Building Science

2015 Codes for Storm Prone Areas Make a Case for Insulated Concrete Block

Tornado season is almost upon us. Vast parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri are preparing for another spring of poten­tial­ly severe weather, volatile storm systems and tornadoes that threaten property and personal safety. According to American Mete­o­ro­log­i­cal Society, the U.S. sees about 1,000 tornadoes a year on average, many occurring in the spring in Tornado Alley,” spanning a large region starting in north and west Texas to the Upper Midwest.

Many tornado-prone states and munic­i­pal­i­ties are adopting more stringent life-safety building codes and standards that are chal­leng­ing archi­tects and con­trac­tors to design stronger and safer struc­tures. In many cases, these codes require interior safe rooms or stand alone buildings that are designed to provide what the Federal Emergency Man­age­ment Agency (FEMA) has termed as near absolute pro­tec­tion” to building occupants in areas where wind­storms are more common.

The urgency of building according to these new standards has increased in recent years with the dev­as­ta­tion of com­mu­ni­ties across the Midwest and Southeast because of tornadoes, along with the severe and costly destruc­tion of cities and towns across the U.S. Gulf Coast from large storms like Hurricane Katrina.

However, these new life-safety require­ments can create financial chal­lenges, espe­cial­ly for schools and other high occupancy buildings that may now be required to provide FEMA rated safe rooms for all building occupants. According to FEMA, one cost-effective way to provide pro­tec­tion for large numbers of people is by con­struct­ing new stand-alone buildings specif­i­cal­ly designed and con­struct­ed to serve as a tornado or hurricane safe room. Insulated concrete block is an ideal material that meets these requirements.

According to the FEMA 361 pub­li­ca­tion Design and Con­struc­tion Guidance for Community Safe Rooms,” the advan­tages of a stand-alone safe room include:
● locating the new building away from potential debris hazards
● keeping the safe room struc­tural­ly separate from other more vul­ner­a­ble buildings
● elim­i­nat­ing the need to integrate the safe room into an existing building design which can be com­pli­cat­ed and expensive
● designing a safe room that is sized according to needs rather than by available space in an existing building

Wall systems that use concrete are proven to offer a great com­bi­na­tion of per­for­mance and cost effec­tive­ness for con­struct­ing safer buildings and stand-alone safe rooms that can withstand the powerful winds and destruc­tive flying debris asso­ci­at­ed with tornadoes and hur­ri­canes. Recent tests performed at the Texas Tech Wind Science and Engi­neer­ing (WiSE) labs have confirmed that insulated concrete blocks with a masonry finish provides a stronger, more cost effective option for providing wind debris pro­tec­tion while also deliv­er­ing superior energy effi­cien­cy, fire safety, and noise reduction.