events. Unfortunately for many people, living outside regions of the country where local enhancements to the basic building code for either seismic or hurricane type events are already published, this is just not true.
The building code in many regions of the country for homes is very lax about the structural system of the home, so much so that these homes can suffer structural damage in very common storm events.
The following video shows an example of two seemingly identical homes, but built to two different standards.
The home on the left is built to the standard building code while the home on the right is built to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s Fortified Gold Standard. When subject to a wind tunnel test it only take 12 seconds to collapse the home on the left.
What is truly amazing, in addition to just how dramatically and suddenly this home was destroyed is how little it costs to achieve a Fortified Gold level home. According to the following 3-minute news clip, it only cost 2% extra to construct a Fortified home in Omaha Nebraska in 2016.
Jump to 1:30 in the video to hear this exact topic of experts considering the extra cost of 2% being discussed.
Here is the outline of upgrade straight from the IHBS Fortified website:
I highlighted the Gold level to call out that “Gold” builds upon the upgrades of “Roof” and “Silver” and to identify the continuous load path and window and door enhancements. If you live in California, Oregon, Washington, and select seismic regions elsewhere, like along the New Madrid Fault line, your home will already have continuous load path structural system, but the rest of the features are also highly important. Another thing we learned at Fortified training included keeping garage doors 4 feet away from the building corners especially when there are bedrooms above the garage, because wind load are highest at building corners and garage doors are inherently weak. if a garage door is blown in by a storm, a total garage collapse becomes highly likely and the persons in the bedrooms over the garage are in grave danger.
When I attended the Fortified Professional training other students were multiple teams from Habitat for Humanity that builds Low Income Housing. So when I found out Habitat considers Fortified’s system to be important enough for low income homes they provide, it seems really oxymoronic when clients come to any builder or architect for a “high end” custom home, but will not set aside 2% to make the home resilient in this most basic and affordable set of criteria.
Just a month before I wrote this, in August 2020, Forbes magazine did a feature on the Fortified Home program:
What stood out to me was the great numbers of home already built at high risk for wind damage.
According the the US census there are about 70 million total single family homes in the USA.
Additionally, there are about 1,200 tornados in the United States every year.
From this article we learn just One tornado can destroy as many as 13,000 homes.
Quoting, from the article, the top ten states for Tornados are:
“….in order from high to low: Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Nebraska, Illinois, Colorado, Iowa, Alabama, Missouri, and Mississippi.”
Its sobering if you live in any of these states, or one the states most frequently subject to Hurricanes.
Also consider how our homes are intended to last through 30 or more years of chancing the odds of whether you may encounter some type of high wind event, sometime as you live in any single family home.
The above article also makes a case for building with concrete, which is our preferred new home construction method. But just getting a wood frame home up to Fortified Gold level is a great minimum criterion when setting one’s priorities for a new home.
Please feel free to write and ask any questions.