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Residential architects who specialize in the hot, humid, southern climate

Designing for Hurricanes

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Climate Prediction Center (NOAA’s CPC) is predicting an “above normal” hurricane season with 11 to 17 named storms, 5 to 9 hurricanes and 2 to 4 major hurricanes over category three. The historic method of learning about building performance is through experiencing hurricanes such as Matthew and Irma in 2016 and 2017, respectively.  The better, less risky way is through research.

The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has a research center in Chester County, South Carolina.  The building performance testing is done on full-scale 2- story models in a 21,000 square foot, 6 stories tall building. They can create a broad spectrum of weather – ranging from hurricane conditions, windstorms, wildfires, and hailstorms. They use the data to develop best practices in building construction.

The research center also has a “roof farm” which is an exterior installation to test decay and deterioration caused by severe weather. This allows them to conduct long term evaluations on new materials and systems.

Recently, a contractor said to me that impact windows were a waste of money because they still can crack and the insurance will pay for any damage anyway. This is false logic. The IBHS research shows that a key mitigation step is protecting the windows and doors with either impact rated windows and doors, shutters, or plywood. When the openings are not protected, wind pressure can build up inside the house. Then, when a door or window is forced open, the roof blows off and the walls can collapse.

Their research also shows that roof cover damage is the most frequent source of hurricane related insurance claims. Metal roofs tend to perform better than asphalt shingles but it is essential for the roofing material to be rated for high wind speeds. The roof assembly, deck, flashing, and the approved roof cover all must be installed to be the current building code.

Fortunately, here in South Carolina, we have stringent building codes. The IBHS rates the 18 hurricane-prone states on the quality of their building codes. Of the 18 states, South Carolina is third with a score of 92. Florida (95) and Virginia (94) are first and second, respectively.

Julie Rochman, former IBHS CEO, said “ States with strong, updated codes saw stunning proof this year that updated, well-enforced building codes have led to the construction of homes and buildings that can stand up to fierce hurricane winds. It can’t be any clearer: these codes work.”

Trends and Timeless Design

Hilton Head Long cove house

I recently was at the High Point furniture market and starting chatting with a woman at the shuttle stop. She told me that she is a trend spotter. I asked her what the new trends are. She was very coy and said that she could not tell me. But she said that gray is passé and subway tiles are horribly out of fashion. She expounded by saying that anything that you see a lot of - is already old news.

Maybe being a trend setter is not desirable. A friend of mine is friends with a New York-based trend setter. He describes her as looking completely strange and out of place, because she is wearing a look before anyone else. Think about the first people who wore ripped jeans as a style and we all thought they needed to throw out that pair of worn out jeans.

Hopefully, this isn’t spreading “old news” but I did spot some trends at the High Point market. First was the color blue. It was everywhere and in every shade. Sherwin Williams has announced their 2018 color of the year as “Oceanside,” which they describe as a collision of rich blue with jewel toned green.  The other popular color was a pale pink. Organic shapes and patterns were on everything. Texture was popular on furniture and fabrics. Bright brass hardware is back and furniture pulls are big and flashy.

One of the most innovative products I saw was Crypton fabric. This performance fabric is indestructible, yet looks and feels great. I saw a demonstration where the sales rep poured red wine on a piece of white Crypton fabric and it wiped right off. Residential textile brands that offer Crypton frabics are Thibaut, Kravet and Robert Allen Duralee Group.

I agree with Caroline Herrera who said, “I don’t like trends. They tend to make everyone look the same.” The opposite of trendy is timeless. My discussion with my shuttle companion turned to timeless design. She said that when a house is integrated with the landscape it becomes timeless because it belongs to it’s place. I agreed especially since site specific designs are what we do.

This project in Long Cove on Hilton Head Island was built on the last waterfront lot. It was full of beautiful live oaks and most people thought it was unbuildable because of the trees. We nestled the house among the trees and all the neighbors were amazed that we didn’t remove a single tree from the lot. You can see more photos here.

