Hurricane proof houses?

Several times a year the Atlantic Ocean hurls whirrling monster death storms at our South East. As American troops are currently busy with Iraq and Afghanistan, we can’t spare any to wage war on this, our long-term adversary no matter how great of threat it presents to our national security. We see $Jillions, if not $Bajillions of property damage as a result of its relentless if predictably seasonal attacks.

Assuming the Atlantic Ocean will continue to harass our borders, and there really is no evidence to show an inclination on its part to reduce such activity, rebuilding square houses with wooden roofs directly in the path of future storms seems a little, well, stupid.

Has anyone even tried making An aerodynamic home on a large swivel base? It wouldn’t be a box-shaped house because you want to reduce wind resistance. Keeping in mind a Jetliner routinely withstands wind speeds far beyond the wildest tropical storm, why not emulate this design? Mounting the house on a large swivel (think “Tank Turret”) would allow it to always face into the wind. An absence of eaves and crevices on the leading edge of the house would significantly reduce damage caused by wind-blown debris. Shucks, 3/4 inch glass windows on the leading edge/living room would even welcome the otherwise dumb tradition of hurricane parties.

I know I’ve previously confessed to idiocy in no uncertain terms, but why is this not done?


How are you connect all the electrics, water, cable line, phone line?

Within a hurricane there are all sorts of turbulences, tornadoes and so on. Any of these would destroy the house described as easily as a traditional building.

The simple answer is to stop building flimsy wooden constructions in hurricane-prone areas. Bermuda’s building code, for example, requires all constructions to be adble to withstand 150mph gusts. Which is why Hurricane Fabian last year caused comparitively little damage.

I can think of a few reasons against it:
[li]Plumbing and electrical wiring would be very difficult.[/li][li]Wind direction isn’t constant. There’s a risk of the house swinging back and forth violently, or even spinning fast. The house may survive, but will the contents and occupants?[/li][li]You need to put the house in a circular area clear of obstacles. Not a very efficient use of the land.[/li][li]Wind force isn’t the only risk. Aerodynamics won’t protect you from debris.[/li][li]A reinforced concrete building can be just as hurricane-proof, for far less cost.[/li][/ul]

If you go for the swivel angle, everything could be fed through the central hub. The plumbing might pose some difficulties unless the amount of swiveling isn’t too great. I don’t think you’d have to be able to swivel a full 360°.

If you built the hoouse out of concrete block or sort sort of concrete product, that would be a good start. A lot of people put plywood sheets over the windows and doors, so why not integrate these into the walls, like a pocket door?

The roof would be the biggest problem. If you didn’t have any overhanging eaves, you should be able to avoid a lot of damage. You’d have to come up with a non-shingle (that is, non overlapping) covering.

If you had the money, I’m sure you could figure it out.

You could always build underground, of course.

This would also yield much lower cooling costs in this nasty humid/hot environment. But then there’s flooding.

I need to clarify my vision somewhat (as I said, I *am * an idiot). I’m thinking of an exterior shell of flush-mounting ceramic scales which, when joined, leave a minimal seam. Nothing too exotic as materials go, just some nice tough ceramics. And the exterior of the house is of course rounded–domed? Flying trees & boats would deflect off in the rare case of a direct hit. Certainly some damage can be allowed, but the entire building would not be flattened. Keep in mind the added strength of a dome. The tiles could even have specific shapes corresponding to a part number, much like an automobile body panel. You say a skiff got airborne and smacshed your #35 & 57 panel? No sweat–we’ll mold & fire the replacements tonight and have them in tomorrow’s mail. Mass production can keep the cost down to about the same price as a regular roof–which deteriorates with weather & hail by the way. That’s the concept.

Electric & plumbing is easy: The fresh water pipe is dead center in the hub, waste water is in a concentric pipe/jacket surrounding that. once the pipes pass the swivel plane they can seperate into their own systems again. All major water outlets remain near the hub–much like modern construction favors a central water location. Electricity passes through the swivel plane by means of a roller contact for hot & neutral–again, two concentric circles. The roller contact eliminates twisting wires.

