LaHouse displays lessons learned from hurricanes Katrina, Rita

Kenneth Gautreaux, Reichel, Claudette Hanks  |  7/24/2015 12:51:22 AM

Claudette Reichel, LSU AgCenter extension housing specialist, talks with Liz and Godfrey Truxillo, of Metairie, who came to an open house at LaHouse to learn more about hurricane-proofing for their house. Photo by Linda Foster Benedict/LSU AgCenter

Kathleen Autilio, graduate assistant, shows how screens can be used on porches to protect houses from flying debris during a hurricane. This is the front porch at LaHouse on the LSU AgCenter campus in Baton Rouge. Photo by Linda Foster Benedict/LSU AgCenter

Kathleen Autilio, graduate assistant, demonstrates how plastic shutters can be attached to windows to serve as protection from high winds. This is one of the many features at LaHouse on the LSU AgCenter campus in Baton Rouge. Photo by Linda Foster Benedict/LSU AgCenter

News Release Distributed 07/23/15

BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU AgCenter housing specialist Claudette Reichel was in the midst of completing her dream project – building a sustainable demonstration home specifically designed for Louisiana’s hot and humid climate and able to withstand hazards common to the area such as hurricanes, flooding and termites.

Then in 2005 the nightmares began in the form of two hurricanes named Katrina and Rita, which unleashed their havoc on the state in terms of damages never seen before.

Construction of the home, given the name LaHouse, was underway before the storms. The foundations and structural shells were standing, but it was not a closed structure. No windows or doors had been installed, and the roof had not been completed.

While there is never a good time for a storm on the magnitude of these two, Reichel said LaHouse was at an ideal stage to show both builders and homeowners examples of construction standards that would be adopted soon after the storms.

“The timing was rather fortuitous. We basically stopped construction for nearly two years to help people with disaster recovery and to highlight unique features of the home related to new home construction and remodeling,” Reichel said.

The upgraded underlayment materials on the roof of LaHouse were completely exposed during both storms. Reichel was surprised those materials did not tear during the storms.

“The underlayment is the primary protection to the decking of any roof,” she said. “The newer synthetic materials are highly tear-resistant; therefore, highly leak-resistant,”

Reichel noted that the two primary types of damage from hurricanes are roof damage and water intrusion. She said water intrusion is by far more common than structural failure.

Many times wind damage to roofs will often lead to water intrusion within the house. “Wind-tested shingles were not very common before the storms,” Reichel said. “Now they are.”

The housing specialist recommends those re-roofing in hurricane–prone areas to use Class H shingles. These shingles are tested to withstand winds up to 150 mph and cost only slightly more than regular architectural shingles.

“It is important that the roofer install the Class H shingles to the manufacturer’s specifications,” Reichel said. “These shingles call for a special starter strip, and not using this strip may cause the shingles to fail and void the warranty.”

Water also commonly enters homes during storms through soffits and around doors and windows. “Wind-driven rain can go places that normal rain doesn’t,” Reichel said.

Properly installed flashing around windows and door thresholds should cause water to drain toward the outside, she said. The flashing should protect window sills, especially at the corners, as well as the tops.

Soffits and soffit vents, under-roof overhangs, should be made from rigid material and fastened to structural framing with screws or nails. They should not be just sitting in a channel, according to Reichel.

Cleaning up after a flood or hurricane can be a monumental task, and Reichel said homeowners often return to heavily mold-infested homes.

“People have roughly 72 hours before mold starts growing,” she said. “Many people could not return for weeks until the floodwaters had receded in the New Orleans area. By then, the mold was massive.”

After an event the magnitude of Katrina, or even more typical floods, there are not enough licensed mold remediators to handle the need, she said. And not everyone can afford to hire a trained professional. Many homeowners had to tackle the hazardous task themselves.

Reichel recommends that new homes and remodel projects incorporate “flood-hardy” techniques. Using these methods limits homeowners to more basic cleanup operations, so homes are less likely to need gutting or replacement.

“We are promoting a ‘wash and wear house,’ especially in areas that rely on levees or pumps to keep floodwaters out,” Reichel said. “There is no waiting in line for qualified contractors and materials, and families could return home and resume their lives much sooner.”

It could also help people avoid becoming victims of unlicensed predatory contractors, as so tragically occurred after Katrina. Some examples of flood-hardy materials include tile flooring, closed-cell foam insulation, solid wood, plywood, fiber cement and paperless drywall.

“While mold can penetrate paper and oriented strand board, it doesn’t penetrate solid wood,” she said. “Mold also doesn’t make a home structurally unsound, but decay fungi do. It is important to begin the drying of structural wood as soon as possible to help alleviate other problems down the road.”

To help provide a guide to recovery from any disaster, Reichel said, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a new online publication and mobile app called “Rebuild Healthy Homes – Guide to Post-disaster Restoration for a Safe and Healthy Home” that can be found at www.hud.gov/healthyhomes. Because of her experience with Katrina and Rita, Reichel served as the primary author of the publication.

The guide offers a detailed “how-to” for topics such as protective gear needed, hazard assessment, cleanout and cleanup, mold removal and resilient home-restoration methods.

Reichel said the approach does not have to be “all or nothing.” “Do what you can. It will reduce your cost and ordeal later,” she said.

LaHouse is open to the public and is an educational resource for homeowners, builders and architects interested in making homes more user- and resource-friendly. The center is located on a seven-acre site across from LSU Alex Box Stadium at 2858 Gourrier Ave. For more information or to arrange a group tour, call 225-578-7913.

Craig Gautreaux
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