We face environmental pollution every day we step outside our door. Emissions from industries, carbon monoxide emissions from cars, trucks and buses, and many other toxins affect the air we breathe.
It’s hard enough to deal with all of that, much of which is outside the scope of our immediate control, without also having to be concerned with our indoor air quality. Household cleaning products, mold, mildew, animal dander, dust mites and outgassing (VOCs) from paint and glues used in carpeting, all invade the air inside our homes, the very place we look to for shelter and safety. Certain building materials, such as pressed board (commonly used in sub-flooring) and sheathing on wood construction, release contaminants like formaldehyde into our homes. Ventilation plays a role in how these pollutants affect us.
It’s clear that we need a breath of fresh air, and one solution lies in the materials we choose to build our homes. A home built with Fox Blocks has many advantages over a “stick built” (wood) house:
Fox Blocks walls release little or no VOCs or airborne particulates.
Fox Blocks create an air barrier which helps improve indoor air quality by limiting the amount of moisture that can enter your home through infiltration. That also provides better control for the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system.
Fox Blocks limit moisture, so there’s less chance of problems with mold or mildew growth.
Fox Blocks are also great insulators, fire and wind resistant, and super-strong. Using materials such as Fox Blocks along with low-VOC paints, and plant-based cleaning agents will contribute to better indoor air quality and a healthier environment for everyone.
Net zero-energy design buildings, what are they?
The principle behind net zero energy (NZE, or NZEB) buildings is to have zero energy consumption ratios. This is accomplished by building homes and commercial buildings that consume only as much energy as they are able to create. With a combination of high- tech building materials and streamlined energy renewal sources, net zero energy buildings are perfect examples of the “waste not, want not” concept. NZE buildings contribute far less greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than conventional buildings.
Connected to the grid, but supplying it also.
NZE buildings do use energy from the grid, they also return energy to the grid through the use of solar panels and other renewable energy sources. To get to a net zero ratio the structure needs to (roughly) supply as much resource to the grid as it uses.
Fewer traditional building materials=less reliance on big utilities.
To create dwellings and commercial structures with this level of energy sophistication, builders and contractors need to move away from more traditional building supplies. Energy-conserving construction materials abound on the market today, thanks in part to the continued high prices and inflexibility of oil, gas and electric utilities. Increased utility rates world-wide have driven a wealth of new building materials on the market which specialize in providing superior energy retention and distribution throughout a building.
Building energy independence block by block.
True energy independence requires not only a system returning power to the grid, but structural materials with exceptional energy conserving properties. Renewable energy sources built into the homes and buildings is only half the equation. When a house is built with advanced materials, like Fox Blocks, it is able to take power from the grid and use it far more efficiently.
Net Zero buildings are comparable in cost to traditional built homes, but will cost less to own over the lifetime of the structure – saving money from day one and well into the future.
Today, there are many voices making waves in building codes and green/energy-efficient design; none are more important than the views of local officials that vote on hundreds of proposals to change the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). This year, voting on the regulations will take place November 8th thru November 21st, 2016, then implementation of the various codes elected will be left to state and local jurisdictions to adopt and enforce, says senior energy policy advocate Lauren Urbanek at the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).
Changes to the IECC will include additional standards to increase the energy efficiency of residential and commercial built environments to collectively save end users billions of dollars each year in energy bills. Some of the new requirements supported by the NRDC are Improved Windows that will employ existing energy-efficient windows on the market, Efficient Lavatory Faucets that will limit flow to 1.5 gallons per minute, and Water Heater Proximity to Fixture Outlets that has been a standard in Europe for decades with on-demand systems.
These fixtures have been included in the IECC previously, but tighter regulations will reflect further improvements in residential and commercial construction to conserve natural resources and “avoid the pollution from fossil fuel-fired electricity generation that fuels climate change.”
There is no doubt that material expenditures for building owners will increase for traditional residential and commercial projects that previously have not sought to meet the voluntary “beyond code” green rating systems. The additional costs to build green lie around 2.4% states Greg Kats in his book “Greening Our Built World: Costs, Benefits, and Strategies,” but what is to be preferred, a low initial investment or low energy costs over the life of the structure? The current return on investment (ROI) is expected to be around 19.2% on existing green projects and 9.9% on new projects per the USGBC’s webpage on “The Business Case for Building Green.” And property owners can expect incentives and tax benefits by way of “tax credits, grants, expedited building permits, and reductions/waivers in fees.”