Long cove House hilton head

Lowcountry Architecture

 This Lowcountry contemporary house is based on Lowcountry design principles. The large overhang keeps water off the walls and blocks the sun in the summertime. The one room wide house allows light and cross ventilation. The metal roof reflects the sun. The tabby foundation is a local material found in ruins just blocks from the house.

This Lowcountry contemporary house is based on Lowcountry design principles. The large overhang keeps water off the walls and blocks the sun in the summertime. The one room wide house allows light and cross ventilation. The metal roof reflects the sun. The tabby foundation is a local material found in ruins just blocks from the house.

Many new houses are designed in the Lowcountry style without considering the “why” behind the style. It is common to see large porches on the north façade, just because it is the front of the house. These porches are dank and block light from entering the house. Shutters are screwed to the house with no intention of ever protecting windows from a storm. The mass of the house can be so large there is no cross ventilation to cool the interiors or provide natural light on both sides of the room.

Early Lowcountry architecture evolved to respond to the unique characteristics of our hurricane-prone, hot, and humid climate.  Large porches on the south façade kept out the hot summer sun; large overhangs protected the walls and windows from rain and blocked the harsh sun; single width rooms provided cross ventilation and natural lighting; high ceilings kept the rooms cooler in the summertime; exterior window shutters provided protection from high winds; and a raised first floor protected the house from flood waters. You can follow these time-tested principles, which still make sense, and have an open modern floor plan that accommodates contemporary living.

Materials particular to the Lowcountry should be used instead of foreign materials. Have you noticed how completely out of place stone fireplaces and walls look since there is no stone in the Lowcountry? Instead, use brick, stucco, tabby, cypress and/or heart pine, which are all indigenous. Local clays made into bricks have a color palette that blends into the landscape. Cypress is naturally rot resistant and perfect for siding, soffits, and exterior trim. Reclaimed heart pine is beautiful and a sustainable choice for floors and interior cabinetry. Modern tabby is based on the local historic material of lime, sand, and oyster shells. Metal roofs reflect the hot sun and allow leaf trash to wash right off of the roof during our heavy rains.

Hurricanes, heat, and humidity are natural parts of our environment and the houses we design must respect this. Your house should respond to views, vegetation, wind, sun, and neighbors. Here in the South, our land defines us and our architecture. A house that recognizes its place seems to belong.  Many people move here because of the natural beauty of the landscape, so, work with it and create a home that is rooted in the Lowcountry landscape.

 

 

 

Hurricane Matthew at Edisto Beach

Jane, Michael and Tom are sworn into the South Carolina Guard

We are trained in the Safety Assessment Program (SAP). On Tuesday and Wednesday we were called to Edisto Beach to work with the South Carolina State Guard to assist the Edisto Beach Building Department in determining if houses were safe to access and occupy. The major issue on Edisto Beach was the large storm surge that dumped over 4 feet of sand on Palmetto Boulevard, which parallels the ocean. The front beach houses had at least 4 feet of sand under them.

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Edisto Beach is an eclectic mix of old beach houses and newer contemporary houses. The difference between the houses that were built to contemporary codes and those that were not was obvious. In one older house, the post supporting the first floor was swept away. We were surprised that the house had not already collapsed. If this house was built to current codes – it would have driven piles instead of posts on a shallow foundation. In newer houses built on piles, garage space can be enclosed under the house with break-away wall. The break-away walls did what they were designed to do – break away, even in a case where a HVAC platform was attached to the break-away wall.

Many of the older houses had grandfathered living spaces in the flood plain, which is not allowed now for a good reason. The water and sand filled the spaces creating a huge mess that currently is filled with sand and soon will be filled with mold and mildew.

The wave action that brought in the sand, scoured under the parking slabs in the old houses. This left many of the slabs suspended in the air and very dangerous, especially since it was not evident that they were suspended from the street side. The newer houses had break-away slabs which broke and were washed about, sometimes taking stairs with them. A better practice would to use gravel in the parking area under the house.

