Construction industry can build stronger homes at lower prices

There's no way to make an inexpensive, tornado-proof home, builders say, but for about $1,000, a new house can be made to better withstand strong storms and high winds.

Recent improvements in construction techniques and materials, including composite roofing shingles, tie-down straps and oriented strand board, are changing the way houses are being built or remodeled."It's pretty much starting to become an industry standard," said Joe Kutilek, owner of People's Construction Co. of Wichita. "It definitely won't stop a tornado, but it'll keep things from moving so much during high winds. It just makes a house more solid."

The changes grew out of the Federal Emergency Management Administration's study of damage caused by the tornadoes of May 3, 1999, which included destruction in Haysville and Wichita.

The study suggested using oriented strand board panels on the corners of houses, but contractors now routinely use the panels on all the exterior walls. Strand board, a composite of epoxy, glue and wood fibers, is three times stronger than plywood," Kutilek said.

Engineers also have developed "shear walls" that distribute stress more efficiently for walls that contain abundant glass, said Wess Galyon, president of the Wichita Area Builders Assn.

"That makes the overall structure stronger," he said. "Frankly, we've done about as good as we can get."

The changes add around $1,000 to the construction cost of a typical new home, more for bigger homes.

Homebuyers used to balk at the new techniques and slightly higher prices, but that's not the case so much anymore, Kutilek said.

"It seems like we have more high winds than we've ever had," he said. "I just think that builders realize it makes a much more solid house."

National Weather Service meteorologist Bruce Wightman said it might seem like there was more severe weather in recent years than in the past, but that's not the case.

"People are more aware of the weather than they were a decade ago, two decades ago," Wightman said. "The more protection you have against a tornado or any other type of deadly weather is great."

600450 Construction industry can build stronger homes at lower prices
Date: 22 March 2004

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