Homes vs. Hurricanes

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 23, 2004

When this column began, 199 Saturday’s ago, I made a personal commitment to never use it to publicize my business, being aware that doing so would jeopardize credibility with readers.

I’ll stretch that rule a little today, but you’ll understand why.

My primary occupation is in the modular and manufactured home industry, not the newspaper business.

I’m a paid independent correspondent for this paper, not an employee.

Florida and a dozen other states were affected by multiple hurricanes this year, with millions of families caught in the mess and sadness we experienced most recently in Hurricane Isabel.

In some places in the deep south, devastation was almost total, because of winds that reached as high as 150 miles per hour at coastal locations.

The Commerce Department’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton, New Jersey recently reported the number and severity of tropical storms will increase during the next 25 years, meaning more storms and more of them will be of category four and five intensity.

We should prepare for more events like Isabel, or worse, in coming years.

As in Florida, South Carolina and Texas, manufactured homes are the housing of choice for many families in North Carolina, usually chosen by retirees or others of modest means, because they’re more affordable than site built housing.

Around here, the number of manufactured homes may exceed those of site built houses; if not, they’re getting close.

The reputation of manufactured homes has suffered from construction and set-up shortfalls that existed in the early years of the industry; however, updated codes in both plant construction and onsite setup have helped the industry make giant strides in recent years.

The three storms that swept across Florida this year have tested these advances, putting homes built and set-up since 1994, when code improvements began, in the spotlight of government and insurance industry scrutiny.

The strength and frequency of the Florida storms showed no mercy on any type of structure in their paths, but officials of the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development felt compelled to conduct a special assessment inspection of the state’s inventory of manufactured homes, trying to determine the effectiveness of the code strengthening efforts of recent years.

The results are encouraging, as evidenced by their principal findings.

The most startling result, even for many people in the industry, was the number of homes set up after 1994 that were blown from their foundations:

not even one, across the entire state of Florida.

North Carolina’s foundation and set-up codes are similar to those in Florida and were updated and made even more stringent in 2003.

The thousands of manufactured homes constructed before 1994 were at greater risk, of course, but those methods are no longer in use.

While little can be done to increase structural strength of these older homes (pre-1994), strengthening their underpinning would involve modest costs for those who own them.

Factory built homes delivered in 1994 or later showed little structural damage from wind, with such damage generally restricted to shingles, siding and broken windows, prompting Florida Governor Jeb Bush to announce the code improvements have worked.

Most manufactured homes with serious damage were found to have additions to the home that weren’t properly attached, compromising structural integrity.

Carports, sun rooms and covered porches not adequately constructed were lifted and blown by the wind, causing the add-on structure to tear away wall and roof portions of the manufactured home, weakening it and allowing it to sustain damage that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise.

Such improper work can cause damage to site built homes, as well; so, owners of all types of homes would be wise to consult building code officials about the proper attachment of home additions.

Site built homes started out as mud huts or stick structures covered in skins.

The journey from such fragile beginnings to substantial structures took thousands of years.

Manufactured homes began as trailers, helping overcome the severe housing shortage after World War II, so they’ve made the same leap to structural integrity in about 50 years.

In either case, home buyers can be confident of having a structure that will withstand hurricane force winds, something very important to everybody around here.

Who knows?

Maybe some of us in the industry will live to see the day when television stations don’t automatically send a camera crew to the nearest &uot;trailer park&uot; whenever the wind blows harder than a mild breeze.