It was also interesting to see the species of trees that blew down. Almost every Cedar tree we saw had blown over. Water Oaks were next followed by Pines. The Live Oaks that were down were usually hit by another tree first.

We also saw some areas that were hit by isolated tornados which is almost impossible to design for damage prevention. After spending time on Edisto Beach, it is understandable why the first responders want to make sure the area is safe before the residents return.

What is the 50% Rule?

 Photo by Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Photo by Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Thoughts of hurricanes are starting early this year with the potential tropical storm forming off of our coast. In the past, I have written about protecting your existing house and best practices for new construction (March 2013 and December 2011, respectively). The area with some confusion are the rules for repairing and/or improving your existing house which I will address today.

Beaufort County and the municipalities within the county all participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA establishes a base flood elevation above mean sea level which is revised periodically. Buildings must meet the NFIP requirements which include having the first floor above the base flood elevation or higher depending on the flood zone, along with other requirements.

If the cost of improvements or the cost to repair a damaged building exceed 50% of the market value of the building, the entire building must be brought into compliance with the NFIP requirements. The market value is for the building only, not the property, any landscape improvements, or detached accessory buildings. The value can be determined by a licensed appraiser or the county’s property assessment.

The only items that are excluded from the cost of improvements or repair are as follows:

  •  Plans and specifications  
  • Surveys  
  • Permit fees  
  • Cost to demolish storm damaged buildings
  • Debris removal
  • Landscape improvements
  • Detached structures. If the detached structure is habitable space it is subject to the same rules when renovated or repaired.

Many existing houses in the county do not meet the NFIP requirements and must adhere to the 50% rule. Most houses built in accordance with the 2009 or 2012 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) meet the NFIP requirements and are not subject to the 50% rule.

Municipalities often adopt a cumulative substantial improvement policy which combines any combination of repairs, reconstruction, rehabilitation, additions, or other improvements to a structure during a finite period of time that is limited to the 50% value. The cumulative substantial improvement policy for Beaufort County and Bluffton is 10 years; the City of Beaufort is 5 years; and Hilton Head currently does not have a cumulative substantial improvement policy.

When purchasing an existing house it is prudent to do the homework to determine if the house is built above the flood plain. A local surveyor can provide a flood elevation certificate that shows the flood zone, the required first floor elevation, and the actual first floor elevation. That fixer upper might seem like a good deal until you realize the cost of raising the first floor and meeting the NFIP requirements.

Flood Recovery

Cleaning up after a flood is a daunting endeavor, as our fellow South Carolinians are experiencing. One should approach the task with safety first. If the foundation, exterior walls and/or roof appear to be compromised or there is more than two feet of sediment deposited in or around the building, have the structure reviewed by a professional before entering. Architects and engineers trained in safety evaluation are deployed by the South Carolina Guard after a disaster and can determine if your building is safe to enter. Turn off all your utilities, even if there is no power in the neighborhood.
Flood waters can be full of bacteria and other contaminants. Make sure your tetanus shot is up to date and wear protective clothing, boots, and gloves when cleaning out after a flood. Shovel out as much mud as possible before cleaning with a disinfectant such as household bleach.  Snakes and other wildlife may also be in the building, so proceed with caution.
Dry the structure and your belongings as quickly as possible to help prevent additional damage from mold and mildew growth. Cross ventilation is the most effective way to promote drying; open all doors and windows. If you have a generator, fans and dehumidifiers can supplement the drying. Remove all water soaked carpets and pads, upholstered furniture, mattresses, and pillows. These items contain bacteria from the flood waters and are a health hazard. They also slow down the overall drying of the structure. Mattresses and pillows should be thrown away. Upholstered furniture should be cleaned by a professional.
Wood floors and subfloors usually need to be replaced, if they cannot be dried. Tile floors installed on a wood subfloor may also need to be replaced because the subfloor cannot dry out.
Drywall and paneling will need to be cut away a foot above the high water mark if the building was flooded for longer than two hours. If the wall contains insulation, it should be removed. This allows the interior of the wall to dry. The wood studs should be completely dry before new insulation and drywall is installed; this might take up to six weeks.
Even if the water did not reach the ceiling, the ceiling may be compromised. The extreme humidity from the flood can cause the drywall ceiling to swell and detach from the ceiling joists. Minimally, the ceiling would need to be renailed and refinished; replacement may be necessary. The attic insulation should also be checked to make sure it is dry.
Solid wood doors and cabinets should be watched for swelling and cracking. Wood veneered doors and cabinets constructed of plywood or particle board will delaminate and deteriorate and will need to be replaced.
The mechanical and electrical systems need to be thoroughly checked by a qualified professional. Air ducts may need to be professionally cleaned and disinfected if they were not underwater or replaced if they were flooded. Appliances often have motors located near the floor and can be easily damaged by the flood waters. They should be checked by a qualified appliance repair person prior to using and reconnecting to power and gas.
If you were not effected by the recent floods, now is the time to review your flood insurance policy to be prepared for the next flood or hurricane.

