I’ve recently returned from my 6th trip to areas affected by Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy. Now past the 90-day mark since the massive superstorm, I was able to spend time in more houses that were undergoing repair. What I found in large majority was a gross negligence of proper construction procedures, poor repair practices, and an overall lack of education and awareness coupled with many rushing to get repairs done at the expense of future potential problems. We’re giving you insight to some of the most critical things to know when you rebuild your house after a hurricane or storm damage.
Here Are 10 Critical Things You Need To Know
When Rebuilding Your Home After Sandy Damage:
#1) Restore Damaged Connections Before Replacing Drywall
Your first floor was flooded. This means the vertical wood wall stud was submerged. Wood expands in water and alters the structural characteristics of the connection to the floor baseplate which is typically toenailed in (nailed at a diagonal). With every one of these connections affected to some degree, collectively the structure no longer has the uplift or lateral capacity as before the storm.
A very economical solution and one used in most new construction is the application of a connecting plate at each wall stud to baseplate connection (top and bottom!). This small addition brings that connection back to and beyond its strength before the storm. Insist on it as your flood or wind policy should cover this required and little understood damage from Sandy. Installing more nails will not work and will weaken the connection by splitting of the already damaged, moist wood. Learn more about the importance, strengths and options of these connections by visiting all the economical connection options at Simpsons website Strongtie.com or Download the whole catalog Many of these are stocked at Home Depot or Lowes for a quick and easy repair.
#2) Remediate Moisture, Damaged Components,
Mold Before Repair
Put half of a dry sponge in water and watch the water climb up beyond the waterline up to the top. The same thing happened to flooded houses where water to some degree rose up insulation, plywood, and drywall well above the flood line. Drywall needs to be removed to at least the 4’ mark and replaced with a full width sheet, and up to 8’ if the water line was anywhere close to this mark. Plywood loses strength when submerged in water as well, which means that to restore integrity to pre-storm conditions, it too should be removed up to the next sheet above, which also means removing and replacing siding and water barrier up to a reasonable stopping point. Make SURE plywood is never OSB (Oriented Strand Board) as that material isn’t suitable for water. Yes this is a lot of work, but that’s what it takes to do this right, and what in my opinion your insurance company should pay for, in addition to peace of mind for the next storm.
#3) Roof Connections Were Affected –
Now’s The Time To Strengthen
Houses are to balloons as storms are to riding in an airplane. Your ears pop in a plane when it takes off and lands because the pressure is changing and your ear ‘balloon’ needs to adjust. The winds in Sandy gusted for many hours, rapidly changing the pressure inside affected houses due to the fast ‘build up’ and ‘spread out’ of air molecules. Residents interviewed during our Sandy inspections, not unlike those interviewed during Hurricanes Wilma, Ike, and others, reported their ears popping and windows ‘breathing’ during the storm. Roof framing members would most certainly feel these changes; not only from the rapidly adjusting pressure, but also from the uplift forces exerted at the same time. Think of a plane that lifts due to the shape of the wing. Roofs simulate that phenomenon, magnifying vacuum pressures during high winds. These forces affected rafter connections at both the ridge and eve ends. Many roofs in the damaged houses we are inspecting don’t have the same capacity now as before the storm. You can’t just add more nails because that actually weakens the connection and splits the wood. Proper connectors are needed to restore and harden affected houses to protect not only from future storms, but from potential damage from heavy snowfall and cascading failures. They are economical, easy to install, and the right thing to do. If covered, insurance companies should be required to pay for these connectors as they are the best means of restoration and defense from further damage. Again, Simpson is a great source for these inexpensive ties, and most are available at the Home Depot or Lowes. You can even get overnight shipping direct from Simpson or a participating supplier. Visit Simpson’s website at Strongtie.com for more.
#4) Construction Work Must Proceed In Order!
