Building codes prep homes for natural disasters

CHARLESTON, SC - CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - With an area that has a fair share of natural disasters; homes in the Lowcountry need to be built to last.

That necessity has Dolphin Builders principal architect Kevin Whalley working to bring many homes up to speed.

"We're second to California in seismic or earthquake requirements by code and second to Bermuda for wind code," Whalley says.

Whalley and Robert Lisi work with clients to build homes that will withstand disasters or bring older homes up to code.

Since 1994, Charleston County has adopted four new codes with the latest in 2006. Each code is changed after lessons learned from natural disasters.

"The codes allow a house to be resistant to earthquakes or hurricanes so the inhabitants can survive," Lisi says.

Lisi and Whalley say they aim to raise the bar 30 percent above what code mandates, so when the event is over, the house is still livable.

In hurricanes, wind is the greatest threat so roofing should be in two layers so if one blows off you can still keep the water out. Another focus is windows.

For earthquakes, it starts from the ground up.

"If the foundation system isn't contiguous, all tied together certain portions of the house may fail independent of each other and once the house of cards starts falling it can bring the whole house down," Whalley says.

To build a strong foundation, beams are attached to concrete posts attached to straps in walls attached to the roof. The attachments connect everything. It doesn't come cheap though.

"If a residence costs $100 a square foot to build and you made it hurricane or earthquake proof it may cost $500 a square foot," Whalley says.

But it can be cheaper than retrofitting later.

"We had one client going to make changes and they had to upgrade the whole house and by the end of the analyses it was more cost effective to take it down and rebuild," Lisi says.

If your house is more than 25 years old, it's a good idea to get a construction analysis to see what cost effective improvements you could make. Many insurance companies give discounts for improvements.

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