Under-construction buildings can pose hazards

Patricia Skinner, Bogren, Richard C.  |  8/29/2008 11:26:07 PM

News Release Distributed 08/29/08 

With Gustav bearing down on the Louisiana coast, homes that have been stripped for repair since hurricanes Katrina and Rita – and those that are now elevated on columns – may be subject to high winds for the first time, experts warn.

Dr. Gene Baker, an engineering specialist with the LSU AgCenter’s disaster recovery and mitigation unit, strongly urges owners and renters of such structures find alternate shelter during this storm as a precaution.

Baker said homes are at risk of collapse under high winds even if they have not been elevated but still have exterior siding and interior paneling, planking, plaster or drywall removed.

These walls can be temporarily braced with 2x4s installed diagonally from the plates at the top of the wall to the base plate, the engineer said. The braces should be attached to the wall studs and plates with 3-inch nails or screws.

The braces should be installed on all exterior walls in both directions at the corners.

Sheets of plywood or OSB can serve the same purpose, Baker said. They should be nailed every 4-6 inches around the outside of the sheets as well as where the sheets touch additional studs.

Plywood or OSB sheets should be attached at each corner and every 16 feet along the walls, the expert said. But while this bracing may save the structure, it should not be relied upon for saving lives, he added.

Other buildings that may be most vulnerable are those on block columns that do not have cross-bracing, Baker said.

The wind load on an elevated house creates tremendous sideways force on the column foundation, he said. If the columns are not properly braced or anchored, wind pressure on the elevated house may cause the columns to lean and the house to fall.

“Consider this first big wind event a test of construction,” said Pat Skinner, disaster recovery and mitigation specialist with the LSU AgCenter.

Much of the strength of an elevated foundation comes from components that are not visible once the home is complete, Skinner said.

“Driving through the communities and visiting sites, we see many homes that we think will do fine in the storm,” she said. “We see others that appear to be weaker.

“Let this storm provide the test – but don't be in the home during the test," Skinner said.

If authorities issue mandatory evacuation orders or recommend evacuation, everyone should leave, she added.

More information about making your home more resistant to hurricanes is available at www.LSUAgCenter.com/rebuilding, which also serves as the Road Home's building resource at http://rebuilding.road2la.org.

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Contact: Pat Skinner at (225) 578-2910 or pskinner@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writer: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu

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