I remembered seeing this on Ebay a long time ago. Plane house

Also, I got an answer, a Simpsons referance (note the name of the site), and a cite all in one link. Yes, I’m damned proud of myself. :wink:

[Mr. Burns] Eeee-xcellent Cluricaun! [/Mr. Burns]

So it looks like it *has * been done! :wink:

You don’t even need to go through such drastic measures to build a hurricane proof home.
The reason it appears that the hurricane that hit Florida did such damage is because they mostly showed mobile homes (which is the majority of the homes in that area) that were destroyed. These are the cheapest form of shelter you can get. They are not secured to the ground but actually rest on concrete blocks. The walls are basically sheet metal or vinyl siding attached to a foam core wall.
They are built to keep the rain out and keep the A/C somewhat insulated.
Pretty much you and your friends could rock one of these over on it’s side.

Concrete block homes fair much better in a hurricane but they can get their roofs torn off since many are a lightweight wood frame just resting on the concrete walls. They are also subject to damage by flying debris hitting windows if not boarded up.

Simply put, the reason the damage is so extensive is because the homes are cheap. Run a hurricane through an old Chicago suburb of brick houses and the damage wouldn’t look that bad.

Actually, on the coast where the hurricane hit there are well built hotels with roll down shudders to protect the windows and they survived pretty much unscathed.

i am happily envisioning a house spinning like a top with everything inside smack against the walls like a carnival ride. the cats are frightened by the laughter.

there are structural codes that cover hurricanes. after andrew, florida noticed that many structures were in violation of those codes. many news reports mentioned that the mobile homes ripped apart by charley were not up to the new codes put in after andrew. the mobile home codes were for new homes being bought.

you can write the code, but there are those pesky grandfather clauses that always pop up after a disaster.

Here, you can buy one.
I watched a program on PBS a few years ago about hurricane and tornado damage. You can build a home which will survive either pretty much unscathed, but it’s expensive. The higher the rating, the more it costs. Many rich folks in tornado alley do it. Others go cheap with “double-wides” and hope for the best. That option is not as dumb as it might seem.

Customary reminder to folks before every hurricane around here:

“If you live in a mobile home or an older frame structure, you may want to take shelter with friends in a brick or concrete house.”

It is, however, important to note that most of the damage in the U.S. from hurricanes occurs (a) to mobile homes exposed to the strongest winds, (b) from flooding owing to the extensive rain over a large area which accompanies such a storm, and in low-lying areas from storm surges, © from the toppling of trees, falling limbs, and other vertical or located-high objects crashing onto or through cars, houses, etc., and (d) as the result of tornadoes spun off by the hurricane.

We went through several hurricanes in an old, small frame house, and a couple of others in a mobile home – and our major losses were food spoilage owing to extended power outages (along with nervous stress during the storm).

One simple preventive measure is hurricane clips on trusses. Small metal angles of sheet metal that are nailed into the truss and top plate that help hold the roof on. $10. I put them on my addition, but don’t really need them. I don’t get the wind of a hurricane.

Lots of little things like that can be done. And each generation of house will get better.

A much simpler and more secure structure than something that swings around on a base is concrete. And shutters. It could be made appealing to the eye, but is gonna still cost more than a regular house. You may loose your siding, but still have a house.

Having a house that turns away from the force of the wind is a lot more problematic. A house that is built with the proper precautions will cost 1/10 of a house that actually moves.

Also consider, roof overhangs - the soffit, does a great deal to lower cooling costs. Instead, retractable awnings could be used.

I live in a very cold climate, so most of this is shooting from the hip. Concrete is a pretty cheap building material. It can be insulated. That’s the way I would go.

My family used to own a mobile home park in Illinois. An 80 mile gust can flip one over. We made sure they where tied down to the concrete slab they sat on. Steel strapping tape or cable. Anything else is to invite disaster.

Any structure built completely below normal terrain ground level is virtually totally immume from damage from any and all extreme weather problems. Cost can be minimized by building into the side of a mound or small hillside. This protects three sides and the roof and if the front is partially coverd with soil as well it has some protection.

Cool idea as regards wind – but contemplate building one on a coastal plain, where a “hill” is simply a small rise in level ground – and which is subject to flooding when any nearby stream or river gets more water input than its bed and banks can accommodate. (Princeville, adjacent to Tarboro just east of Rocky Mount here, was under twelve feet of water during Floyd – an admittedly extreme case. Your house-in-the-side-of-a-hill would have been a death trap.

A lot of they way we build houses is simply cultural inertia. People want houses that look like houses. Concrete geodeisic domes are great, strong, low energy costs, ect. But they look like Epcot center, not a house.

Secondly as a young carpetner, I’m learing the trade from old caprenters, who learned their trade ect, ect ad infinitum. Changes are realtively slow to be adopted.

