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.