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Builders say trees, loose objects bigger hazards than wind during hurricane

By Sara Sneath
June 17, 2014 at 1:17 a.m.

Damage to houses during a hurricane is more likely to result from falling trees and loose objects slamming into buildings than wind.

Houses in the 14 Texas coastal counties have to be built to Texas Department of Insurance code, which specifies the amount of wind houses must be able to withstand. But even houses in Victoria must be built to withstand 100-120 mph winds, said Chip Dence, a partner of East End Builders and senior life director of the National Association of Home Builders.

Dence spent several days in Galveston assessing the damage after Hurricane Ike.

"Almost always the damage was to buildings not built to code," he said.

When building houses to withstand high winds, a major concern is trying to keep the house's roof from blowing off. Bernoulli's principle, the principle that makes aircraft flight possible, is the force that acts upon the roofs of houses during high wind events.

Air above the roof moves faster than the air below the roof, making pressure above the roof lower than below. The pressure differences creates a lift effect.

"It's not so much about a house blowing down, it's about it blowing up in a wind storm," Dence said. "The main emphasis of Texas Department of Insurance code is to hold it down."

Hurricane straps - metal plates that strengthen roof to frame ties - and an increase in the number of nails in shingles are both part of the Texas Department of Insurance code requirements for houses in the area.

In 2003, Hurricane Claudette blew through Victoria, but the damage to houses was minimal, Dence said.

"Victoria faired quite well during that event. Most of the damage was tree damage," Dence said. "I personally had a big pecan tree that went down, and fortunately, it didn't fall toward the house. But it almost reached the neighbor's house. It missed it by a few inches."

When structural damage to houses does occur, builders' first priority is to keep water out, Builders Association president Bradley Blanton said.

Builders address the threat of water by placing a blue tarp over the roof until repairs can be made.

Big natural disasters often bring in crews of outside builders, which can lead to scams.

"You should always be leery of anybody that asks for money up front. If they ask for money up front, then they're not established enough to do that job," Blanton said.

Residents in search of a contractor for building repairs after a storm should ask for references.

"Inquire if they are a member of a builders association. To be a member, they have to have at least subjected themselves to peer review," Dence said.

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