To the question of underground houses in Florida. Um, most of the state is only a coupla feet above sea level. Not so good with the leaking and the drowning, eh.

It’s kinda been done; when I worked as an engineer doing hurricane modelling a couple of us took a visit to the University Of Texas for an extreme wind engineering conference and took a tour of their labs. They have a large “house” (OK, it’s a great big instrumented box) on a turntable. IIRC the floor is seperate from the walls, so you can walk inside and stand there while the whole thing is free to rotate about you.

Anyhow, back to reality. Yes, the details of building an actual residence this way could undoubtedly be worked out. I don’t think a spinning house would be hurricane proof, though.

The vast majority of damage to structures from hurricanes comes from two basic causes:

  1. Penetration of the building envelope, allowing the elements inside where they raise hell. Most notably…

  2. Water. In civil engineering you’d be AMAZED at how many problems come down to water. In hurricanes you have massive rain, storm surge, waves, floods, etc.

#1 is probably easier to work out. Make the structural system strong enough to resist reasonable debris impacts and tie the whole thing together properly so the wind doesn’t blow it apart. This means storm shutters/plywood panels over the fragile windows, the rest of the house has to be strong as well and it all has to be linked together, from the roof right down to the foundation. Hurricane clips and so on are extremely cheap if you install them when you build the house, but much harder to retrofit. In California we’ve got similar stuff for seismic resistance.

But you can’t resist ALL impacts. I saw photos from the aftermath of Andrew, showing large concrete beams found hundreds of feet from where they started. If something like that falls onto your house or is washed against the side, it’s coming through the wall. I suppose you could build a concrete bunker with walls three feet thick but that’s not economically viable.

#2 is tough - unless you make your house watertight and fix it to ground so it can’t float away, get enough storm surge and you’re living in a pool. The impact of floodwaters, along with the very heavy debris they can carry (cars, boats, trees, other houses) will doom many buildings. Even if it’s initially watertight you’re back to problem #1 - if the gravel off your neighbor’s roof gets whipped against your windows at 100mph it will open you up.

I’m sure you could build concrete houses in the standard square or rectangular shape and slap on some siding so that it looks “normal”. I’d rather replace a bunch of shingles and siding than an entire house.

I’ll agree with Valgard. Hurricane-proof buildings can be built. Some small family houses survived the 1900 Storm that hit Galveston, Texas. There’s nothing fancy to it; the house just has to withstand sustained or repeated tornado force winds, along with several foot high storm tides in coastal conditions. Many coastal homes are built on piers to place the living areas above the storm surge, and there are methods for keeping the wall and roof sheathing intact and attached to the house. For that matter, roll-up storm windows can be installed that extend the sheathing over the windows.

A house that pivots on a swivel could possibly be done, but it would be difficult. For openers, the water, wastewater and electrical service would all have to enter through the center pivot without having cross-contamination of sewage in the water supply or having either type of water leaking into the electrical. You would also have to figure out a way to get into the house without getting knocked sideways when the winds change, and God help your wallet when the bearing wears out and needs to be replaced.

Lots of old, wood-frame houses withstood not only Andrew but dozens of other SoFlo hurricanes - they were built with southern yellow pine (think oak) instead of the much cheaper, weaker fir used in modern building construction.

Another big problem they found after Andrew was shoddy building construction. There was a huge housing boom in the 1980s and houses were going up left and right. Carpenters were nailing down plywood to the rafters but missing the rafters themselves. Hundreds of roofs were blown off because of this, as well as because of poorly-fastened hurricane straps.

I rode out the hurricane in a 1950s-style poured concrete, rebar reinforced, bomb shelter of a house. The only real damage to the original structure was a broken front window, and that was only because the front windows didn’t have the hurricane shutters the rest of the house had. My bedroom, however, was an addition: While the walls themselves were fine and the roof held, the roof was of a different construction and leaked in the rains afterward. Every house on my neighborhood was of the same construction and every house in my neighborhood held up to Andrew just fine, structurally speaking. The people that were really hurting were the ones stuck in trailer houses and newer, stick-built construction.

Two people from my chapter are in Punta Gorda right now and they’re finding the same thing. Those without a lot of money are living in shelters because their trailer homes disintegrated, and people of means living in post-Andrew houses are fine.

Anyhow, the upshot is that a swiveling or aerodynamic house is unecessary given the available technology in construction. The problem is that many people can’t afford to live in a house with that level of technology and are stuck in homes that are unsafe or of sub-standard construction.