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How a New York Home was Built to Withstand a Hurricane

Before Hurricane Sandy devastated the oceanfront community of Breezy Point in Queens, New York, homes there were not typically built to withstand such strong storms, according to Kevin D’Emic, project manager for Breezy Point-based Malbro Construction.

That changed in Sandy’s aftermath when residents who vowed to rebuild realized their homes would need to be stronger and more resilient to stand up to a future filled with more severe weather.

This shift in preferences is embodied by a rebuild project in Breezy Point spearheaded by architect Illya Azaroff, AIA principal at +LAB Architect, and Malbro Construction. Azaroff designed a home built specifically to stand up to hurricanes and related hazards.

Choosing the Right Materials

Every detail of the house was selected with weather resistance in mind. The team used cast iron plumbing, armored electrical cable, insulated concrete forms, concrete tile roofing, hurricane-rated windows, composite decking and more. The house is elevated, vented, insulated, and has a natural gas backup generator. The house also is rated as a safe room designed to protect against extreme winds and tornadoes that can occur inside the eyewall of a hurricane.

For the exterior, Azaroff specified James Hardie® fiber cement siding for its resiliency and because it helps resist the impact of strong winds and flying debris.

D’Emic has seen the siding’s performance first-hand and noted that vinyl siding can be blown away by strong winds, but James Hardie siding tends to stay put, making it a good choice for the area.

It’s the composition of James Hardie fiber cement siding that contributes to its strength. In the simplest terms, the siding is made of four primary ingredients: Portland cement, silica sand, water and cellulose fibers — all of which are found in many everyday building materials.

Silica sand, in particular, is a very durable material that contributes to the stability of the Portland cement, making it critical to the product’s performance. James Hardie is a leader in providing silica safety resources, which industry professionals can explore here.

In addition to its durability, James Hardie siding also has a pleasing aesthetic, which is an important design feature. In fact, one of Azaroff’s requirements for building resilient homes is the use of “relatable” building materials. In other words, they need to seamlessly blend into their surroundings.

Designing and Building for the Future

Since Hurricane Sandy, many owners of Breezy Point homes have taken measures to rebuild their homes stronger than before.

“Homeowners in the Breezy Point area historically chose vinyl for their exterior siding,” said Michael O’Brien, James Hardie’s Business Development Manager for the New York metro region. “After Sandy, more people started looking for stronger alternatives and found fiber cement siding. I think even that one change shows that residents have been taking resiliency more seriously.”

The work that Azaroff and Malbro Construction did on the Breezy Point home is an excellent example of what is needed to protect against natural disasters going forward. The devastation of multiple hurricanes in the past decade has caused people to look at “resilience and vulnerabilities in a completely different way,” Azaroff said.

“When the storm first happened, there was talk about doing away with the community,” D’Emic said. “This home highlights the fact that Breezy Point is here to stay and will be for some time.”

Reflecting on his experience with the Breezy Point project, Azaroff encourages his colleagues to increase their collaboration with building product manufacturers to gain better insight on how to make products work well with others on the home.

Azaroff also advises that architects and builders begin their process with a multi-dimensional hazard assessment for their particular area. He said it’s not enough to only consider water, or only consider wind. All factors, and all of an area’s potential threats, need to be considered to build a resilient home.

“You also consider a final dimension, which is time,” Azaroff said. “Whatever you’re designing today should be designed with the future in mind. We built this house to last for the next 50 to 100 years.”

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