It seems the wind's always blowing in Oklahoma. Sometimes, it becomes dangerous and it's often deadly.
But builders are now designing homes to stand up to even the worst wind.
Oklahoma is where the wind comes sweeping down the plain. That wind takes on many forms, and at its worst, it can result in property damage and lives lost. That's why wind research throughout the country has such great significance to Oklahomans. The results of extensive tests like at the "Wind Wall" in South Carolina and VorTECH at Texas Tech, are vital to building more disaster-resistant communities.
"Those go a long way to showing people, helping manufacturers show people that the products they're testing are valid," said Tim Smail, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Technical Programs for the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes. "They're good. They can withstand what they say they can do. The next step now is taking those results, figuring out how to get them into a code, into a standard, into just the general acceptance that this is the way we're going to build in the future."
Local activists believe better awareness of the risks of building to weaker standards will encourage residents to opt for stronger houses.
"Presentations where those videos have been shown, particularly ones that were developed by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, where a two-story home would disappear and the other building that was built to a higher standard was still there, and the impact on the people in the room was astonishment that, that difference was so immediately apparent," said Tim Lovell, Executive Director of Tulsa Partners.
While the Wind Wall in South Carolina tests the effects of straight-line winds up to 130 mph on homes, the world's largest tornado simulator at VorTECH, in Lubbock, Texas, is designed to better understand the violent winds of a twister, and how that may affect structures. While building homes to withstand all tornadic winds is unreasonable, there are ways to reinforce structures so they can better handle the vast majority of tornadoes.
Whether it's tornadoes or straight line damaging winds, the folks in the Nowata area know what can happen very quickly. Back in September, three lives were lost very quickly as a severe thunderstorm blew through the area. New research is helping us build better homes, with the construction to withstand some of the damaging and deadly winds.
According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, the Oklahoma Building Code is based on the 2006 International Building Code. This applies to buildings such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, child care facilities, and state buildings.
Oklahoma's code for residential construction is to build to 90 mph winds. Unfortunately, that doesn't apply to mobile homes, which is why it's so important that mobile home residents have a sturdy shelter nearby, in the case of severe weather. While building to 90 miles per hour is standard throughout our part of the country, many researchers believe that may not be enough to stay safe.
"You want to make a strong roof that is tied to strong walls, has strong windows and doors, tied to a strong foundation, because any one of those systems that would fail will usually cause complete failure of the entire home," Smail said.
There are other simple building techniques that go a long way toward making your house stronger against the worst of Mother Nature's winds, like hurricane clips that further secure the roof to your home.
"Besides things like clips and foam insulation, not having soffit vents and things like that to add wind resistance, you can consider hurricane-type resistant garage doors, windows that have a better wind factor to resist the wind—things like that you can request," said Jeff Starkweather, of Epic Custom Homes.
As we learn these relatively cost-effective ways to strengthen our homes against violent winds, Starkweather believes the focus should be on spreading awareness to all those in his industry.
"The gap right now is education. Builders, I think, in general, want to do a good, wind resistant home, and in general, want to do a good job, and it's a gap, right now, between the education and what the code requires and what the inspectors want to see and what we are educated to do. So, I think if we can start closing that gap, we'll start seeing an improvement," Starkweather said.
The cost to strengthen your home to a 130 mile per hour standard can be as little as $5,000. The challenge would be accepting the higher costs with a higher standard in new construction. To many, it's a small price to pay for safer homes and saved lives.