Scheduling products shouldn’t be a problem in most scenarios as certified products to meet the standards already exist such as residential Energy Star certified windows and doors. Commercial property owners will have to depend on design professionals for compliant fenestrations. This could increase planning lead times as professionals climatize themselves to not only new codes, but the appearance of the code books. Contractors may hold up project lead times, as well, as they, too, continue to learn installation measures for required systems, materials, and fixtures.
Concerns about climate change are high in all organizations related to green building, not only the NRDC (As stated above). The USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) recommends model green building codes and standards, such as their LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program. The NBI (National Buildings Institute) promotes their “Zero Net Energy” program to improve the energy performance of commercial buildings by supporting designs that ensure buildings can create more energy than they use. And EECC (Energy Efficient Codes Coalition) that, like the NRDC, also makes voting recommendations for a more efficient IECC. These are just to name a few. Many other organizations are, also, working hard along with these prestigious few to make changes to protect not only users of the built structures but also the environment. Let’s hope all that can do get out and vote for positive changes in the industry.
For further information, visit the U.S. Department of Energy for a list of currently adopted energy codes by state.
Low-rise buildings for residential and commercial use are smaller in size from high-rise buildings as there will be only ten levels of space or less. These buildings may be separated into individual resident-occupied rental units, or blocks of office spaces. Normally, low-rise buildings will use up fewer energy resources, making them more economical to run depending on what the space is used for on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there may be a few unknown energy wasters lurking throughout the building that could lead to rising energy costs. By identifying these energy wasters, you can take the necessary steps to make the building more efficient.
Thermostats in Wrong Locations
When the building was first constructed, the thermostat would normally be placed in the optimal spot so that drafts, direct sunlight and vents did not affect its operation. Unfortunately, during renovations and adding on additional modules, thermostats can be moved when walls are taken down. A thermostat in the wrong position can cause the HVAC system to run for inordinate lengths of time to heat and cool the space. It can also refuse to turn on, causing the thermostat to be turned up higher or lower than normal.
Moving the thermostat to the optimal location can help with its operation. Consider relocating the device to an interior wall away from windows, doors, and vents. Keep all equipment that generates heat away from the thermostat and refrain from placing the thermostat in places where a lot of people may walk by as they can create a draft that affects the temperature sensors.
Vents and grilles can be one of the biggest energy waster culprits in a building. The more furniture and equipment that must be placed in the space, the more chances that a vent or grill will be covered by a bookcase, sofa, storage cabinet, or other piece of equipment. Once the vent is blocked, this drastically impacts the conditioned air in the space as people may complain it is too hot or cold in the room.
This circumstance causes the thermostat to be constantly adjusted as the HVAC system will begin using up more energy. By simply going through the low-rise building and unblocking vents and grilles, you can see a drastic change in your energy bills as you will have greater control over the conditioned air so people can feel more comfortable. During the construction of low-rise buildings, take into account the position of vents and grilles in building plans to put them in the most optimal places to avoid the risk of them becoming blocked.
Water Waste from Leaking Faucets
Faucets in residential bathrooms, public restrooms, kitchens and breakrooms go through constant use during the day. People are washing hands, containers, and utensils during their lunch hours. They may leave the water on too long, not completely shut off the tap, or the faucet may be damaged a it now leaks. Not only are you seeing high water bills because of the water waste, you may also be seeing high energy bills due to the large amounts of hot water being used as your water heater system has to work overtime during the work week.
Switching to low flow faucets and fixing damaged faucets can significantly increase your energy efficiency in the building. You may also consider touch faucets or sensor faucets to control the amount of water usage to decrease both energy and water waste in your building.
Installing Incandescent Exit Signs
The move toward more energy-efficient lighting has arrived, as construction and renovation projects are seeking to utilize LED lighting in low-rise buildings. The energy savings to these light bulbs and fixtures, as well as their longevity with lower maintenance costs, has been well documented. Yet there is one place where LED lighting is still not being used: exit signs.
Older exit signs may still be using incandescent or fluorescent lighting, which ends up drawing in more power to keep the sign lit throughout the day and night. When designing and constructing new buildings, installing new LED exit signs can save money not only in energy costs throughout the year but also save money because the light bulb will not have to be changed as often.
