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How to build a safe, strong house

How to build a safe, strong house

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Dear James: I am making the beginning plans for a new house. I want a conventional house, but I want it to be extra strong for safety during storms. What are some building tips my builder should consider? -- Ellen D.

Dear Ellen: There are quite a few things your builder can do to make your house much stronger than code without making it look different. A concrete dome home is about the best design for withstanding the wrath of storms, but its exterior and interior do not look conventional.

When building a conventional rectangular house with vertical walls, you can increase its strength, but don't expect it to withstand a direct hit by a tornado or hurricane. For this, you might consider building a super strong concrete or steel "safe room" inside of the house.

For a family of four, a safe room can be as small as 4 feet by 8 feet in areas prone to tornadoes. The full force of a tornado lasts for a very short period of time, so slightly cramped quarters are acceptable. Hurricanes last longer, so a larger safe room with provisions would be wise.

A room made with concrete blocks reinforced with steel reinforcing rods and a poured concrete top is strong. The reinforcing rods should extend deep into concrete footers in the ground. Fill the open block core with concrete and gravel. Install small metal vents and a heavy steel door with multiple latches.

To make your overall house as strong as possible, design it with as many offsets and corners as possible while still maintaining a conventional appearance. If possible, position it on your building lot with the shorter side facing the prevailing winds.

The roof is one of the first areas to be damaged when a storm with high winds hits. A standard gable roof is prone to damage and can easily be lifted right from the house by the wind from the wrong direction. A hip roof, with its slope on all sides, creates less resistance and pressure variation in high winds. Its extra corners also provide it with more natural rigidity.

It is important to design and build the house such that the walls are securely and continuously attached to the slab or foundation. This is easier to do with single-story ranch houses, but it can also be accomplished in two-story houses.

To attach the walls to the slab or foundation, install 12-in. long anchor bolts every three or four feet when the concrete is poured. In addition to just the anchor bolts to attach the walls to the base, use special connector straps. 

Assemble all of the supporting lumber in the walls with a pneumatic nail gun. The nails which these guns use are coated with a dry adhesive. When the nail is shot into the wood, the heat from the friction causes the adhesive to liquefy and set in the wood.

Use wall sheathing, either plywood or OSB, which is about one foot taller than the height of your walls. This will extend from below the top of the slab or foundation to above the top of the wall to create a continuous surface. 

Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit



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