Natural Disasters, Construction, and the Importance of Predictability

An honest comparison of major construction materials and their ability to protect during natural disasters.

natural disaster

A Growing Threat 

In the wake of the dramatic destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey and Irma, it’s important to have a frank conversation about disaster resilience in home construction. No matter your opinion on climate change, it is proven that ice caps are melting and sea levels have risen. And while these events do not specifically cause hurricanes, they do in fact exacerbate the situation. The recent historic flooding in Houston is a glaring example of this. The dilemma of “more water” isn’t just going to go away either. And while thought should be put into how we preserve and develop our planet on a global scale, there should also be decisions made on an individual level about how to best protect ourselves and those we love from the growing threats that extreme weather presents.

When building a home, you’re choosing to put faith in materials. You want a space that is safe, clean, aesthetically pleasing, long lasting, and the list goes on. It’s a very personal investment of time, energy, and yes, money. With an investment of that size, you want to know what you’re getting. You need the structure of the home to be reliable and predictable.  One of the trademarks of natural disasters is their ability to be unpredictable. Wind speeds will surge, storm formations change course, and both fire and flood can carve an independent path through neighborhoods and communities. So when choosing the building materials that make up a home, it’s important to know that your foundation, walls, and roof will stand up to whatever is thrown at them.

Wood Construction

First, let’s take a look at how most homes are built; wood. Like I stated above, it’s important that building materials be predictable. And in the case of wood, it is. We know exactly what we get when a building is framed and formed out of lumber.

  • High winds easily blow through wood-framed homes.
  • Flying debris can penetrate walls.
  • Water causes wood to rot and flooding can quickly make a house permanently uninhabitable from mold, mildew, etc.
  • Wood burns (obviously) but the ability for flames to spread in wood framed construction can be detrimental to both home and human life.

These are just a few of the drawbacks of wood. We shouldn’t have to mention (but I will) termites, energy consumption, sound attenuation, and air quality. All of which leave much to be desired for the owner of a wood frame home. Residential construction has relied on lumber for centuries. It’s what we know. And while we understand the comfort that comes from tradition, it’s short-sighted to ignore everything else that we know about the limitations of wood, especially when it is not the only option.

Concrete Construction

So let’s look at another option; concrete. Just like wood, concrete is predictable, but that’s where the similarities end. If you take a look at the bullet points above, you’ll see how concrete offers a solution to each of the challenges that wood faces in regards to natural disaster.

  • Steel reinforced concrete stands up strong to wind.
  • Flying debris is stopped in its tracks.
  • Concrete doesn’t weaken or rot when in contact with water.
  • Concrete simply doesn’t burn.

It’s easy to see that when it comes to disaster resilience, concrete outperforms wood in every way. Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) take steel reinforced concrete to the next level by making it simple to build with. One product allows you to form, frame, furr, sheath, insulate, and soundproof the home, saving time and labor. When the home is complete, it boasts all of the benefits of a concrete building while also being extremely energy efficient, quiet, and healthy.

ICF Misconceptions

Maybe you’ve heard the other side of the argument.

ICFs are more expensive than wood...

Apples to apples, this is simply untrue. Building with ICFs requires fewer materials and less labor while providing savings in energy costs for the life of the home (which is feasibly indefinite).

ICFs are too complicated to use…

There are skilled ICF installers all over the country. Plus, first time, do-it-yourself homeowners with little to no construction experience have built incredible homes all by themselves. Check out this project, completed flawlessly by novice home builders.

ICFs are bad for the environment…

  • BuildBlock ICFs are made from recycled materials.
  • The forms do not give off any dangerous gasses.
  • Jobs can be completed with little to no waste and any unused pieces can be recycled.

ICFs make for ugly houses…

ICF homes look like any other. There may be several on your block right now.

The argument goes on but it’s weak, to say the least. Sure, an ICF company’s blog post is going to be biased but time and science are proving that ICFs are the best way to build, especially in disaster-prone areas. See links at the bottom of this article for more information.

Building for the Future

In the coming months, thousands of people will start the slow process of recovering and rebuilding. Sadly, a majority of these homeowners, architects, city planners, and general contractors will choose to rebuild using the same materials that were just proven inadequate in the face of disaster. We see it every year across the country. We return to wood after tornados in Oklahoma, fires in California, and hurricanes in Louisiana. But we deserve better. The constant cycle of build, destroy, repeat is dated and unnecessary. Our motto at BuildBlock is “Build it Once, Build it for Life” and we take pride in providing products that make that idea a reality. It’s time to stand up to Mother Nature. To challenge ourselves to be forward thinking and build towards a future that promotes our health and safety as a top priority. 

For more information on the disaster resistant benefits of BuildBlock, click here.

For more information on the energy performance benefits of ICFs, click here.

To learn more about ICF construction, click here.

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