Take a look at this picture and tell me what you see wrong. I was horrified to walk into this house and see the baseboard heaters being installed BEFORE the drywall! I was told that the city is paying for the heating and electrical as a requirement for re-inhabiting the house. That’s real money that came before lagging insurance company disbursements. How are they going to drywall and insulate behind these heaters? And if you could get drywall behind in some situations, there will be no way to tape and seal the joints, a disaster in the making. Ladies and gentlemen: STOP haphazardly repairing and find a qualified professional to properly mitigate and coordinate repairs immediately!!
#5) Understand ‘Continuous Load Path’
You know how that song goes – “The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone, the leg bone’s
connected to the hip bone…” The same applies for a house. Cutting a wall stud to install a window or electrical box, or cutting a roof truss to access repair areas or install a fan or heater breaks this load path and creates an unsafe condition. Many examples presented in this article are also areas that can break a continuous load path.
Follow the connections from the soil up to the floor stringers, up to the base plate, wall studs, top plate, rafter, and ridge beam and ask yourself what the weakest link is. Like a chain, the strength is only that of the weakest link, and we’re seeing a whole lot of weak links as we inspect homes that are now undergoing repairs. Proper repair is a lot cheaper now that everything is exposed and contractors are on site. Don’t waste this opportunity to do it right and take advantage of the few extra dollars it may cost for proper connectors. In my opinion, this should even be covered by insurance companies as it really is a requirement for repair back to the original strength prior to the storm, and for that same price you get an end result that’s even stronger. Ignoring this justified repair item places the entire structure at risk for the next storm. Want more proof? Read FEMA’s Coastal Construction & Continuous Load Paths Publication
#6) Repair Windows & Doors The Right Way
Really, windows are being replaced with nails in the outer fin? Has anyone thought this through?
It’s common sense that a screw has more ‘pull’ capacity than a nail; why aren’t they being required in repair work from Sandy? I can assure you that you won’t find a nail holding a window in Florida construction, it’s just not smart.
More importantly, windows all have product performance data and proper installation instructions that must be followed in order to achieve the required results. The way it works is that a window or door gets tested to meet a certain performance criteria, say a ‘DP50’ which would imply that “it can withstand a design dressure rating of 50 pounds per square foot (50 psf) of wind force.” And that’s only half the story. The typical test for DP ratings is ASTM E330 which is a STATIC load test. Hurricane forces are cyclical, which means pulling and pushing thousands of times as Sandy did. Windows in the Northeast are typically NOT tested to these standards, which is why we’re seeing so much damage in affected houses and why they are so much more vulnerable now to the next storm. Here’s a quote right from ASTM E330 that explains it:[callout1]From AAMA E330:
This standard is not intended to account for the effect of windborne debris or cyclic loads. Consideration of cyclic air pressure differentials is addressed in Test Method E1233. Consideration of windborne debris in combination with cyclic air pressure differential representing extreme wind events is addressed in Test Method E1886 and SpecificationE1996.[/callout1]
A qualified professional such as an engineer, architect, or building official evaluates houses based on geographic area, building geometry, size and location of windows to determine what required pressure is needed to meet code standards. If the required pressure for an opening is 60 psf, you couldn’t install the “DP50” window cited in the last example. From what I see in the repair efforts for Sandy, this is being completely ignored as repair efforts are focusing on basic rebuilding efforts. This is setting up for a disaster in the making not only for the next storm, but for increasingly educated insurance companies that will soon require all products meet necessary performance standards to bind coverage going forward. This is already happening throughout Florida and parts of Texas from lessons learned there, and it will come to the northeast in the near future. Don’t make a quick mistake now at the expense of a costly fix down the line. Countless Florida horror stories to this effect are a testimony to this growing condition. Click Here to search the largest national database of approved products on ApprovalZOOM.com
#7) Chronic Foundation Syndrome
So you’ve ‘repaired’ your home with your insurance check, and months, maybe even years later, things don’t feel right.
