The Moore American

January 1, 2014

New tornado-safe home provides families with alternative to storm shelters

By Jay Chilton
The Moore American

MOORE — A new design in tornado-safe affordable homes made its first appearance in Oklahoma on Dec. 23 at 1601 Post Oak Lane in Moore.

An 85,000 pound monolithic two bedroom and one bath unit, transported from Florida by truck, was placed into a pre-formed channel designed as a keyway in the slab foundation of the new home which will be built in the Whispering Oaks addition, one of the hardest hit areas of Moore by the May 20 tornado.

The unit was engineered to withstand tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes while not having to give up living space or needing to build a separate structure for safety. Families will be able to live inside the shelter on a daily basis and simply close and secure a Federal Emergency Management Agency steel door in the event of an emergency.

Jay London Homes has partnered with Montenero US, a Florida-based company specializing in windstorm-resistant structures, to be a part of solving a problem not currently addressed in homebuilding.

“We are building a home where people don’t have to get in a hole to be safe from severe weather,” local builder Jay London said. “They can stay in the comfort of their home and know they are just as safe and except for the FEMA door, no one will be able to tell it is any different from a normal house.”

London hopes to see many more homes built in the area with the integrated shelters and is excited by the prospect of new designs and flexible options as well as the possibility of the shelters being built locally which he expects would reduce the price to the end consumer.

“The next unit will be a safety suite with the entire master suite being one shelter unit which could be placed anywhere in the (house) plan. Homes could be built with that on one side and this (the two bedroom unit) on the other with wood framing in between,” London said.

“Because of the way this unit is designed, this part of the house (the unit) won’t twist or move when the tornado hits it,” London said. “That’s what causes most houses to fail, this one won’t do that.”

“Wood and brick veneer homes, which are almost exclusively used in Oklahoma home building, aren’t strong enough to withstand EF5 winds,” explained Chris Ramseyer, Fears Structural Engineering Laboratory director and associate professor in the University of Oklahoma Department of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science.

Ramseyer served on the National Science Foundation’s Rapid Response Research Team which evaluated structural damage caused by the May 20 tornado in Moore. Ramseyer said even lesser winds of 135 mph, an EF3 rating, would cause damage to wooden structures.

“A common after-effect of catastrophic winds is a structure will rotate in relation to the foundation, sometimes causing the house to be inches off from the original design and risk losing the roof,” said Ramseyer. Even if the roof remained, the home would not be safe to live in and would be totaled.

“That is why we chose Oklahoma to be our next state to partner with local builders,” said John Greenwald, president of Montenero US. “Like the rest of the country we were deeply saddened by the loss of life and property. We want to help rebuild Moore stronger and alleviate the amount of devastation should Oklahomans face another significant tornado.”

In the early 1950s, Oklahomans used masonry in homebuilding but moved away from concrete due to cost and aesthetics. Greenwald said technology has drastically reduced those concerns. Concrete homes also have come a long way in curb appeal. Builders use wood and brick veneer on the concrete home’s exterior and drywall on the interior so that the structure does not appear to be any different from standard homes.

Today incorporating concrete into the home design does not add significant cost to the price tag. According to Greenwald, a new home in Moore using traditional building materials will sell for approximately $110 per square foot and may or may not include a shelter. Using concrete in the home increases the price by as little as $10 a square foot and has built-in safety.

“This is much more than an above-ground shelter,” said Greenwald. “We incorporate the product for dual purpose. Families can live in the space on a daily basis rather than run to take shelter or use for storage.”

The home will be 1,885 square feet with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Two of the bedrooms and one bath will be housed under a single, monolithic, 85,000 pound steel-reinforced structure. Greenwald said he selected the bedrooms for peace of mind as well as safety, particularly for parents with small children, people with disabilities or aging, less-mobile adults.

“The bedroom is basically a safe area that allows family members to gather comfortably within their home and not race elsewhere for cover every time the sirens sound,” said Greenwald. “If people know they can safely stay in their homes during storm threats, the stress of clamoring for shelter and worrying about loved ones or property loss is no longer an issue.”