Windows can so often be overlooked on a low-rise building. Once the blinds and drapes are added, you normally forget about them unless you are opening a window to let some fresh air inside. Yet when a window or skylight becomes dirty, less natural light filters in during the day. So more task lighting and artificial light becomes used, raising your energy costs.
It’s surprising just how one clean window can offer significant savings to a room simply because the artificial lights won’t have to be turned on for the rest of the day. Develop the appropriate cleaning schedule for the windows based on its location and how often it gets dirty. Then have periodic cleanings performed to keep them clean throughout the year.
Equipment Left On at Night and During the Weekends
It can often be a productivity strategy for employees working in office spaces to leave the monitor or computer on overnight so that it will quickly start up in the morning when they begin work the next day. This same tactic will also be used for fax machines, copiers, printers, and other equipment. Unfortunately, even when the machine is inactive, it is still pulling in electricity.
While it might not seem like much power is wasted on a daily basis, completely shutting down a single computer and the monitor during weeknights and on the weekends could save the low rise building up to $80 a year. Placing equipment into power saving mode when not in use during the day and completely shutting them down overnight can increase the energy savings throughout the low-rise building.
Take Advantage of the Energy Savings By Tackling Building Issues
Architects, builders, and property owners are recognizing the tremendous benefits of energy efficiency during the low-rise building construction and afterward when the building is in use. Yet there are many energy wasters that may become overlooked simply because people believe the amount of energy that is wasted throughout the day is miniscule. Ultimately, when taking into account long-term use, the energy waste as well as the costs can significantly add up.
Every low-rise building is different. Performing energy audits and benchmarking of low-rise buildings and commercial operations can allow people to pinpoint the places where energy efficiency can be improved. Then you will be better able to control energy costs and reduce waste.
Each year seems to go by quicker than the last. Be prepared when old man winter knocks at your door. Get your home winter ready in these five easy steps.
Heating System Tune Up: Don’t wait until the temperature drops to find out that your heat pump or furnace aren’t in tip-top shape. Invest in a heating system inspection for around $100 to ensure you are warm and cozy with no surprises. This tip also ensures that your heating unit runs as efficient as possible – saving you money by season’s end.
Give Your Gutters Some TLC: It’s tempting to leave this task off the to-do list for as long as possible, but neglected gutters are a perfect place for ice to collect and leak into your home once melted.
Everyone Needs a Jacket: Be sure to wrap your older water heater with an insulated blanket. Most new water heaters are already insulated. By wrapping your water heater, you can reduce heat losses by 25%-45%. You can find insulated blankets at a local hardware store.
Feel for Leaks: An incense stick can do the trick for finding pesky air leaks coming from your windows. Try to do this on a windy day and if the smoke trails in a horizontal direction, you have trouble. Simple rope caulk will keep the chilly air outside and the warm air inside. Should your fireplace leak air, a piece of insulation can be installed in the fireplace between uses.
And speaking of your fireplace: It’s probably time to inspect and sweep your chimney. An annual chimney checkup is always a good idea!
Hit Reverse: Most modern fans have a setting to spin the opposite direction. Taking the few minutes to do this can mean more heated air circulating through your home.
These are all great tips to help your existing home. Although, the best way to create a home that’s energy-efficient, sound and weather insulated is to contact the professionals at Fox Blocks. Fox Blocks can do wonders for your next building project.
Most houses continue to have wood frames not because wood is the best or safest material, but because people have been constructing houses from wood for so long it’s an entrenched part of the construction sector. However, ICFs, or Insulated Concrete Forms, are becoming increasingly popular; they insulate, block sound, and maintain stability far better than traditional wood framing. They also have a high degree of disaster resiliency and greatly minimize the dangers of house fires.
For 2013, the U.S. Fire Administration reported 1,240,000 house fires. Houses constructed out of ICFs have key advantages in minimizing the damage and spread of these fires, such as:
– Minimizing the Spread of Fire: Insulated concrete walls are either coupled with or include an expanded polystyrene foam, which is both fire-retardant and non-toxic. Not only can these walls resist fire damage, they mitigate the spread of fire from room to room or, in the case of duplexes and apartment buildings, from home to home. Based on the Steiner Tunnel Test, in which materials are tested to see how far they carry flames, a tunnel built with ICFs carried the flames approximately one-fifth the distance that a similarly sized wooden frame tunnel did. Concrete itself can minimize the spread of flames, as it cannot catch fire and the material’s properties make it very slow to transfer or build up heat.