Your house has lived 25, 50, or 100 years on stable ground where little by little, decaying roots, gutter downspout washouts, and anthill dig outs have all carved their niches into your foundation footprint under and around your home.Along comes Sandy with unprecedented flood waters with record flood elevations. These waters press down and around these voids to shift soils, creating a whole new foundation profile. Houses settle more in their first couple of years than the years following until a new profile such as that created by Sandy emerges which can reset the cycle. Read my previous article on Sandy Damage Tips on how to identify and document foundation movement, and stay cautious and smart with your repairs and repair money.
#8) Seal For Approval
Sandy pushed and pulled on your entire building envelope. You may not think there is damage in the little areas, but if you have a contractor aboard, now is the time at the very least to reseal window frames, restore door weather stripping, and seal cracks old and new. Reapply insulation in the attic and crawlspaces. Make Sandy your opportunity to ‘clean house’ and take all the precautions you wanted to have taken before the storm. Spring is almost here, and it will be a good time for everyone in the wake of Sandy, even if there was no damage to your house, to take stock and be grateful for what you do have and protect what’s yours. You’ll be thanking yourself one day that you did. Click Here for a link to Energy Star Recommendations for more assistance with selecting products that meet higher-than-average energy conservation criteria.
#9) Shingles and Soffits – What You Can’t See
I have been hearing a lot that shingles weren’t damaged just because it doesn’t look like they were. Sandy not only pressed and pulled on shingles, but it did so for a duration and intensity longer than any other storm in the history of most all of the structures affected. Research what shingles you have, find product technical documentation and performance data, and determine the effects of the storm on your roofing and recommended remediation.
As for soffits, most I’ve seen in New York and New Jersey were designed to let air in and out of the attic to keep temperature differentials at a minimum for energy efficiency. The downside of these are their inability to keep wind-driven rain out of the attic. If a soffit isn’t airtight, it isn’t watertight either. You don’t see many soffits in Florida like the ones in the northeast. This means that if you were in the storm’s path, water has probably entered your attic and affected insulation, the integrity of fasteners and connectors, and possibly even the roof framing system. A thorough examination is required and re-insulation may be necessary. Watch your heating and cooling bills for unexplained cost differentials which will also provide a clue to damage. Also, reinforce connections and any affected beams under the supervision of a licensed contractor, engineer, and/or architect. Want to learn more? View Florida’s AHRI’s publication on wind driven rain in soffits through Florida International University’s Research Center.
#10) Sheds, Fences, & Other Accessories Beware
I saw it so many times throughout the many Florida, Texas, and Gulf storms inspected. Your house may be intact but your tool shed or portions of your fence may be damaged, leaning, or just fatigued. Just fixing the damaged parts without inspecting and reinforcing the other areas that don’t appear to be damaged is a mistake. For many reasons described herein, the remainder of these structures just isn’t the same. Use this opportunity to have your property adjuster, engineer, or contractor assess the areas around your home and recommend a smart plan of attack for the next storm. These are the items that will become flying debris during the next storm which can hold you responsible for damage they can cause to your house and to others which you must now remember to secure for next time. Check your mailbox, garden areas, awnings, chimneys, patios, and decks and docks for any signs of weakening, fatigue, or distress caused by the storm and report that to your claims adjuster, contractor, or have them fixed securely on your own. It’s a smart investment and something not to be taken lightly.
The above items are just a general education intended to raise awareness to some key areas of concern commonly seen in Sandy damage repairs. It is critical to note that there is much more to learn and understand than what is presented above and conditions vary from site to site. We strongly advise that all work is to be performed by licensed and qualified contractors, and we strongly suggest that all areas be inspected and documented by a licensed engineer, architect, or at the minimum a qualified special inspector. That’s going to play a key role in the sale of your affected house and the well-being of all future residents to your house and neighboring areas. And as always, Engineering Express is here to help in any way we can.