 

Beaufort County Stormwater Ordinance

  There are many questions about Beaufort County’s recently adopted ordinance on stormwater runoff management for single family residences. The first question is “Who has to meet this ordinance?” Only new single family houses in unincorporated areas of the county that are not in an approved community stormwater runoff system and single family houses that are renovated in excess of 50% of the appraised value of the building will need to address the stormwater runoff in accordance with the ordinance.

The second question is “How can I reduce the amount of stormwater that needs to be mitigated?” The easier way to reduce runoff is by reducing the amount of impervious surfaces on the property. This includes: reducing the size of your house and roof, consider a two-story house instead of a one-story house; using gravel or pervious pavers for your drive; and limiting the amount of patios and terraces or paving them with pervious pavers.

Next you might ask “What are my options in managing the excess stormwater runoff?” The best management practice is to collect and store the rainwater for reuse or slow infiltration. There are two options for collecting rainwater either a rainbarrel or a cistern. Both are connected to your gutters and downspouts. A rainbarrel is used to collect water for use in your garden. Be sure that the rainbarrel has a cover so that it is not a mosquito nursery. A cistern is larger and is the storage tank portion in a complete rainwater harvesting system that filters and stores water for any normal household use. If the water is to be used for potable needs it must go through additional filtration and water purification.

Another option is a raingarden which is a shallow bowl shaped depression of loose absorbent soils that is planted with deep-rooted native perennials and grasses. The raingarden should be positioned near a runoff source such as a downspout or driveway. The runoff slowly soaks into the ground and reduces the amount of runoff entering our marshes and rivers.

The final questions are “How do we know how much runoff we need to mitigate and if we have met the ordinance?” The county has a very easy to use on-line worksheet that walks you through the process. http://stormwaterworksheet.createandsolve.com/ To determine the total excess runoff to be mitigated you will need to know the following information before you begin: the square footage of your roof; the square footage of other impervious areas; the square footage of your lot; your soil type, sandy or clayey; and the area of your lot that is irrigated. You next enter the number and size of storage and reuse systems want to use. The worksheet then computes the natural infiltration capacity of the lot to control runoff. If the first two practices do not control all of the rainwater, the worksheet determines the size of a raingarden to capture all of the runoff.

It must be noted that collecting and storing your rainwater in a rainbarrel or cistern is not required but is considered the best management practice method. If you do not collect and store the rainwater, the raingarden will need to be much bigger.

5 Lessons from Southern Vernacular Houses

 Shackleford Dog Trot

Shackleford Dog Trot

Hot, Humid Architecture

In vernacular architecture there is a strong relationship between site, climate, and the    elements of building in the generation of the building form.- Richard Hyde

Prior to the advent of air conditioning, an understanding of local environments enabled southerners to build in ways that buffered the harsh climatic realities. As Europeans moved to the southern colonies it typically took them a generation to adapt their native architecture to the climatic conditions of the region. Five lessons they learned are equally important today.