– Durability: Due to being fire-retardant, walls made with ICFs have a much lower risk of structural damage. The concrete itself is an additional protective measure against weakening walls: when subjected to flames and temperatures near 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, these concrete walls lasted for four hours with reduced structural damage; wooden frame walls, on the other hand, were able to last only one hour prior to collapse. Unlike walls made of wooden frames which weaken during house fires and can collapse, houses built with ICFs are more likely to stay standing as people leave the building and even long after the fire. This degree of structural stability is even more crucial for buildings with multiple stories, as failing walls have a cascading effect and one damaged floor leads to instability in the surrounding and higher floors.
Like with any fire prevention element, homeowners should also keep fire extinguishers in good condition and regularly check their smoke detectors. However, with ICFs becoming more and more popular in home and building construction, the risk of danger and damage from fires can be managed. When it comes to fire safety, wood vs. ICFs has a clear winner. For more information, please contact us at Fox Blocks.
As builders and buyers look to continually fight rising costs, making small changes and minor substitutions, as a way of value engineering, can largely impact the final cost of a build. Putting some thought into the final product during the early design phase can save headaches and hassles before changes are required on the backend to meet budget. Here are a few suggestions to consider:
Use simple shapes. Simple shapes have the smallest amount of surface area and allow for the best use of interior space. Avoiding complicated exterior shapes and sticking with square corners provides the best use of materials. Complicated roof lines, curved walls, and abnormal shapes are more difficult to build, use more material and are less energy-efficient in that a smaller exterior surface area has less exposure to the elements.
Design multi-use space. A creative design with space that can be used in multiple ways is more effective. Minimize hallways and add design features such as alcoves or desks to add use to what would normally be a walk-through area. Combine room functions to create more interest and efficiency. Work to use all spaces efficiently without leaving unused space under stairways, behind walls, etc.
Use two-foot increments. Most building materials are made in multiples of two-foot increments with very few exceptions. Designing the plan to maximize use of these materials with the smallest waste reduces overall cost. Two 8’11” rooms can use more materials than one 8’10” and one 8’12” room when all of the materials will require cutting and waste.
Understand the buyer’s values. Meet early with the buyer to determine what special features are valuable to him or her. Know what phase of business or life the buyer is at. A new startup will have different priorities than an established business with the desire to make a different impression. A young family will have different needs than an older buyer. Knowing what additional design features bring value in the end product will allow you to plan the design that best matches what the customer values.
Whether building a home or office, buyers today are looking for energy-efficient, long-lasting, sustainable, green builds. Designing using ICFs can aid in the overall cost reduction of a project by decreasing build time, providing an easy to use product and creating a more energy-efficient, sustainable building. Contact us to find out more about using ICFs to reduce the cost of your build.
When building a new home or business, it’s essential for contractors to obtain a building permit and post it at the construction site. Without it, the city or town would shut down the project. But what about things like room additions, adding a deck, a bathroom or a new office wing? Do you really need to get a permit to improve your own home or business? The short answer is, yes. Here are 5 very good reasons why …
Your home or your business is likely your biggest investment. Failing to obtain a permit for an improvement may very well result in a loss in property value if the improvement doesn’t comply with the codes adopted by your city or town.
Your property insurer may refuse to cover work or damages to projects not completed with the required permit(s).
When it comes time to sell your property, an MLS association requires the seller to disclose any improvements or repairs made to a home or business, and whether permits were obtained and inspections were done. That’s because many banks and mortgage lenders will not finance a purchase without proof of permits and inspections. Many realtors have horror stories to tell about a sale falling through because the seller could not produce a permit for work done to a home or business. You could actually be required to tear down an addition or obtain a permit and bring it up to code before anyone can occupy it. Failing to get a permit in the first place could end up costing you a lot of money.
A construction project or improvement done with a permit requires a final inspection. Passing inspection means that your addition or renovation project followed the building codes and meets the minimum standards for safety. That’s important when you sell your property, but it’s also important to you and the safety of your family and friends or employees.
And the best reason of all? It’s the law! Doing work without a permit may be legally subject to removal or other costly remedies.
Another thing to keep in mind is to obtain your permit before starting the project. In some areas, if work begins before the permit is obtained, permit costs increase significantly to serve as a penalty. It may take a little more time and hassle, but we recommend always checking with your local building official before kicking off any project. It’s the wise thing to do.
