top-to-bottom, resilience is the new normal, and now is the new forever

Resilience (n):

The process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.

Architecture is an opportunity, a chance to improve on the processes and performance of predecessors across a broad spectrum of potential measuring sticks. In single-family residential, comfort, functionality, and on-trend style are likely to top homebuyers’ must-haves. Repeatable processes and readily available materials are fundamental to the builder’s profitability. Speed to market, saleability, and presence of place is what the developer is after. As for the architects and engineers, they seem to mainly want whatever they design to stand the test of time.

There is, however, a new now, which means a new normal. The catchphrase for the 21st Century – the new normal – is a ubiquitous explanation for what has become the reoccurring instant when suddenly the world turns upside down. We’ve had a few. High winds, flooding, fires, earthquakes, and plagues are age-old hazards, to which we’ve added man-made utility failures, chemical and radiological accidents, and terrorism. The latest, and greatest in terms of an overall impact on human health and wellness and the built environment must be the extreme weather events ravaging the globe and leaving a wake of devastation in their path.

And so today, the chance to change is not presented in the form of bells and whistles, or those that have and those that don’t. Rather, it’s a collection of easily implemented hows and whys that should be built into every new home from here forward. There are many resiliency measures for residential and even commercial structures that add tremendous long-term value and peace of mind for generations to come at little to no additional cost. Not so much a trend or buzzword, in architecture the new normal is resiliency, and the new forever starts right now.

“To build a resilient home or building you have to get the physics right,” says Rebecca Bryant, Principal at Watershed, a climate-centric design firm operating from Fairhope, AL. “Before you get into high-end systems or technologies, fundamentally the building form must be built to withstand extreme weather conditions. Where I live and practice along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, that means wind, water, and heat. For me, resiliency starts with a highly efficient, rock-solid building envelope that is attuned to the specific site and climatic circumstances.”

Bryant founded her firm during the 2008 recession, believing that it was a good time to reassess the way things are built in her region. She shares that while many sustainability solutions have been developed in response to climates getting hotter and dryer, along the Gulf of Mexico, the challenges are a hot, humid climate that is regularly subjected to hurricane-force winds. And termites.

“We use advanced framing techniques to create strong wood-framed buildings, that are well insulated,” says Bryant. “This means that we right-size and insulate headers, stacking studs where possible, and wrapping the home in continuous insulation to reduce the potential for condensation, which decreases efficiency and can lead to rot.”

Another easily implemented technique that could future-proof homes is to de-couple the systems from the structure. In traditional wood-framed construction, the stud wall goes up, and then holes are drilled through it so electrical wiring can be woven through. Open web trusses and the use of conduits allow system wires to be strung and later replaced, if needed, without taking down walls. By running conduit from electrical panels to the roof, and providing space for future inverters and battery systems, Watershed makes every structure future solar-ready for less than the cost of a nice dinner out.

“Everything we do is designed and built to FORTIFIED Standards,” continues Bryant of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s (IBHS) building certification program designed specifically for resiliency, rather than sustainability. Categorized among three asset types – Home, Multifamily, and Commercial – the FORTIFIED construction method is a voluntary construction standard that goes beyond code to protect against severe weather.”

“In Alabama, insurance companies are required to provide a discount on FORTIFIED structures. This can reduce wind insurance by up to 40 percent,” says Bryant. “That has the attention of homeowners here, and FORTIFIED is becoming the standard. So, while Alabama may be a little behind on sustainability, perhaps we lead the way in resiliency.”

Like her contemporary to the east, Chandra Franklin Womack, P.E., owner and principal engineer for Aran + Franklin Engineering, Inc., in Texas City, TX sees a lot of science-based value in the FORTIFIED Standards.

“As structural engineers, our role is to add strength and longevity to the structure. Aran + Franklin operates from three offices along the Gulf Coast of Texas and one in Florida, so we design custom homes and commercial buildings to withstand extremely high winds and possible flooding,” says Franklin Womack. “In Texas, the homes are generally wood framed, while in Florida concrete is often the primary material. Aran + Franklin is accustomed to working with both.”

As a structural engineer specializing in windstorm design of custom residential, Franklin Womack distills the primary concerns homes face along the Gulf Coast down to wind and water.

“In custom home design, people tend to want a lot of windows on short walls. We build in resisting elements in the form of posts and beams that transfer the load,” says Franklin Womack. In addition to designing homes, she has a significant amount of post-disaster damage assessment experience and knows well the situational defects that cause homes to come apart in extreme weather.

“Water is worse than wind, because of its ability to infiltrate and deteriorate the building envelope,” she says. “However, the roof is where we see the most failure. Once the roof comes off, the water gets in and ruins everything. A FORTIFIED roof incorporates a few enhanced building techniques that reduce vulnerabilities and strengthen the structure in important ways.”

A FORTIFIED Roof designation assures that the roof can better withstand high wind, hurricanes, hail, thunderstorms, and even tornadoes up to EF-2. Features of a FORTIFIED Roof include wind-rated roof covers, wind and rain-resistant vents, sealed roof decks, enhanced roof deck attachments, and impact-resistant roof covers in hail-prone areas. A stronger roof begins with stronger edges. To protect this vulnerable area, FORTIFIED requires specific materials and installation methods, including a wider drip edge and a fully adhered starter strip. Sealing the roof deck beneath the roof covering – shingles, metal panels, or tiles – prevents water infiltration into the home if high winds remove portions of coverings. FORTIFIED also requires ring-shank nails, installed in an enhanced pattern, to keep the roof deck attached in high winds. This simple technique, which requires zero additional effort, nearly doubles the roof’s ability to resist wind.

FORTIFIED Silver meets the roof requirements and adds layers of additional protection. Gable ends, chimneys and attached structures are susceptible to heavy damage in severe conditions. Increased bracing and anchors around these elements prevent them from detaching in high winds. Likewise, FORTIFIED Silver Standards call for stronger garage doors. Finally, FORTIFIED Gold requires an engineered continuous load path, which specifies how the roof is fixed to the walls and how the walls are anchored to the foundation.

Beyond elevating building standards, Franklin Womack sees the FORTIFIED system as a means of increasing certainty and collaboration in the design conversation for custom residential.

“One of the challenges in custom residential is sometimes there isn’t enough collaboration between architects and engineers,” she shares. “In hurricane-prone areas, the structure, the roofing system, and the ability for windows and doors to resist high-velocity impacts are what is going to hold the house together. Better collaboration will allow enhanced building techniques to be integrated seamlessly.”

Franklin Womack suggests that FORTIFIED’s easy-to-use standards checklists offer a simple how-to guide for design professionals wishing to integrate resiliency into their work. She also points out that contractors can also become FORTIFIED Certified.

“It’s very important that structures not only be designed FORTIFIED, but also built FORTIFIED, and that’s where a well-trained workforce comes into play,” says Franklin Womack. To become Certified, industry professionals from across the full spectrum of disciplines – designers, builders, insurers, and others – can benefit from the training offered by the IBHS through FORTIFIED Wise University. Participants must complete a training course and pass the Certification test with a score of 80 or better and prove that they meet the minimum qualifications for certification.

Both Franklin Womack and Bryant agree that where they live and practice, resiliency is the backbone of good design.

“A FORTIFIED home has been designed, built, and inspected by an independent third party, so it is certain to be more resilient than a non-certified home,” says Bryant in closing. “This adds tremendous value to the home in terms of insurance savings, resale value, and when those massive storms come rolling in, peace of mind.”


Sean O’Keefe is an who crafts stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. You can reach him at | 303.668.0717

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