Tornadoes: Rebuilding Houses the Right Way

Tornadoes: Rebuilding Houses the Right Way
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The toll has reached more than 500 deaths due to the devastating tornadoes that hit the US Midwest last months. Towns like Joplin, Mo, have been leveled and in this memorial day week end, many courageous citizens started rebuilding their homes. But the tornadoes season is not over yet, weather forecasts predicting more devastating episodes to come.

In this perspective, rebuilding homes with same structures and techniques that showed almost no resistance to an EF5 tornado, exposes their owners to the same risks that they endured during the last tornado.

Wooden houses and metallic structures are not safe. No need to be an architect or an expert to realize through the different pictures and videos taken after tornadoes that the only few structures that resisted were concrete structures. The Wind Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University provide a useful insight on how to build more tornado’s resistant homes and how to protect families. With the increasing climate changes and the occurrence of extreme weather episodes such as the ones experienced this year by the US Midwest, rethinking the way homes are built is a matter of life or death. The government should thus channel its financial help to foster the construction of more tornadoes resistant homes. Yes more resistant homes cost more but how much is a life worth and how much will cost rebuilding all the devastated areas.


Q: Can I build a tornado proof house?

A: You can, but your neighbors probably would not like it in their neighborhood and you would need some of Bill Gates’s wealth to pay for it, since I doubt any conventional lender will loan money for it. The reality is that the walls, roof, windows, doors and garage doors must be missile-resistant and the connections of the structural elements must be capable of withstanding 250 mph wind pressures. Missile resistance of walls and even roofs is fairly easy to achieve with current ICF (insulating concrete form) construction, however the connections for long span roofs and tall walls to transfer the loads induced by a 250 mph wind must be 7 ½ times stronger than those routinely required by today’s codes. Then, the issue is how to protect the numerous openings (doors and windows) routinely found in a home. Realistically speaking, it is not practical, much less reasonable, to build a tornado-proof house. Research has shown that what is practical and reasonable is to do a better job of building your home with good wind resistance connections (wind clips, anchor bolts and proper nailing of wall and roof diaphragms) and include a shelter within the home. Your neighbors, your banker and your “pocket book” will thank you.

To build a wind-resistant house is possible, and even reasonable. Even in a major tornado such as the Oklahoma City tornadoes of 1999, very few areas were actually subject to the highest-level (what would be considered F4-F5 winds). So having a well-constructed house with wind-resistant features will certainly minimize the damage in strong winds and possibly even in all but the central portion of the strongest tornadoes. Many of these features are much easier and less expensive to implement at the time of construction. If you are building a new house, please consider these features. Do not assume your contractor will be familiar with these techniques. To get information on wind-resistant features, see “Protecting your House”. Many of the publications listed are available free of charge on-line or as a paper”



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Photo Credit: The living room window of a duplex on West 29th Street near McClellan Boulevard in Joplin, Missouri. The building was badly damaged when an F4 tornado ripped through the city on 22nd May, 2011. By BabyBare11 / FlickR