Climate change is affecting us all with documented increases in severe weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, storm surges and drought. Because of this, there is an industry movement towards building fortified homes capable of standing up to the worst nature has to offer. Your biggest concern as a parent is keeping your family safe, and fortified home construction is a proven way to help ensure their safety.
What exactly is meant by “fortified” in terms of building a new home or reinforcing an older home? Fortified home construction refers to using materials and techniques in combination with one another to make your home stronger and more resilient as a shelter. For example, fortifying a roof using a special type of nail or fastening system, makes it less likely to blow off or collapse in a tornado or in the heavy winds and rains of a hurricane. Fortifying walls, doors and windows with stronger, more resilient materials makes it less likely that occupants will be injured or the home itself damaged by flying debris, breaking glass, driving rain, etc. Engineers have developed and tested materials and building techniques that work together to achieve these goals.
To this end, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) has developed a “Fortified Home” program that uses a unique, systems-based method for creating stronger and more resilient homes. Under the program, there are three levels of fortified home designations available: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Each builds upon the other, so if a homeowner chooses the Gold designation, he also receives the protections afforded by the bronze and silver designations. Choose the desired level of protection that is right for your budget and work with your builder on achieving those resilience goals.
The Bronze Level – Addresses fortifying a home’s roof to protect against water and wind damage.
The Silver Level – Goes a step further by fortifying the home’s walls, windows, doors and attached structures.
The Gold Level- Ties everything together — roof, to walls and openings, to foundation, to reach the highest level of fortification to protect against extreme weather, fire, and more.
Using fortified building materials and methods is a smart decision in protecting everything that makes your house a home against whatever Mother Nature can throw at you.
Energy efficiency in commercial and residential buildings can go beyond simply changing out incandescent lighting for LED bulbs. Contractors, architects and engineers are designing and constructing new buildings that are using renewable materials, investing in sustainable HVAC systems, and are improving the building envelope to reduce the amount of energy waste. These buildings are becoming certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
LEED is a green building certification program that is used by building design professionals and contractors around the world. This program is designed to help building owners seek out more environmentally-friendly building materials, construction processes and operations that lowers the amount of wasted resources while using other resources more efficiently. The LEED certification program can be used by architects and engineers to design new construction projects, for renovation projects, and for the retrofitting of green technologies in existing buildings.
Creating sustainable LEED certified buildings from the ground up has been on the rise for decades. In July 2016, there were a total of 81,000 LEED commercial and neighborhood development projects and a total of 245,000 residential LEED units, according to the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Designing a LEED compliant building requires understanding the rating system, requirements, and registration so you can gain the credits needed to reach the desired LEED certification goals.
LEED Building Rating Systems
Before becoming LEED compliant, you must first decide on the type of building project and rating system you are pursing to understand the credits that you can apply for to reach the desired LEED certification. There are 5 different types of LEED certified rating systems:
LEED BD+C: Building design and construction (BD+C) applies to new construction projects or buildings that are undergoing extensive renovations. This project type also includes Core & Shell projects where the developer will also control the design and construction of the mechanical systems, fire protection systems, plumbing systems and electrical systems.
LEED ID+C: Interior design and construction (ID+C) are for projects that are seeking interior fit-outs as this includes commercial, hospitality and retail buildings.
LEED O+M: Operations and management (O+M) are for existing buildings that are not undergoing major construction work. This project type applies where you seek to improve the maintenance and operations of the building to increase efficiency.
LEED ND: Neighborhood developments (ND) projects apply toward residential, non-residential and mixed used buildings. The buildings can be new development construction projects or redevelopment projects.
LEED Homes: Residential homes can also be part of the LEED certification process. Single family homes, as well as low-rise and mid-rise multifamily units, can use this project type to seek certification.
Each project type may be further broken down into select buildings, such as schools, retail buildings, warehouses, data centers, hospitality buildings, and healthcare facilities. Once selecting the project type and rating system, you can read the requirements and establish the right project goals that will spur you to obtain the desired LEED credits and certifications.
Understanding LEED Credits, Points, and Prerequisites
When pursuing LEED compliant buildings, you will be given credits, points and prerequisites based on the type of project that is completed that meets LEED standards. The more credits and points the building receives, the higher the rating the building will obtain as this rating will determine the certification level.
