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Life in a round house can thwart damaging hurricane winds

Floods and FloodingBuilding MaterialTelevision IndustryFEMA

Some homeowners fearful of high hurricane winds damaging their residences believe they have found a solution.

They have opted to build circular-style homes manufactured by Deltec in Asheville, N.C.

Although Deltec's homes are often described as being round or dome-shaped, they are really a series of eight to 20 flat panels joined at angles. Roof and floor trusses radiate from the center of the house, helping it stay intact by spreading the force of high winds throughout the structure instead of allowing it to build up in one area, according to the company. In addition, structural sheathing meets the hurricane impact test of Miami-Dade County in Florida which has strict hurricane building codes.

Other brands

Other manufacturers of similar designs take slightly different approaches.

In the case of Timberline Geodesics, the dome shell is a series of precut-color-coded triangular plywood panels that are nailed to a framework of color-coded struts are bolted together with wrenches.

In the case of Monolithic Dome Institute, the domes are steel-reinforced concrete.

"Monolithic has a smooth curve like an egg, which makes it naturally many times stronger," said founder David South.

"We have had hundreds of hits by hurricanes with no damage, and we have had many hit by tornadoes with impressively small amounts of damage, usually cosmetic."

Despite their construction differences, their wind-resistance principles remain much the same. The absence of a box-style structure provides no flat barriers to wind. Instead, the shapes of hurricane-resistant houses provide an aerodynamic effect, allowing wind to pass over and around the dome with far less resistance than a traditional two-story or rancher-style houses with sharp corners and large flat exterior walls.

House on the bay

In Exmore on the Eastern Shore, Carol Crockett and Tom Waller recently moved into their Deltec home, having lived next door where they firsthand saw damaging winds from storms. They are located on a creek called Johnson Cove, a stone's throw from the Chesapeake Bay.

"The property we built on is a pie-shaped lot and our home is in the middle of the 'pie' so we were able to capitalize on the amazing views and with a smaller footprint and rounded shape the house is much more tolerant of wind and storms," she said.

"The widest flat surface that would get blasted by wind is only 8 feet wide and beyond that it just flows around the house so the wind energy is dispersed without doing the damage of the wind blowing on a 50-foot-wide flat wall."

After seeing a Deltec magazine ad, the couple attended a three-day open house and seminar in January 2011. They also visited the manufacturing site where they saw computerized cuts, pre-installed windows and siding and pre-cut ceilings, all bundled and numbered, Crockett said.

They ordered the house in May 2011, and it arrived that fall. It all came bundled in three tractor-trailer loads, including 20 panels per level, floor and ceiling joists and rafters, subflooring, roofing and precut pine ceiling boards.

"It's all so precise," she said of the process. "It was amazing to watch which I did from right next door every day."

Their house is three stories that total 6,300 square feet, with an aluminum shingle roof. The first floor is a raised concrete slab that was given a decorative covering.

"Since there are no load-bearing walls, we were able to create the open floor plan we wanted," she said.

Space and cost

In addition to six bedrooms and 41/2 baths, the home includes several living room areas, as well as a gym and an office or studio for each of them to work from home. You travel from floor to floor using either a pneumatic vacuum elevator that looks like a glass tube or an open stair case. Marvin Integrity high-wind tempered windows provide waterfront views everywhere.

"We had so much glass that the engineering department at Deltec told us we have to remove two windows from our plans for structure integrity," she said.

The couple hired Jim Schneider, a nearby Deltec-certified contractor to supervise the home's assembly and finish the interior with Sheetrock and plumbing/mechanical and the exterior with Hardiplank. They moved in in June 2013, although the house, $1.3 million minus land cost, was finished six months earlier.

The builder's words of advice?

"The biggest challenge when building a Deltec house is definitely the mechanicals, mostly plumbing and HVAC – there is little space for both so it requires close coordination," Schneider said.

"That said, the engineering of the 'round' house is a huge help. The shape causes it to push against itself, making it a perfect wind-resistant house."

More examples

In Cape Charles, Mike and Deb Dziubinski built a Deltec house, three floors with 1,500 square feet per floor and a garage in the lower level. Having been through several storms, including nor'easters and one hurricane, they said they've noted no problems.

"We determined it's the best value for the dollar, given the strength of design and quality of materials," Mike said.

In Smithfield, Mary and Herb DeGroft moved into their 2,000-square-foot Deltec home in 2005, after having tired of watching hurricanes Isabel and Floyd topple trees behind their two-story house.

"It has been a very good experience," Herb DeGroft said of the house.

"As I have told folks, we should have lived in a round house all our married life – 50 years in December 2013," he said. "It really is a very functional layout, comfortable, supremely energy efficient, substantially 'slippery' in windy conditions and minimal maintenance."

5,000 houses

In business for 46 years, Deltec is building its 5,000th house in June, according to Joseph Schlenk, director of sales and marketing. Over the years, it's created homes as small as 300 square feet and as large has 10,000 square feet, with prices ranging from $150 to $200 per square feet for the finished product.

"We engage the builder early in the process to familiarize them with the design and components," he said.

"We allow for placement of the mechanicals in each home as part of the planning process, so it's pretty much the same process as any home. Since we use open-web trusses in the floor and ceiling, installing water lines, drains, heating and cooling ducts is just like any home."

The company is constantly analyzing its designs and looking for improvements in safety and efficiency, he said, but the basic structure has remained virtually unchanged.

Go to the company's website at http://www.deltechomes.com to see additional house designs, floor plans and sizes.

We have never lost a home to high winds of any kind since Deltec began in 1968," he said.

"This includes the entire East and Gulf coasts, Caribbean and Central America," Schlenk said. "Our homes have survived every hurricane since 1968 including Hugo, Fran, Ivan, Katrina and more recently [Super Storm] Sandy."

Contact Kathy at kvanmullekom@aol.com.

Living in the round

Deltec Homes. http://www.deltechomes.com. Located in Asheville, N.C., with a nearby production facility you can tour. For literature and tour times, call 1-800-642-2508.

Timberline Geodesics. http://domehome.com. Based in Berkeley, Calif. See photos of one in Natural Bridge. The only tools needed for assembly: socket wrenches, hammers, ladders, rolling scaffolding and nail guns.

Monolithic Dome Institute. See step-by-step illustrations of the construction process of these steel-reinforced concrete structures at http://www.monolithic.com, which also features an energy-saving blog written by homeowners in Galax in southwestern Virginia. The Italy, Texas-based company's website has dome homes, office complexes and churches.

Safeguarding your home during hurricanes

•Learn your property's elevation to determine its susceptibility to flooding, even unexpected minor flooding. Your homeowner's insurance does not cover flood damage, and flood insurance has to be in effect 30 days before a storm approaches.

•Install hurricane straps, made of galvanized metal, to secure your roof to your home's frame structure, which will lessen roof damage caused by winds. You may need a contractor for this project.

•Trim or remove trees that could damage your home. Waterfront property owners may need permits to remove trees within certain distances of waterways, so check with your city or county environmental offices about necessary approval.

•Keep gutters and downspouts clean and free of debris.

•Install storm shutters on vulnerable windows and doors.

•Reinforce garage doors or replace them with wind-resistant doors because high winds can damage or blow in doors.

•Use straps to anchor storage sheds to permanent foundations. Ground anchors can be used to anchor outbuildings like small garden sheds that often are not on permanent foundations.

•Install a whole-house natural gas generator that's connected to your main power box and automatically comes on when the power goes off.

Learn more

Get more information about safeguarding your property and storm preparedness through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Flood Insurance Program at http://www.fema.gov and http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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