  1. Houses one room thick maximized cross ventilation. The thin plans also provided ample light that prohibited mold growth in dark areas.
  2. The best orientation of this thin plan was east to west to reduce solar gain. The windows were located to catch the prevailing summer breezes.
  3. Large porches or verandas were always located on the southern side and often on the east and west, too. The verandas protected the house from both the sun and the rain, provided circulation, and created a cool place to sit and sleep in the summertime.
  4. High ceilings allowed the heat to rise and provided a more comfortable environment.
  5. By raising the houses off the ground several things were accomplished; it allowed the first floor to be out of the flood plain in coastal areas; breezes are better on the raised first floor; and air circulating under the house helped reduce the heat gain.

blue is the new green

  "Water will be the 21st century's oil - a much sought-after but dwindling natural resource. The biggest difference: a world without oil is possible; a world without water is not."  -Scott Wolf, The Miller Hull Partnership

Last fall, I attended the American Institute of Architects - Georgia state convention; the theme was Waves of Change. The educational sessions exposed us to the global water crisis and taught us some strategies to help reduce our water consumption. The facts are sobering...consider...

Nearly one billion people lack access to safe water. Only 63% of the world's population have access to improved sanitation. Half of the world's hospitalizations are due to water-related disease and 3.6 million people die each year from water-related  disease. In just one day, more than 200 million hours of women's time is consumed by collecting water for domestic use.  70% of the world's freshwater supply is devoted to agriculture.

Closer to home the water situation is not encouraging. A 2009 study by Columbia University determined that the water shortages from the 2007-2008 drought in the Southeast was due to the explosive population growth in the region and will happen again. As population grows, the availability of clean water becomes scarcer and scarcer. In the rain rich southeast we may not understand the implications on how this effects us and the importance of conserving water.

The Atlantic in a November 10, 2010 article named the top ten biggest United State's cities that face the risk of running out of water in the next decades.  Our neighbors, Atlanta and Orlando, were numbers  9 and 10, respectively. Orlando's main source of water is the Floridan Aquifer, which is the same aquifer that well water in Beaufort County is drawn from. Atlanta's main water supply is from Lake Lanier. Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have been engaged in a bitter 20-year battle over this fresh water reservoir. If the federal judge's ruling that Atlanta's  withdrawals are illegal is upheld, the city will lose almost 40% of its water supply. In 2008, Georgia engaged Tennessee in a legal battle over their mutual boundary line and the control of the Tennessee River. One can only imagine that Atlanta will covet the Savannah River if they do indeed lose 40% of their water supply.

There are many ways to conserve water.  The changes in behavior to save water include; turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth, take a shower instead of a bath, take shorter showers, turn off the water while you are soaping up, run full loads in both your dishwasher and washing machine, mulch your landscaping to retain water, wash your car less often, choose a car wash that recycles water or if you are washing your car at home, turn off the water while washing the car.

If you are remodeling consider the following: In the bathroom replace all faucets with E.P.A. Watersense labeled products. http://www.epa.gov/WaterSense/ Install low flush Watersense labeled toilets; Replace your washing machine with a front loading EnergyStar model; likewise replace your dishwasher with an EnergyStar model. Collecting graywater (water from lavatories, showers, and bathtubs) for reuse in flushing the toilet is an excellent way to conserve water, unfortunately it is not allowed by all municipalities.

Harvesting rainwater for domestic use is the most significant act you can do to conserve water. The simplest method is collecting rain in a rain barrel for irrigation purposes. A rainwater harvesting system with our 50-inches of rain per year, can capture enough rainwater to supply 100 % of non-potable water needs. The addition of water saving fixtures will provide almost 100% of all water needs.  A rain harvesting system collects water from your roof through standard gutters and downspouts. The water is then filtered to remove debris and stored in either below or above ground cisterns. An internal pump then delivers the water where you want it.

Even though 70% of the earth is covered with water, only 3% of that water is fresh water and less than 1% is available for consumption. There is no new water, so let's work together to protect our fragile supply.