Points: There are four different certification levels that can be pursued. Buildings that receive 40 to 49 points will become LEED Certified. If the design and construction project earns 50 to 59 points, it has reached the Silver certification level. The Gold certification level requires the project to receive 60 to 79 points. The highest level that can be obtained is the Platinum certification where the building needs 80 or more points.
A few changes to the point system were introduced during a recent update to LEED requirements. For example, now projects must earn a minimum of four points in the Energy Performance credits. This change will increase first costs, but will positively impact the longstanding rating system that serves as the benchmark for many building and construction initiatives.
Credits: You have the option to pursue any type of credits you desire when designing, constructing, renovating, or retrofitting buildings. The type of project you pursue will earn you credits, which will in turn lead to points that go toward certification. The list of credits is made available based on the rating system you have chosen for your building project. Certain credits may be paired with other credits in an integrated process that provides even more benefits. Usually LEED projects far exceed the rating system’s minimum entry points, so getting a certification should be feasible.
Prerequisites: Prerequisites are the minimum requirements that the building must pursue to reach LEED certification. A building must fulfill each prerequisite even though there are no credits or points awarded upon completion. For example, prerequisites for projects that fall under the LEED BD+C rating system must meet the following minimum requirements: the building must be a permanent location that is on existing land, must fully comply with all project size requirements, and must use reasonable LEED boundaries.
Creating a Viable LEED Plan
Creating the right LEED certification plan at the offset will allow designers, architects and contractors to fully discuss and research the types of goals that can be reached to create a sustainable green building. Suggested steps include:
Analysis and information gathering: Gather important project and design data that can be used to establish building sustainability and efficiency requirements.
LEED certification rating system selection: Once you have your LEED goals established, you can use them to decide on the right rating system and project type that matches those goals. Then you can register for certification and understand the minimum requirements that must be achieved.
Perform a goal-setting workshop: The goal-setting project will allow you, the building owner and the contractor to iron out all the details such as project budget, schedule, owner’s goals, quality, performance measures, and mapping out the LEED project scope.
Create a LEED scorecard: A scorecard will allow you to see what project goals will lead to LEED credits and points. It can also help you determine additional goals that may be achievable as well as a certification level that is desired.
The project scope and goals will continually change during construction and renovation processes. So you should perform additional data research and meetings to further talk about other benefits and detriments to the project to meet LEED certification.
Perhaps the most important tip about pursing LEED compliant building construction is to work on obtaining one credit at a time versus having multiple projects going on all at once. This process will allow you to focus all your time, energy, manpower and resources on a singular goal so that it is thoroughly completed and meets the desired quality and satisfaction level. Then you can move on to the next LEED credit goal.
This tactic also allows you to gather consistent documentation to perform quality assurance reviews of the project. Once the documentation is gathered, analyzed and finalized, it can be submitted for LEED certification.
Goal of LEED Certification
The purpose of the LEED green building certification program is to encourage designers, architects, builders and building owners to seek out technology and initiatives that adopt green, sustainable construction applications for environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient buildings. By gaining LEED certification and credits, buildings can operate more effectively, lower their energy expenses, and streamline their operations so they use resources in a more holistic manner. Building owners and designers can also market and promote the LEED certification and credits from completed projects as a way to brand their business toward clients and customers.
While many buildings these days are designed with the same basic principles, there are times when exceptions need to be made.
For instance, commercial buildings out west in San Francisco and Los Angeles might require additional considerations to ensure that construction is more resistant to the likes of earthquakes.
On a similar note, buildings that are constructed in areas that are likely to encounter severe weather, whether it’s during the winter months, during the summer months or all year round, are likely to require a construction design that makes such structures more resistant to high winds.
Thankfully, when there are special circumstances, there are also some specialty products available to compliment building design. On that note, here’s a look at 15 building products that are designed to help structures stand up better to earthquakes and high wind:
Lead-Rubber Bearings: Many commercial buildings in areas with the potential for damaging earthquakes are constructed on an isolating base, which essentially puts the entire building on top of springs or bearings so that the building essentially “floats” above the ground. Lead-rubber bearings are one of the most popular products incorporated in these isolating bases, as they are both stiff and strong, thereby able to support a structure vertically. At the same time, they are also very flexible, helping the building to stay intact while the foundation takes all the impact.
Steel: Specifically, we’re talking about structural steal, or steel products like beams and plates. Steel is an ideal solution for solidifying a building, whether it’s to withstand high winds or earthquakes, because it offers good ductility. In other words, when compared to brick and concrete, steel better offers buildings the ability to “bend” without breaking or cracking.
Concrete: Steel isn’t the only material that’s good for holding up in natural disasters. In fact, the most secure buildings feature an array of different materials. Concrete is one of them. Concrete is resistant to wind that can be generated from natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. In fact, when it comes to high winds, it’s usually not the winds themselves that pose a big threat – it’s the debris (i.e. trees) that often gets hurled by the wind that have the big potential to cause damage. Testing has shown that concrete wall systems are better able to resist structural damage when struck by debris. The strongest construction materials are reinforced concrete, which is often best accomplished via insulated concrete forms, or ICFs.
Rocking Frames: A rocking frame is sort of like structural steel on steroids. Specifically, this frame consists of steel frames, cables and fuses – all designed to rock up and down when an earthquake strikes, keeping the frame intact the entire time. Then, after absorbing the impact of the quake, the building will reposition itself thanks to the flexible frame.
Reinforced Glass: Though costly, reinforced glass can be installed in buildings. This type of glass, which is thick and laminated to offer better protection, is able to stand up to winds that reach speeds of up to 250 miles per hour.
Trusses: These products are designed to support the diaphragm, or the heart of, a building. Specifically, they are diagonally-shaped pieces that fit into certain areas of the building’s overall frame.
Shear Walls: Another key component in earthquake-resistant building design, shear walls are vertically applied and designed to stiffen a building to prevent rocking. They’re most common around elevators and stairwells, where walls without any sort of openings exist. While this differs from the rocking frame concept we discussed above, it’s one of the most tried and true ways that buildings have been constructed to withstand quakes in the past.
Hip Roofs: Hip roofs are those that have their ends and their sides inclined, which make them more aerodynamic and thereby more resistant to damaging winds. Because hip roofs don’t have any sided ends to catch wind, they’re ideal for commercial structures – and homes – in hurricane climates. Though more expensive and generally more complex in construction, these types of roofs can often be the difference between a home enduring extensive damage or not.
Tie-Down Straps: Hip roofs are one thing, but another good idea for buildings in areas of high wind is to acquire and install tie-down straps. These straps are designed to provide enhanced security when it comes to keeping the roof intact. What’s more is that today’s tie-down straps don’t just connect the roof to the support beams, but can also be installed to secure the roof all the way down to the base of the building.
Reinforced Doors: Just as there is reinforced glass to prevent windows from bursting during periods of high winds, there are also reinforced doors that can be purchased and installed on buildings. However, just like the reinforced glass that we talked about earlier, these reinforced doors are also on the expensive side.
Damping Systems: Damping systems integrated into buildings are designed to act as shock absorbers in earthquake situations. That is, when heavy weight is applied to the top of a building and connected to dampers, the severity of vibrations are reduced. Damping systems can either be integrated within the entire building or built on a smaller scale, such as just in the brace system of a commercial structure.
Invisibility Cloak: While this may sound like a product from the fictional world of Harry Potter, it’s actually a fairly new innovative application that can be used to make buildings more resistant to earthquakes. Specifically, this product is designed to make a building immune from the surface waves that earthquakes emit. It’s accomplished by burying special rings below the surface of the building, which in turn work to compress and capture waves from earthquakes, letting them pass through so that no harm is done to the specific building.
Shape Memory Alloys: Recent research between the University of Nevada (Reno) and the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation has discovered that shape memory alloys are materials that are able to endure a heavy amount of strain and not break. The research could mark a significant discovery in the search for more earthquake-resistant building materials, as well as an ability to better reinforce bridges and other structures that could be damaged by quakes.
Solid Pipes: In the event of an earthquake, rigid, solid pipes have a tendency to bend and break, potentially causing more than just structural damage – but water damage as well. That’s why flexible pipes are recommended for buildings in earthquake zones, as these pipes will bend and move with the structure rather than snap off when up against resistance. Not only does this keep pipes secure, but it also can help prevent leakage.
Furniture Straps/Anchors: A simple, yet effective product – especially in earthquakes where structural damage isn’t the only threat. There’s also the threat of moving heavy objects. Hence, strap heavy furniture to the wall and considering anchoring the likes of bookcases, desks and more to prevent them from tipping and potentially causing even more injury. While heavier furniture might require more robust products, you may even be able to carry out the anchoring of smaller appliances and office furniture yourself.